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Ayurveda - Topic Overview

What is ayurveda?

Ayurveda, or ayurvedic medicine, is a healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000 years. Ayurveda emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices (such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes) and the use of herbal remedies.

Ayurvedic medicine is holistic, which means viewing the body and mind as a whole. Ayurveda not only treats a person's physical complaints, but it also changes lifestyle practices to help maintain or improve health.

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According to ayurveda, the five elements of nature (space, air, fire, water, earth) combine in the body as three components (doshas) known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. These doshas relate closely to the basic elements of nature and to specific functions of the body. A balance of these doshas is thought to be required for optimal health.

  • Air and space represent Vatta. Vatta controls muscle and joint movement, breathing, and heartbeat. Also, Vatta controls anxiety, fear, pain, and other functions of the nervous system.
  • Fire and water represent Pitta, which is thought to control such bodily functions as digestion, metabolism, intelligence, and skin color. Pitta governs the emotions of anger, hate, and jealousy.
  • Earth and water represent Kapha. The physical structure of the body and the immune system are governed by Kapha. Emotional responses thought to be controlled by Kapha include calmness, forgiveness, love, and greed.

The doshas, which are determined at the time of conception, also relate to an individual's physical makeup and personality. A person with a Vatta makeup tends to have a small, thin build. The Pitta body style is more of a medium, muscular build. The Kapha appearance is usually bigger and well-developed. Most people are considered to have a combination of doshas, with one type usually being predominant.

In ayurvedic medicine, it is thought that if an imbalance occurs in any of the three doshas, illness results. Ayurvedic medicine treats illness in many ways, including dietary changes, herbal remedies, and exercise. According to the ayurvedic philosophy, you can also use yoga, meditation, or counseling to treat disease.

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