Somewhere along your wellness journey you may have encountered the term Ayurveda. Even if you don’t recall hearing the term, you’re likely to have heard talk of Ayurvedic remedies, as there are some that have worked their way into mainstream wellness rituals (ever heard of “oil pulling”?). Yet you may be left wondering what exactly Ayurveda is, where it comes from, and how it can be of benefit to you in your vibrant wellness.
What is Ayurveda?
An ancient medical science, Ayurveda offers a rich, deep and dynamic body of knowledge that supports holistic wellness at a deep level. Believed to be oldest system of healing on Earth, Ayurveda is distinct in that it tailors preventative wellness as well as the treatment of acute and chronic conditions to the unique constitution of the individual. The focus is on bringing the elements within the individual’s body back into balance, as it is the imbalance and provocation of the elements that are the cause of any kind of disease.
The word Ayurveda is translated as “science of life”, and is used to describe the vast body of healing knowledge that traces its roots to India, dating as far back as 5,000 to 6,000 BC. Ayurveda is said to be an eternal science that first existed in the universal consciousness (Brahma) before it was passed from the creator to the ancient Indian mystics through meditation. The first mentions of this great body of knowledge are found in the Rig Veda (an ancient Indian collection of Vedic hymns), but the classical texts specific to Ayurveda are called the Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridayam. These texts were originally scribed by the ancient seers in the sacred language of Sanskrit, but have since been translated, verse by verse, into English. We give thanks for this great effort because it is for this reason that we are able to utilize this precious wisdom in the West today.
Doshas – the elements within us
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Ayurveda groups these five elements into three basic types of energy and functional principles that are present in everybody and everything. Since there are no single words in English to describe these principles, we use the Sanskrit words Vata, Pitta and Kapha to describe their combinations. These are the three Doshas.
Vata is made up of the ether and air elements. It embodies the energy of movement, and is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of dry, light, cold, mobile, and subtle.
Pitta is the fire element. It embodies the energy of transformation, digestion or metabolism, and is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of hot, sharp, oily and liquid.
Kapha is a combination of the water and earth elements. It embodies the energy of building, lubrication and holding structure, and it is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of heavy, slow, gross and static.
All of the doshas are essential to our existence, and each offers its own unique and beautiful qualities to ensure the smooth functioning of the whole. However, when they become imbalanced, we become imbalanced...leading to dis-ease. In order to maintain wellness within our body, mind and consciousness, we must understand how Vata, Pitta and Kapha work together within us, and we strive to keep them balanced.
Prakriti and Vikruti – How the elements make us who we are
Vata, Pitta and Kapha all exist inside of every individual, but are combined in different ratios to make up that person’s unique "inherent constitution". Known as Prakriti in Ayurveda, your inherent constitution will show a dominance of one (or sometimes two) of the doshas within you. The ratio was determined by factors such as genetics, the health and wellbeing of your parents, and the astrology at your time of conception. This unique combination of the elements within you is a big part of who you are, and as the foundation of your being, it does not change throughout your life. Understanding your prakriti supports you to accept and honor yourself in your individuality. One way to discover your inherent constitution is to take an online Prakriti quiz that asks you questions about yourself.
As we move throughout life and interface with the world, our doshas inevitably get imbalanced, which can make us feel less than our vibrant selves. Ayurveda uses the Sanskrit term “Vikruti” to describe the current state of imbalance of the doshas. Though the goal is to come back into perfect balance with your Prakriti (inherent constitution), it is nearly impossible to do, so you will therefore always have a Vikruti (current state of imbalance). Your Vikruti will change over the course of seasons and weeks, and even as you move throughout your day. Your job, according to Ayurveda, is to live such that you are bringing your Vikruti back into balance with your Prakriti on a daily, seasonal and yearly basis.
Getting and Staying Well with Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, all disease is simply an over-abundance or provocation of one or more doshas in the body. Fortunately, each of the doshas is made up of simple qualities like hot or cold, dry or oily, rough or smooth, mobile or static, etc., so to bring any provoked dosha back in to balance, we simply need to apply the opposite qualities. In Ayurveda, this is done through a rich and satisfying diet tailored toward the individual healing goals, deep cleansing, herbal remedies, warm oil treatments, massage, yoga, meditation, and other – often delightful – treatments.
Driven by the belief that a vibrant woman radiates potential for personal and planetary transformation, my goal is to elevate ancient wisdom for women's wellness. Ayurveda is about alleviating the suffering of humanity, living in harmony with the natural environment, honoring ourselves and enjoying life, so it provides brilliant wisdom that can support us to improve the quality of life on Earth for all.
In the coming weeks and years, my blog will focus more on the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, as it is taught to me by the revered Ayurvedic expert and spiritual mother, Alakananda Ma. On the Vibrant Souls blog, you’ll find explanations of basic Ayurvedic concepts, explorations of the wisdom found in the classical Ayurvedic texts, and specific rituals and self-care practices – from meditations to recipes – all aimed at the wellness of our sisterhood. I will do my best to make the guidance here accessible to all, and I intend that the practices I recommend are not only transformational, but deeply enjoyable.
I look forward to sharing the journey of wellness with you!
Sierra Brashear, MA, is founder of Vibrant Souls, a wellness company that makes organic yoni steaming herbs and unique tea blends available to women around the world. She is currently studying to become a Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine with Alakananda Ma at Alandi Ashram in Boulder, Colorado. To deepen your exploration of wellness through this wisdom, book a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner at Alandi Ashram.