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The ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda, considered to be one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, has been healing people for centuries with its unique holistic view of the individual. Ayurveda by definition is “the science of life and longevity.”

The term is taken from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life or lifespan, and veda, meaning knowledge. It has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years and has recently become popular in Western cultures. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness and that a body out of balance signals its needs through symptoms.

In the Ayurvedic perspective, the body doesn’t ever create a symptom without a good reason and every symptom is seen as an attempt by the body to heal itself. Ayurvedic treatments restore balance with therapeutic combinations of diet, exercise, yoga, massage, mediation, breathing, detoxification and healing herbs.

Ayurveda isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. The ancient healing practice classifies individuals according to three life forces, or doshas:

Vata (Air), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth). As most individuals are a combination of these doshas, ayurvedic treatments work to restore balance to bodies and minds and return individuals to their true constitutions for optimal health, balance, and happiness.

Each dosha corresponds to dozens of characteristics, including physical build, digestion, health strengths and weaknesses, and even personality.

Identifying what dosha—or combination of doshas— allows the ability to tap into a wealth of Ayurvedic knowledge about the body. Vata types, for example, are usually thin, quick-thinking, creative, and may experience cool, dry skin and nervousness. Ayurvedic teaching recommends warm, grounding, heavy foods for vata types, along with calming physical exercise like yoga and Pilates.

As most individuals are a combination of these doshas, ayurvedic treatments work to restore balance to bodies and minds and return individuals to their true constitutions for optimal health, balance, and happiness.

Ayurveda has been a successful form of medicine for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise that scientific support for the practice is strong. Recent studies back the effectiveness of several herbal remedies traditionally used as Ayurvedic remedies, including turmeric, which is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant; Boswellia serrata, which has been shown to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis; Shilajit, which is rich in fulvic and humic acids that produce cell energy; and Terminalia chebula, which has anti-ulcer properties.

The goal of most Ayurvedic doctors is to support the body’s natural healing ability, while eradicating troublesome health symptoms as quickly as possible, which may mean treating patients with a blend of Ayurvedic and traditional Western therapies.

While Ayurveda can be a first line of defense for many non-threatening conditions since it supports the body in self-healing, in some cases, additional treatments may be needed, such as more aggressive naturopathic therapy to eradicate the symptoms, followed by a course of Western treatment.

While Ayurveda developed in India, it is applicable to any culture and any era. Ayurveda is simple to apply to any person, no matter what their stage of life, elderly to infant.

At  Sivananda ashrams around the world and many of the centers, you will find an Ayurvedic specialist and/or clinic or center. You can also join us for a course or introduction to what Ayurveda has to offer.  Please visit www.sivananda.org/camp for more information and to plan to spend time experiencing Ayurvedic treatments and learning more about Ayurveda.

By Sita Miriam Zernis – Sivananda Yoga Teacher, Holistic Health Counselor and Health and Wellness Writer