by Women's Health Updated 10/2021
Ayurveda, "the knowledge of life," is a system of health that originated in the Vedic culture of India more than five thousand years ago. This fantastic longevity and the growing interest in Ayurveda that we now see in the Western world speaks to how much the principles of this system of healing can improve our lives in so many ways, big and small. Ayurveda encourages finding the balance between your body, mind, and spirit because all three of these spheres are connected. How do we maintain balance? It is a way of life, a daily effort in our habits. With the guidance of this ancient wisdom, we can make choices in our diet and lifestyle that will lead to health, longevity--and reaching our fullest potential in life!
In Ayurvedic philosophy, we are born with an intrinsic nature, our Prakriti, that reflects both physical and mental qualities. We each have a body type, our Dosha -- a unique blend of Air (Vata), Fire (Dosha) and Earth (Kapha), where one is dominant but all are present. This constitution responds to our diet and lifestyle choices, our relationships, our environment and even the seasons of the year. Imbalances can come from the wrong diet, exercising too much or too little, being exposed to chemicals or germs, not getting enough sleep, having emotional disturbances and many other factors.
Ayurveda is a holistic practice based on preventing illness and treating disease by addressing the imbalances that created them. We can restore this balance with Ayurvedic habits that can become a lifestyle that nurtures us to become our very best. And while everyone is different, there are some practices of this ancient wisdom that we can all benefit from incorporating into our lives.
Eating a light dinner
To improve digestion and the quality of your sleep, Ayurveda recommends that you enjoy your last meal of the day before 8 PM, and also that it's light enough that the body can process it before bedtime. This philosophy considers your digestive system to be most active earlier in the day when it can handle a more substantial meal. A light dinner will not remain festering in your stomach all night, leaving you still tired and sluggish the next day. Your body can concentrate entirely on giving you restorative sleep rather than on the heavy work of digestion.
Dry Skin Brushing
This invigorating ritual involves using a natural brush (it is essential to avoid synthetic brushes that can scratch your skin) to brush your entire body, using long strokes in the direction of your heart. It is a thorough method of exfoliation that leaves the skin baby soft, while also promoting better health by helping the lymphatic system to remove toxins.
This tool looks like a teapot, and it can serve a vital function in preserving health by helping your nose get rid of the toxins, pollution, and allergens that it has prevented from entering your body. Use the neti pot to flush saline water up each nostril, helping to flush out excess mucus and these impurities, allowing for deeper breathing and relieving the symptoms of allergies and colds.
Eat Fresh, Seasonal and Local
Ayurveda has many recommendations for the ideal diet, based on your specific Dosha, but the overlying principle is to eat food that's as fresh, as seasonal, and as local as you can manage it. Maintain your internal balance by eating in tune with the seasons and your environment-- and by eating foods of the highest possible quality.
Spices as Medicine
Ayurveda considers spices to be much more than flavor enhancements because these nutrient-dense foods have wide-ranging healing properties. Incorporate turmeric to reduce inflammation and protect your heart, ginger to help your digestion, cinnamon to regulate your blood sugar and allspice as an antibacterial that can help you fight off infection.
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Called Abyangha, this relaxing ritual also benefits the look and feel of your skin. Use a high-quality organic oil and luxuriate in massaging your body all over. It helps the body get rid of waste by stimulating the lymphatic system and also reduces stress.
The practice of using a curved tool (often made of copper, gold or brass) to scrape the tongue has remarkable benefits to the cleanliness of your month by removing harmful bacteria, reducing bad breath and even improving the sensitivity of your taste buds.
Yoga developed alongside Ayurveda, and the two have a strong connection, sharing many principles of how to attain optimal health. But even if you don't want to pursue a yoga practice, what Ayurveda recommends is avoiding a harmful sedentary lifestyle and incorporating movement you enjoy into your daily life. Different doshas may benefit more from different types of exercise, but all bodies are designed to move, and some sort of physical activity is necessary for good quality of life.
One of the guiding principles of this philosophy is that there is a link between the health of the mind and the health of the body--they cannot be separated, and disturbances in your mind can manifest as physical afflictions. A regular meditation practice, even if it's only 5 minutes every day, helps maintain the balance necessary for health by reducing stress, cultivating mindfulness, and increasing your sense of well-being.
This practice for detoxification, as well as naturally brightening your teeth, can be done in the morning while you are getting breakfast ready. Spend 20 minutes swishing a natural oil in your mouth (organic coconut or sesame are good choices) and spit out the newly white substance. That whiteness is bacteria and toxins, and your immune system will thank you for helping it preserve your health.
Ayurveda maintains that balance is necessary for health and that health is essential for a good life in which we can reach our real potential. This ancient system has flourished in modern day because it still has plenty to offer to a world of busy lives that are increasingly out of balance. Ayurveda teaches us to attain optimal health by adopting healthy practices to prevent illness and achieve an optimal sense of well-being.