Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of medicine on earth. Its principles have been passed down to humankind from a chain of gods leading back to Brahma, ‘father of all gods’. It has been called the ‘mother of medicine’ and is commonly accepted to be the forerunner of all the great healing systems of the world.
Ancient written texts show that the ayurvedic medicine practiced from about 1500 BC to AD 500 was incredibly advanced, with detailed knowledge of pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, geriatrics, toxicology, general medicine and other specialties. However, invasions disrupted its teaching and, when the British introduced Western medicine to India, ayurveda became unfashionable and almost disappeared entirely. It was saved, however, by the intervention of Mahatma Gandhi who opened the first new ayurvedic college in 1921.
The fundamental aim of ayurveda is to attain perfect health and wellbeing. The ancient texts say that the human lifespan should be around 100 years — and that all those years should be lived in total health, both physical and mental. The ayurvedic practitioner is therefore looking to balance the body and mind, to search out health problems before they happen or to nip them in the bud before they do any real harm. Illnesses and shortened life are caused by many factors: constant stress; irregular meals; eating the wrong kind of food; taking the wrong medication; living an unhealthy lifestyle; having bad body posture; breathing in polluted air; allowing microorganisms to enter the body; becoming injured; not digesting food properly and even indulging in too much sexual activity.
So, any ayurvedic practitioner’s job can be complex. However, ayurveda does produce remarkable results with even the tiniest adjustment: changing your diet or readjusting your working times can have surprising effects on your health. Even if you do decide that the complete ayurvedic package is too much to take en masse, it would still be well worth investigating some of its principles.
Ayurvedic philosophy is incredibly intricate and takes years of study to begin to comprehend. However, at its simplest, it teaches that each atom consists of five elements: its weight comes from earth, its cohesion from water, its energy from fire and its motion from air, while the space between its particles is composed of ether. Under this principle, the entire human body is composed of the five elements and it is thought that an excess of one or more elements can be the cause of imbalance and hence lead to illness.
Over the centuries, a method of working out imbalances evolved within Ayurveda called the three doshas, or bio-energies, which are various combinations of the five elements. Vata is a combination of ether and air; pitta of fire with water; kapha of water and earth. In an ideal state, we would have all three doshas in perfect balance, but this is rare. Most of us have one or perhaps two which outweigh the others. The overall aim of ayurvedic medicine is to balance the doshas to restore health.
Your predominating dosha can be detected by a series of physical and emotional characteristics. For example, vata people are usually thin, agile, quick-thinking and restless; pitta people tend to be of medium build, competitive and make good leaders; kapha people are larger framed and are more placid in nature, possessing great reserves of strength and endurance. The aim of the practitioner is to coax all the elements into perfect balance so perfect health can follow. However complex the theory, the advice is very practical and down-to-earth. The ayurvedic practitioner seeks to balance the body, using primarily a combination of lifestyle advice, diet, exercise and herbal medicines. Massage, manipulation, marma therapy (similar to acupressure) neurotherapy, aromatherapy and sound therapy are also used. Yoga, meditation and deep breathing are highly recommended.
HOW TO FIND YOUR AYURVEDIC TYPE
We each contain within us the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. The dosha that dominates within our bodies gives rise to our prakruti, or body-mind type which is the basic force that affects everything about us, from our shape and weight to our predisposition to different illnesses. Our prakruti will influence the kind of foods we should eat; the exercise we should take; even the kind of holiday we should enjoy.
Discovering your prakruti is really quite simple – Find out by answering the questions below, noting the answers which most applies to you.
Vata - air and space. Vata people eat little, usually preferring sweet, sour and salty foods, and they tend to be thin. Vatas are active, talkative and do not sleep much; their short-term memories are stronger than their long-term memories and they are often emotionally insecure. Vata elements are responsible for body motion, respiration, sensory impulses, autonomic mind function, circulation, separating digested from undigested food, regulation of menses and the passage of body fluids.
Pitta - fire. People dominated by the pitta element tend to become hot and sweaty easily, and have color in their skin. They have strong appetites for spicy, sweet and bitter foods. Pittas are articulate and precise, and have strong memories; they can become fiercely angry and emotionally intense. The pitta element is responsible for vision, digestion, heat production, immunity, metabolism, the color of the skin, organs and body fluids, appetite, thirst, suppleness and intellectual thought.
