Ayurveda, Mother of All Healing
A short introduction of traditional Indian medicine
BY SOPHIA PSKOVA
Here at Moksha Yoga Amazonica, we study the foundations of Ayurvedic Medicine, and learn how to incorporate healthy and meaningful Ayurvedic morning and evening routines, because we know how powerful and impactful they can be in paving the path to a healthy and happy life. But what exactly is Ayurveda?
Etymology of Ayurveda, आयुर्वेद
AYUR - life, from variant form of root aiw- “vital force, life, long life, eternity”
VEDA - knowledge, wisdom, understanding, from root vid- "to know"
Ayurvedic Medicine or Ayurveda means “science of life”, it’s referred to as the “Mother of all Healing” and is considered to be the oldest healing science. Until this day, modern medicine and modern healing practices draw their inspiration from Ayurveda. We can feel its’ spirit in Naturopathy and Traditional Systems of Medicine, among others.
Ayurveda is a holistic medicine, meaning that it takes into consideration all and “whole” aspects of an individual’s life.
Holism is the idea that a system (in this context, the human body, mind, and spirit) should be viewed as a whole, and not merely as a collection of parts. For example, if an Ayurveda patient has pain in a particular part of their body, the practitioner will look into everything they do: their hygiene, routines, sleep, diet, lifestyle, mindset, spirituality, current seasons and more. Ayurveda is not looking to simply provide a relief and cure when there is dis-ease, discomfort and pain, but also to help adapt one’s life to their environment and their constitution, and prevent potential illnesses, while the individual is still healthy. We turn towards Ayurveda even before there is any kind of illness, to promote longevity and good health, and connect to what constitutes who we are, to our nature.
But there is more to Ayurveda. Ayurveda teaches us how to live a more conscious life, a life where we are aware of our environment. It teaches us how to cherish what we surround ourselves with, respect nature and the medicine that it contains for us. For we are merely a reflection of our environment and our environment is a reflection of ourselves and our behaviours and lifestyles.
At Moksha Yoga Amazonica we learn that we should only be putting on our bodies ingredients that are safe to ingest, hence focusing on utilising fresh and natural products for our self-care routines that we create from scratch at the trainings (using for instance plants, honey, pure oils, clay etc.). And like Sebastian Pole says in his book Discovering the True You with Ayurveda “We can’t talk about our own health without understanding our place in our environment, because in order to fulfill our potential we have to live in the context of our surroundings. We have to know our place in the ecosystem of which we are a part, and this means living 'consciously': being aware of nature and how it affects us and how we, in turn, affect nature.”
History of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga and Jyotiṣa. One goes hand in hand with the other as all three originate in the Indian subcontinent over 5000 years ago. We link them to different South-Asian traditions and practices, which weren’t necessarily religious.
The 3 Vedic sister-sciences:
1. Ayurveda covering:
- mind (thoughts affect our nervous system and vice versa)
- body (diet, physical exercise, and habits)
- soul (our higher self)
- senses (signs that tell us if something is going to take us closer or further away from our natural state of balance)
2. The second sister-science is Vedic astrology, Jyotiṣa, the study of the alignment of the planets and stars in the moment an individual is born and how it influences their life.
3. And the third sister-science is Yoga, a spiritual practice, which purpose is to reach enlightenment, or Moksha. Read What is yoga? to learn more on the subject.
For thousands of years, the knowledge of Yoga, Jyotiṣa, and Ayurveda was passed on orally between rishis (seers or sages) and their disciples, studying and meditating in Ashrams, mountains and caves of South Asia.
Later on, the four sacred texts called “Veda” were composed encompassing the fundamental knowledge of “all aspects of life” in the form of chants, hymns, and stories. Some research shows that the Vedas were the sacred texts of Aryans who brought them to the Indian subcontinent alongside Vedic Sanskrit and horses as they migrated to the region over centuries. How fascinating and mysterious!
The Vedas were not written by one man, nor were they written in one particular place, at a particular time, they were constantly revisited and new knowledge was added on. The oldest text dates back to 1500 BCE and the most recent to 900 BCE.
Moreover, the Vedas are śruti ("what is heard"), distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti ("what is remembered"). Hindus consider the Vedas to be "impersonal, author-less, revelations of sacred sounds and texts heard by ancient sages after intense meditation”.
