If you’ve been intrigued by the potential health and wellness benefits of Ayurveda, you’re not alone.
What is Ayurveda?
With teachers like Sahara Rose bringing Ayurveda into the mainstream, this ancient science is becoming increasingly recognized for it’s ability to bring deep inner balance on all levels.
“Ayurveda” literally translates to “the science of life”, which makes sense when you start to consider how everything in your being is connected. We really can’t separate our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well being- we are one being. To bring balance in any of these areas, we need to bring balance to all of these areas. Practising Ayurveda is one amazing tool for guiding us into holistic balance, on all levels.
My foray into Ayurveda began a couple years ago when I heard about a Vancouver-based practitioner named Melanie Madhuri Phillips. I was investigating “what is Ayurveda” for myself when I was introduced to Melanie, a well known speaker, Ayurvedic practitioner, yoga teacher trainer & bio-energy healer.
Like many healers out there, Melanie’s journey to becoming an Ayurvedic practitioner began when she became very sick herself. She tried all her options for medical healing, and was eventually told she had an autoimmune condition called, Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome. Western medicine had nothing to offer her. She literally turned to Ayurveda as a last resort, but after finding deep personal healing transformation via Ayurvedic practices, she eventually became an Ayurvedic teacher,and now teaches Ayurveda to yoga teachers around the world.
In answering the question “What is Ayurveda” Ayurveda is an approach that instructs us to get to the root cause of the imbalance, whatever that may be. If you find yourself overtired, stressed, burned out, struggling with digestive issues, autoimmune conditions or an autoimmune diseases, there are many inspiring case studies out there that show Ayurveda has the potential to restore balance, and support healing.
Melanie teaches that ultimately, listening to the wisdom contained in your own body is the starting point, because “self-acceptance is the most profound form of healing.” Here, we dive a little deeper to address what is Ayurveda, and understand the benefits of Ayurveda, as explained by expert, Melanie Philips.
Head + Heart: Please help us understand, what is Ayurveda and how does one determine which dosha they are?
Melanie Phillips: ‘Ayurveda’ translates as “the science of life.” “Ayur” means life; “Veda” means knowledge.
Essentially, to answer what is Ayurveda we begin the process of looking at how your life interacts with, and responds to, nature via the five elements: Ether, Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth. These elements are the five building blocks for everything in life.
Each of us is made up of a certain ratio of these five elements. Your particular combination of these elements determines your dosha. The three dosha’s are Pitta, Vata and Kapha. [Editor’s note: click here to learn more about each dosha.]
While each individual has a predominant dosha, everyone has all of the elements within us. As we move through life, we start to see the predominant qualities of our dosha show up physiologically, psychologically, and in the expression of our entire being.
H+H: I’ll admit, I have taken an online quiz to determine my dosha. How accurate can an online quiz really be?
MP: Where Ayurveda is most often misunderstood is when people try to Internet diagnose their dosha, and then proceed to treat themselves based on a wrong assessment of their dosha. The confusion arises because when we take a quiz, if there’s a particular imbalance happening at that time, then we’re determining our dosha based on the imbalance which is not actually our true dosha.
The true dosha of each individual is based on their original nature, which is established at the moment of conception. Your true dosha never changes throughout your life. To accurately determine one’s true dosha, I always recommend people seek out an experienced practitioner, who knows how to assess the inherent qualities that determine one’s true dosha.
H+H: What is your process for assessing an individual in order to treat them with Ayurveda?
MP: I begin by taking a patient’s pulse reading, looking at their eyes, feeling their bones (are they long and thin or dense and solid). I look at all of the qualities that comprise a person’s overall constitution. Everything from their speech to how they deal with time. I look at one’s age, their bone structure and skin, the shape of their nose and mouth, as well as get a sense of their tendencies and character – even how someone communicates information. Everything is informative to me regarding someone’s true nature or current imbalance. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I do a lot of listening with every assessment.
H+H: Can you give me an example of an Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatment looks like in action?
MP: To share an example, these days I see a lot of women between the ages of 40 and 55 come to me with symptoms that include adrenal fatigue, weight gain, thyroid imbalance, and feelings of burnout, or being anxious and depressed.
After diagnosing their dosha, I take a look at their daily routines and their foods.
One example would be a woman who is experiencing weight gain and tends to eat light foods and salads to combat this. This diet won’t actually help combat weight gain with every person. For example, for someone who has a Vata dosha, which is a tendency of being dry, cold and rough, eating a salad will only bring them further out of balance, and actually contribute to weight gain, especially if the body is already in stress mode and has an excess of cortisol.
In Ayurveda, the idea is that “like increases like” and that opposites reduce. So if your dosha is Vata (qualities of cold, dry, rough, light) a salad will bring further imbalance. In this example, what would be most beneficial is to consume food that is grounding and nourishing, which would help bring the body into a more relaxed state.
Many of the imbalances I see in my practice are the result of long term, low grade stress and unhappiness, which ends up manifesting as a variety of imbalances in the body. In many ways, we are what we think.
The heart of Ayurveda is a deep respect and appreciation for one’s own body, which begins with deep listening.
H+ H: Are there any general treatments that you can offer to help all dosha types?
MP: In order for healing to happen, you need to create an environment that supports your healing.
A key element to this work is focused on the mind, emotions, and belief systems. I help people discover and face beliefs or feelings that are contributing to the imbalance, and work through those, along with lifestyle and diet prescriptions.
The belief in Ayurveda is that nature heals us. So, with every patient, I’m looking for ways to bring a person’s body and mind back into the balance of nature.
While I treat each individual patient with a customized food program, and sometimes yoga and meditation practices, the following are a list of the Ayurvedic treatments I recommend to all patients, no matter what their dosha is:
- Scrape your tongue in the morning. This eliminates toxins. Get a good sterling silver tongue scraper for this
- Then, drink a glass of warm water before drinking or eating anything else. Some people benefit from having lemon in their water.
- Do a self oil massage every day.
- Begin a meditation practice.
- Eat your main meal in the mid day – not in the evening.
- Leave 3-4 hours between your evening meal and bedtime.
- Get to bed by 10pm. Routine is best for all constitutions. The body thrives with healthy routines.
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You can learn more about Melanie Phillips and explore her many articles, teachings, podcasts and upcoming events on her website. We also wanted to share this super inspiring podcast with Sahara Rose that offers another deep dive into What is Ayurveda. For in-person exploration, browse our full list of wellness workshops or retreats, here. Interested in other wellness practices? Explore two of our most popular articles on Pranayama Breathing and Breathwork.