If necessity is the mother of invention, frustration can be called the mother of change. Sometimes it has to get pretty bad before we are willing to make the effort. With the rising cost of health care and the increasing number of chronic illnesses with no quick fix, people are becoming more willing to look for alternatives. Ayurveda, with its focus on wellness rather than illness, is the perfect place to start.
Ayurveda is literally the science of daily living – Ayu meaning life, and veda meaning knowledge. In short, health through Ayurveda is the art of balance between our body, mind, spirit and Nature, of which we are a part (or in which we are immersed). According to Ayurveda, the same five elements that make up all of creation – space, air, fire, water and earth – are also within us in unique combinations. The elements manifest as pairs of opposites within and around us, and are known as gunas. When we find we are out of balance through the excess of one quality, we can decrease that quality by adding its opposite – as in hot soup on a cold day when we are feeling chilled.
In each of us the particular combination of those same five elements forms what are called doshas. When our doshas are in a harmonious state, we are healthy. Vata is a combination of air and space, and has the mobility of air. Pitta is a combination of fire and water, and has the energy of fire. Kapha is a combination of earth and water, and has the stability and solidity of earth. People are usually a combination of two doshas, with one being predominate and one secondary.
Digestion is of utmost importance in Ayurveda because we are not what we eat but what we can digest. Agni is our digestive fire and we are ‘keepers of the sacred flame’. Different doshas have different digestive issues but there are many guidelines that apply to everyone. These would include but are not limited to eating foods that are in season where we live, eating as fresh and local as possible, avoiding genetically altered and processed foods, eating only if we are truly hungry, and not drinking large quantities of ice water during a meal. This is one thing that people routinely do, but think of a campfire; a little water makes steam, a lot of water puts the fire out completely. Sipping a small amount of hot tea or water with lemon instead of ice would be a better choice.
Digestive issues like heartburn or gas are indicators of the quality of our ‘sacred flame’. They are like the canary in the coal mine. The miners didn’t say, “I can’t stop now, this is too important,” they paid careful attention! If we pay attention to the warning signs our body gives us, we can correct the imbalances before they manifest into something nameable – a disease. So rather than taking a pill we saw advertised on TV so we can keep doing what we’ve always done even though our body is trying to tell us it isn’t working, we can use the symptom as a guide to help us figure out what needs to change.
In Ayurveda there are six tastes: sweet, salty, pungent, sour, bitter, and astringent. The main spices of the Standard American Diet (SAD) are sugar and salt. One change we can easily start with is to pick a spice and begin to incorporate the full compliment of the six tastes in our diet. A terrific book we can look to for help is Healing Spices by Bharat B. Aggawwal, PhD with Debora Yost. It tells us “How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease.” The author is a research scientist who grew up in India where spices such as turmeric, cumin, fennel, coriander, cinnamon, clove, ginger were the main medicines his family used for everyday healing. The same spices used as the traditional folk remedies by his mother were also a part of the ancient Ayurvedic medical texts of India.
There is not a Healing Spices Association spending millions to advertise on TV or to send sales reps around to visit doctors in their offices, but Ayurvedic information is becoming more and more available if we know to look for it. We can focus on wellness through balance by learning to listen to our bodies, by carefully guarding our ‘sacred flame’ and by learning to use Ayurveda and Western Medicine in ways that compliment each other.