Ayurveda is the oldest health care system known.
Its roots are in India, where it is still the major health-care system for about a tenth of the world’s population. In ancient Sanskrit, Ayus means lifespan, and Veda means knowledge – so Ayurveda means the ‘Science of Life’, or ‘Knowledge for a long and healthy life’.
How was it developed?
It was not simply developed over time through trial and error but was originally seen and understood in depth by enlightened seers. So Ayurveda is not just someone’s theory, but it is considered to be an insight into how nature functions.
What the seers understood was that there are three controlling principles found in Nature. They called these principles Doshas, and they named them Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The three Doshas are universal principles, found throughout creation, including within the body and the mind, the seasons and the personality. They give a great deal of insight into how we behave, think, relate with each other, handle different foods and view the world, and give us a deeper understanding of health and relationships – in short, how to be happy in life.
So how exactly does it work?
Everybody has all three Doshas or controlling principles present within them, but we can all have widely different proportions of each – and this contributes to all the differences between people… and their dogs and their cats as well!
- Vata is responsible for the nervous system, thinking, hearing, speaking, movement, breathing and elimination. It is fast and light, dry and changeable.
- Pitta is responsible for the digestive system, metabolism, emotions, eyesight, the skin and the intellect. It moves at a medium speed, is slightly oily, hot or warm, intense and focused.
- Kapha is responsible for all the structures in the body, for fluid balance, fat metabolism, the joints, muscles etc. It moves slowly and is calm, slow to change and often carries more weight than the other Doshas.
A person who has a lot of Vata in their makeup, compared to the other two Doshas, will think a lot, move a lot, talk a lot (and quickly too). They are also likely to be lighter in build, a bit dry in the skin and they change their minds a lot. If out of balance, Vata will often cause anxiety, sleep problems, joint or muscle aches and pains or stiffness, and constipation or irregularity.
People with a lot of Pitta in their makeup often have a good clear intellect and will tend to get very hungry at mealtimes. They may be a bit irritable or intense if hungry or out of balance, and may have reddish or sensitive skin or eyes. They may also need glasses.
A person who has a lot of Kapha in their makeup is usually of a larger or more solid build, will often have thick hair and may have oilier skin than the other two Doshas. They have a calm and easygoing nature as a rule. Out of balance, Kapha may be overweight, lethargic and prone to bronchial or fluid retention problems. Kapha-dominant people tend to have late nights, and then often sleep in for too long in the morning. They can sometimes feel depressed or unmotivated.
So, how can you draw on Ayurvedic knowledge to benefit your own health and happiness? Ayurveda emphasises the importance of a good daily routine for a healthier happier life, for example digesting food properly for good nourishment, getting an adequate amount of quality sleep, and practising regular daily meditation. Below is a practical guide – try this for a week, you’ll be amazed at how much better you will feel.
Five guidelines for wellbeing and happiness:
1. Rest adequately
Ideally, bed by 10 pm and up by 6 am is a good pattern, since it fits in best with the cycles of the laws of nature in the day/night cycle. If you have to work shifts, then follow a pattern of regular bedtimes so your body can operate in a predictable manner. This regularity is one of the best things you can do for good health.
2. To start the day
It is recommended to drink a glass of room temperature water as soon as you get up. Then go to the bathroom. After that, it is good to scrape your tongue gently to remove plaque buildup from the night.
3. Eating behaviour
Naturally, WHAT you eat is important to good health. But in Ayurveda, HOW you eat is even more important, because if you don’t digest your food properly it can lead to a huge range of health problems including weight gain or cholesterol buildup, joint or muscle pains, arthritis, chronic fatigue and lethargy.
Ayurveda recommends that we eat in a settled way, which ensures that the increased blood flow to the stomach necessary for digestion can take place without interruption. Being busy or active while eating causes the blood flow to increase to the brain instead, making digestion inefficient. The resulting leftover undigested food can clog your body in different ways, causing many ill-effects over time.
Good things while eating
- Beautiful music
- Uplifting conversation
- Sitting quietly for 5 to 10 minutes after eating (to complete digestion)
Not-so-good things while eating
- Reading, computing or watching TV
- “Important” discussions or arguments
- Upsets or hurrying, or too much noise
- Jumping up and down through the meal
- Cold drinks or excess fluids near meals (which dilute stomach acids)
A good minimum pattern of exercise is 20 minutes of brisk walking every other day. This develops a very good level of basic fitness and vital capacity. More often than this is fine – but don’t overexert.
Preferably breathe through your nose while walking – if you start to want to breathe through your mouth while exercising, slow down the pace slightly so you can continue nasal breathing. Doing this will ensure that you mainly use the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘peacemaker’ nervous system) instead of the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight effect’ system). It will keep stress effects down to a minimum, and help to train your body to stay calmer and more balanced during all kinds of activity.
Yoga and/or the Salute to the Sun are not technically exercises, but they have a wide range of deep benefits if done gently and regularly.
The kind of deep rest gained during Transcendental Meditation (which is an extremely efficient meditation practice) will bring many extra health benefits, beyond those which sleep can provide. It also develops higher states of consciousness, and deeper clarity of mind than sleep alone will bring.