Ayurveda: A Way of Life

A new system of health care has arrived in Europe and is integrating itself into our lives. This ’new’ method actually has a 5000-year history of use and is the oldest continually practiced medical system in the world. The name, Ayurveda, gives us very good indications why this system has become so popular in Europe over the last decade.

The first part of the word ’Ayur’ indicates life in Sanskrit. By association one can infer that life is not static or fixed, but actually in a state of movement or change. The second part of the word ’Veda’ indicates knowledge. One can also infer that to have real knowledge about any subject one must understand it. Hence, the word ’Ayurveda’ implies a system of understanding life. And as life is not static but evolving so is Ayurveda. While it is an old system, it has constantly been changing and evolving to meet the evolution of humans. Ayurveda is a practical method that helps us to live in harmony with the earth the cosmos and ourselves.

Ayurveda is often referred to as an ’energetic system of medicine’ as it respects and understands the fundamental quality of life - intelligent energy or prana. The foundation of this system is the tridosha theory, which are three forms of the intelligent life force. The three Ayurvedic humors (doshas) vata (movement), pitta (transformation), and kapha (cohesion) govern the psycho-physiological functions of the human being. Ayurveda seeks to support the natural function of the humors to support health and happiness. It is the unique mix of these three humors that determines our individuality or constitution. Once your constitution is known you can use the Ayurvedic system.

Ayurveda is not a single method or kind of food. It is a way of understanding nature - first your own. When your own nature is understood then you can also understand foods, herbs, climates and therapies according to their nature and their response to your metabolism. By choosing the foods that support your nature you encourage health. However, random choices of food result in fatigue and illness. There is no ’bad or good’ food as each food affects different people in different ways. By using the Ayurvedic methodology we know which foods bring us health and which bring problems.

In the oldest text of Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita, we are told to adapt Ayurveda to our local culture, climate, food and medicine. Therefore, Ayurveda should be adapted to the local foods, climate and herbs in order to help people the most. When this is done Ayurveda presents the best health system to prevent disease. Hence, Ayurveda is not about any one food or herb, but about a new way of viewing life and the world around us.

© Atreya 2007

Vaidya Atreya Smith is the author of six books on Ayurvedic and Yogic healing and has been practicing and teaching Ayurveda for many years. He teaches throughout Europe at affilliated schools. He is the director of the European Institute of Vedic Studies which offers a number of trainings and courses on Ayurveda.