Health extends beyond the bounds of genetics and modern medicine. Throughout history, health has long been recognized as a balance between the physical, mental, and emotional aspects—an equilibrium that creates a mind and body that are not only free from disease but one that nurtures the spirit and is capable of promoting self-healing.
An ancient approach that has withstood the tests of time is Ayurveda, a Sanskrit word meaning “science of life” that focuses on holistic wellness. The key components of this health care system include nutrition, herbal supplements, therapies, lifestyle, yoga, and meditation—a complete mind-body approach to health.
At the Art of Living Retreat Center’s award-winning Shankara Ayurveda Wellness, Ayurveda retreats and therapies are one of the primary ways those seeking true restoration of health and vitality are supported and nurtured back to their optimal well-being. It is important for anyone interested in mind-body rejuvenation to understand the what, why, and how of Ayurveda—and it will soon become clear the reason it is increasingly the health system of choice in the West.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda originated in ancient India, long before the advent of modern medicine. It proved to be so powerful, both physically and emotionally, that it spread beyond its historic Indic roots and became a system of wellness known globally. Today, it continues to be integrated into both modern and traditional treatments all over the world.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, optimal health is when there is balance, harmony, and vibrant integration between one’s thoughts, emotions, and body, and also within the surrounding environment. And just like modern medicine, it promotes taking care of the physical body, with treatments to address poor cholesterol, high blood sugar, heart health, and many similar ailments that remain a focus even in modern times. However, Ayurveda focuses on the root cause of illness as opposed to sole symptoms, is dedicated to prevention, and is grounded in the principle that the mind, body, and spirit are so deeply interconnected that true restoration of health only happens when we treat the whole. Harnessing the natural intelligence of the body it brings about deep rest and rejuvenation physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When we approach wellness with Ayurveda, we look at two distinct needs:
- Vikruti (How to Get Well) Between high-stress jobs, poor diet and nutrition, lack of coping tools, and more, it’s not uncommon to find oneself unwell. Vikruti is the practice of finding balance where it is lost and utilizing the right Ayurvedic treatment to address the cause of the illness. We’re all born with “natures” (a natural constitution)—an energy that plays a key role in our functioning. When we fall out of alignment with our natural state, poor health develops, and restoring balance is fundamental to treatment.
- Prakruti (How to Stay Well) It’s one thing to treat an illness when it happens. It’s another to prevent it. Ayurveda strongly encourages prevention, or “balance,” and many of the practices (such as yoga and herbal supplements) are there to maintain inner and outer harmony in order to prevent illness and create an environment that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically well.
Ayurveda practitioners are able to guide you back into balance by reviewing chronic issues, identifying natural constitutions/energies, and determining a plan that will jumpstart your life and help you maintain optimal and vibrant health, long-term.
The types of Ayurveda and Ayurvedic energy
The practice of Ayurveda centers around different “doshas” or “natures” (your natural constitution). They’re the emotional and energetic makeup you were born with, and something that affects your lifestyle choices, what you (should) eat, how to help heal yourself when you’re ailing, and more.
There are three main types of natures: vata, pitta, and kapha.
Life can cause an imbalance to these natural constitutions, resulting in everything from anxiety to physical illness depending on the nature. Ayurveda seeks to balance a person, based on their dosha, so they are able to experience better physical and mental wellness.
Understanding the Vata dosha
Understanding the Pitta Dosha
Pitta is the fire constitution. They are the ones that tend to experience a more focused, passion-driven energy that helps them achieve life fulfilling goals, but may come at a cost. A person with pitta tends to be fit, attractive, and intelligent. They may also be found in leadership positions, or possess those skills.
But they can also be hot-tempered, easily frustrated, and a perfectionist. They may also be physically very hot, and find that body heat uncomfortable. They may also be more prone to intestinal or gastric irregularities.
Understanding the Kapha Dosha
Made up of water and earth, the kapha is the nature of the calm, “chill,” and comfortable procrastinators. Those with a kapha nature tend to be the happiest and the most caring. But they also have a tendency to avoid completing important tasks and may put off things that they need to do – for example, exercising, finishing work on time, and goal setting. Darker features, lighter skin, and heavier body weight all tend to be physical features of those with this nature.
Most people fall into one of the three doshas. Yet human beings are complicated, so it is possible that a person has mixed natures: pitta-kapha, pitta-vata, vata-kapha dosha. There is also a type of dosha known as Saamya, where a person has all three, though this is less common.
