Ayurveda, the traditional health science from India, is based upon thousands of years of observation and inquiry about the ingredients for health, happiness and a long life. In Ayurvedic medicine mind, body and spirit are viewed as interrelated parts of a continuous whole in constant relationship and interaction with the larger environment. Balance and harmony define health and well-being.
What makes Ayurveda different from modern medicine?
The major difference between Ayurveda and modern medicine is that, in Ayurveda, people are viewed holistically—as a part of the larger universe and in constant relationship with it, rather than as the sum of their symptoms or lack thereof. Mind, body and spirit are viewed as interrelated parts of a continuous whole that includes the surrounding environment. Consequently, a large part of Ayurvedic medicine is focused on harmony between the totality of ourselves and the universe of which we are a part. When we fall out of harmony with our environment, or our own true nature for that matter, disease can occur because equilibrium is lost. The main principle of treatment, then, is to restore balance in our body, mind and spirit so that we can once again be in harmony with the larger universe.
Underlying this is a firm commitment to prevention—it is best to remain in balance and stay there! We can do this by honoring the unique combination of five elements–ether, air, fire, water and earth—that make up our body, mind and spirit. This is known as our constitution, or Prakriti, which was imprinted on each of us at the time of conception and which determines our physique, personality and psyche. Determining the characteristics of an individual’s Prakriti is of primary importance in Ayurvedic medicine so that proper diet and lifestyle can be determined. Because foods and lifestyle practices exert differing effects on each of the elements, we must eat and live in accordance with what is balancing to our Prakriti to maintain balance and harmony.
Combinations of the elements form everything in the universe, but in living creatures the elements associate with one another in three ensembles or Doshas: ether and air combine to form Vata Dosha, fire and water combine to form Pitta Dosha and water and earth combine to form Kapha Dosha. When in balance, the Doshas work in cooperation with one another to maintain our biological function with each Dosha governing a major area of biology. The Doshas dynamically interact with one another and with the environment—each has its natural rhythm of accumulation and subsidence. When this rhythm is disturbed by disharmony, particularly through improper diet and lifestyle, the Doshas within us become imbalanced and can lead to a state of disease if not attended to with balancing foods and practices. Thus, at the first sign of imbalance, Ayurveda recommends remediary steps–stressing early detection and timely therapeutic action to restore balance.