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What is Ayurvedic Medicine?
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About Chiara Maria Kae, PhD

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What is Ayurvedic Medicine?

Ayurveda is a system of medicine that balances and rejuvenates the body, mind and spirit, bringing optimal vitality and longevity. Ayurveda aims to eliminate the causes underlying symptoms of disease. Disease prevention is a central hallmark, attained through proper lifestyle choices. Translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means 'science of life’ or science of self-healing.’ The term embodies its dual function as science and practical philosophy for learning to balance the ratios of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth) of one’s unique body/mind constitution (“Prakruti”) with respect to the elements in the environment. Healing naturally results with this balance maintained.

According to Ayurveda, our body/mind constitution (called “Prakruti”) is made up of three distinct “doshas” - Vata (ether/air), Pitta (fire/water) and Kapha (water/earth). The doshas manifest as principles of movement and change (e.g., breath, nervous system impulses), transformation and digestion (e.g., nutrient assimilation, thought processes), and stability and lubrication (e.g., muscular strength, mucous secretion), respectively. Each dosha has an inherent set of qualities (“gunas”). The doshas are balanced, and health is restored, by exposing the body and mind to the gunas in excess or depletion to their opposites. For example, the rough and dry qualities of Vata (e,g. flaky skin) are balanced through oil massages. The hot and oily qualities of Pitta (e.g., rashes) are balanced by cooling foods and poultices. The sticky and slow qualities of Kapha (e.g., congestion) are balanced with steam baths and hot teas.

Ayurveda defines health, svastha, as being 'established in the self,' whereby the doshas, bodily tissues, digestive fire, elimination, and all bodily processes are balanced. Health hinges on the capacity to cultivate present moment self-awareness. Without self-awareness, we commit prajnaparadha, a Sanskrit term meaning 'crimes against wisdom.' Such ‘crimes’ represent lifestyle choices that lead to imbalance and disease (against our “nature” with respect to our Prakruti). With self-awareness, we intrinsically make lifestyle choices that create balance and health. Self-awareness also brings bliss to the mind, body and senses, a state vital to a complete picture of well-being, according to Ayurveda.