How to Balance the Doshas
When a person lives within their nature, they tend to experience a more harmonious, fulfilling and physically healthier life. But when a person experiences an imbalance, ill health may occur, and that person may struggle with their overall wellness.
Recognizing an imbalance is an important step in determining which Ayurvedic principles and treatments will be most supportive in guiding you back to a relaxed, balanced and renewed sense of well-being. For example, vata imbalance symptoms include joint problems, tension, anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, and an exacerbation of common vata constitution (for example, thinner hair or more brittle nails).
Pitta imbalance symptoms may include irritability, anger, intolerance to spicy food, excessive hunger, burning sensations, and fever (just to name a few). Kapha symptoms may include mucus, slow bowel movements, weight gain, lethargy, and high emotional neediness.
The symptoms listed here are a glimpse of possible signs of imbalance, and there are many more, all specific to each dosha.
Once you’ve determined you are out of alignment with your natural constitution and decided to seek treatment, the next step would be to address the Ayurvedic diet, lifestyle changes, and other strategies that will help restore you back to optimal health.
How to Balance Vata
Identifying a vata dosha imbalance is an important first step—balancing vata then becomes a priority. For that, you may need to learn how to calm the mind and body through yoga or meditation. Perhaps change your diet, such as avoiding gas-producing foods and integrating more healthy fats and oils. You may choose to integrate certain herbs or Ayurvedic treatments that specifically address the areas of concern, such as brittle nails.
Once you’ve learned how to reduce vata, you’ll often find that your life feels calmer, your body healthier, and your energy levels restored.
More: From Vata Imbalance to Vata In Balance
How to balance Pitta
Pitta is called “fire energy” for a reason. In Ayurveda, too much of a person’s nature only increases the nature. So, for example, if someone with pitta finds themselves wearing too many layers on a hot day, they may be more likely to experience an increase in frustration, anger, or other fire-y emotions. Of course, the opposite may be true as well, as a person whose fire energy is too cool may not be living their most ideal life.
Balancing pitta means being aware of this. Ayurvedic cooking may be especially important for those with a pitta dosha in the summer heat, as well as cool Ayurvedic yoga poses and breathing. In winter, warm clothes, specific herbs, and other Ayurvedic treatments can help reduce pitta and re-balance the mind and body.
How to balance Kapha
Kapha, as the cool, calm nature, can sometimes be overwhelming for someone that needs to be more motivated, active, and engaged. That is why it may become time to balance kapha through warm foods, hot spices, heated rooms, herbal remedies, and warm exercise. If you have a romantic partner, balancing your kapha is a great excuse to cuddle with them close.
The Doshas and the Seasons
Every dosha has a temperature. That temperature can be thrown out of balance by a variety of factors, including food, anxiety, and lifestyle. But the weather may also play a role, and as this is not a controllable factor, it’s helpful to be aware of your dosha and know ways you can manage your well-being during temperature fluctuations and seasonal changes.
Winter can be a tough time for those with certain Ayurvedic natures. Whether it’s cooling a person’s pitta or freezing those with a kapha dosha, winter wellness can be difficult for those that are trying to look and feel their best.
More: 5 Ayurveda Tips to Stay Warm this Winter
BONUS: Ayurveda Tips for the New Year
Spring itself can often be a time of balance for many doshas. But it may also still be bogged down by the behaviors of winter. That is why this is a popular cleansing season, it can serve as an antidote for the inactivity and holiday indulgences that may have accompanied the long winter months and subsequent toxicity build-up in the body. It’s a chance to restore balance and start the warmer months off rejuvenated.
More: Spring Cleansing
Summer is a time of fulfillment for many. Yet the heat and lifestyle changes associated with summer may throw a person off balance. There are many tips that Ayurveda specialists use to help people manage their summer changes so that when temperatures rise they feel as happy and vibrant as can be.
More: Summer Relaxation with Ayurveda
Fall is a month of transition and important for preparing and strengthening the body’s immunity and overall sense of well-being ready for the cooler winter months. And to prevent future imbalance, it’s also considered a season to release mental and physical toxins, accumulated throughout the year, by having an Ayurvedic detox.
More: Ayurvedic Detox in the Fall
The Five Elements
All of these doshas are based on a total of five elements that work together in harmony to create the earth and everyone on it. These elements are fire, water, space, air, and earth. It is these five elements that are the building blocks of the three doshas.
Understanding the interplay between the five elements and the doshas can provide greater meaning to a person’s core nature, and is an important part of what has driven the different Ayurvedic treatments.
