It seems that everyday, Ayurveda is becoming a more mainstream concept. It was not so long ago that people had never heard this word and had no clue as to what Ayurveda is. Now, popular beauty and spa brands are spreading the word. The well known hair care product brand, Aveda, is producing specific Ayurvedic products. Many spas, including the very popular California based Burke Williams Spas, are offering Ayurvedic treatments. And workshops to introduce people to Ayurveda are popping up all over the world. Like everything else in our modern world, Ayurveda is adapting to meet the needs of a modern society. But, it begs the question still, do we really know what Ayurveda is?
I'm sure that those traditional Yoga and Ayurveda practitioners of the East have been rolling their eyes at this situation for many years. We've taken what was once a very ancient, very sacred culture and turned it into, what one might say, is a watered down version of itself. Really, Ayurveda does not care about products, special (and expensive) spa treatments or one-hour workshops in which teachers expect to cover thousands of years of knowledge. But, when it takes years upon years to even begin to develop a deeper understanding of something like Ayurveda, how can we ever expect it to reach (and affect change within) the masses? So, we have to adjust; we have to modernize. And first with an understanding of it's original form.
Ayurveda is a medicine. It is actually the first medicine, long before allopathy (western medicine and surgery), long before organized religion, and long before civilization as we know it. The knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine was passed down from Vedic Astrology, or one might say, directly from the cosmos. It was explained in the oldest texts that exist, the Vedas. And a part of its treatment was Yoga. Thus, the understanding is that Yoga and Ayurveda were one "science". They were meant to be together; Ayurveda being the medicinal treatment and Yoga being one of it's prescriptions. Ayurveda, roughly translated, means "the knowledge of life". A better description might be and understanding of the nature of the world and our nature within it. Ayurveda offers an understanding of Mother Nature and our relationship to it; essentially how we humans are a part of a much larger existential system that is constantly operating around us. The basis of this understanding then becomes the treatment, with each individual person (or cell) needing something different and unique to serve them in their particular evolutionary state. Through an understanding of the elements at work within nature and an awareness of more subtle energies and patterns, we can begin to truly live in optimal health and access our full potential. To live completely in Ayurveda is nearly impossible in this age, especially in Los Angeles. But, there are some basics concepts that any person can integrate into their daily life to move towards living in harmony with nature, or "living Ayurvedically":
Opposites Cure: The first step is understanding your own nature. Are you a person who tends to be more anxious or more depressed? Are your bowels more constipated or easily released? Are you very skinny, carry average weight or struggle with losing weight? Do you tend to run colder or hotter? Is your personality more flaky or more grounded? What kind of temperament dominates your daily life? Does your work give your balance or exacerbate your symptoms? Once you develop an awareness of yourself, then you work to treat yourself with opposites. For example, an anxious type of person needs structure, grounding activities and less work load to feel better. Or a person who tends to run cold needs to eat warm, cooked foods over dry, cold salads and should live in a warmer climate/environment.
Focus on Digestion: In Ayurveda, health is primarily evaluated in the digestive system or "agni". How strong or weak is your digestive system? What is your diet like? Once you understand your nature, you can apply the "opposites cure principle" to your diet to find balance. If you internal fire or "agni" is weak, so to is your immune system and in many cases, so are your subtle energies. After finding the right diet, there are some daily practices that can incorporated to maintain or increase the health of the digestive system for all people:
- Tongue Scraping first thing every morning before brushing teeth
- Drink warm Lemon Water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach
- Use digestive enzymes/herbs, probiotics and stool softeners (like aloe vera or triphala)
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- Exercise and move everyday; this is quite essential for bowel health
- Cleanse the liver and bowels periodically
Nourish the Skin: The skin is our largest organ and as such, provides an easy access point for medicine and nourishment (or toxins too!). And oil massage is one of the fundamental practices of Ayurveda. Daily self-massage, or "abyhanga", to nourish the body and mind, while also cleansing the tissues is essential for longevity. Aging, simply put, is a process of drying out. The organs, tissues, joints and muscles become over-used, brittle and fragile. Essentially they begin to rot as a result of lack of nourishment or poor nourishment. Abhyanga is one of the greatest ways to prevent this process of rotting. Of course, the oil should be considered. Only food-grade, individual appropriate oils should be used. Coconut, for example, is a cooling oil and should not be used on those who tend to run cold (remember the opposites cure principle!).
Sleep Well: We must have sleep. No matter what sort of health practices you observe, you know this. It's essential or your health both in body and mind will deteriorate. Depending on your nature, adults require somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day, consistently. But, it's also important that sleep be in rhythm with environmental nature. Go to sleep each day by 10pm and awake with the sun. Exercise and adhere to your diet during the light hours of the day. If you can't sleep or have troubles, this is your primary concern.
Love, Love, Love: Humans are social creatures, living interdependent lives. Touch, compassion and love are the basis of our growth and development as babies and continue to be essential throughout life. Find love for yourself and give love to others. If you're not in a partnered relationship, then find good friends or get a pet. Have compassion for those you do not know or do not understand. And avoid associating with those people or environments in which you do not feel compassion or love. Let relationships, friends and lifestyle activities go that make you feel badly, overly fatigued or negative. Instead, love, love, love!
For more on learning about your individual nature and what you can do to live in optimal health, contact Emily for an Ayurvedic Consultation or Bodywork Session