Ayurveda coach Claire Paphitis explains how the ancient philosophy of ayurveda can help us stay in balance today.
Ayurveda has become something of a buzzword in recent times, finding its way into food writing, beauty, lifestyle, wellness retreats and all manner of health and wellbeing outlets, enabling people to harness its powerful benefits in a multitude of ways.
Ayurveda takes a 360 degree holistic approach to our physical and mental health through digestion, nutrition, lifestyle, nature and universal energy.
Although it finds itself in a very busy market of wellbeing practices, it stands out because it is the most beautiful and complete understanding
of the laws of nature and the universe.
It is a discipline with ancient roots that teaches us how to achieve that very modern goal: mind-body balance.
What is ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga and it is traditional in India to study ayurveda first – because it is believed that only when our body is ready and in balance can we take up the spiritual practice of yoga.
In the 21st century, our lives are incredibly busy and overstimulated, yet despite advances in modern medicine we still get sick.
We might ‘have it all’ as far as consumables go, but our souls are searching for something else and our mental health is suffering.
In a culture of quick fixes and immediate satisfaction, ayurveda is reassuringly enduring, based on more than 5,000 years of tried-and-tested knowledge.
It is a wisdom based on creating balance and it offers a slow and gentle method of creating equilibrium, based on a little self-discipline and delayed gratification. Not a bad way to counter the fast-paced urgency of modern life.
The meaning of ayurveda
The word ‘ayurveda’ comes from two Sanskrit words: ayur, meaning ‘life’, and veda, meaning ‘knowledge/science of’. So to study ayurveda is to be a lifelong student of the ‘knowledge of life’.
Ayurveda has its roots in ancient India and encompasses both philosophy and science.
In fact, it is the world’s oldest medical healing system, reaching back as far back as 10,000 years, and has eight different branches of medicine: general medicine, surgery, paediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology, ophthalmology and medicine of the ears, nose and throat.
Where did Ayurveda originate?
Thousands of years ago, the daily meditation practice of the Rishis or sages of India enabled them to receive the knowledge and wisdom of the universe.
Through their meditations, they perceived the relationship between
human beings and the universe, and how this cosmic energy
is present in all living things.
Their understanding evolved over thousands of years and was traditionally transmitted orally from teacher to student, until around 5,000 years ago, when the earliest texts were put into writing.
Sanskrit has a melodious oral tradition, often poetic, so the texts are written in Sanskrit verses or slokas and have been passed down, unchanged, through countless generations.
The five elements of ayurveda
In ayurvedic philosophy, human beings are viewed as a microcosm of the universe because we are made up of, and interact with, the five basic principles of all creation: the elements of ether (or space), air, water, fire and earth.
The Rishis understood that all things were created from these five elements. It is said that from a state of un-manifested consciousness came the micro vibrations of the soundless ‘aum’ or ‘om’ – a word or sound that you may be familiar with from yoga or meditation practice.
The vibrations from this enduring sound began in the ether, or empty space, and from here subtle movements created vibrations within the ether – which became air. This movement began to create friction and heat – an energy which formed an intense light that would become fire.
Through the heat of this fire, unseen elements dissolved and liquefied into water. As the water cooled and became solid, earth was created.
These five elements govern all our physical and mental processes. If you are wondering how air or fire or ether are present in your own body, allow me to elaborate a little further.
1. The element of ether
The ether element represents space. There are many ways this manifests within our bodies – in the mouth and nasal cavities, for example, or within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or the space in our blood vessel
2. The element of air
The air element is visible as movement in the spaces – pulsations of the heart, for example, or the expansion and contraction of our lungs, and movements of the intestines and muscles. It is always moving. Any movement in the
body is governed by the air element.
3. The element of fire
The fire element is responsible for digestion, sight and intelligence. Our metabolism and digestive enzymes are all governed by the element of fire. This is the heat that powers our bodies.
4. The element of water
The water element is perhaps the simplest of the bodily elements to understand. We know our bodies are about 60 per cent water and it can be found in the digestive juices, our saliva and any mucous membranes.
5. The element of earth
The earth element is the fifth and final element in ayurveda – representing the solid structure of our bones, nails and cartilage.
The five elements provide an individual blueprint for health and longevity, but only if we can understand and interpret how they each interact within our bodies and the environment around us.
Having this awareness and intuition will become important as you begin (or continue) your journey into adopting ayurveda into your daily life.
And remember, because we are this microcosm of the universe, there is a constant interaction between our internal and external environments, and often they are doing battle with one another.
External factors such as the weather, the seasons, stress or issues with family and friends will all create disturbances that affect how the five elements within our bodies interact.
These imbalances can manifest as headaches, gut problems, low energy or other types of illness. When we learn to recognise the signs and how to create balance, our wellbeing can be transformed.
Try an ayurvedic massage at home
Want to disperse toxins, beat fatigue, calm nerves and feel balanced and invigorated? Try this easy at-home massage.
Warm coconut or sesame oil by placing the container into a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Then pour a little of the oil into a small bowl or plastic container – around 3-4 tbsp is usually enough. Dip in your fingertips and lightly apply the oil to your whole body.
Wait a few minutes. Then begin to massage the body with firm sweeping movements, beginning at the ankles and feet and moving upwards. Spend longer on any areas that feel tender or tight.
When you are ready, wrap yourself in a towel or dressing gown and relax for at least ten minutes (or as long as you can). Once or twice a week, find time for a longer period of relaxation to fully reap the benefits of this practice. If you are building an abhyanga massage into your morning routine, this is when you could sit and perform some gentle breathwork or meditation.
Shower off if you wish or simply pat down any excess oil with a paper towel and continue your day.
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