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About 12 years ago, somebody mentioned to me “The future has an ancient heart.” With increasing resonance, these words started to root themselves within me. I have been on a journey since, attempting to explore and appreciate Ancient/Future methodologies. My journey had taken me to the east in Nepal and India where I was exposed to the Age-old science called Ayurveda.
What is Ayurveda?
Literally translated from Sanskrit (one of the world’s oldest language) Ayurveda means “The Science of Life.” It is more than just a medicinal system. It incorporates all aspects of manifest existence. From single-celled organisms to vast Multiverses’ Ayurveda says that all existence is made up of 5 greater elements. From the very subtle to the gross: Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth. From amoebas to planets, from your shoes to your furniture to birds and trees; these elements arrange themselves in unique, complex and intricate ratios and proportions to form what can be engaged by the senses and which we call reality.
Our very own bodies, organs, systems are made up of these 5 elements in unique ratios and proportions. How these elements group, interplay and have dominance in the body is what makes you different and unique to me.
What is the purpose of Ayurveda?
The purpose of Ayurveda is to create a prolonged experience of health, well-being and longevity in this existence. The word used to describe health in Ayurveda is the Sanskrit word “Swast” – literally translated “To be established in the Self.” The eastern view of Self extends far beyond the given western narrative. The Eastern view of Self entails the physical body, the mind and the soul. There is no delineation between mind and body. It asserts that the mind is a subtle form of the body. And that the body is a gross manifestation of the mind. (you have heard it being said that as a person thinks in his/her heart so is she/he.)
Any emotional or mental toxicity that we harbour in our minds over an extended period, eventually manifests in the body as a physical ailment. For example, if one is living in constant anger, this creates a chemical imbalance in the body and excessive cortisol is produced. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone and causes proteins and enzymes to denature in the system. With increased cortisol levels, the body moves from parasympathetic (rest and digest) to sympathetic (fight or flight) This can lead to indigestion, ulcers and, over a period, to a serious chronic condition.
An Ayurvedic practitioner seeks to understand the unique constitutional or elemental makeup of the individual and creates a platform so that the bodies inbuilt healing mechanism can flourish towards that constitution or as we would say towards a state of homeostasis.
When one gets a cut as a child, there is no need to apply special techniques, medicines or procedures to heal. All one needs to do is to leave the wound alone so that the body will naturally heal itself. Ayurveda provides a support structure for the body so that the body can naturally heal itself. The support structure can be in the form of:
- Herbs or herbal formulas
- Ayurvedic Treatments
- Diet and lifestyle change
- Mindfulness practices
What Ayurveda isn’t?
Ayurveda isn’t a just a medicinal system or a form of alternative medicine. Ayurveda predates and precedes all that we know to be modern medicine. Ayurveda contains within its ambit the understanding or Yoga, how planets and their orbits and proximities affect the earth and its inhabitants, it understands plants and animals and various ecosystems. These are just a few aspects included within Ayurveda. It is far reaching and has wide impact. Ayurveda has stood the test of time.
Ayurveda isn’t a science that is mutually exclusive. Although Ayurveda predates modern medicine, an Ayurvedic practitioner is cognisant of the fact that the principles of Ayurveda can be followed even if one is taking medical treatment or prescription medicines. Depending on the law in your country, after visiting an Ayurvedic doctor, you may be advised to consult your GP to ensure that the routine you have been placed on is permissible.
Ayurveda isn’t a quick fix endeavour. Because Ayurveda is not purely dedicated to symptomatic relief, rather root cause alleviation, the principles applied in Ayurveda could take time depending on the extent of the disease in the body. Remember what manifests as a disease in a body sometimes takes several years to get to the extent that it does.
Ayurveda does not treat diseases. Ayurveda treats people. Again, Ayurveda isn’t just a medical science. Because the basis of Ayurveda is the 5 greater elements, Ayurveda attempts restorative balance of these elements in one’s constitution. When these elements are restored then the body is no longer in a diseased state.
Much can be said as an introduction to this wonderful and diverse topic, however we will leave it like this for today. Be sure to look out for our next topic where we will explore more on the history of Ayurveda. This is just the beginning. You are welcome to browse through the informative video links provided from various sources in order to give you more of a well-rounded appreciation of this topic. Please be sure to read our disclaimer before embarking on this journey with us in understanding Ayurveda.
Yours in Service
For participating in the Introduction to Ayurveda course, we are giving away gifts to 3 lucky people. The gifts include:
- An Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Massage) at www.vishal.co.za
- A hamper of Ayurvedic products
- Vishal Ayurvedas Tri-Doshic (Balancing) Massage Oil
To qualify for these, all you need to do is respond to the questionnaire after a lesson or two. This will keep your name in the draw at the end of the course.
