This is the first in a series of articles where I will share with you various aspects of Yoga and Ayurveda practices and philosophy. In time I will offer a whole series on all the different aspects of these ancient arts.
The word Ayurveda means 'science of life.' Ayurveda is over 5000 years old and is still very much alive today, especially in India where you routinely see Ayurvedic pharmacies and hospitals used as pat of the communities routine medical care. It is a completely holistic and natural system for caring for the bodymind throughout your life.
The Ayurvedic system includes, Yoga, meditation, massage, herbs, diet and cleansing. All of this is done within the structure of a daily routine, called Dinacharya. Ayurveda uses the elements that we find in nature, earth, water, fire, air and ether, to look at our individual constitution or dosha and then suggests what our routine, food and so on should be, with the goal of creating a harmonious balance in the bodymind whilst also addressing any imbalance in the system. It is a complex system but can be simplified, so let's look at each part of it in turn for now. It is however important to emphasise that this is a complete system to gain full benefit you need to practice the whole thing and, to a large extent, dedicate yourself to this practice in order to get the most from it.
Yoga is generally translated as meaning union. This can be union with the breath and body in movement, it can be union with the inner self, or some higher force in the universe, whatever we find most helpful as our focus. In Yoga we practice postures (asana) with particular ways of breathing (pranayama), and energetic locks (bandhas). This ultimately takes us to a more subtle point of focus, where we can then practice meditation.
In Meditation there are a myriad of techniques that we can use to begin to bring the mind to more clarity and focus. We use these techniques to calm the mind and then eventually we also drop the technique to allow ourselves to simply be. This is not easy! The mind is complex and will keep stirring up thoughts and images. So if it feels challenging this is ok, it's the human condition. The mind is constantly busy and needs a lot of 'training' to even begin to feel calm.
Massage in Ayurveda is recommended according to your individual dosha balance and what the body needs at that time. Treatments generally use warm oil and can range from oil poured on the forehead to pummeling with herbal bundles. You can read more about some of the massage techniques here
Food in Ayurveda is also adapted acording to your dosha balance. We avoid any food that is too heavy or tamasic, or too stimulating or rajasic. The food we eat gives good energy throughout the day and keeps the body and mind feeling nurtured, energised and in balance. This style of food is referred to as sattvic. You can read a little more about the Ayurvedic approach to food here
We use herbs to assist with addressing any imbalance in the system as well as to keep us healthy and full of vitality. They can also aid with a cleanse. All herbs used come from the earth, nothing is pharmaceutically produced. Because of this and also because of the way the herbs are prepared for consumption they are easily absorbed via the blood brain barrier, and so very effective in their action in the body and mind.
If the body is congested or in need of a re-balancing then we do a cleanse. It's really great to routinely cleanse in any case a couple of times each year. Traditionally we eat a mono diet of Kitchari for 3-7 days together with cleansing breathing and movement practices and sometimes herbs and massage. If you haven't tried a cleanse before you really do feel energised and much clearer afterwards. It isn't something to undertake lightly so always good to discuss with someone first if you feel this is for you.
There is so much to share! All of these topics and much more will be shared in future blogs, which will be on average fortnightly. To ask about anything specific please contact me. To end today a quote from my brilliant teacher Steve Brandon "Ayurveda, tested on humans for over 5000 years."