Perspectiveon ayurveda


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Perspectiveon ayurveda

  1. 1. For more details visit: VERY BRIEF OVERVIEW OF AYURVEDA by Matthew Remski Ayurveda literally means the “science of life”, or “science of longevity”. One Sanskritist I know translates the term as “the science of optimal living”. It is a holistic medical science developed by and through Vedic culture that has survived and grown in its clinical experience and knowledge of natural science for approximately 7000 years. As such, it is the oldest continuously practiced medical system inhuman culture. It is native to ancient, and now modern Indian culture, and versions of it havespread throughout Southeast Asia and into Tibet (which has preserved a verycomplete form of it). Although in its homeland it has suffered many persecutions(under Muslim rule in the late classical period, under British rule from the 18thcentury, and under the thrall of Western allopathy even to present day), it is enjoyinga global resurgence that owes much of its energy to the surge of nationalistic pridethat rippled through Indian culture following Independence. Currently there are over300, 000 Ayurvedic doctors practicing in India today. Recent interest in Ayurveda in the West is being piqued by the risingpopularity of Hatha Yoga. This is entirely appropriate, since Ayurveda has alwaysserved as the medical support to the Yogic tradition. Moreover, it is a welcomedevelopment that Western Yoga practitioners learn to evaluate both physical andmental health through the exacting lens that Ayurveda offers. Ayurveda seeks to treat the whole person, insisting that fundamental harmonyon all levels of experience must be achieved in order for health to offer its beneficialpurpose: the evolution of consciousness away from the isolated, contracting, self-concerned activity of egoism, and towards its natural and original state of expansiveunion with the sublime. Towards this goal, it works to harmonize and purify units ofexperience from the gross to the subtle, down through the material plane to the non-material plane that is its source. It makes use of food and herbs to balancebiochemistry, exercise to balance the physical structure, breathing techniques tonurture the life-force, and ethics, mantra and meditation to balance the mind. Most importantly, Ayurveda proposes that all of these tools be applieduniquely, according to the patient’s constitution and circumstance. In this sense, wemight say that Ayurveda is as universal a science as it is a personal one: it employs theunderstanding of general law towards the sublimation of particular experience. InAyurvedic education, one first learns the qualities and properties of the elements;then one may see those qualities at play within oneself, and gently guide themtowards their natural harmony. © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 
  2. 2. Ayurveda is a Vedic Science in the sense that it is considered an Upaveda to theArthava Veda: the fourth and final major collection of mantras that comprises Vedicliterature, and which makes mention of the healing properties of plants, and listsmany mantras claimed to have healing properties. Traditionally, its scriptures havealso been learned and passed on in the style of the Vedas – from teacher to student,using memorization and recitation techniques. More importantly, it is a Vedic Science insofar as it holds the samefundamental world-view of Vedic culture. This world-view, which is shared by allspiritual traditions that have arisen from India, can be briefly summarized as follows:  All experience derives from a single, ineffable source that is referred to by many terms: pure consciousness, the ground of awareness, the ground of being, etc. This source is the natural home of consciousness, towards which consciousness longs to return.  The ability of consciousness to harmonize with its source is obstructed by its tendency to indulge in self-centered thought that creates a failure of natural wisdom: conventional human life is made possible through this devolution.  Consciousness may return to its inherent bliss through the process of a disciplined understanding of its nature, along with a gradual implementation of techniques to purify the failures of wisdom and their subsequent derangements of mental and physical faculties.  