The topic and study of Ayurveda is big. Like philosophically, historically, physically, just plain HUGE. This is just is a basic introduction to help you start to scratch the surface of the great wisdom of this ancient knowledge, and how ayurveda can combine with yoga to create a type of movement medicine.
The term ‘Ayur’ can be translated as LIFE in Sanskrit, and the word ‘Veda’ as KNOWLEDGE, wisdom or understanding. So the study of Ayurveda is the wisdom or knowledge of Life itself – it doesn’t get much bigger than that. It is a comprehensive medical system for healing both the inner and outer world of your body and life.
Ayurveda is also old – like really, really old. The forming of Ayurveda dates back to the early civilizations of the Saraswati and Sindu (Indus) river valleys, about 3000 BC. Ayurveda draws on the ancient texts of the Rig Veda and Artha Veda. It also references the ‘Shad Darshan’ or 6 pillars of Indian philosophical knowledge. So it is deeply rooted in an ancient philosophical framework.
The Gunas and Elements
If you have come across the term Ayurveda before, you might first jump to thinking about food or something called the 3 DOSHAS – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Dosha can be thought of as a person’s individual constitution. But before we even get to the doshas we should really give some thought as to how Ayurveda got to the doshas in the first place. Ayurveda is very concerned with the cause of things after all.
One of the foundational Ayurvedic physicians, Charaka, found that “all organic and inorganic substances, as well as thoughts and actions, have definite attributes”. (Dr Vasant Lad, Textbook of Ayurveda vol. 1)
Charaka divided these attributes into 20 qualities or 10 pairs of opposites. These in Ayurveda are called the GUNAS. They are as follows:
- Heavy – Light
- Dull – Sharp
- Cold – Hot
- Oily – Dry
- Smooth – Rough
- Dense – Liquid
- Soft – Hard
- Static (unmoving) – Mobile
- Subtle – Gross
- Cloudy – Clear
So what would be the qualities of a cucumber & watermelon juice compared to a butternut squash curry with extra chilli? Or the qualities of Spring compared to Autumn? Even the qualities of anger, boredom or hyperactivity?
Thinking about our Yoga practice what would the qualities of a Yin class be compared to a Dynamic one, pigeon pose to Warrior III?
The 5 Elements
The Gunas, or qualities, then come together to form the 5 ELEMENTS. Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.
For example, the qualities of Earth are to be heavy, dull, dense, static, hard, gross. Compared to the qualities of Fire which are to be hot, light, sharp, dry and subtle. Air is dry, rough and mobile compared to Water which is liquid, soft and smooth or slimy.
So thinking about the Gunas and Elements can you FEEL where you might have an imbalance? Either too much or too little of one of the qualities. Maybe feeling ‘ungrounded’, like you don’t have enough earth, or feeling ‘hot and bothered’, quick to anger and too fiery. Perhaps you’re too cold or rough in your skin or hair. Maybe you’re dull and static in your digestive fire.
We can think about almost everything in terms of the gunas and the elements and where the imbalance is in our life.
The Gunas and the Elements then lead us into the Doshas. Each Dosha has 2 predominant elements that it comprises of:
- VATA is Air and Space
- PITTA is Fire and Water
- KAPHA is Water and Earth
When thinking about the Doshas we can think about quality and quantity. What are the qualities of that doshas and is there too much or too little?
Healing and Balance
Like increases like. Opposites heal.
Ayurveda is a complete medical science to help us make choices every day to bring our own system into balance. Everyone is a unique individual with a unique constitution. So everyone needs something slightly different to bring them into balance. If we have too much of a certain quality and continue doing the same things in our life, well LIKE INCREASES LIKE. We can’t expect healing and balance to come if we keep doing the same thing. So we think about the gunas and the elements, alongside our dosha and use the OPPOSITES to HEAL.
Seems simple right?
For example, imagine I had 2 pots of soup, one that was unseasoned with salt and one that already had plenty of salt in it. If I was told that to ‘make the soup better then add salt’ and I added salt to both pots – one would indeed taste better the other might taste awful.
So each of us needs to think about where our own personal imbalances are and then make choices to try and bring ourselves back into a place of balance. For example, If my skin is dry and rough I can heal it with the opposite – nice oily and smooth coconut oil.
Or in my Yoga practice if I am feeling like I have too much movement or change in my life, perhaps I need some stillness on my mat? If I am feeling a bit slow and heavy maybe I need something energising and invigorating.
Put simply: Like increases like – opposites heal
Do what YOU need to do to bring yourself into balance, not following trends or fads or other people.
Join me for 4 weeks of Movement Medicine where we bring the 3 doshas, or energies, into balance for overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
If you can’t make the live class, don’t worry! All Yogaia classes are recorded in our video library, so our yogis can join them anytime:
Movement Medicine: Vata – Wind (6 November)
This class will pacify Vata dosha. Vata when in imbalance can lead to anxiety, over business, indecision. The feeling of being spread too thin across tasks you never finish, dry hair and skin.
Movement Medicine: Pitta – Fire (13 November)
This week we will be pacifying Pitta dosha. When Pitta becomes too dominant this can lead to becoming too ‘hot and fiery’ – anger or stress can take over. When in balance the energy allows for sharpness and clarity of mind and good digestion.
Movement Medicine: Kapha – Earth (20th November)
This class will balance the Kapha dosha. When this energy becomes too prominent it can lead to inertia, heaviness and feeling low. When in balance Kapha keeps us steady and grounded, well oiled in joints and skin.
Movement Medicine: Tri-Doshic (27th November)
In this final week of our special movement medicine series, we will enjoy a tri-doshic practice to balance all 3 energies – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
I look forward to meeting you on the mat.
Hermione Armitage | Yoga Teacher
References and resources:
- Dr Vasant Lad, A textbook of Ayurveda vol. 1
- Maria Gare
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