Click here to fill in your response if you have not done so already:
Ayurveda tells us that our bodies don’t exist in isolation to the external world. They are, instead, a part of it, integrated with it, and depend on it for our health and well being. In this age, however, we live in such a separate state from nature that we’ve forgotten the natural and instinctual ways in which to nourish ourselves. The seasons play a big part on how life is governed on earth and they serve to inform us on what changes need to be made in our diets and lifestyle. Different seasons bring about an increase in different elements. They also bring about different crops from the earth; these crops are meant to be consumed in order to nourish us and also to safeguard us against the harsher aspects of the season. The guidelines and observances for seasons are known as Rithucharya (Rithu – seasons, Charya – disciplines) or seasonal disciplines. In south Africa the seasons take on more or less the following dates:
- Summer – 1 December to 29th February
- Autumn – 1 March to 31 May
- Winter – 1 June to 31 August
- Spring – 1 September to 30th November
Because we are now in Summer (Ghrishma Rithu), here are some tips and guidelines to follow until the 29th February:
Most of us need to balance the fire element (we will talk more about this as the Intro to Ayurveda course progresses) in the summer regardless of our constitution. Our digestive fire is naturally low during summer and we often experience a decrease in appetite. We should respect this change by eating in moderation. Our bodies will want more liquids when it is hot. But even though we find it refreshing and satisfying to drink cold water and cool fruit beverages at this time, we must take care not to douse the digestive fire by drinking ice cold liquids during or after meals.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as it helps in flushing out all the toxic matter from the body. About seventy percent of our body is made up of water, thus it is necessary to keep ourselves hydrated. Water is the major carrier of blood and oxygen to different organs of the body. It nourishes the red blood cells by providing them with nutrients.
What to eat
This is the time of year for sweet, light, cold, mineral-rich food. Eat lots of herbs and drink lots of fruit juices. Seek out antioxidants. Eat fruits like watermelon, peaches, plums, mangoes, grapes, pears, avocado and berries. Use vegetables like – Asparagus, cucumber, cabbage, sweet potato, celery, green leafy vegetables.
Greasy and junk food:
Avoid food that is greasy, oily, and fried. The food that contains lot of spices and pungent taste should be kept away. Do not consume stale or leftover food, as they contain harmful bacteria. Eat fresh food that is cooked just an hour before.
Cut down certain drinks:
Cut down the intake of coffee, tea, or carbonated drinks. Minimize the consumption of alcohol during summers. Carbonated drink contains acids that make your more dehydrated. Even the caffeine in coffee triggers dehydration in your body.
Work and stress management:
Remember during summer, the fire and water element is high in the nature. Take care to avoid strenuous or stressful activity between 10am and 2pm. (when the sun is at its peak and the atmosphere is the warmest)
The fire element is highest in the body during this time which means we are usually prone to a higher temper. If you are planning an office or business meeting that is foreseeably stressful then take care to schedule it during the cooler times of the day. (early morning or late afternoon)
Take care to have your biggest meal in the day during lunch as the digestive fire will be heightened due to the effect of the sun during this time and skipping a meal will be sure to get the stress levels up (especially for people with a fire temperament).
Recommended Ayurvedic treatments
Abhyanga: This season is drying, so keeping your skin moisturized is a must.
Shirodhara: Shirodhara is a deeply relaxing therapy that involves a steady stream of warm oil that is poured onto the forehead. This blissful treatment is perfect for the chaotic state that fire and air can bring to the mind.
“The Future has an Ancient heart.” Archaeologists made the discovery that the people of the Indus Valley Civilization had knowledge of medicine and dentistry dating as far back as 9000 BCE. Ayurveda the science of life, was recorded in this region, more than 5000 years ago in Sanskrit in the four ancient texts called the Vedas. Prior to written texts, because of the evidence above, this knowledge was shared in an oral tradition dating back to 9000 BCE. Ayurveda holds on to the fundamental view that all of manifest existence is intrinsically connected and that all areas of life impacts ones health, so it follows that the Vedas cover a wide variety of topics including health and healthcare techniques, astrology, spirituality, government and politics, the arts, and human behaviour.
By the 8th century BCE, ayurvedic medical books were made available and provided not only procedural instructions but also a definitive understanding of the elements, plant medicine, the human anatomy, the nature, food and food combinations, times of day and seasons.
The knowledge of Ayurveda today is based primarily on “the great triad” of texts call Brhat Travi which consists of:
- Charak Samhita (600 – 900 BC)
- Sushruta Samitha (600 – 800 BC)
- Ashtanga Hridaya (500 AD)
Sushruta is considered as the “founding father of surgery.” One of the earliest known mention of the name is from the Bower Manuscript where Sushruta is listed as one of the ten sages residing in the Himalayas. He was an early innovator of plastic surgery who taught and practiced surgery on the banks of the Ganges in the area that corresponds to the present-day city of Varanasi in Northern India. Much of what is known about Sushruta is in Sanskrit contained in a series of volumes he authored, which are collectively known as the Sushruta Samhita. It is one of the oldest known surgical texts and it describes in detail the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments, as well as procedures on performing various forms of cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery and rhinoplasty.
In order to qualify as an Ayurvedic doctor today, about 7 to 8 years of commitment is required. The degree for an Ayurvedic doctor is called a Bachelor in Ayurvedic Medical Science. There are 8 branches in Ayurveda:
- Kaya Chikitsa – general practitioner
- Shalya Chikitsa – Surgery
- Shalakya Chikitsa – Ophthalmology & ENT
- Kaumara Chikitsa – Paediatrics
- Agada Chikitsa – Toxicology
- Grihar Chikitsa – Psychiatry
- Gera Chikitsa – Rejuvenation therapy
- Vrishi Chikitsa – Aphrodisiacs
Ayurveda has two main goals:
- To preserve and extend the life of a human being for as long as necessary to attain self-actualisation (realisation)
- To treat one that has become sick
I hope this was helpful. We will continue as the weeks progress with the next aspect of our series: Ayurveda and Health.