The purpose of life is experience, and liberation from experience. The main spiritual focus of Ayurveda is the liberation of both mind and bodyfrom their characteristic imbalances so that consciousness is released to pursue itsevolutionary promise. It has been employed by many traditions, including the Yogicsystem, to transform the body and mind away from obstructing personal liberation,towards becoming useful tools in its accomplishment. Ayurveda also promotes thegoal of arogya – the state of physical and mental health (along with longevity) that isrequired for spiritual life. Without its cosmological background, Ayurveda would simply be a palliativetechnique, which, like most other medical systems, would be limited to amelioratingsickness. But when it is understood in the context of the full evolution ofconsciousness, Ayurveda’s purpose becomes clear: to rectify elemental imbalance andto promote harmony of gross and subtle levels of experience so that the indwellingbeing may shed its sheathing of egotism and experience itself and its universe asinherently joyful. The focus of Ayurveda is the evolution of consciousness from gross matter tosubtle matter to its sublime nature. To track this evolutionary arc requires anunderstanding of how consciousness devolves under the influence of rajas, tamas,and the illusory nature of objective thought. This understanding is derived from thetradition’s extensive cosmology. Once understood, the process of devolution ofwhich human sorrow is the result can begin to be reversed. On a practical, day-to-day level, Ayurveda claims that the entire world of your © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 
  3. 3. experience can be medicine along your journey towards self-fulfillment. Every food,mental impression, and emotional event will either harmonize with your highestaspirations, or it will drag you down into “just getting by”. Your task then, is to learnhow to choose the correct mind-body nourishment every day, by first learning aboutyour own unique composition and daily needs. Ayurvedic method is based upon a comprehensive understanding of the howthe three vital forces (inertia, mobility, and clarity) combine with the five elements(earth, water, fire, air, and space), to produce three categories of psycho/physicalpersons: those who are governed primarily by the biological air humour (Vata), thebiological fire humour (Pitta), or the biological earth humour (Kapha). Discerningyour personal constitution with regard to these Doshas is the first step in learninghow to balance the physical and mental components of your experience, and toharmonize your life with your circumstance, and with your aspirations. When the Doshas accumulate into states of unbalance, they provoke diseasesymptoms similar to their nature. Arthritis, anxiety and chronically dry skin canafflict the Vata person. Pitta is liable to excess heat, which stirs anger, blemishes theskin, and distresses the liver and heart. Kapha is vulnerable to coldness, depression,and phlegmatic congestion. The goal of Ayurvedic living is to discover and respectboth the strengths and the liabilities of your constitutional makeup, so that you beginto intuitively choose to take in only that which balances you. Everyone knows the waif-like girl who forgets to eat as she dashes arounddoing a million things, having brilliant creative insights and misplacing her house keys– a classic Vata type. Ayurveda balances her with slowly-paced Asanas that calm hernervous tendencies, sweet, warm, and nutritive soupy meals that ground herconsciousness, heavy massage oils in sesame base, nutritive herbs like ashwagandha(“strength of a horse”) and shatavari (“she who has 100 husbands”). At another end of the spectrum is the executive with great leadership skills,who plays racquetball to relax, runs hot in temperament, with fair complexion andlosing hair, who speaks pointedly and loves passionately – classic Pitta. He’s calmedthrough precisely-taught Asanas that unwind his driven body, cooling foods andsandalwood oil massage in coconut base, and blood-purifying herbs like burdock andmanjistha. Finally, there is the earth-mother type who keeps the warmest and mostgenerous hearth and home in the neighbourhood, is loyal to a fault, sentimental andnurturing, but who may carry some more weight than she likes, or who may have ahard time admitting that changes are necessary, because the couch is just too cozy –classic Kapha. We hide the remote control, spice her food, give her vigorous sunsalutations to get her moving, and feed her formulae like trikatu (‘the threepungents”) to burn through whatever excess phlegm is slowing down her metabolismand general gumption. If for some reason you wanted to create an experiment in which all three ofthese biological humours where aggravated constantly and to excess, you would comeup with contemporary global culture. Today, Vata dosha spins out of controlthrough technological distraction, cell-phone and auto use, leaving our bodies © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 
