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Ayurveda: the Science of Life

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words Ayur (life) and Veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda translates to the science of life. Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in a person's consciousness, Ayurveda encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment.


History of medicine is a fascinating subject as it is a saga of man's struggle against disease. As civilization advances and as the disease pattern changes, medical science also changes. The origin of Ayurveda is attributed to Atharva Veda where mention is made several diseases with their treatments. Later, from the 6th Century BC to 7th Century AD there was systematic development of the science, and it is called the Samhita period when several classical works were produced by several authors and during this period there is evidence of organized medical care.


According to Ayurveda, the five elements of nature (space, air, fire, water, earth) combine in the body as three components (doshas) known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. These doshas relate closely to the basic elements of nature and specific functions of the body. A balance of these doshas is thought to be required for optimal health.

  • Air and space represent Vatta. Vatta dosha controls muscle and joint movement, breathing, and heartbeat. Also, Vatta controls anxiety, fear, pain, and other functions of the nervous system. Those who practice Ayurveda believe this is the most powerful of all three doshas. It controls very basic body functions, like how cells divide. It also controls your mind, breathing, blood flow, heart function, and ability to get rid of waste through your intestines.

  • Fire and water represent Pitta, which is thought to control such bodily functions as digestion, metabolism, intelligence, and skin color. Pitta governs the emotions of anger, hate, and jealousy. A person who is dominant in pitta has characteristics of heat and fluidity and is known for being intelligent, intense, and extremely goal-oriented. On a physical level, pitta controls heat and energy throughout the body. On a mental level, pitta oversees the emotions of joy and anger.

  • Earth and water represent Kapha. The physical structure of the body and the immune system are governed by Kapha. Emotional responses thought to be controlled by Kapha include calmness, forgiveness, love, and greed. You can disrupt it by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods, and eating or drinking things that contain too much salt or water.

Ayurvedic self-care practices

In ayurvedic medicine, it is thought that if an imbalance occurs in any of the three doshas, illness results. Ayurvedic medicine treats illness in many ways, including dietary changes, herbal remedies, and exercise. According to the ayurvedic philosophy, you can also use the following self-care practices to treat disease or imbalance.

1. Yoga

Ayurvedic practices such as yoga and meditation can be safe ways to promote health. If you have a long-term illness, you may be able to combine Ayurveda with conventional medical treatment. Follow your meditation with yoga, or something that gets your body moving. You can tailor your practice to your dosha.

2. Oil pulling

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for oral health and detoxification. It involves the use of pure oils as agents for pulling harmful bacteria, fungus, and other organisms out of the mouth, teeth, gums, and even throat. The most effective oil pulling is done by placing around a tablespoon of cold-pressed organic sesame oil into the mouth and swishing the oil around the mouth for approximately 15-20 minutes and then spitting it out.

3. Build Up Your Ojas

Ojas (pronounced OH-djas) is the poetic term used in Ayurveda for “healthiness”. If a person has healthy skin and flesh, is resilient to disease and injury, and has “juiciness,” then Ayurveda says they have good ojas. Ojas is associated with the mental stability and an earthy strength to endure. Ojas may be compared to cement or glue that binds and contains the body, mind, and spirit into a functional whole.

4. Breathing Exercises: Pranayama

Ayurveda, as a medical system, is filled with breathing practices to energize and purify the body. This is why they are considered to be key aspects of Yogic practice, for controlled breathing brings more oxygen to the blood and the brain. Did you know that one of the major secrets of energy and rejuvenation is a purified bloodstream? Pranayama develops the lungs and improves the digestive fire or agni. People who practice pranayama have a complexion that is smooth and bright, and there may even be a sparkle in their eyes.

5. Oil massage

Spend at least five minutes massaging your body with oil. Again use sesame oil if you are Kapha or Vata, or cooling coconut oil for Pitta dosha. Try to feel your body from the inside out – for example, when you massage your arm, try to feel your hand with your arm instead of your arm with your hand. This helps to ground you and bring awareness to your body.

Keep in Mind:

Maybe you’ve read all this and thought, ‘that’s all fine but I don’t have time’. Whenever people are trying to start a new routine I always advise them to start by introducing one or two new things at a time and build up from there. Make it manageable and be kind to yourself. Don’t try to do everything at once. Keeping a journal can help to motivate you to keep up the habit. Due to the lack of quality research, Ayurvedic herbs should not be given to children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. Please contact your physician or naturopath prior to starting any new health related routine!

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