Tag Archives: principles of ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda

Summary:  Brief overview of the ancient Vedic Healthcare System known as Ayurveda. Covering the emphasis Ayurveda places on prevention. Plus health promoting advice, disease and diagnostic techniques, and how we can best apply this ancient science to promote wellness.

Ayurveda is a unique, wellness creating healthcare system. It operates on different principles and paradigms to both Western and Traditional Chinese medicine.

Ayurveda does not just deal with the organs and matter from which the body is made. It also deals with the underlying field of energy and intelligence that pervades the body and, from the Vedic viewpoint, the whole universe. However, Ayurvedic advice is essentially practical, giving many low cost, simple to follow, health promoting tips.

‘Ayurveda’ is made up of two words. ‘Ayur’ means life and health, ‘Veda’ means knowledge or ‘science’. So, Ayurveda is the ‘Knowledge of Life’.

In practical terms we can say that: ‘Ayurveda is the science of self-healing’.

Ayurveda places great emphasis on the prevention of illness. It regards prevention as being much better because prevention is both easier and cheaper than cure.

Knowledge of Ayurveda, when combined with our practice of Yoga, Meditation and Pranayama forms a key component of an ‘Integrated Vedic Lifestyle’ – making our life happier and healthier too.

Creating Wellness Through Ayurveda

Ayurveda views ‘good health’ as far more than just the absence of disease. Those who apply the knowledge of Ayurveda report experiencing a much greater ‘feel good factor’, more enthusiasm for life and a deep, unshakeable sense of well-being. The experience of pure joy also grows in their awareness – wow!

Even an outline understanding of the principles of Ayurveda can help us maintain good health and balance in our physiology through correct diet, appropriate exercise and daily and seasonal routines.

Before recommending any health maintaining advice or treatment for disease, Ayurveda first categorises us into one of seven major mind-body constitutional types [1]. Therefore preventive advice and treatment is based on the individual’s mind-body type. This is a unique strength of the Ayurvedic systemdifferent individuals will receive very different healthcare advice and even completely different treatments for the same set of ‘symptoms’.

It is possible to gain an approximate understanding of our own mind-body type (called ‘doshas’ in Ayurveda) from questionnaires concerning our physical and mental attributes; however a more reliable analysis can be performed by a trained Ayurvedic practioner.

The great Ayurvedic sage Charaka said this about the doshas “Health results from the natural, balanced state of the doshas.  Therefore, the wise try to keep them in their balanced state.”

If we are unwell, or ‘out of balance’, Ayurveda identifies the root cause, then offers a range of strategies to restore balance and health.

Health Promoting Advice from Ayurveda

Ayurveda aims to maintain good health by giving individual advice, based on our mind-body type (doshas), on the following:

Diagnosis in Ayurveda

Ayurveda offers an extremely cost effective diagnostic methodology which does not rely on invasive tests or high-tech expensive equipment. Rather, the Ayurvedic Doctor follows an eight point (occasionally ten point) series of observations. Most remarkably for Westerners, one of these observations is the ‘pulse diagnostic process’ of ‘Nadi Pariksha’ (aka ‘Nadi Vigyan’) which seems almost miraculous. Not only can a skilled practitioner determine one’s natural dosha predominance, e.g. Vata-Pita, they can also determine the current state of dosha imbalance. Nadi Pariksha involves the practitioner feeling the pulse of the patient with three fingers – any imbalance result in subtle pattern differences which can then be detected. A fully enlightened Ayurvedic Specialists can also ‘read’ a patient’s complete medical history from this process!

If we have any illness, discomfort or disease it is worth first getting a diagnosis from a physician trained in Western medicine. Armed with this information we can then make an informed decision about our choices of alternative treatments and the timescales involved.

Although some knowledge of Ayurveda is useful in understanding one’s own mind-body type, diagnosis of disease is a complex subject and best left to Ayurvedic practitioners. A suitably qualified practitioner would probably hold at least a degree in Ayurvedic Medicine (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine – BAM, or equivalent), plus relevant experience.

Disease in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, disease is seen as an imbalance in one or more of the key ‘elements or principles’ (doshas) in the body. This can be further complicated by the presence of toxins (called ‘Ama’) and imbalance in subtle energy channels and systems.

Western medicine often offers ‘quick-fix’ solutions to symptoms via surgery, tablets, etc., whereas treatment from an Ayurvedic viewpoint often involves significant changes to diet, routine and lifestyle. Ayurveda can also take longer to achieve results – first to detoxify our system and then to re-balance our physiology.

Many people who have had limited success with managing or curing long term chronic conditions via Western medicine, or who have experienced unwanted side effects from their treatment, are now exploring the health promoting possibilities offered by Ayurveda.

