Ayurveda is sometimes called the mother of medicine. As one of the oldest healing systems, it was officially recognized by the World Health Organization as a concept of health and therapy in 1978. Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient Hindu healing art, but most of all it is an art of maintaining the original balance of the organism – its health. This is where medicine meets psychology and philosophy because together they can guarantee you a long, good life.

What is Ayurvedic medicine?

The literal translation of Ayurveda is knowledge about life (Sanskrit: ayu – life, veda – knowledge). It teaches how to maintain harmony between the body and mind in order to enjoy a long and happy life. In practice, this means following the recommendations of Ayurvedic medicine, which shows methods of treating various diseases and tells you what to do to keep the body and mind in good shape. The slogan that best describes the goals of Ayurveda is: to keep the health of those who are healthy and to heal the diseases of those who are sick.

Ayurveda was born over 5,000 years ago in the Kerala area on the southeast coast of the Indian peninsula. To this day, people widely practice it in India and Sri Lanka. Ayurvedic methods can be used successfully in the treatment of any disease: both mental and physical. It brings excellent results, especially where the causes of ailments are digestive and metabolic disorders. 

According to legend, Ayurveda comes from Brahma, who is also considered the creator of the first living being. This could make one believe that Ayurvedic medicine has been around the world, well, forever. And there is some sense in that. You would be surprised how many Ayurvedic teachings you can find in folk adages. For example, the saying “anger marrs beauty” directly corresponds to what Ayurveda teaches – anger harms the liver, and this, in turn, appears on the face. And it’s such a closed circle – because a weak liver leads to even more anger. But let’s leave this topic for another time, today let’s focus on the introduction to Ayurveda. 

Ayurveda – the knowledge of life

At some point, you might ask a very good question – since the word Ayurveda literally means “the knowledge of life”, it’s not so much a treatment system but rather a philosophy of life?

That’s correct. In fact, there are six levels of disease in Ayurveda – our medicine usually intervenes on the sixth and final level. When a pimple pops up or we react to a given situation nervously, these are such small dissonances that we pretty much pass over them. However, in Ayurveda, this will already be considered the first level of the disease. This is how the mind or the body gives us a signal that something is wrong. By ignoring this gentle warning, we are causing the symptoms to intensify. Instead of one pimple, we end up with a rash, and small problems with falling asleep turn into insomnia – these can happen until we reach the sixth level, at which point we end up with the full-blown disease. Unfortunately, in the West, only then do we go to the doctor.

You can liken the illness to a dripping tap. We do not call a plumber for a few dripping drops, but after many months the entire drain will be leaky. 

Body elements in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, we can divide our bodies into four elements – Mala, Dhatus, Agni, and Srotas.

Mala are metabolic products in the human body, which are mainly urine, sweat, and excrement. According to Ayurveda, removing mala from the body is crucial to maintaining health. It can cause many serious health conditions if you retain it in the body.

Dhatus – this name in Ayurveda refers to the tissues of the human body that nourish it. There are as many as 7 types of Dhatus, namely bones, marrow, adipose tissue, muscles, reproductive fluids, plasma, and lymph. Their number and efficiency of functioning determine the good health and well-being of a person.

Agni in Ayurveda is fire. There are as many as 13 types of Agni that are related to metabolic processes in the human body. They resemble digestive enzymes and other substances that are responsible for metabolic changes in the body.

The last element of the body that Ayurveda talks about is the Srotas. These are the lines through which food, Doshas, ​Malas, and Dhatus are transported. And so, any blockages formed in the Srotas may result in various ailments.

Ayurveda – the theory of the five elements

Vector illustration with set of isolated ayurveda symbols: water, fire, air, earth, ether

According to Ayurvedic theory, the existence of the world is the result of the combination of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Every phenomenon that occurs on earth and every product of it (including people) has one or two elements assigned to them. Classification is made based on the similarities between an object and an element. For example, water has qualities such as coolness and density, and earth means weight, solidity, stability. In the classification of seasons, both of these elements are characteristic of winter, which is the coldest and at the same time wet. In turn, fire and air are elements attributed to summer because it is hot and dry then.

