If you’re familiar with yoga, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across the word ‘Ayurveda’ somewhere along the line. Closely connected to the Indian discipline of yoga, Ayurveda, an ancient health philosophy, has slowly begun to gain Western popularity, thanks in part to society’s move towards a more holistic approach to health. With her upcoming ‘Introduction to Ayurveda’ workshop at Sydney’s Humming Puppy on the horizon, we caught up with yogi and Ayurveda expert Courtney Rose to learn more about this traditional healing practice:
What exactly is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic system of health and wellbeing which originated in India quite literally thousands of years ago. It is often referred to as the sister science of yoga. More than just being about preventative health and wellbeing, it is also a rich philosophy of living that empowers you to base your decisions on a deep knowledge of the self and honouring the rhythms inherent in your body and in nature.
It encompasses a number of practices, including diet, massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga and meditation, to name a few. Ultimately, it seeks to create and maintain balance: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
What are the main principles and benefits of this ancient health philosophy?
One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is honouring the individual. According to Ayurveda, everyone has a unique constitution made up of the three ‘Doshas’ or energies: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The doshas each have different qualities; Vata is light, cold and dry, like wind. Pitta is hot, intense and light, like fire. Kapha is cool, stable and moist, like earth.
According to Ayurveda we all have these doshas in different quantities, your most predominant dosha determines your body-mind type. Once we know our body-mind type, it becomes easy to see where we might go out of balance. For example, people who are predominantly Pitta already have large amounts of heat in their being, these people are more likely to get over-heated or hot headed and angry than the other doshas.
Another key principal of Ayurveda is balance, and more specifically, preventing disease by cultivating balance. So, in the previous example of a Pitta type, to create balance in your mind and body you would choose to undertake cooling practices like swimming or eat cooling foods like watermelon or mint. Further to that Ayurveda recognises and works with the rhythms of nature, so as a Pitta person, you would take extra special care in the Summer months and you might consider doing a cleanse at the end of Summer to help move out all the excess Pitta that has built up over the previous months.
A final key principal taught by my teacher is the practice of Sādhāna, which is essentially a daily act done consciously or reverentially. This can be as simple as making a cup of tea with a sense of ritual. Through Sādhāna, we aim to connect with our intrinsic, intuitive knowledge of self and in this way, begin to direct our own healing and health care.
Where does Ayurveda differ from Western medicine and where does it complement it?
One of the biggest differences I see is that Ayurveda looks at all the aspects of a person’s life to determine their level of health, there is no separation between mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health – each component of person’s life must be balanced for true wellness.
All levels of imbalance are important in Ayurveda, as soon as it is recognised it is treated and in this way, more serious imbalance or disease is avoided. Western medicine often doesn’t recognise illness until the body has reached a crisis state.
When it comes to disease, Western medicine often seeks to treat the symptoms, Ayurveda seeks to address the cause of the symptoms: the initial imbalance. Interestingly in India, Ayurveda is a recognised form of medicine and as such there are Ayurvedic hospitals and doctors.
However, the real power and wisdom of Ayurveda stems from the way it can be utilised by individuals on an everyday level; what you eat, what sort of activities you engage in, what self-care practices you choose, what time you wake and go to bed etc. So, in the context of western living, it can be used in an entirely complementary way to our medical system.
Do you have to see an Ayurvedic practitioner to incorporate Ayurveda into your life or is it something you can do by yourself?
One of the most beautiful things about Ayurveda is that it is accessible to anyone on any budget! You don’t have to see a practitioner to begin to incorporate it in to your life, by simply beginning to enquire into your unique constitution you can implement simple changes aligned with Ayurvedic philosophy.
If someone wanted to, how could they add elements of Ayurveda into their daily lifestyle?
One of the first steps is to understand what your dosha is. You might already have an inkling by the descriptions above or you can find out by using one of the many quizzes available online. From here you might choose one or two practices or make a small change to your diet to assist in balancing your Dosha. For example, a Pitta person would benefit greatly from starting their day with a visualisation meditation, a Vata person might add a ginger tea into their day and a Kapha person might start attending a hot or power yoga class instead of sleeping in!
Another way is to create a Sādhāna for yourself, this doesn’t have to be super virtuous or long-winded. In fact, you purposefully want it to be very, very simple and easy for you to do but ensure it is something you can give your full attention to. It could be daily meditation or yoga practice but equally it could be making a cup of coffee in a favourite mug, watering a special house plant or preparing your breakfast. No matter what you choose find a way to make it feel special and do it in the spirit of caring for yourself.
Want to learn more about Ayurveda?
Courtney will be running an immersive Ayurveda workshop at Sydney’s Humming Puppy yoga studio on November 22nd at 6:30 PM. If you’d like to take part, head to www.hummingpuppy.com to secure your place. Follow @humming_puppy to check out all the fun!