There is a major difference in how Ayurveda and Western medicine attribute different names to specific symptoms. From a Western medical diagnosis we may say we have ‘Asthma’; however traditional Ayurveda would not use the term ‘Asthma’ at all for this particular set of symptoms. This is because Ayurveda recognises the symptoms as being due to one of three possible underlying causes – by either a Pitta, or Vata or Kapha imbalance (with or without complications such as toxins etc.), so each different type requires different remedies to bring the system back into balance and restore equilibrium.

Treatment in Ayurveda

Ayurvedic treatment usually first involves removing toxins from the system, followed by strategies to rebalance it, and then advice to maintain that balance in the long term.

Ayurveda offers complete detoxification programmes called ‘Panchakarma’ (or the five cleansing actions). Although some of these procedures can be done at home, most are clinic based under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic Physician. However, some Ayurvedic detox advice is relatively simple to follow at home as part of our daily routine.

Ayurveda is not just herbal medicine, although herbs, minerals, etc. can be used as just one of a much wider range of rebalancing and detoxifying processes.

In Ayurveda, food is also regarded as ‘medicine’, so getting the right diet and strenthening our digestion is important.

Origins of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is ancient. It originates from the same vedic tradition as Yoga. Its origins lie in extreme antiquity – probably 5000 or more years ago. The knowledge was initially passed on as an oral tradition from master to student, although it was first written down only a few thousand years ago. Ayurveda has been described as ‘the mother of all healing’. Ayurveda literally means ‘knowledge of life’. It is regarded as one of Yoga’s ‘Sister Sciences’.

Ayurveda differs from western medicine in its origins. It originated via a process called ‘vedic cognition’. It is not experimental or empirical, so it is not based on knowledge derived from dissection, anatomy and biochemistry.

It is holistic in that it treats the person as a whole, not just as a collection of parts working in a ‘complex machine’ – as done by Western medicine.

Ayurveda also has two related Vedic topics: Vastu (Vedic living and working spaces) deals with promoting balance and life-supporting qualities in our homes (the vedic equivalent of Feng shui); Jyotish (Vedic  predictive and preventive Astrology) deals with promoting balance between the planetary forces (which are indicators of our returning karmas) in our birth-charts. According to the Vedic tradition, both Vastu and Jyotish may also have some influence on our health and well-being.


[1] The major constitutional types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas : Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K). Vata is the principle of movement. Pitta is the principle of fire and metabolism. Kapha is the principle of solidity and structure. So everybody will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural balance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’. If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of either Pitta, Vata or Kapha: P, or V, or K. Often two doshas predominate giving rise to categories PV (or VP);  PK (or KP);  VK (or KV). Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level giving rise to the final category of VPK.

Additional Information on Ayurveda

A good introduction to Ayurveda is available on the Ayurvedic Institute’s website

Introduction to Ayurveda A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Improving Our Immune System. More in-depth articles covering ways we can use Ayurveda to improve our immune system by: Using Herbs, Lifestyle Changes, Using Yoga / Pranayama / Meditation, Increasing our Digestive ‘Fire’ (Agni), Increasing Ojas.

Vedic Meditation Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.


Ayurveda FAQs 1

Summary:  Basic FAQs  on yoga’s ‘sister subject’ Ayurveda – the ancient, holistic healthcare system which helps promote perfect physical, mental, and spiritual health

Q. Is Ayurveda linked in any way to Yoga?

A. Ayurveda can be considered as a ‘sister subject’ of yoga. Ayurvedic knowledge stems from the same Vedic Tradition as Yoga. Its origins lie in the distant past many thousands of years ago, but just as with yoga, its benefits are now available to us all. Just as when we practice yoga we start to feel more energised and flexible, so the application of Ayurvedic principles can make us feel more healthy. Yoga, Pranayama (science of breath), Vastu (Yogic Design) and Jyotish (Yogic Astrology) are all interrelated ancient sciences – they are not belief systems, but rather ‘practical vedic technologies’ with real applications to our modern world and lifestyle.

Q. What’s special about Ayurveda?

A. Ayurveda is an ancient, holistic healthcare system with advice and therapies specifically tailored to the individual’s unique mind-body type. It aims to promote perfect physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Ayurveda gives us the knowledge of how we can live a long, healthy and happy life. A lot of emphasis in Ayurveda is on preventing disease – as this is much easier and cheaper than trying to cure it!

In practical terms: ‘Ayurveda is the Science of Self-healing’

Q. What is the best way for Westerners to use Ayurvedic knowledge?

A. The answer to this depends on whether we are in good health and seeking to maintain this state, or if we have some type of illness or disease

Answer 1. If we are free from disease and discomfort then we can follow an individually tailored, disease-preventing, health-promoting Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle.