More: The Five Elements
What does Ayurveda treat?
Ayurveda is a holistic, integrative approach to wellness. Providing support for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health concerns. Ayurveda works to restore your well-being so that you feel vital, clear, relaxed and balanced – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The following are a few of the common conditions that may be treated with Ayurveda:
- Ayurveda for Weight Loss – Ayurveda has many popular tools and strategies for addressing weight gain and promoting weight loss. Choosing a diet based on your constitution may be more effective at helping eliminate excess fat naturally.
- Ayurveda for Sleep – Sleep is such a critical component of wellness, and Ayurveda recognizes that. Making lifestyle changes to help improve sleep is part of the process for obtaining and maintaining optimal well-being.
- Ayurveda for Better Health – Ayurveda is very useful for specific conditions and is also fundamental to sustaining vibrant health – a reason so many people have been drawn to this type of intervention and lifestyle. Ayurveda helps with disease prevention, back and neck pain, and much more.
- Ayurveda for Detox – Toxins build up in the body through diet, lifestyle choices, and environmental and emotional stressors – this is especially applicable to those who sideline their overall health and wellness throughout the year. Ayurveda is one of the main principles behind many effective detox programs – a practice that gently removes toxins to restore and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit.
- Ayurveda for Mental Health – Ayurveda is a holistic approach that considers the whole individual, including mental and emotional needs – thus able to provide treatments to calm, soothe, and reduce anxiety, and much more.
Ayurveda is a time-tested practice that has provided better health and wellness for those that are struggling with many common conditions and those that want to bring greater balance to their life.
More: Manju’s Road to Healing
The Ayurvedic Treatments used for Healing
Ayurveda is both prevention and solution focused. Many of the techniques used in Ayurveda help you stay in balance and prevent future health concerns. Yet for those that do come across health challenges, Ayurveda has treatments that can support you in managing ill health.
The following are some of the strategies practitioners and Ayurvedic retreats, like those at the Art of Living Retreat Center, may identify and recommend:
- Ayurveda Retreats – One very popular way to engage with Ayurveda in Western culture is through an Ayurveda retreat. The Ayurveda healing retreats at the Art of Living Retreat Center provide an authentic and immersive experience in a nurturing environment dedicated to your health and well-being.
- Ayurveda Spas – Spas are also a great way to immerse yourself in Ayurveda treatments. The Art of Living Retreat Center’s Shankara Ayurveda Spa was awarded the top Ayurvedic spa in the United States.
- Ayurveda Yoga – Yoga is one of the tenants of Ayurveda, and is so much more than a physical practice – it is a way to gain mindfulness and achieve balance.
- Ayurveda Cleanses – When a person is experiencing the effects of too much toxicity, it helps to have a way to cleanse. Ayurveda offers many excellent cleansing options, with some of the best Ayurvedic cleanses available right here.
- Ayurveda Diet – Diet plays an outstanding role in Ayurvedic health and lifestyle. Developing an Ayurvedic diet is key to long-term health. It is often easy to integrate foods, like ginger, that have many useful benefits for those experiencing imbalances.
- Ayurveda Herbs – Ayurveda strongly believes in natural medicine, leading to many different herbs and nutrients that can promote healing.
- Ayurveda Massage – Specific oils and massage techniques can play a key role in wellness depending on your dosha.
- Ayurveda Lifestyle Changes – Of course, Ayurveda is not a single treatment or practice. It is a chance to make real, long-lasting lifestyle changes. Those that commit to those changes often experience positive results.
These are only some of the many options available for those looking to refresh their life, restore their health, and live with daily balance and vitality. With the guidance of an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner, it is possible to experience life-changing transformation – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
More: Exploring Shirodhara
Transform your life with Ayurveda
at the Art of Living Retreat Center
Ayurveda has an abundance of benefits for those looking for real, noticeable change in their life. It is a complete mind-body approach to health that helps you build a greater connection to your physical and mental well-being, and empowers you with knowledge, treatments, and practice for you to be able to restore balance and live well.
The above information is an introduction to Ayurveda – we invite you to explore each link further for a deeper understanding of this ancient, holistic health care system.
We're here for you
The Art of Living Retreat Center’s Wellness Consultants are here to support you – guiding you to find an Ayurvedic program or treatment that’s right for you as you continue your wellness journey.
More: Ayurveda 101
Bonus: Why Ayurveda – From a Western Perspective.