What is Ayurveda?
“The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”Voltaire
Ayurveda has been translated to mean “the science of life,” or sometimes as “the science of longevity.” It is a medical system we think of as originating in India; however, all human cultures have created health systems based upon their experiences of living close to nature. Ayurveda is more than a health system, though. It can be thought of as a lifestyle.
“Ayurveda is the science of delayed gratification while feeling great.”
To become an Ayurvedic physician requires at least seven years of study at university level. There are eight branches of Ayurvedic medicine: Surgery, Internal Medicine, Gynecology, Pediatrics, Toxicology, Ear, Nose and Throat, Rejuvenation, and Fertility. It is a very holistic system and differs from Western Medicine in many ways. For example, Ayurveda recognizes twenty types of diabetes!
There are very few Ayurvedic physicians in the United States, but hundreds of Certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselors. And then there are those bodyworkers, like myself, who are not Certified to counsel, but who have been trained in Ayurvedic Massage and various therapies. Massage is a centerpiece of Ayurvedic Medical Treatment!
- Ayurveda focuses on inner and outer well-being through the balancing of the body’s elements.
- The therapies are aimed at restoring elemental balance rather than elimination of symptom.
- Ayurveda places trust in the body’s ability to heal itself.
What is DOSHA?
DOSHA is a Sanskrit word that translates: “Things that go out of whack.” You may have heard this term used in discussions of Ayurveda. The Five Elements described by Ayurveda (Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth), when combined, become three biological forces, or DOSHA:
(Ether & Air)
(Fire & Water)
(Water & Earth)
Each of these Doshas has ELEMENTAL QUALITIES, for example:
|VATA is:||PITTA is:||KAPHA is:|
These ELEMENTAL QUALITIES are expressed in body, mind, and emotion, for example:
|Mind||restless, active||sharp, focused||slow, calm|
Each of us has a unique proportion of dosha. We call this our Prakruti or “Nature.” This is your unique mix of elements, your individual pattern of (cellular) intelligence, your own vibratory pattern — your DOSHA! Vrikriti, or “Non-nature,” describes how one has strayed from Prakruti. Ayurveda suggests that the secret to health and happiness is to live in harmony with our unique constitution.
If we have one dosha that is clearly dominant, the health regime is concentrated on calming that one dosha. For example: In a VATA constitution, VATA wants to get inflated. VATA tendencies will be vulnerabilities, such as restlessness or anxiety.
The elements and energies in our bodies are dynamic. This means there is a constant process of balancing. Western medicine has a term that defines this process beautifully — Homeostasis, a dynamic process of balance and imbalance occurring moment to moment in Nature.
Dosha is an energy. It can leave its normal pathway, like a river overflowing its bed. Ayurveda looks for the dosha that has “escaped” and caused the symptom or crisis.
We experience DOSHA in the rhythms of Nature. Consider Autumn—a very dynamic season, with change in the air, and often windy and dry. Fall is a VATA season and our aches and pains are liable to flair up. We share in the processes of Nature and are bound by laws of Nature, just as the plants and animals. A change of season affects our psychophysical being just as it stimulates change in the life of a tree.
Two guiding principles of Ayurvedic healing are: “Like Produces Like” and “Opposites Heal Each Other.” An example of how “Like Produces Like” is used in Ayurvedic massage would be the use of oil, which is heavy, to create a sense of grounding in the body. In the same way, “Opposites Heal Each Other” can be seen in how the heaviness of oil is used to settle the lightness and rapid movement of anxious thoughts and nervousness.
The ABHYANGA Massage
The ABHYANGA, a warm oil friction massage is the foundation of most Ayurvedic body treatments. Among the benefits of this powerful massage are:
∙ ENHANCED IMMUNITY
A balanced system encourages proper digestion, which helps nutrients reach the tissues, supporting the immune system.
- PROFOUNDLY CALMING TO NERVOUS SYSTEM through VATA pacification
∙ REDUCED FREE RADICAL ACTIVITY
[Free radicals are unstable oxygen atoms that randomly combine with other molecules, oxidizing them to the detriment of the cell]
∙ OILS STIMULATE AGNI (“digestive fire”)
∙ REDUCED FATIGUE
∙ IMPROVED SLEEP
ABHYANGA stimulates the body’s subtle energy anatomy. Subtle energy is something that has been experienced by humans for thousands of years. It has been described as electromagnetic wavelengths, rates of vibration, patterns of pulsation – the dynamic infrastructure of the body. Here are the subtle energy “structures” recognized by Ayurveda:
SROTAS (channels of circulation)
VAYUS (centers of Vata)
NADIS (subtle energy channels)
MARMAS and CHAKRAS (where matter and consciousness meet)
Stimulating the body’s subtle energy anatomy supports the balancing of Dosha.
The Basic Strokes of the ABHYANGA Massage
- Circular strokes on the joints
- Long, full-handed strokes over the long bones
- Spiraling strokes over the chest and abdomen
These strokes are designed to:
- Move the VAYUS (winds)
- Activate NADIS (subtle energy channels)
- Illuminate the MARMAS and CHAKRAS.
Once NADI paths are clear, healing and spiritual power can manifest in body. And, when we stimulate and nourish the skin, we simultaneously balance and nourish DHATUS (tissues) as well.
AYURVEDA suggests a slow, steady approach to achieving longevity, transforming the mind, and awakening the spirit. Two intentions of ABHYANGA are: Harmonize VATA and external OLEATION. VATA is the dosha that moves from its home and disturbs other doshas. Pacification of VATA is a powerful preventative medicine. External OLEATION is the application to the skin of a soft, lubricating, and oily substance. This oil penetrates tissues and loosens AMA and excess dosha. Oil is the best substance to control VATA. AMA is formed when improperly digested food enters the system. It is a white, sticky substance; slow and cold. AMA tends to weak areas like muscles and joints. Also, undigested emotions are said to form AMA.
CONSCIOUSNESS, the HEART, and SILENCE
Finally, I would like to introduce three principles central to AYURVEDIC massage: CONSCIOUSNESS, the HEART, and SILENCE. The intention of Ayurvedic medicine is to restore the memory of PURE CONSCIOUSNESS to every cell. PURE CONSCIOUSNESS can be simply defined as “an awareness of connection.” The premise is that a cause of disease is the mind forgetting this connection.
In Ayurvedic theory, the HEART is thought to be the source of feelings and thoughts. An Ayurvedic therapist who is well-grounded and connected from the heart, is not busy “fixing” the client. They are trusting the body’s wisdom.
Ayurvedic therapies are choreographed, meaning that the steps and moves are sequenced and predetermined. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Ayurvedic body therapies are traditionally performed “four handed”, or by two therapists working synchronically; but a deeper reason is that when the therapist is “doing” healing, the ego distracts the mind from the calm silence of the HEART.
Ayurvedic bodywork is ideally performed in SILENCE. SILENCE creates a heightened internal awareness, and triggers a cascade of spontaneous healing on a cellular level.
It is an honor to share this age-old, indigenous medicine with my clients. I invite you to try an Ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic bodywork gradually, gently and deeply cleanses your tissues. It is designed to support the immune system, and to balance, awaken, and nurture your whole being. All the treatments profoundly settle the nervous system.
Ayurvedic massage enhances communication between body & mind. These treatments leave you feeling deeply relaxed, followed by a sense of clarity.