My personal approach to life is a holistic one, as I perceive overall health and well-being on a physical and mental level as important as the path of self-realization and spirituality. Plus, I’m a big advocate for the concept of Bio-Individuality, which refers to every single person having their very unique needs when it comes to nutrition and lifestyle.
Embarking on my own health journey, trying to evolve with body, mind, and spirit in order to become my best version, I came across many different guidelines and approaches to health. The plant-based lifestyle has been my personal choice out of ethical, ecological and social reasons, while I’ve already been experiencing holistic benefits with this transition. I first came across Ayuverda during the beginning of my yoga practice as well as my studies in nutritional science, as this ancient Indian health system is closely linked to Yoga. I instantly became engrossed in this topic, yet neglected to study Ayurveda later on as it did not completely match with my personal preferred raw dominated vegan nutrition. However, during my very first visit to India to complete the Yoga Teacher Training, Ayurveda became more present in my life again, arousing my interest on a whole other level. Even more so when I realized its totally holistic and individual approach as well as its deep connection to Yoga.
This article will give you a basic idea of what Ayurveda is all about – and I’d like to start with one beautiful definition, which describes all aspects of this system in a nutshell:
“Ayurveda is a consciousness based holistic approach to health.”
~ What is Ayurveda? ~
Tracing back at least 5.000 years ago to ancient India, Ayurveda, as the oldest health system in the entire world, was born. Breaking this word apart, it means “Science of life”:
- ayur = life
- veda = knowledge (science)
It evolved from the ancient Rishis, spiritual enlightened prophets, who wrote the Vedas or as you can call it the “books of wisdom.” It is conceived that their knowledge was obtained directly from the universe, as it had been passed down for centuries across generations from mouth to mouth before it was written down for the first time. Generally speaking, Ayurveda is based upon the Indian philosophical, psychological and medicinal understandings. This knowledge influenced many other health care systems, such as the Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Ayurveda is not only about nutrition. It includes the whole lifestyle and is interconnected with the rather spiritual practice of Yoga. Therefore, everything you practice for your health and physical well-being is rather related to Ayurveda, whereas your practice on spiritual growth and enlightenment relates to Yoga. Only when your body, as the base of your holistic system, thrives in a state of health, will you be able to open the door for your higher desires.
The key purpose of this integrated health system is achieving mind-body balance while it specifically focuses on maintaining a healthy, long life, but also offers therapeutic approaches to heal physical issues – or “imbalances”. It integrates medical science with psychology, philosophy as well as spirituality and sees every single person as a microcosm of the big universe in all its complexity. Thus, we can’t expect a one size fits all recommendation from an Ayurvedic practitioner. Rather, they will perceive you in a very individual and unique way. as a multidimensional being. On the base of that, they will give you very specific recommendations according to your personal mind-body type.
~ Doshas: The three Mind-Body Types ~
Ayurveda bases upon the earth’s natural elements that we originate with our senses, which are fire, water, earth, air, and ether (space). According to Ayurveda, these elements do not only exist on the planet, but they also represent our physical body and mental state of being. For example, the heat of fire might represent a strong, powerful will as well as a strong digestion and metabolism; the grounding earth is reflected in a calm, caring, grand-motherly kind of person, whereas wind and space is mirrored in a creative mind, but on a physical level, for example, with gas in the colon (bloating).
Ayurveda makes up the three so-called “Doshas”, which include these five elements and refer to our personal mind-body type. However, each of us carries all aspects of these elements within as they govern certain functions of our bodies, all to different degrees. We tend to have one or two predominant doshas. But first of all, let’s have a look at the three types of Doshas:
- Vata: is comprised of the elements air + ether (space)
- Pitta: is comprised of the elements fire + water
- Kapha: is comprised of the elements earth + water
Typical characteristics of the Dosha Vata are dryness, cold, lightness, roughness and mobility.
- It regulates the nervous system and is responsible for all movements within the body.
- A typical Vata person has a lean body and a creative mind.
- An imbalanced Vata leads to digestive issues (bloating, constipation), anxiety, irregular period, weight loss, etc.
The fiery Pitta Dosha is hot, sharp, oily, liquid and light as well.
Its primary task in the body is the digestive tract, nutrient absorption, and metabolism, therefore standing for transformation.
A typical Pitta person has an athletic body and an ambitious mind.
If Pitta is out of balance, symptoms like feeling hot all the time, excess sweat, heartburn, diarrhea, etc. are likely to occur.
The earthy Dosha Kapha is regarded as heavy, slow, cold, oily, soft and dense.
- Kapha relates to your bone density, fat regulation, strength and stamina.
- A typical Kapha person has a rounded body and a peaceful state of mind.
- Imbalanced Kapha symptoms are weight gain, clammy hands, lethargy, mucus, asthma, swelling, infections and water retention.
~ Ayurvedic Nutrition ~
When it comes to nutrition, our ability to digest food plays the key role in Ayurveda. We would not say “You are what you eat”, but rather “You are what you digest.” There is an important term relating to our digestive power or literally our digestive fire, which is called Agni. It represents our ability to digest, assimilate and metabolize the food we eat. If your Agni is strong, you’ll digest your food properly. If it is depleted, you’ll start accumulating toxins in your body, referred to as Ama. Thus, we can relate Agni to the Pitta Dosha or the fire element.
Your whole body, health, and further well-being start with digestion, as everything you eat will finally turn into your physical body and impact your mental and emotional state.
“If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.