Different types of people can be classified in the same way. However, in relation to man, they have another name: dosha.

Doshas – get to know your energy type

When a person comes into the world, his energy is in perfect, primal balance. But as time passes, we destroy it ruthlessly: by eating badly, stress, striving for what is bad or impossible for us.

By trying to imitate others, we lose our happiness. We live in opposition to ourselves, often defying our own nature. We become weaker and less resistant, and as a result, we get sick. Because the disease is an imbalance.

Balance in Ayurveda applies to all aspects of life: body, spirit, mind. For the true health of the body is impossible if the mind is sick. Likewise, peace of mind is not possible when the body is sick. Western medicine is only now discovering how much of an impact on people’s health and life is their mental state, attitude to the environment, and even thoughts. Ayurvedic sages knew about this balance thousands of years ago. They argued that the condition of the mind and the condition of the body were closely related. On the one hand, the mind is responsible for the disturbances of the natural balance and it is thanks to it, its aspirations, that we endow ourselves with diseases by living against ourselves and against nature. But on the other hand, it is the mind and consciousness that determine success in healing, that is, restoring the body’s balance.

Types of energy in Ayurveda

Ayurveda three doshas icons mandalas. Vata pitta and kapha doshas. Ayurvedic body types.

The entire universe, including man, is energy – this is the basic tenet of Ayurveda. We are made of particles of energy, more specifically a mixture of its three basic types: Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. Health is nothing but our inherent and unique balance of these three types.

Everyone has their own individual energy model. Ayurvedic practitioners call it a constitution – the stronger and more stable it is, the more resistant we are to disease. It also determines our temperament, needs, abilities, physical and mental strength, as well as susceptibility to certain illnesses.

No two energy systems are alike, just as no two people are alike. One can only speak of certain types. Depending on which type of energy is predominant, it will be Pitta, Vata, or Kapha.

Vata – consists of air and ether. It corresponds to movement, creativity, energy, but also fear and anxiety.

Pitta – it is a combination of fire and water and is characterized by courage, anger, pride, ambition.

Kapha – combines the elements of water and earth. It’s associated with such emotions as love, sacrifice, jealousy, greed.

Types of energy in Ayurveda:

Energy typeVataPittaKapha
Nature of energyprinciple of movement, kinetic energy: rules the nervous system, heartbeat, blood flow, stimulates the brain and nervesfire principle: is responsible for metabolism and digestionwater principle, potential energy: responsible for physical strength and tissue hydration and all body fluids
Human characteristicsspeaks quickly, is energetic, remembers quickly and forgets quickly; he is unsure of himself at times; he is thin, has dry, dark skin, narrow lips, dark eyesspeaks quickly and clearly, is intelligent, sometimes angry; medium height, proportionate build, fair skin, hair and eyes, smooth skinspeaks slowly, has a good memory, but learns slowly, is rational, caring; he has a strong stature, pale skin, large lips, full lips, beautiful large eyes
Appetiteeats little, likes sweet, sour and salty foodsdigests well, eats a lot, likes sweet, bitter and spicy disheseats slowly, likes bitter, spicy and tart dishes
Typical ailmentsoften suffers from constipation and insomnia, is sensitive to painis overweight, excess acidity, diseases of the skin and mucous membranesit is very difficult for him to lose weight
Recommended dieta lot of protein, dishes from the sweet, salty and sour groupvegetarian, sweet, salty and sour dishesa lot of easily digestible dishes, little fried, sweet, sour and salty

Ayurveda – how does the treatment look like

Western medicine has great relief and saves lives in acute cases. It can stop very acute disease processes, but it is worse at side effects and chronic diseases. Nowadays, we cannot afford to take a week off from work when we get a headache or runny nose. In the Ayurvedic approach, to heal them, we would use light herbal mixtures and wait for it to pass. Therefore, by combining conventional, fast-acting medicine with Ayurvedic medicine – we can take an effective drug and at the same time begin to slowly change the diet, strengthen the body, and rebuild immunity.