The Vedas are now considered to be the oldest conserved religious literature on Earth, the oldest texts in Sanskrit and the oldest sacred scriptures of the Hindu religion. They are divided into four books. However, each of them doesn’t operate without the others, therefore, it’s best to see them as four parts of the same body, as four parts of one whole.
The Four Vedas are:
- Rig Veda - 10.000 written prayers and hymns/chants, known as “the knowledge”.
- Sama Veda - melodies, pronunciation of prayers and chants, it covers our will and pure devotion to God.
- Yajur Veda - meaning and purpose of the prayers and chants, as well as rituals, it talks about Karma - action part of life.
- Atharva Veda - This Veda offers specific tools on how to bring balance between the 3 mental states which are knowledge, devotion to God or will, and action (karma) of the 3 first Vedas. This Veda is also known as the “Veda of magical formulas”, it covers the “magical” results of prayers and chants and is one of the most ancient texts that helps us trace back the knowledge of nature and use of medicinal herbs.
It is said that Ayurveda originated from the Upanishada portion of Atharva Veda, a subsection or “Upveda'' of Atharva Veda. There is mention of Mantras (mind-tool, chants) related to curing physical and mental diseases as well as medicinal herbs and their application, which, along with the fact that it’s the most recent Veda (900 BCE), distinguishes this Veda from the others.
Ayurveda evolved and expanded to other continents over the centuries, spreading to other South-Asian countries, as well as China and the Mediterranean, influencing many Greek, Roman, and Egyptian practices, among others.
It was the medicine practiced all over India until the British colonial rule started and, after at first “working” with the Indian knowledge of the body and medicine, in 1833 it was decided to ban the practice of Ayurveda all together and close all Ayurveda colleges. Ayurveda was disregarded and seen as « the medicine of the poor » for the following 100 years until the Independence of India in 1947.
It has since re-emerged and now around 70% of the population of India use Ayurveda as their first source of medicine and healing.
The Mythical Origins of Ayurveda
We can’t talk about a Hindu tradition, such as Ayurveda, without mentioning at least one story that tells us under which circumstances it first appeared. Remember how all the knowledge used to be passed on orally? Well, sound and storytelling was a major part of this.
There are several myths about where and when Ayurveda first originated. However, all of those who attempt to tell these stories will agree that the knowledge of Ayurveda has been passed on directly or indirectly from Lord Brahma, the God of Creation.
In the myth of the Creation of the World, also called the Churning of the Cosmic Ocean of Milk, first mentioned in the great epic the Mahabharata, Lord Brahma helped the Gods find Amrita, the elixir of immortality by showing them the way. Amrita, along with other precious treasures, was lost at the bottom of the ocean, which weakened the Gods, who, still mortal at the time, were tired of constantly fighting against the Demons. Amrita was hidden under mount Meru and the only way to bring it back was to stir and churn the ocean until the “soma” (another name for the elixir of immortality) floats up
“The mythological ‘churning of the ocean’ is an invitation to reflect on the vastness of the ocean, its unlimited potential, its beauty and the possibility of its existence within us as an untapped unconscious.” - M.D. Muthukumaraswamy
Soon enough, the Gods realised that in order to succeed, they had to unite their forces with the Demons, promise them some of the treasures in return, and trick them at the last minute so that only the Gods get to drink the elixir and become invincible. And so they wrapped Vasuki, the king of snakes, around mount Meru exactly three and a half times, exerting pressure on the mountain at 7 critical points, and pulled on its two ends in different directions to begin the churning.
After many efforts and the help of Vishnu, who has taken the form of a tortoise to avoid the sinking of mount Meru into the ocean’s depths, and Shiva, the lord of Yogis, who swallowed the deadly poison that first came to the surface, saving the world from destruction, many ratnas (meaning: precious things) emerged to the surface. These boons blessed the Gods and the world with some of the most important gifts including: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance, the moon (Chandra), a white elephant (Airavata), a white horse, a boon-granting tree (Kalpavriksha), the elixir of immortality, and Lord Dhanvantari, the doctor and father of Ayurveda, among other treasures.
Dhanvantari’s birthday is celebrated every year on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights. It is also known as the National Ayurveda Day in India and is celebrated all over the world by Ayurveda practitioners since 2016.
