Ayurveda, India's Holistic Medicine Tradition
Ayurveda is India's 5,000 year old healing science. Ayurveda offers a holistic approach focused on helping people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. Ayurveda focuses on maintaining and restoring health by achieving balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through diet, lifestyle, cleansing practices, yoga, and herbal remedies.
According to Ayurveda, all of creation can be described in terms of five "elements," or qualities: space; air; fire; liquid; and earth. The elements combine into three doshas: vata, consisting of space and air; pitta, consisting primarily of fire but also having an oily, liquidy aspect, and kapha, consisting of liquid and earth. Each person is born with a unique constitution, or mix of the doshas. The doshas express themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. For example, vata qualities can express as thin builds, frequent movement, creativity, and changeability. Pitta can express as medium builds, focus, and drive. Kapha can express as larger builds, slow to get moving but great stamina and strength, dependability, and loyalty.
As we go through life, however, the doshas in our bodies and minds may become out of balance with our inborn constitutions. This can arise from our eating and living habits, along with our experiences. In Ayurveda, the definition of health requires that the mix of doshas we currently are experiencing be in balance with our constitutions. For example, when vata is out of balance, anxiety, constipation, and dry skin may result. Pitta imbalances can manifest as anger, acid reflux, and skin rashes. Imbalanced kapha can contribute to weight gain, asthma, and diabetes.
Ayurveda thus places critical importance on assessing which doshas are out of balance and bringing them back into balance. Balance often can be achieved by engaging in eating or living habits that are the opposite of the imbalance. For example, too much dryness (vata) can be counterbalanced with lubrication - sufficient healthy oils in the diet and oils massaged into the skin. Too much heat (pitta) can be counterbalanced by choosing foods with a cooling effect over those with a heating effect (as an example, cucumbers versus cayenne pepper). Too much cool dampness (kapha) can be counterbalanced by foods that are pungent rather than sweet, heavy, and bland.
Ayurvedic medicine also emphasizes the digestive process. Proper digestion is the first prong of the Ayurveda definition of health. Digestion is at the root of health, and healing begins with proper digestion. As a companion to this, the definition of health also includes proper elimination. Food choices, eating habits aside from food choices (when we eat, how often, how much, on the go or sitting down), daily activities, exercise, yoga postures, and many other factors affect our digestion and elimination. Health, according to Ayurveda, also requires that the doshas are balanced and that the person experiences well-being in the mind, senses, and spirit. Ayurveda offers ancient wisdom, updated for application to our modern lives, for improving digestion, elimination, and the other aspects of health.
Ayurveda Consultations in Minnesota with Susan
An Ayurveda consultation with Susan Bernhardt typically will involve an extensive discussion of any imbalances you currently are experiencing, questions designed to determine your natural constitution, and an understanding of your current eating and living habits. Ayurvedic evaluation also includes reading pulses at the wrists and looking at the tongue. Susan will develop specific recommendations for you. These can include suggestions for dietary changes, eating habits, daily routines, Ayurvedic herbs, yoga practices (breathing, meditation, and relaxation, in addition to physical yoga poses), pancha karma (Ayurvedic cleansing practices), marma therapy (gentle pressure on energy points in the body, similar to acupressure), and other Ayurvedic tools. Susan is sensitive to the need for recommendations to be doable in the context of a particular person's circumstances.
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Saint Paul, Minnesota
Cover photo by Susan Bernhardt