Ayurveda: The Art of Living

By Tommi Hanley

Ayurveda (meaning "the science of life") is a holistic healing system that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It treats mind, body and spirit as one, and strives to balance the essential elements that exist in all of us to attain our natural state of pure health. It does this through a variety of cleansing and rejuvenating treatments and practices that can include diet, exercise, meditation and, massage. Yoga is part of the ayurvedic tradition, too – when you perform some yoga positions you’re engaging in a physical and spiritual exercise that is rooted in Ayurvedic philosophy.

The first step is through knowledge. A typical Ayurvedic consultation begins with a practitioner listening to your pulse and assessing your eyes, tongue and nails for evidence of imbalance. The practitioner also queries you extensively about your health and disease history, spiritual practices, temperament, energy level, diet, sleep habits, digestion and metabolism.

This information helps determine your basic constitution; in ayurvedic terms, it’s comprised of three basic doshas, or energies, which are the same ones that make up the entire universe: earth (called kapha, pronounced "kapa" or "kafa"), fire (pitta) and air (vata).

One or two of the three main energies tend to predominate in each of us, and this determines our predisposition and our strengths and weaknesses. Vatas, for example, are creative and quick to learn, but they’re also prone to anxiety, constipation and stroke. kaphas are nurturing but must guard against their tendency toward obesity, lethargy and indulgence. Pittas are fiery, with hot tempers but warm hearts.

For example, a person could be identified as a vata –  a fast talker with lots of mental energy. But some mornings he or she is more kapha than vata. There’s no sign of mental quickness as; there’s only the slow, groggy numbness associated with the morning. That’s because doshas fluctuate in what can be called "the elemental dance."

Doshas exist outside of people, too, and these can also affect moods and behaviours. Different times of day and seasons have their own doshas. Morning is kapha. You may find it difficult to get moving before 10 a.m., especially if you’re a slow-moving, kapha-controlled person to begin with. Many people need a stimulating beverage to get going in the morning. Sunshiny, energizing pitta becomes stronger during the morning and is strongest at midday when the sun, too, is at its peak. That’s when you should do your most demanding work.

If this all sounds like common sense, it is. Ayurveda is Mother Nature at work and the key to boosting immunity and maintaining good health. Stress, overwork, poor dietary habits and lack of exercise may cause your delicate dosha balance to come undone. You may start to feel rundown, or get nervous and edgy. An excess of fiery pitta may cause a flare-up of rashes, fevers and heartburn.

Perhaps you’re having problems at work and your boss makes you increasingly angry. This stimulates your pitta beyond its normal balance. If you’re a pitta type, you’re especially prone to an overactive pitta and may break out in a rash, get headaches or hot flashes. Too much kapha, though, can cause lethargy, heaviness and bloating.

To restore balance and promote healing, practitioners create a wellness plan. It may involve dietary changes as well as particular herbs or remedies matched to your essential nature and present condition. To reduce the severity of headaches, it may be suggested to avoid cooling vata foods, such as dairy products, cucumbers and orange juice, and start the day with ginger tea. This is supposed to reduce the amount of "air" in they body and let the three doshas regain their normal balance.

A treatment plan will make use of your five senses – the main channels for healing. You may be asked to listen to particular sounds, such as repetitive chanting. Music can refocus thoughts and feelings to either uplift or soothe. You may be told to view specific images; if you’re a vata, you may need the peace and calm that a beautiful image, or a few minutes of quiet mediation to quiet the mind.

The sense of touch is how many Westerners are introduced to ayurveda. Because of our go-go society, vata, which is associated with achievement and activity, is usually the first to become imbalanced. The more we do, the more a vata is stimulated. Even kaphas can start to feel overwhelmed and rushed. Think of a city dweller, Blackberry in hand, finding it hard to concentrate and relax. To turn vata down, Ayurvedic practitioners make use of the sense of touch. They know that a massage calms and soothes and can correct excess vata.

Here a couple of herbal remedies you may wish to try:

For colds:

  • Mix 1/2 tsp (2 mL) each cinnamon, fennel seeds and ground ginger.
  • Add a pinch of cloves.
  • Steep in 1 cup (250 mL) of hot water for 10 minutes.
  • Strain before drinking.

For stomach ache:

  • Sprinkle pinch each salt and pepper on 1 oz (30 g) pomegranate seeds.
  • Mix well and enjoy.

For headaches:

  • Massage forehead, temples, neck and shoulder muscles with peppermint-scented oil.

On May 31st, at our purepower Harmony event, join Erica Mueller at her workshop, The Art of Living and discover how Ayurvedic can improve your health – body, mind and soul. For more information and to register visit www.purepowerevents.com. We are offering a 2-for-1 special, so you and a guest may attend the full-day event for just $149 including two keynotes, workshops and a delicious lunch.

Buy Tickets