The 5 Elements & the Doshas that make our constitution: We are all one
Let’s see what Ayurveda is all about and where do the 3 Doshas, or humors, that constitute who we are come from.
One of the main principles of Ayurveda is seeing beyond the illusion, beyond Maya, our perceptions of life where everything is separate: we can see bodies, houses, trees, clouds, the sun, and we see them all as separate entities. We can see the physical surrounding us from different angles, but we will never be able to see it from all angles at once. We are constantly caught in our perspectives, concepts, and ideas of how we think things really are, thus the true essence of all that surrounds us is hidden to us. The idea that “we are all one” isn’t a new concept that emerged with the age of spiritual social media accounts, but the foundation of how the world was perceived by
wise men and women at the beginning of time, and the beginning of what we call “yoga”.
It is believed that all that exists in the Universe is made out of 5 elements: Prithvi (earth), Aap (water), Teja (fire), Vayu (air), and Akash (ether), perhaps in different proportions, but ultimately, if we decompose we can find these elements in everything.
Shiva, the Lord of yogis, and the creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe, according to Hindu mythology and stories, brings forth the 5 elements (pancha bhutas) with Damaru, his two-headed drum that created the first sound and the rhythm to which all existence dances. Hence, Shiva has the power to create, maintain or protect, and destroy, to create anew with his special drum.
The 5 elements, in their turn, are found in the principles of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, called Doshas.
Dosha is translated to “prone to corruption” or “the faulty one”, it’s the energies that constitute who we are, they are in constant movement, evolution and therefore are easily “corrupted” or affected by both internal and external factors like our thoughts, the food we eat, the weather, seasons, and the environment we live in. Doshas are sometimes explained as « bodily humors ».
There are 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is dominated by ether and air, Pitta by fire and water, and Kapha by water and earth (see the image below).
Each person is born with a specific constitution with (usually) one or two dominant doshas, yet all three are present.
The constitution that we arrive with in the world is called Prakruti and remains the same throughout our life, although constantly influenced by our environment; and the imbalance that is caused by our lifestyle is called Vikruti, this is why it is important to consider and observe both when looking to understand our Doshas.
We all have all 5 elements and all 3 doshas that make up who we are on a physical, mental, energetical, and emotional levels, yet everyone has a unique constitution, a unique combination of these elements.
This is why there are people with more energy and fire, with more outgoing and extroverted personalities and there are people that prefer to save their energy and spend time alone or only with special people, they are more grounded (Earth) and introverted, and there are people with a constitution that is anywhere between these two.
When we begin to understand our body, mind, and soul, we also learn how to go with the ebb and flow of our constitution rather than going against it, and we learn how to counterbalance with the flow of life that can be chaotic and throw us out of balance.
Some Ayurvedic ways to counterbalance are: adapting one’s diet, supplements, routines, specific herb-infused oils to use topically, change of environment, and mindset work, among others.
This is what Ayurveda is teaching us: we have the power over how we lead our lives, and how we feel if only we learn more about our bodies and our needs, through learning about our constitution and dominating doshas.
Would you like to find out what your Dosha is?
Below you will find the links to our Prakruti and Vikruti questionnaires, complementing each other.
Dinacharya: the Fine Art of Daily Routines
In our modern world, we became completely disconnected from the natural circadian rhythm that we used to live in synchronicity with. We get distracted by technology and lights that are everywhere in our environment and forget how to respond to nature’s cues that tell us when it’s our time to wake up, eat, and go to sleep. Dinacharya means daily routine, it’s the doorway to applying and practicing Ayurveda by reconnecting to nature’s rhythms, and our intuition.
Morning and evening routines are important because this short window of time between sleep and wakefulness is a moment where we can work with our subconscious and create the potential for magic and growth to happen. These transitional periods need our attention, and are perfect times for ritual, coming back to ourselves, coming back home, to the present, to honour ourselves, and express gratitude for another day alive.
Every season and every time of the day corresponds to a dosha, to a certain energy, therefore we can get the best out of each day by adapting our routines to the matching energy of a particular time of the day. This is what it means to tune in with the flow of nature and the elements.
Here are some ideas of Ayurvedic rituals to incorporate in your dinacharya:
Tongue Scraping is best done first thing in the morning, it clears away all the bacteria accumulated during the night and stimulates the production of enzymes and the function of the gastric system, and by doing so signals the body that it’s time to start the day. You can use a tongue scraper made out of stainless steel or copper (which is more of a traditional alternative).
