You know when you learn a new word for the first time, and then suddenly you hear it non-stop, every day, everywhere? That’s what happened when I discovered Ayurveda about two years ago — and the popularity of the practice has showed no signs of slowing down since. You’ve likely heard or read the term before on wellness podcasts, websites (maybe even on nécessité), or in conversations with friends. But what does it mean?
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Essentially, Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing system. It’s over 5,000 years old, and was developed in tandem with yoga; the two were actually designed to be practiced together! At its core, Ayurveda promotes gentle, natural daily self-care practices to keep the mind, body, and soul in balance. The theory is that balance is equivalent to health; and by tending to your needs on every level on a daily basis, you reduce the risk of needing major medical intervention in the future. It’s the earliest form of preventative medicine.
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You’re probably already practicing a little bit of Ayurveda, actually. Some of its core teachings are incredibly popular today; like the aforementioned yoga practice, or drinking a cup of hot water with lemon in the morning to kick-start digestion, and even tongue scraping and oil pulling.
Millions of people have flocked to these techniques for one main reason: They work. So maybe it’s time you learned more about Ayurveda — here are the top three things to know before you begin your journey.
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The Dosha System
Ayurveda is completely based on a system of three doshas — or mind-body types — known as Pitta (fiery and sharp), Vata (light and airy), and Kapha (heavy and oily). Everyone has qualities of all three doshas, with one or two being the most dominant. The dominant dosha affects everything in your life; from how you digest food, to the best exercises for your body, to how you view the world. The ultimate goal is to bring your doshas into balance — until then, your dominant dosha may cause problems.
For example, an excess of Kapha can lead to candida in the gut. Too much Pitta results in acne. And an overload of Vata may appear as dry, flaky skin. Take a quiz to find out your dosha — you might just be surprised how accurate the description feels.
The Digestive System
In Ayurveda, the agni (aka, life force) is a fire that lives in the gut. Because of this, a huge focus is placed on a healthy digestive system. It’s seen as the source of life, health, and even happiness.
Some digestive health practices that Ayurveda followers love:
Drinking fresh ginger tea or hot water with lemon in the morning
Consuming mostly cooked — not raw — vegetables, since these are easier for the body to digest
Cooking with lots of spices, like turmeric, cumin, and fennel seed
Doing Kitchari cleanse at the start of each season
The Chakra System
Ayurveda is about so much more than healthy food and yoga poses — the health of the spirit is seen as essential to the health of the overall being, and this relies on a balanced chakra system.
Ayurveda believes in a system of seven energy centers, or chakras, that correspond to different areas of the body and different spiritual strengths. The goal of a lifetime is to open all of these centers and allow their powerful energies to flow freely through you. Here are the seven chakras of Ayurveda, and the energy they represent:
Root Chakra: Stable, grounded, community
Sacral Chakra: Sexuality and creativity
Solar Plexus Chakra: Gut, personal power
Heart Chakra: Love, intuition
Throat Chakra: Communication, speaking your truth
Third Eye Chakra: Wisdom, manifested desires, faith
Crown Chakra: Inner peace, connection to a higher being
While that barely scratches the surface of Ayurveda — after all, it’s based on 5,000 years of teachings and learnings — you now have a grasp on its basic principles. (So the next time it comes up in conversation, you can join in.)
Photographer Credit: Aylin Stock