To take advantage of the healing properties of Ayurveda, you must establish your constitutional type. On this basis, we can implement appropriate health recommendations for us regarding the principles of nutrition, how to practice yoga and meditation. Each of these activities should help us strive for inner harmony.

We can only achieve this if we reduce the influence of the dominant doshas and bring them into line with the others. In practice, this consists of avoiding factors that favor the burdening of the constitutional doshas assigned to us. For example, Vata people dominated by the elements of air and ether should avoid eating dry, light, “inflated” foods (such as pre-cooked rice or popcorn). Pitta people, emotional by nature, living intensely, should avoid spicy foods and anything with a warming effect. In turn, in Kapha people, whose element is earth and water, aggravating factors include eating heavy, fatty foods, as well as too much sleep and little physical activity.

More detailed advice on diet, exercise, and meditation practices for each constitutional type can be found in Ayurvedic textbooks. If we want professional help, it is best to go to a professional Ayurvedic teacher who will determine our constitutional type and order appropriate treatment.

Diagnosis in Ayurvedic medicine

Ayurvedic medicine does not offer one solution for everyone, treatment is always individual. It begins with an extremely thorough examination, during which the doctor must get to know his patient well.

He conducts a detailed interview and asks not only about the ailments but also about lifestyle, profession, habits, and hobbies. He needs to know what the sick person is eating and what bothers him. In this way, he discovers the causes of internal imbalances, which is what really led to the disease. The doctor also tries to find out the patient’s attitude towards his own body and … the world, by observing his behavior and manner very closely. The questions also concern the childhood of the patient and his family – this helps to precisely define the state of the primary energy balance and the cause of its disturbance.

According to Ayurveda, the internal condition of our body can be recognized by many specific external signs. The information can be read primarily from the pulse (practitioners can distinguish over 20 different types of it), skin, and eyes. The fingers of the hand also tell about the condition of individual organs.

The physician is not a healer, but a guide on the way to health. He helps the patient understand himself: psyche and body – as Westerners would say, the energy constitution – in Ayurvedic language. On the other hand, each of us must undertake the treatment alone.

Oils are the basis of cleansing because the cells of our body absorb them perfectly. Steam baths are also used, during which the body sweats a lot and thus gets rid of toxins. 

Herbs in Ayurvedic medicine

A spoon of amla powder used in ayurvedic medicine

We maintain our health and high immunity when all three doshas are balanced in our body. Ayurvedic therapies, which include herbal medicine, help care for this balance. Ayurvedic herbs are used as “special foods” to eliminate excesses and make up for deficiencies. Their main purpose is to gently stimulate the functioning of individual organs. So, if we take plants as an integral part of ourselves, we will be able to take full advantage of their true value for our health. Ancient teachers and physicians respected the kingdom of plants and herbs. It was not a superstition delight or an expression of sensitivity to beauty, but an understanding of the power that plants give us.

While Ayurvedic doctors often use rare and unique herbs to treat ailments, there are some very popular ones you can use daily to maintain good health.

I wrote a full article on herbs in Ayurvedic medicine which will tell you all about it, you can check it out here. In the meantime, here’s a shortlist of the most important herbs:

Turmeric

Although commonly used as a spice in food, turmeric has great healing powers and is used in Ayurveda, in particular for purifying blood, treating skin ailments, as well as treating heart, liver, and lung diseases. Turmeric has strong antibacterial properties, which aid in wound healing, mainly thanks to its active ingredient called curcumin.