If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
In contrast to the western-science based approach, Ayurveda does not break down foods into calories and certain nutrients but is more concerned about their energy and the maintenance of an equilibrium. Furthermore, it recommends certain types of foods to certain types of people, according to their Dosha. Regardless, you’ll always be recommended to eat those types of foods related to the Dosha you’re currently imbalanced in. It aims to keep your digestive fire running to a certain balanced degree in order to benefit from all the nutrients you’re consuming.
For example, as Vata people are naturally dry, cold and mobile, they require foods with the opposite qualities in order to reach a state of balance. That means sweet and nourishing fruits, cooked veggies, starchy foods such as sweet potatoes and grains, not too many legumes (mung beans and tofu should be preferred), as well as healthy fats, like any types of raw nuts and seeds as well as oils. Vatas need more grounding, heavy food on a very regular basis.
A Pitta person with this strong digestive fire should choose juicy, sweet and astringent fruits, but avoid sour ones. They thrive on sweet and bitter veggies, a good amount of protein from legumes and can also handle whole grains. Fat sources should come from whole plants, such as nuts and seeds, rather than from refined oils.
Kaphas do well on intermittent fasting and plenty of raw foods in their diet. As they are naturally dense, heavy, oily and sweet in energy, their foods should be rather light and stimulating, with a good amount of spices. Veggies comprise the center of their diet and sweet, dry fruits should be avoided as well as heavier sources, such as oils or large portions of starches. Legumes are great for Kaphas and nuts only soaked in small amounts.
~ Lifestyle practices ~
What I also love about this Eastern approach to overall health and well-being is something I’ve already been naturally incorporating into my day-to-day life: routines. Each of us can practice Ayurveda on a daily basis by setting up their daily schedule so that they’re able to eat, digest, sleep, work, exercise and live your fullest potential simply by following their natural Doshic rhythms.
“Lifestyle is not an amount; it’s a practice.”
Following a morning routine that elevates your energies will prime you for the entire day. If you, for example, start your day hurrying after your alarm clock, you’ll find yourself instantly in an out-of-balance state consisting of unawareness, autopilot and reactivity, which agitates you for the rest of the day. In contrast, if you start your day with healthy habits for your body and mind, you’ll cultivate physical and mental balance and sense this inner peace, tranquility and resilience throughout your day.
I personally include oil pulling, tongue scraping, drinking water and exercising as well as a pranayama and meditation practice in my daily morning routine. Yes – it is a matter of priority. And No – you don’t need to extend your morning routine up to 2 or 3 hours. But taking a little time for yourself, your body and mind in the morning, will mirror your overall behavior and being for the rest of the day.
“It is about the little things you do every single day,
not about these huge, extraordinary things you do once in a while.”
Moreover, Ayurveda provides recommendations in regards to what time you should opt to do certain activities as well as eating certain foods, respectively. This refers to our 24 hour rhythm, which is also related to the Doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
~ Ayurveda & Spirituality ~
Thinking of a health care system on the one hand and spirituality, on the other hand, we perceive these as two opposites at first glance. However, this conscious approach to health makes Ayurveda unique, as it blends these two disciplines in a very harmonious way and creates a complete healing system.
“Ayurveda is a spiritual medicine,
recognizing the phenomenal intelligence in every grain, every seed,
all life and every living thing.”
Seeking a physically healthy state of balance is the foremost base for getting in touch with your spiritual desires. Ayurveda says that there is a purpose for life, that each physically and mentally healthy person is becoming in-tune with their internal desire and is working hard to strive towards it. Thus, purposefulness in life is an achievement everyone wants to obtain. In contrast, a purposeless and meaningless life creates suffering, imbalance and eventually physical and mental disorders.
Even before illnesses manifest in form of symptoms, we actually can feel them on a subtle level. This happens due to so-called energetic layers, which surround our physical body. If something feels “off”, these energy layers expose a kind of calling or rather a sign before the disorder or disease gets manifested physically.
Especially in our modern world, where most of us perceive stress and the hustle-and-bustle of life as something completely “normal”, Ayurveda can guide us beautifully on the road of becoming better in-tuned with our holistic Self in order to gain overall health. And this holistic approach does not treat a symptom on the surface of its physical manifestation, but it goes far deep into the non-visible, energetic levels.
~ Conclusion: Ayurveda as a holistic approach to health ~
In conclusion, Ayurveda as the globally oldest system of health, approaches each individual in a unique and personalized way. It origins from ancient India and is seen as the sister science of Yoga. Your body, mind and spirit are targeted equally. It is basically built upon the five elements air, space, fire, water and earth.
I myself do have a western based scientific background and am only now starting to learn more and more about the Eastern approaches to health. I definitely do not intend to place one of these systems on a pedestal and neglect or even downgrade another one, as I absorb so much precious information in each of them. Thus, I’d rather like to combine knowledge and wisdom from both parts, to cherry-pick all the golden nuggets from each approach and share my knowledge and own experiences with the world – with all of you.
“Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.”
(Anthony Douglas Williams)
What I personally love about Ayurveda, beside the concept of bio-individuality and its body-mind-spirit approach, is its intertwining with the rhythm of nature. A daily schedule, which includes healthy habits and routines, has given me an anchor for balancing myself day by day. Although taking time for yourself might be an act of discipline in the beginning – at some point you’ll get so much out of it, you’ll literally feel so different from the inside out, that you sense the urge to stick to those routines…as they serve you more and more.
Thank you, dears, for listening to my message today.
Sending you a big hug & sunshine from my heart!
Ketabi S.R., Chopra D. Ayurveda (Idiot’s Guides). Alpha (2017), 1stedition.