We can only do this if we first identify our natural mind-body type (called our ‘Prakriti’). Ayurveda says our mind-body type will fall into one of seven clearly defined categories according to the predominance in our mind-body of the key Ayurvedic principles (doshas) of Vata, Pita, and Kapha. Only then can we receive appropriate health-supporting dietary and daily / seasonal routines, together with exercise and lifestyle recommendations.

In the West we only tend to visit our doctor when we experience specific symptoms or discomforts –when ‘something’ is not quite ‘right’. In Ayurveda, we need to see an Ayurvedic professional to prevent us getting ill in the first place!

Answer 2. If we already have noticeable symptoms, or any discomfort, it makes sense to get a Western medical diagnosis first. This is easily accessible and usually at a relatively low cost. We can then make an informed decision about which treatment route we wish to follow.

We should be aware that Ayurvedic treatments are not usually an ‘instant fix’ and often require changes in diet, lifestyle and exercise routines, combined with cleansing and detoxification therapies. This requires significant commitment as we start to take full responsibility for our own health. Ayurvedic treatment takes time as it aims to eliminate the root cause of the disease.

Q. Are Ayurvedic treatments alternative or complementary?

A. It is good to firstly acknowledge the strengths of our Western medical system. Western medicine is particularly good in health emergencies, immunology, in trauma relief and in all forms of surgery. However, many people have found Western medicine is often unable to offer cures (or even manage symptoms to an acceptable level) for long term chronic health issues, such as osteoarthritis, insomnia, asthma, skin diseases, diabetes, obesity, mild depression, digestive problems, frequent infections, etc. It is at this point that many have sought the Ayurvedic perspective on their health problems – with lasting, worthwhile results.

So Ayurveda is complementary to Western Medicine – it is not a substitute for it. This is particularly true if we have unfortunately already developed a serious illness.

Q. Is Ayurveda the same as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

A. Ayurveda is based on a different conceptual model from TCM. However, both have withstood the test of time and both can achieve good results in the hands of well trained and experienced health professionals. Both TCM and Ayurveda view the body as more than just matter. For example, TCM’s ‘meridians’ and Ayurveda’s ‘nadis’ (subtle energy channels), are somewhat similar concepts. However, Ayurveda is unique in both giving advice tailored to specific mind-body types and in many of its treatment and purification techniques.

Q. Is Ayurveda a form of herbal medicine?

A. Although Ayurveda can use herbs to rebalance and detoxify the physiology; it has a far greater range of therapies available than merely prescribing herbal remedies. Some of these therapies involve systematic detoxification procedures (such as the Panchakarma process). It also uses massage, meditation, minerals and mantras – as well as herbs. In Ayurveda, food is also seen as a form of ‘medicine’.

Because Ayurveda quantifies mind-body types, a specific herb (or even foodstuff) may be very beneficial for some people, but actually quite harmful for others!

Q. Does Ayurveda recommend a specific diet?

A. No. In Ayurveda the ideal diet depends on our mind-body type. Unlike in the West, where we often hear about finding the food ‘that is good for us’, Ayurveda is much more concerned with finding the food ‘that is good for me’ – that is the food that is good for my particular mind-body constitutional type. For example, dairy products may be very beneficial for a pure Vata constitution, but can give rise to major health problems for someone with a pure Kapha constitution. Whatever the actual diet, Ayurveda does give guidance on the best way to consume food in order to promote good digestion and health.

Q. What are the origins of Ayurveda and how was it developed?

A. Ayurveda has its roots in the same Vedic tradition that gave rise to Yoga. Scholars hold differing views as regards the placement of Ayurveda on an historical timeline. Ayurvedic practitioners usually agree that it is probably at least 5,000 years old and was first written down 3000 years ago.

Ayurveda was not ‘discovered’, nor was it developed by experimentation or experience. It was not based on anatomy or dissection either. The whole of Ayurvedic wisdom was produced by a process known as ‘vedic cognition’, which occurred in the consciousness of enlightened sages in bygone ages.

Additional Information

Additional Frequently Asked Questions: FAQs2, FAQs 3

FAQ’s from a supplier of Ayurvedic Herbs (external link).

Introduction to Ayurveda A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Improving Our Immune System. More in-depth articles covering ways we can use Ayurveda to improve our immune system by: Using Herbs, Lifestyle Changes, Using Yoga / Pranayama / Meditation, Increasing our Digestive ‘Fire’ (Agni), Increasing Ojas.

Vedic Meditation Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.