Kapha - earth and water. Kaphas tend to be large framed, stable and patient. They learn slowly, but have a good long-term memory. Kapha people sleep a lot and tend to be affectionate and emotionally secure. The kapha elements are responsible for maintaining the oiliness of the body and organs, general physical stability, virility, strength and the fluidity of muscular and joint movement.
1. What were you like as a child?
a) Small and thin
c) Large and plump
2. What is your build now?
a) Thin build with light bones and prominent joints
b) Medium build and bone structure
c) Large-boned, quite heavy and dense in build
3. Do you put on weight?
a) Hardly ever
b) Both easily gain and easily lose weight
c) Find it hard to lose weight
4. What is your skin like?
a) Dry and delicate
b) Soft, maybe ruddy or freckled
c) Thick and oily
5. What kind of appetite do you have?
a) Irregular. You often snack or nibble, and can’t finish a large meal
b) Good. You hate to skip meals and feel rotten if you do
c) Healthy. You like your food, but can miss meals without any ill effects
6. How do you walk?
a) Quickly, lightly — always in a hurry
b) Medium pace, determined and purposeful
c) Slowly, steadily and calmly
7. How do you sleep?
a) Lightly, with sleep often interrupted. You may suffer from insomnia
b) Regularly and soundly
c) Heavily and for a long time. You often oversleep or feel drowsy in the day
8. What kind of illnesses are you prone to?
a) Sharp pains, headaches, eczema, dry rashes, nervous disorders, gas or constipation
b) Rashes and allergies, inflammation, heartburn, ulcers, acidity, feverish complaints
c) Fluid retention, excess mucus, bronchitis, sinus problems, asthma, congestion
YOUR MIND AND EMOTIONS
1. What is your basic personality?
a) Enthusiastic, outgoing, talkative
b) Strong-minded and purposeful
c) Calm, placid and good-natured
2. What are you like at work?
a) Quick, imaginative and alert — you are a creative thinker. You hate rigid routine or discipline
b) Efficient, a natural leader. You like well-planned routines and tend to be a perfectionist
c) Calm and organized. You enjoy a regular routine and keep projects running along smoothly
3. How do you react to stress?
a) You become anxious and nervous
b) You become angry or irritable
c) You try to avoid it at all costs
4. How do you dream?
a) Frequently, but you often can’t remember dreams on waking
b) Vividly, often in color. You find it easy to remember your dreams
c) You only remember highly significant or clear dreams
5. How is your sex life?
a) It fluctuates - sometimes you love it, sometimes you aren’t interested. You have an active fantasy life
b) Pretty average sex drive
c) You take a while to warm up’, but then have intense sex — you love it and have great stamina
6. Do you save or spend money?
a) Spend it! You’re an impulse buyer with a huge credit-card bill
b) Sensibly spend. You buy useful and classic items
c) Save. You always have enough money to get by
7. What is your memory like?
a) Quick to learn, quick to forget
b) Generally quite good
c) You take a while to learn, but your memory is excellent
8. How would you describe your lifestyle?
a) Erratic, always changing
b) Busy with plenty of plans -you achieve a lot
c) Steady and regular - you may feel rather stuck in a rut
ASSESSING YOUR SCORE
Simply add up the number of a’s, b’s and c’s you have ticked. Predominantly a’s means you are mostly a vata type; b’s indicate pitta and c’s indicate kapha. You may find two scores are equal or very close - it’s common to be a combination. Some rare people possess all three doshas equally. Now turn the page to discover what your score means for your health and wellbeing.
WHAT CAN AYURVEDA HELP?
• Digestive problems such as stomach ulcers, chronic gastritis, acid indigestion,
heartburn, constipation and flatulence benefit from ayurveda.
• Gynaecological problems such as menstrual and menopausal difficulties can be helped.
• Ayurveda helps with weight problems such as weight loss and weight gain.
• Skin complaints such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and acne can be improved.
• Allergic conditions such as asthma, hayfever and sinus problems respond well.
• Problems with joints such as chronic pain, muscle tension, sciatica, rheumatism,
arthritis and osteoporosis can be alleviated.
• It can help psychosomatic illnesses such as sleep disturbances, migraine and tension
headaches, depression and anxiety attacks.
• Heart and blood-circulation problems such as angina, high blood pressure, palpitations
and an irregular pulse can be treated.