When you ask What is Ayurveda? to the National Institute of Health, medical clinicians will describe it as a complementary and alternative medicine, or a whole medical system, that offers the practitioner a way to enhance well-being through diet, meditation and herbal remedies. When you ask a student of the practice “What is Ayurveda,” they will tell you its meaning: “ayur” is the Hindu word for “life,” and “veda” means science. The Vedic culture in India dates back over 5000 years, and the ancient Greek physicians used many of the principles incorporated in ayurvedic medicine to treat and cure disease. Lately, the resurgence in integrative therapies in the medical community has many people asking, “What is Ayurveda?”
The ayurvedic diet promotes the six tastes in a prescribed order to best regulate the digestive system. These are:
This stands the typical Western diet on its ear since it generally has a salad (the astringent) at the beginning of the meal and the sweet dessert at the end. Ayurveda requires re-learning how to use the body’s “agni” (digestive “fire”) to get the most benefits from our diet while consuming all of the six tastes, which prevents us from having those cravings typical of an incomplete diet.
When the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became the spiritual advisor of the Beatles in the 1960s, many music fans began asking themselves, “What is Ayurveda?” Through Transcendental Meditation, practitioners can achieve a sense of wholeness and well-being by sitting with their thoughts for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day. By seeking this inwardness, students of transcendental meditation can get to the root of their thoughts and experience consciousness to access the self, which ultimately offers samadhi or divine consciousness. Ayurveda then becomes a path to self-realization and the discovery of one’s place in the world.
You can’t discuss ayurveda without bringing in the topic of complementary herbal treatments to promote wellness. The basic tonic of ayurvedic medicine is triphala, made of equal parts amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. Amalaki, or Indian gooseberry, incorporates five of the six tastes and aids in digestion. Haritaki has been used by native people in the treatment of leprosy; in its powder form it’s a laxative; and when boiled, it has anti-diarrheal properties. Finally in Sanskrit, bibhitaki means “disease prevention” and is used as a laxative and noted for its respiratory-enhancing properties.