Article excerpted from The Ayurveda Way (Storey Publishing, 2017).
Ayurveda, the science of healthy living, originated in the ancient civilizations of India more than 5,000 years ago. The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit root words veda (study) and ayush (life). It literally means "the knowledge or study of life." Ayurveda is the oldest healing system in the world.
The pantheon of Ayurvedic knowledge is believed to have been revealed to the ancient sages of India (spiritual scientists called rishis) in the depths of their meditations.
In as early as the 3rd century BCE, the medical science of Ayurveda developed an advanced scientific methodology, which consisted of observation and inductive, deductive, and analogical reasoning. Ayurveda's theories of drug composition, molecular structure, physicochemical properties, and therapeutic actions of food and drugs were fully developed by this time. These concepts were based on Nyaya, an ancient Vedic doctrine of physics. The foundation of advanced molecular biology and quantum physics can be seen in ancient works by Ayurvedic authors like Kashiraj Dhanvantari.
Change Your Life by Saying Yes to Health
Ayurveda's primary aim is Svasthasya svastha rakshanam, a Sanskrit verse from the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita, which means to protect, preserve, or promote (rakshanam) the health (svastha) of the healthy.
Holistic Healthcare Offering Lifestyle Medicine
The World Health Organization reports that, by 2020, two-thirds of all diseases worldwide will be the result of lifestyle choices. Mahatma Gandhi loved Ayurveda because he believed that teaching us how to live in harmony with nature should be the purpose of medicine; with Ayurveda's emphasis on lifestyle changes addressing the root causes of diseases, this purpose is realized.
Four-Dimensional Healthcare Definition
A verse from the Ayurvedic text Sushrut Samhita reads: "Life is the dynamic combination of the body, senses, mind, and spirit, or the conscious principle." Ayurveda is the first holistic healthcare system to define health as a four-dimensional state of well being of your body, mind, spirit, and five senses. If all of Ayurveda were to be summarized in a single word, it would be balance (santulan).
How Ayurveda Helps You Change Your Life
While many people know Ayurveda primarily by its three bioforces, or doshas vata, pitta, and kapha, there's a lot more to Ayurveda. As the science of life, Ayurveda touches upon all aspects of how to live in a healthy, happy, and fulfilling way.
Its wide-spanning range includes how to improve your digestion, practical ways to love yourself (and thereby improve all your relationships), what kinds of daily and seasonal regimens to adopt for health promotion, and all-natural skincare. Ayurveda also gives you abundant spiritual insights.
Living Ayurveda has made me appreciate the great depth and breadth of this expansive science. The following five lessons have been particularly life changing for me, and so I am happy to share them with you as an introduction to Ayurveda.
Whereas modern western medicine tends to focus on helping you manage the symptoms of your health problems, Ayurveda teaches you to dig deep to determine the root causes of why you manifest certain diseases in the first place.
Ayurveda encourages us to go beyond examining our outward symptoms and our physical body. Because each of the four dimensions of health in Ayurveda (body, mind, spirit, and five senses) plays a critical role in manifesting both health and disease, we must examine our mind, emotions, and any existential suffering. Ayurveda is a wonderful complement to Western medicine because it paves a path for patients to truly practice health promotion and disease prevention.
By digging deep, Ayurveda empowers you to make health-promoting choices to change your life and reclaim well being at every level: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Ayurveda is defined as a holistic health system of healthy living that teaches you to distinguish between actions that bring you joy and those that bring you sorrow (as our mental states greatly impact our physical well being). There is an increasing body of academic research proving the importance of compassion for mental health.
Ayurvedic sages, however, have always known this, and have proclaimed happiness-giving actions to be those that benefit you and society. In other words, individual health has always been equated with serving the community in Ayurveda's holistic healthcare approach.
The Fundamental Unity of the Macrocosm and Microcosm
A key Ayurvedic concept is that of the fundamental union between the macrocosm (the whole universe) and the microcosm (the universe within you). The wise saying "As above, so below" expresses the same wisdom Ayurveda has revealed for thousands of years.
We are all connected by the five great elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements comprise our individual bodies and minds and the whole world around us. In terms of states of matter, space corresponds with a potential state of matter, air with the gaseous state, fire with a thermal state of matter, water with liquid, and earth with a solid state of matter. In physics terms, the five elements can be compared with these quantum states: space (field), air (kinetic), fire (nuclear), water (cohesive), and earth (static).
Like Increases Like
You (the microcosm) interact with the world around you (the macrocosm) under the natural law of "Like increases like." Here's a practical example: my skin gets dry and my joints start cracking in summertime, when it's hotter and drier in the atmosphere, so I especially love oiling my body during the summertime. The moist, unctuous oil, which has the exact opposite quality of the dryness on my skin, moisturizes my body. My dry skin is reduced due to application of a dissimilar substance (oil).
Follow the Sun's Cycles for an Empowered Daily and Seasonal Lifestyle
The sun is the source of all of life. And the ancient holistic healthcare teachings of Ayurveda revolve around the sun. The sun is connected with the fire element, and according to Ayurveda, the strength of the fire element within your body is responsible for your digestion. Healthy digestion is the key to good overall health in Ayurveda. There's a direct relationship between the strength of the sun in the sky during different times of the day and year and the strength of your digestive fire, which is like an inner sun.
Nothing is random in Ayurveda. There's a reason why you normally experience certain conditions during certain times of the year, like colds and allergies in springtime. Ayurveda's seasonal diet and lifestyle recommendations give you tools and insights into how you can eat, drink, exercise, work, travel, and even procreate in optimal ways throughout the year.
Before Ayurveda, I was accustomed to eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and suffered poor digestion as a result. Following Ayurveda's seasonal wisdom has tremendously improved by own and my clients' and students' health. Knowing what to eat and how to modify my lifestyle depending on the time of year is a wonderful way that I now live in harmony with nature.
Living by Ayurveda's wisdom has changed my life forever. I am honored and delighted to welcome you onto your own journey of well being so that you, too, may experience the power and potential of this art and science of holistic healthcare.
Learn more about Ayurveda in The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More.