Turmeric powder in the bowl with turmeric illustration

Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng)

This herb is used as an aphrodisiac and infertility treatment because it has strong nourishing and rejuvenating properties for the tissues of the human body. Ayurveda has made good use of the whole herb, parts of which, from the root to the leaves, are used in medicines for various ailments.

Vector drawing of ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, hand drawn illustration of medicinal plant

Ginger

Ayurveda uses ginger to effectively treat digestive problems and morning sickness, but it has many other uses. Ginger is recognized as a remedy for all kinds of ailments due to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antipyretic, and analgesic properties.

Ginger root. Seasoning food for medicine. Isolated on white background.

Amla

Amla, or tannin leaf flower, is an important component of the Ayurvedic diet, which resembles a gooseberry. You can use edible fruits to treat diabetes, cholesterol, cough, colds, indigestion, and many other diseases. Amla also has a very high vitamin C content and has remarkable antioxidant properties.

Whole and half amla. Isolated on white background.

Brahmi

Ayurveda uses this wonderful herb to increase and rejuvenate memory performance as well as increase intelligence as it has a very positive effect on the nervous system. Brahmi can also improve immunity and treat psoriasis and hair loss.

Bacopa ayurvedic aquatic plant isolated on white background. Commonly known as Waterhyssop

Jatamansi

You can use this aromatic herb to cleanse the blood and to improve the complexion, giving it a youthful appearance. The herb can also treat poor blood circulation, digestive disorders, respiratory diseases, and infertility. Companies often use it in the production of aromatic candles and perfumes.

Jatamansi - Nardostachys jatamansi ayurvedic herb. Healthy organic spa plant used in treatment, preparation medicines for natural usages.

Of course, these are just a few of the herbs used in Ayurveda – the list is huge and I could write a ton of articles about them. Which I will definitely do, so stay tuned!

Ayurveda and yoga – how is it different?

We often equate Yoga and Ayurveda in popular thinking. However, both terms have completely different meanings.

Ayurveda is the entire system of Hindu medical knowledge that deals with the three aspects of human life: body, mind, and spirit. A person’s physical and mental condition depends on their interaction. To achieve harmony between the different elements, one needs to eat properly, exercise, and meditate. Yoga is one of the ways of taking care of health recommended by Ayurvedic medicine. It not only strengthens the body but also helps heal diseases by performing the appropriate asanas. For example, postures such as Dhanurasana and Salabhasana counteract tension in the abdomen, liver, and small intestine by positively influencing digestion.

Yoga is therefore only one of the tools that Ayurvedic medicine uses to treat various diseases and prevent their development.

Where else will you hear about Ayurveda?

As you can see, Ayurveda is a mine of knowledge intended for everyone. In addition to the aspects mentioned above, Ayurveda also deals with relationships, psychiatrists, internal diseases, surgery, toxicology, pediatrician, and more. Panchakarma is a cleansing therapy that people with dosh imbalances use to cleanse the body of toxins. It’s a wonderfully complex series of various treatments combined with proper nutrition, sleep, meditation, and movement.

Ayurvedic medicine has developed several types of massages and therapies that help people with various health problems. There are many centers in the world where using Ayurveda helps the body recover. Some of the most famous are in India, Thailand, Bali, Austria, Germany, and Sri Lanka. Anyone can visit these centers, famous people like Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Demi Moore, Bill Gates, Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, members of royal families and top politicians are famous for visiting such centers.

Bottom line

Choosing the right diet and balancing the energy that is in you leads to amazing health. By learning about these energies, we can live in a natural rhythm. This introduction was just the tip of the iceberg as Ayurvedic medicine is a huge amount of knowledge that is even taught at universities. Remember that According to Ayurveda, we are what we digest, not only what we eat. This makes a lot of sense when you think you eat the healthiest food in the world, but still feel bad, get sick, have energy problems and depression.

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I'm Lucas, a 30-year-old guy from Poland who's passionate about natural ways to fight aging and staying healthy for as long as possible.