by Erin Easterly
The word Ayurveda has an air of mystery to its name. Most people have heard the word, but few understand the history, wisdom, and applications of this ancient health system. Deepak Chopra, for whom I work, has been instrumental in bringing the universal principles of Ayurveda to the West. He has written over 70 books on the topic and yet he himself acknowledges that he has only scratched the surface of the time tested traditions. This fact alone attests to the challenge of succinctly explaining Ayurveda when friends and neighbors casually ask, "What exactly IS Ayurveda?" I know that most people are not looking for a long soliloquy and yet all too often I find myself diving into the oceans of Ayurvedic wisdom long after my accommodating listeners have risen to the surface for air!
In an effort to introduce brevity to my admittedly long introduction of Ayurveda, I will here discuss just TWO foundational principles. Perhaps in future articles we can examine the numerous other roots to the tree of Ayurveda.
The first and arguably most defining principle of Ayurveda is that life has multiple dimensions. If I were to ask you if ou are healthy, you would most likely consider your odd and its current state of wellbeing. This is the model that most people use when evaluating their relative health or lack thereof. However, in Ayurveda, many layers of being are recognized and each must be addressed in order for one to experience wholeness, happiness, and true health.
The first layer is the body. What exactly is your body? At its most basic level, your body cannot be separated from the environment of which it is a part. The air you breathe, the liquids you drink, the food you eat all become your body.
In Sanskrit, the first sheath is known as annamaya kosha (literally, the covering made of food). The body also consists of the energy which animates your form (pranamaya kosha). This of this energy as akin to the batteries in a flashlight; you body is the flashlight and the batteries (or in this case vital energy) allow it to work.
The second layer consists of the mind, intellect, and ego with their respective receiving, analyzing, and defining qualities.
The third and subtlest layer, comprises your personal soul with its unique expression of Spirit, your collective soul with its unfaltering connection to archetypal energies, and the Universal Soul from which all beings are inextricably linked and birthed.
An obstruction of energy in any one of the layers of life results in less than perfect health. Ayurveda addresses each aspect of being and provides tangible steps through which one may reconnect to his native state of wholeness.
The second foundational principle is that of elements and doshas. Given that we are interconnected with the world of which we are a part, it comes as no surprise that Ayurveda recognizes the elements of nature with in our bodies and minds. Space, air, fire, water, and earth are found in varying qualities in each individual.
A predominance of specific elements within the body and mind is known as a dosha. In Ayurveda there are three main doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapaha that influence both physiology and mental predilections. Konwing how to balance your particular dosha through individualized diet, specific exercise, seasonal practices, daily routines, and sensory input is an invaluable contribution of Ayurveda toward balanced living.
These two foundational principles may being to give you an idea of what Ayurveda means. Look for upcoming workshops that offer you a deeper connection with these teachings at SOULSHINE!
**a note from SoulShine: Erin has worked and mentored with Deepak Chopra as an Ayurvedic Therapist & Lifestyle coach, yoga and meditation teacher, as well as Perfect Health educator. She currently works at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, CA where she is actively involved in teaching, lecturing, and helping guests to integrate the principles of Ayurveda into their lives. She is working on her first book The Way of the Yogi which is scheduled to be published later this year.