About a week and a half ago, I started the course that I largely based my decision on attending IHN for...Ayurveda.  Since then, people have been asking me what it's all about.  For the purposes of this post, I'm going to go into the fundamentals and theories behind Ayurvedic therapy, and I will follow up with a later post on diets for the different constitutions.  What's a constitution, you ask?  Patience, young grasshopper.

Ayurveda is the Sanskrit word for "knowledge of life".  It is a 5,000 year old system of natural healing grounded in the Vedic culture in India.  It follows a model of constitutions, that primarily consider the unique qualities of the individual and also integrate the mind and spirit into the healing process. Similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine (whose roots are also grounded in Ayurveda), Ayurveda contains a system of anatomy and physiology that follow an energetic and qualitative model that show us how our life energies work and how to balance them.  What's the point?  Health of body and mind.

Two of the most popular Ayurvedic therapies many of us are engaging in without even knowing it are asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises).  I'll save my rant commentary regarding the practise of yoga in the west for another day, but want to point out here that what most of us are practising when we attend classes here in North America is actually not yoga, in the traditional sense; in fact, it's Ayurveda.  I am not intending to make a global generalization or judgment here; and, I don't think that many can argue that the majority of the yoga that we are practising at our community studios is much different from the yoga being practised in ashrams in India. In India, yoga is practised in order to attain union with the divine.  Many of us in the west attend yoga for the purposes of maintaining a healthy body.  Anyway, potay-to, potah-to - and something to keep in mind the next time you're flowing through a vinyasa : ) Other types of Ayurvedic therapies include: diet, herbs, meditation, oil massage, and steam therapy.

Ayurveda's foundation is in the law of like and unlike: everything you experience increases like parts of your being and decreases those parts unlike it, making every experience you have medically significant.  The ultimate cause of illness is potential, ripened and current karma.  Karma can be (very simply) described as the idea that our intent and actions influence our futures.  In other words, suffering comes from what has happened in the past as well as the karma we're presently creating.  Ayurveda also recognizes that we are a a manifestation of universal energy and describes three fundamental energies or "doshas" that are responsible for the characteristics of our mind and body.  They are, in Sanskrit, Vata (wind), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth).  Each of us contain a unique proportion of these three doshas that shape our constitution.  There's that word again ; )

While each of us are thought to have all three doshas, most of us are dominant in one or two of the elements.  The Ayurvedic system operates under the idea that there is a balanced state of expression of each of the elements.  When an individual is imbalanced or excessive in one or any of the doshas, therapies are used in order to decrease the expressions and bring the individual back into their own unique state of balance.  If Vata is dominant and balanced, the individual tends to be lively and enthusiastic.  An imbalance in Vata may present as constipation, anxiety and irregular sleep.  If Pitta is dominant and balanced, the individual tends to be passionate, friendly, disciplined and a good leader and speaker.  An imbalance in Pitta may present as diarrhea, anger and irritability.  Finally, if Kapha is dominant and balanced, the individual tends to be stable, loving and calm.  An imbalance in Kapha may present as depression, weight gain and sinus conditions.

So now comes the fun part - which dosha are you?  The best way to determine that is to see an Ayurvedic consultant, such as our teacher, Matthew Gindin.  There are also a number of online questionnaires you can fill out, Deepak Chopra's is a popular one.

Below is a table I put together from my study notes of the physical and psychological qualities for each of the doshas:

Physical qualities and issues
Positive psychological qualities and issues
Negative psychological qualities and issues
Olive coloured skin (relative to ethnicity), hair may be wavy or thin, facial features are small/irregular, frame is tall, thin; hands and feet may be small or fine, bones are frail, prominent, teeth are fragile, dry skin and hair, digestion issues i.e. intestinal dryness (IBS, irritation, constipation, gas, bloating), irregular sleep, digestion, nervous system, chronic pain, cold hands and feet, cold body temperature
Creativity, enthusiastic, good at putting things/thoughts together, ability to see multiple points of view, broad-minded thought, intuition, mentally flexible

Moody, hypersensitive, insecurity, indecision, scatterbrained, flightiness, psychological instability, respond to stress with fear, worry and anxiety, impulsive
Little body odor, variable appetite, variable and erratic libido, sensitive to cold weather, wind, strong reaction to medications, high energy in short bursts, tend to over exert and tire easily, think outside the box, quick to learn and grasp new knowledge but also quick to forget,   
Face is medium sized, angular.  Skin is oily and has pink or reddish tone, freckles.  Hair tends to be fair, straight and medium bodied.  Eyes are sharp, piercing and bright, medium frame, tends to be naturally muscular, strong, joints are flexible and well-lubricated, Inflammatory conditions (joints, skin, intestines, some auto-immune disorders), bacterial imbalances, digestion tends to be strong, may run fast (diarrhea) “I can eat anything”, warm to hot body temperature
Passion, ambition, clarity of thought, enthusiasm, analytical thoughts, self-confident, driven, focused
Anger management problems, obsessiveness, close-minded, judgmental, irritable, aversion, workaholic, subject to temper tantrums, impatience
Body odour tends to be strong, strong appetite and libido, may sleep lightly or little.  Get irritable if a meal is messed, sunburns easily, responds to stress by getting angry and irritable, perspires a lot, uncomfortable in hot weather, good public speakers, good leaders
Skin is fair, pale.  Hair tends to be wavy, thick.  Eyes tend to be large, almond shaped/doe-eyed.  Face is full and shapely.  Frame tends to be larger, carry more weight, bones are strong, thick.  Digestion tends to be slow, weak, tendency towards constipation, body temperature tends to be cold.  Excessive weight gain, edema, respiratory problems, sluggish digestion, diabetes, circulatory problems, cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalance
Grounded, stability, love, loyalty, compassion, consistency, forgiveness, calmness, affectionate, non judgmental
Stubborn, melancholy, needy/clingy, heavy lethargic depression, inflexible, slow when change is needed
Small appetite but constant, weak libido, sleeps heavily, easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced, stable, reliable, slow speech, low, soft voice, slower to learn but outstanding long-term memory, undemanding approach to life, excellent health and immune system, strive to maintain peace and harmony in surroundings, not easily upset, can be a point of stability for others, don’t like cold, damp weather

Based on the diagnostic exercises we did in class, and the feedback I got from Matthew, it comes as no great surprise that I am pitta dominant and vata secondary. Obviously ; )

We are starting to see a resurgence of traditional alternative medicines in the west, which I am very excited about.  Gaia Gardens on West Broadway is a great herbal dispensary, and Metropolitan Relaxation Studio in East Van offers Ayurvedic oil massage.  I've been for one and it was lovely (prepare to get reaaaaaaaaaaaaally oily though!).  I've also been told that the Chai Gallery restaurant in Kits (on top of East is East) has an Ayurvedic buffet on certain nights.

Whether you believe in it or not, it's really just another way to approach illness and allows us the opportunity to involve ourselves in the healing process in a meaningful way.  Last time I checked, going for an oil massage and meditating hasn't resulted in any weird side effects.   At least, not in my opinion ; )

stay open,