Ayurveda, contrary to what you might believe from its recent press and well-known adherents, is not the latest fad diet or celebrity trend. It’s actually the oldest continuously practiced health-care system in the world. Originating in India, more than 5,000 years ago, Ayurveda is built upon an understanding that all natural beings, including humans, live by the same laws and rhythms. It seeks to understand our deepest connections to the whole universe and how the universe’s energies influence our health.
The Ayurvedic worldview is based on five elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Space and earth are static; air, fire and water are dynamic or always changing. Each element has specific energies that govern its functions. While we all have each of these elements in us, we have them in slightly different proportions, making each of us unique inside and out.
While it might sound hippy-dippy or very Hollywood to those of us who’ve grown-up with Westernized medicine, there is a lot we can learn from the Ayurvedic approach to health and wellness. One of its most important lessons is about balance. Ayurveda believes that when the natural laws associated with our elemental make-up are ignored imbalances appear. These imbalances are the precursor to disharmony and disease in the mind and body.
An example that the non-hippy-dippy among us can relate to is sugar consumption. We know that sugar causes inflammation and that inflammation is one of the leading causes of disease, yet many of us choose to ignore this “rule” and eat far more sugar than is good for our health. The imbalance in our bodies caused by our excessive sugar intake manifests itself in symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, skin problems, on-going pain, constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, intolerances to food and other things in nature, depression and high blood pressure to name just a few.
Yet rather than look at our mental, emotional and physical health problems as a sign that our body is not in a state of equilibrium we tend to just treat the symptoms associated with these issues, not the underlying imbalance. As one problem is treated another one appears as the body tries to communicate the real problem at hand. The cycle continues until the root cause is finally uncovered, usually after we’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
By taking into account each of our unique psychological, emotional, and physical conditions, as well as our environments (for example, maybe your office is a high stress workplace), Ayurveda teaches us to recognize the signs that the elements in our body are out-of-balance. It offers guidance on how to heal our imbalances and strengthen the body, mind and spirit. Its goal is to help us achieve greater wellness and maintain better health through prevention.
Ayurveda encourages us to see the interactions and connections between our body and environmental systems. It pushes us to think holistically. It may sound flowery and Age-of-Aquarius-ish, but its core lessons are relevant to anyone seeking better health and vitality.