  4. 4. ungrounded and our creativity disjointed and dessicated. Whatever wholesomepassion we derive from the fire of Pitta dosha is diverted into the pursuit ofconsumption, and drained by the ubiquitous fantasy of superficial sex. Finally, theearthy qualities of Kapha dosha are made lethargic through the passivity of television,political inertia, and artificial foods like refined sugars and grains that sedate us to thehigher purposes of life. By contrast, if you wanted to seek out an image of complete doshic balance, inwhich the most positive aspects of the sacred elements achieve their ultimateexpression in human form, you need look no farther than the North Pole. SantaClaus is the tridoshic genius of our cultural heritage. He’s the salt of the earth,rotund, and immovable – it’s hard to imagine him breaking a bone or having a fitfulsleep. This is Kapha in balance. Then there’s this luster to his complexion andpersonality, a zest for life and zeal for accomplishment, allowing him to lead, makedecisions, and warm the hearts of the world: Pitta to perfection. And finally, he’sable to do this mystically impossible thing – to lift innumerable gifts into the sky anddeliver them all in a single night. This is the mobility and penchant for achieving theimpossible that are hallmarks of Vata’s ethereal gift. To be sure, we all contain parts of all qualities; hence, the doshic types arecaricatures that describe no-one exactly. But the gift of Ayurveda is that recognizingsuch personal attributes, how they are categorized, and how they interact with yourenvironment, home, and diet, brings you towards a refined understanding of whatwill balance you every day. By looking for balance through continuing self-study, youbecome an epicurean of the natural world, and an artist of perception. How different this is from our common approach today! Our culture seekscrude answers in chemically generalized form, treating the body as inert andmechanical, and the mind as if it where non-existent. We give over our power ofdiscernment to a philosophy that insists that health and disease is understandableonly through highly specialized language and instrumentation that virtually no-onepossesses, such is its expense and complexity. This mind-set renders us passivetowards the healing process. Life and death become mysteries in the hands of otherswhose motives may be diluted and confused by money and bureaucracy. By contrast, Ayurvedic therapy offers a systemic and dynamic view ofintegrated forces and functions that cannot be reduced to biochemical statistics,caloric intake, symptom management or avoidance, or any of the othercompartmentalized measures of allopathic modes, which inevitably distance us fromself-understanding. Because its view is integral, it places a premium on theintelligence of the viewer. In other words, it is a system of self-empowermentdesigned to place each person at the center of their journey towards wholeness. This journey towards wholeness, to be sure, will never focus upon bits andpieces. For example the anatomy is not seen by Ayurveda as a mechanical devicewith independent parts that can be addressed separately, as in car repair. (“Wemurder to dissect” wrote Alexander Pope.) Rather, Ayurvedic anatomy is anunfolding flower of developing complexity, in which the most highly specializedtissues are recognized to be higher and higher refinements of plasma, formed under © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 
  5. 5. the direction of the innate intelligence of agni, the fiery principle of transformation.The development of human anatomy thus becomes truly developmental, based uponclear causality, and not simply something to be altered or redirected from the state inwhich it is mysteriously found. Ayurvedic anatomy also presents a perfect vision ofelemental balance: earth provides structure, water provides adaptability, fire providestransformation, air provides movement, and ether provides space. Anatomy istherefore much more than the vehicle for biomechanical events; it is, rather, amicrocosm of universal structure. Within this structure, a physiology emerges to resonate with it. The functionof the body in Ayurvedic terms mirrors its construction: synergistic and holistic.Each physiological function is linked to every other through the pacification orvitiation of the doshas, the biological humors. Thus the number of interrelationshipsbetween tissues and disease conditions are literally infinite. For instance, whereas allopathy would treat arthritis by looking at the mineralcontent of bones and using steroids to locally deaden the nerves that are inflamed,Ayurveda looks at the movement of Vata throughout the body, particularly in thecolon, as it is the site of Prana absorption or malabsorption. It then proceeds to treatthe condition at its root. To take another example, Ayurveda recognizes most skindisorders as originating in the blood tissue, which means that blood-cleansingtreatments are known to be more effective than topical measures. To summarize, Ayurvedic treatments of the body are ultimately concernedwith causes and sources, rather than what is superficially apparent. This approachextends to considerations of the mind, as well. The success of any medical system is a combination of how it improveshealth, longevity and quality of life, along with how it uplifts the heart of culture andaids in the unfolding of happiness. These goals are achievable, according to thefollowing Ayurvedic principles:  The health of the body is co-dependent with the health of the spirit, and neither should be considered or treated separately.  