Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that’s truly stood the test of time. First originating in the Vedic culture of India, it’s actually considered by many to be the oldest healing science there is. Ayurvedic medicine is based on the premise that there are three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha and that disease and illness originate from an imbalance in the three energies.
The primary goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to help people live long, healthy and balanced lives without the need for prescription drugs, complicated surgeries or suffering through painful conditions. In fact, the very word Ayurveda itself means something in Sanskrit similar to “lifespan build on knowledge” or “science of life.”
Although people living in India have relied on traditional Ayurvedic practices to heal everything from infertility to digestive issues for centuries, luckily in recent years — as complementary and alternative health practices have become more and more popular across the world — Ayurveda has been enjoying a major worldwide resurgence and is still practiced effectively today.
According to a 2015 report published by University of Maryland Medical Center, Ayurvedic medicine can help treat inflammatory, hormonal, digestive and autoimmune conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anxiety or depression
- Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
- High blood pressure or cholesterol
- Parkinson’s disease
- Perimenopausal problems
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and cramps
Ayurvedic herbs, practices and recommendations, including yoga and/or meditation, have also been shown to be helpful as a home remedy for acne, relieving chronic constipation or IBS, fighting chronic fatigue syndrome, reducing pain and lowering obesity risk.
How Does Ayurvedic Medicine Work?
Ayurvedic practitioners use a well-balanced healthy diet, lifestyle changes, stress relief and various herbal remedies to heal all sorts of conditions by helping to bring the body back into balance. The overall belief is that disease and suffering results from an imbalance in the three doshas, which are ways of categorizing the body’s three basic energy types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, everyone is unique in terms of his or her individual balance between these three energy (or personality) types. Everyone has some vata, pitta and kapha to their personality, but usually one or two of the doshas are more dominant in a particular person — and this ultimately governs body type, appetite, energy levels, moods and tendencies. Each dosha has both physical and emotional characteristics, so Ayurvedic practitioners use the three doshas to describe common traits of someone’s body type and personality.
Unlike the one-size-fits-all approach to western medical treatment that fails to address the huge diversity among patients, Ayurveda takes into account individuality when prescribing holistic treatments.
As the Center for Rheumatic Diseases located in Prune, India, described it, “Every creation inclusive of a human being is a model of the universe. In this model, the basic matter and the dynamic forces (Dosha) of the nature determine health and disease, and the medicinal value of any substance (plant and mineral). The Ayurvedic practices (chiefly that of diet, lifestyle and the Panchkarama) aim to maintain the Dosha equilibrium…therapy is customized to the individual’s constitution (known as Prakruti).”
The 3 Doshas of Ayurvedic Medicine
- Vata — Vata energy is often said to be like the wind. It’s primarily in charge of mobility, motion, circulation, breathing and other essential body functions. Vata types are known to be creative and energetic when they’re in balance but fearful, stressed and “scatter-brained” when they’re not. Physically, vata types are usually on the thin side, have smaller bones and tend not to put on weight easily. They also might be cold a lot of the time, have a delicate digestive system and have dry, sensitive skin.
- Pitta — Pitta is the energy force that governs most metabolic activity, including digestion, absorption of nutrients, body temperature and energy expenditure. Pitta types tend to be smart, hard-working and driven (even competitive) when in balance but can be overly angry and aggressive when they’re not. They tend to have a medium build, be athletic and are versatile in terms of putting on weight or muscle.
- Kapha — Kapha controls growth in the body and is considered the nourishing dosha. It supplies moisturize to the cells and organs and helps keep a strong immune system. Kaphas are known for being grounded, supportive, loving and forgiving when in balance — almost like a motherly type. However, they can also be lazy, insecure, envious and sad when they’re not in balance.
By helping to balance the three doshas — not letting one type become overly dominant and another to become ignored — handling stress, following a healthy diet, dealing with change and maintaining relationships are all expected to be easier.
Two of the most important aspects of restoring balance in Ayurveda is tuning in to the natural rhythms of your body and also bringing your lifestyle into sync with nature and its cyclical patterns. This includes lining up your activity level, food choices, sleep and so on with the time of day, seasons and for women even their menstrual cycles. Ayurveda can help ease stress and restore a healthy circadian rhythm in this way, which benefits everything from your hormones to appetite.
In order to help rebalance your doshas and prescribe a certain diet, healing herbs and restful practices, an Ayurvedic practitioner will take your medical history, check your vital signs like your pulse and reflexes, examine your skin, look inside your mouth at your gums and tongue and speak to you about your sleep and relationships. All of these factors help the practitioner first determine your primary dosha, then figure out which aspects of the doshas might be out of balance — for example, if you’re overworking, under-sleeping or not consuming enough nutrients.