Tip: Before tongue scraping, observe the colour of your tongue, its’ texture and colour are a way for the body to communicate its’ health to you and could indicate the presence of an unbalance, infection, or others.
•“Gandusha” - Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is an ancient tradition in Ayurveda. Here, too, the aim is to free your body from accumulated bacteria during sleep. It is best to use 1-2 tablespoons ripened organic sesame oil or extra virgin organic coconut oil. Put it in your mouth without swallowing, and then swish it around your mouth for 5-15 minutes. Dispose of the oil in your household waste rather than the sink or the toilet. Oil pulling is usually done after tongue scraping and before brushing your teeth like you would regularly do. After which you can drink a glass of warm lemon water to hydrate your body and prepare it for your daily activities.
•Jala Neti - Water Cleansing
According to one of the staple books of the Yoga world Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century CE), Jala Neti is one of the 6 purifying techniques (shatkarma). To perform Jala Neti you will need a Neti pot, which can be ceramic, copper, plastic, or glass, and sterile lukewarm salt water. Tilt the head to one side and pour the water into the top nostril allowing the water to come out through the other one or through the mouth.
This clears the air passageways to allow better breathing during the day, eliminate excess heat in the head, clear excess mucus and bacteria from nasal pathways as well as to promote mental clarity
and focus. It is meant to prepare the practitioner for Pranayma (breathing techniques) and meditation.
Tip: if the water is too salty or not salty enough you will feel a burning sensation in the nasal pathways as you perform Jala Neti, whereas if the water has the perfect amount of salt, the experience will be painless and smooth. You can start with the nostril the feels more open to unlock the blocked or congested side first.
•Abhyanga - self-massage
Abhyanga means “massaging the body’s limbs” or “glowing body”. It is one of the oldest and most powerful Ayurvedic practices. It consists in applying warm oil on one’s whole body, massaging the limbs, trunk, and scalp, which improves blood circulation and helps release toxins from the body. Abhyanga perfectly complements a yoga asana practice or other type of physical exercise, and promotes healthy, elastic, and nourished skin. It greatly improves digestion and helps those with a Vata dosha unbalance.
Traditionally, after massaging your whole body with oil, you can let it absorb for a little while before gently wiping it with a towel and taking a bath or shower.
If you find yourself short on time, you can perform Padabhyanga, which consists in oiling and massaging the feet, after which you can put on socks and let the oil absorb.
This is a beautiful practice to incorporate before bed to connect to your body, your skin, your physical vessel and cultivate self-love.
Tip: all base oils are great to use for Abhyanga as long as you’re not allergic and enjoy their smell, but if you would like to go one step further you can choose oils that go specifically well with your dominating dosha. For Vata (dry skin) use heavy oils like almond, avocado, and sesame; for Pitta (sensitive, overheated skin) use neutral oils like sunflower; and for Kapha (oily skin) use light oils like sweet almond, and flaxseed oils.
Key Components of Ayurvedic Principles
•Ayurveda is a complex ancient science that originated in South Asia over 5000 years ago and has been first recorded in Atharva Veda.
•Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga and Jyotiṣa.
•We are all made out of the same 5 elements, hence we are all one.
•We are all born with a unique constitution and dominating doshas that do not change through our life but that can be thrown out of balance by internal and external factors, as well as personal choices.
•We all hold the power to either lead a balanced life or a life that is chaotic and going against our natural rhythms, needs, and optimal functioning.
•We are a reflection of our environment and our environment is a reflection of ourselves and our behaviours. This is why it’s important to take care of our homes: both our physical vessel, our body and our ever-giving planet, which are merely reflections of each other.
•We can do so by starting to implement healthy and meaningful rituals into our routines and taking only what we need from the Earth, preferably natural, ethical, and non-harming to the environment and to ourselves products and produce. As well as by learning about the different plant and food medicine that nature has to offer.
•Knowledge of and connection with oneself is key to a long, happy, and healthy life.
•Ayurveda is more than a medicine system, it’s a lifestyle.
“The Ayurvedic route to great health involves two simple steps:
1. Doing less;
2. Being more.”
― Shubhra Krishan, Essential Ayurveda: What It Is and What It Can Do for You
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