Health care is a holistic process that extends before and beyond the treatment of disease.  The gift of health is given through a process of self-education. Initially this requires guidance, but the nature of this guidance should always be directed towards self-empowerment. One cannot improve one’s life passively.  As nature tends towards balance and from this balance reaches gracefully towards Spirit, human health and well-being is a natural occurrence, stemming from the inherent desire for happy liberation. To summarize, the integral healing approach of Ayurveda uses a system ofcategorization of elements, levels of experience, and sheaths of manifestation tocarefully define and isolate the causes and conditions for both health and disease.Defined and isolated, each potential imbalance can be addressed on its own terms,generally through the idea of “the application of opposites”, or what Patanjali calls © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 
  6. 6. pratipaksha bhavana. On the level of tissues, such applications consist of food, herbs,medicated oils, and asanas. On the level of the energetic body, such applicationsinclude breath training, aroma therapy, and colors and shapes. On the level of themind, such applications include the restructuring of the discursive mind throughmantra and various forms of meditation that serve to pacify mental fluctuations. Onthe level of the spiritual being, such applications include meditations that nourishcorrect self-perception through the dissolution of the ego. It is important to note that the Ayurvedic treatment of the person as laid outby the preceding system of layers is primarily pyramidal in structure. That is to say –the balancing of coarse layers support and nourish the balancing of subtler layers. Itwill not work to say “it’s all in my mind”, in other words, because this would ignorethe organic nature of mind, which needs to be supported and nourished from below. This is not to say that the higher levels of experience do not influence or evendirect the lower levels. In fact, the heart of Ayurvedic therapy is educational, seekingto bring the patient into a higher state of self-reflexive thought, so that theimbalances of his or her experience can be made clear, and the correspondingcuratives will follow naturally. In a sense then Ayurvedic therapy depends upon anintervention at the level of vijnanamaya kosha, or the intelligence sheath, the results ofwhich will radiate downwards through prana and into the elements, and upwardsthrough meditation into the bliss body and beyond. To synthesize these two patterns, then, we could say that intelligence bothfeeds and is fed by the stability and balance of the coarser forms of matter. The tworealms interpenetrate, thereby slowly and methodically raising each other towards thehighest aspirations of consciousness. Ayurveda thus provides a vision of holistic personal evolution that omits nomode of experience and utilizes every object of knowledge and every material subsetas both evidence for the possibility of transcendence, and a tool for achievingtranscendence. On the deepest level, spiritual healing in Ayurveda is grounded in the hard-won awareness that the true spirit of the human being (soul, purusha, atman...) needs nohealing at all, but exists as a wholly harmonious essence beyond the possibility ofdisturbance, aging, sickness, death, comparison, judgment, and discursive thoughtitself. Acknowledgement of this profound fact allows the human being to harmonizethe temporal elements of his experience (tissues, mind, emotions) within the contextof faith in a beneficent, responsive universe which is naturally inclined towards theevolution of happiness. This context of faith dissuades the person from becoming obsessed with themanipulation of external realities towards an unattainable idea of complete materialsatisfaction. Rather, it encourages the person to use external realities as signs provinginfinite interconnectedness and unity of all things, and of consciousness itself. Withsuch proof established, we are reminded of our true nature. © Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda  391 Ontario Street, T.O., M5A 2V8  416-920-4520 