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Ayurveda: An Overview of One of the World’s Most Ancient Healing Systems

Although Western medicine has made amazing advancements in curing diseases, many believe that it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to preventing illnesses. For example, those suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or depression are prescribed medication by modern doctors that manage their symptoms without addressing the root causes of their ailments.

Together with the high costs of conventional medicine, this oversight is increasingly driving people towards alternative health care. One such practice is Ayurvedic medicine, a complete healthcare system that originated in ancient India. In general, rather than focusing on curing an illness, like Western medicine, Ayurveda takes a preventative approach, prescribing diets and activities that ensure our long-term well-being.

Despite Ayurveda’s increasing popularity in modern times, it’s arguably the world’s oldest system of medicine.

The Ancient Roots of Ayurveda

Ayurveda has its origins in the Vedas, ancient books of knowledge dating back more than 5,000 years to India’s Vedic period. However, these texts likely existed in an oral form for many thousands of years before that. The information contained in the Vedas is meant to help us navigate life on Earth. Some of the topics covered include mythology, mantras, music, and Ayurveda.

Veda is a term meaning “knowledge,” and ayur is a word that means “life.” As such, Ayurveda is the knowledge of life. In the Vedic times, ancient sages understood that physical and spiritual health went hand in hand; without a balanced body, the spirit could never find the peace it required to ascend into higher realms.

Starting from its ancient origins, Ayurveda quickly became popular throughout India. Around 1500 BCE, eight main branches of the science were delineated. These included

  1. Internal medicine
  2. Surgery
  3. Ears, eyes, nose, and throat
  4. Pediatrics
  5. Toxicology
  6. Purification of the reproductive organs
  7. Health and longevity
  8. Psychiatry and spiritual healing.

Around that same time, Ayurveda became popular all over the world, in countries such as Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, China, and Tibet. In fact, in Europe during the 16th Century, Paracelsus, who is considered the father of modern medicine, took much of his material from Ayurveda.

Although thousands of years have elapsed since its creation, the basic principles of Ayurveda are still intact and used today to promote healthy living. Here’s how it works:

The Principles of Ayurveda

Ayurveda’s main principle is balance. In this system, living a balanced life is the key to optimal digestion, health, longevity. This is achieved by harmonizing your diet and lifestyle with the seasons and your body’s natural disposition.

The Three Doshas

From an ayurvedic point of view, all physical matter generally falls into one of three categories, known as doshas; these are called pitta, vata, and kapha. It is these doshas that Ayurveda seeks to balance. Here’s a little bit about them:

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Vata dosha is related to the air element. It becomes predominate in nature during the fall and early winter. Those with a primarily vata constitution are typically thin, creative, and talkative. When vata is in excess it can cause constipation, anxiety, and restlessness.


Pitta dosha is related to the element of fire and predominates during the summer months. People with a pitta body type tend to have a medium build, fast digestion, and prefer activity. Excessive pitta can lead someone to anger, heartburn, or inflammation.


Kapha dosha consists of the earth and water elements. This dosha is most prevalent during the late winter and spring. People who are primarily kapha dominant will tend to be heavier set, calm, and easygoing. If kapha is in excess it can lead to obesity, diabetes, and depression.

Balancing the Doshas

The first step in finding balance is to identify what is imbalanced within us. The majority of us naturally fall into one of these categories, although it’s also possible to have traits of two, or even all three. After we figure out which dosha or doshas dominate us, we can adopt lifestyles and diets that reflect the qualities of the dosha we’re lacking.

For example, somebody with a vata constitution will find harmony in eating warm, oily, kapha-based foods, rather than light, raw, vata-based foods that will send them further into imbalance. Since vata people also tend to be sporadic and all over the place, they will do well living a more kapha-based lifestyle, adopting a stable routine of sleeping and eating at the same times every day.

In addition to balancing our individual dispositions, we should also harmonize with the seasons. For example, during the summer, when pitta predominates, we tend towards ailments such as sunburn, hot flashes, exhaustion, and impatience. In order to pacify the excess of pitta, we must eat foods that are vata and kapha in nature. For example, fruits are perfect for summer because they’re sweet, juicy, and cold.

Living an Ayurvedic Lifestyle

To live an Ayurvedic life means to live a life of balance. In order to get an accurate assessment of your natural imbalances, it’s best to schedule a consultation with an Ayurvedic physician. After that, you’ll know the foods, herbs, and lifestyle choices that will lead you towards harmony, happiness, and longevity.

However, Ayurveda also recommends a few general self-care practices for everyone that you can start incorporating now. These include waking up before sunrise, saying a morning prayer, washing with and drinking water, practicing good oral hygiene, self-massaging with warm oils, putting on clean clothes, practicing yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation, and finally, eating a healthy breakfast.

As you begin to live Ayurvedically, you’ll find yourself falling sick less, manifesting holistic health, and overcoming chronic conditions that may have plagued you in the past. However, physical well-being is just the starting point. Soon, you’ll be on your way to greater mental and emotional clarity. Finally, you’ll discover arguably the greatest benefit, the ability to find true spiritual peace and progress. 

Want to learn more about the kind of retreats the Art of Living Retreat Center offers? Check out our calendar, or feel free to give us a call at 800-392-6870. We’re looking forward to chatting with you!