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What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing rooted in the ancient culture of India. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge); guiding us not only towards vibrant physical and mental health, but also a deeper connection to our spiritual nature. It offers a body of wisdom designed to help you stay vital while realizing your full human potential. Providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses, Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our body, mind, spirit, and environment. Ayurveda and Yoga are considered to be sister sciences, as they are meant to be practiced together.

Ayurveda is the study of matter. It is a science that helps us understand the nature of this world and how the elements work together to create harmony or dissonance; health or dis-ease. Ayurveda guides us towards understanding ourselves, our own material makeup, so that we can interact with the world in right relation. It supports us in navigate life, making choices that support our health and balance so we that we can begin to expand our perspective and seek the deeper, big-picture questions in life—What is my purpose? Who am I? Why am I here?

Yoga is the study of spirit, or the Soul; a science meant to help us understand the nature of the mind and cleanse the heart so that we may awaken to the truth of who we really are. Practiced together, Ayurveda and Yoga guide us towards a way of living in this world made of matter, while staying connected to our Soul.

We can be really healthy physically, though if our mind becomes anxious or depressed, we will not be feeling very good. Or perhaps the body feels great and the mind is steady, but we do not feel a connection to our deepest purpose in life; we still will not feel fulfilled. Ayurveda teaches that in order to be really healthy, we must to take into account the health of the body, the mind, the senses and the soul. Where many modern day medical sciences may focus on the mind and the body, Ayurveda points to the awakening of the soul, the spark that gives life to all form, as an inseparable contingent of perfect health.

The word for health in Ayurveda is Svastha. Svastha translates into being “situated in the self”; situated within the True Self, beyond the ever changing body and mind, beyond the senses and their limited perceptions.

There are six symptoms of life (or the presence of the Soul) which we can witness in all sentient beings: birth, growth, the ability to procreate, maintenance for a while, dwindling or disease, and death. Where ever we see these six symptoms, we know that there is the presence of a Soul. The quality of the individual soul within the body of a human or the body of a grasshopper is the same, though just animating a different type of body that has different capabilities and limitations.

For example, if you are driving a 1986 Ford pickup truck, you drive a certain way. Likely, you will drive slow, chugging along on the interstate. People may say, "Wow, you are really slow!", but they are mistaking the car for you! The car is slow, you are simply the driver. Another day, you might be driving a 2020 Porsche Carrera, which drives really fast and zooms in and out of the lanes. It is the same you, but because you are in a different car, you can move (think, feel, act) in different ways. In this comparison, you are the Soul, and the car is your body. Your body is a vehicle in which the true you (the Soul) dwells.

When we acknowledge the soul within all sentient beings and identify with that indwelling source of life within our own body, we have no choice but to live a life of compassion. We see the pure soul within all people, plants, and animals, encased in a certain body with specific conditioning, that cover up their true nature.

The Vedas say that out of 8.4 million species of life on this planet, the only thing that separates the body of a human being from any other form is our ability to choose, and thus, evolve. All animals on this planet (including most human beings!) are making decisions based on their past experiences. Moving forward choosing things that I think will bring me happiness, avoiding things that I think will bring me pain, based on how I am programmed or conditioned by my past.

We live in a world and a body that is made up of matter, so we start to identify with it. I think that I AM my body, I AM this voice in my head (the mind), and I seek happiness through my senses, in this world made of matter, thinking it will lead me to lasting joy.

The law of conservation of mass states that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but it is always changing. Everything in this world is made of up matter! Anything that can be perceived through our senses, that can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard, is material. The book you are looking at, the ground beneath you, a yoga mat, a cup, even the air all around you is subtle matter. And this body we are in? It is made of the same elements! Though there is something about this lump of matter, this body, that is different than a yoga mat or cup. Ayurveda and Yoga say that it is the presence of the Soul that gives consciousness, or life, to form… and that is who you really are.

Our happiness in this world is usually linked to something external being the way we want it to be, so we feel 'happy'. Thinking 'I got the job'; 'I got the raise'; 'He looked at me a certain way that I liked'; 'She complimented me'; so therefore, I am happy. Our happiness is completely dictated by an external experience or circumstance that we have absolutely no control over. This is conditional happiness; happiness based on the conditions of our environment. The other side of that coin is that as soon as things outside of us are not the way we want them to be, or are the way we did not want them to be, we are sad, distressed, disappointed, angry.

If our happiness is linked to something out there being a certain way, we are going to suffer because it is not going to stay that way. The nature of this world is that everything is always changing; nothing will stay the same. So, our predicament is that we are seeking lasting happiness in a temporary world — a world that is always changing — simply because we forgot who we really are.

And because we forgot who we are, we do not know how to act. We choose things that don't always serve us, and avoid things that might bring deeper joy.

We go for that third bowl of ice cream, even though we know we will not feel good afterwards. We avoid the greens because we do not feel like eating them right now, even though we know we would feel better if we ate them. We choose a night club, and drinking, over healthy pleasures like exercise and outdoors. We have raga and dvesha, attachment and aversion, based on what we have already experienced in life.

Ayurveda teaches that the root cause of all disease is raga and dvesha, attachment and aversion to things of this world. We make our decisions based on the limited scope of our past experience; we move towards what we think will bring us pleasure and avoid what we think might bring pain. Like and dislike, attachment and aversion, move us away from our ability to be steady within all circumstances and the ability to make a decision based on our deepest values, rather than a mental or emotional place. The mind and emotions are always changing, so being governed by them will never lead us to lasting happiness or a life of true meaning. We become so identified with our state of mind and these temporary emotions that so often they dictate every choice that we make and our entire experience of reality. We thus make decisions that do not serve our highest good, but rather serve our temporary state of stress, fear, anxiety, unhappiness, desire — bringing about a temporary solution. This means that the emotional state we were trying to resolve will come back around.

And the cause of that cause is that we have forgotten who we really are.

We make decisions in life that do not serve us. They may feel 'good' or feel 'right' right now, though if they are not stemming from a deeper place than the mind and emotions, these decisions are the cause of all imbalances.

We seek pleasure in temporary things or in things that brought us pleasure in the past. We avoid things we do not like, or people and situations that brought us pain in the past. We begin to seek pleasure through our senses and avoid pain based on what has happened before, thinking we are one step closer to the happiness that we are seeking.

When what we are actually seeking is anandamayo bhyasat — the happiness that is inherent with the nature of our Soul. It is said that this happiness is anandam buddhi vardanam — like an ever expanding ocean of love that is not caused by anything, which means that it can not be interrupted by anything! This is unconditional happiness, as it is not dependent on conditions or circumstances.

This happiness is what we experience when we awaken to our Self.

Western medicine serves, as it can treat acute suffering. Whereas, Ayurveda guides us towards an end to all suffering so that even when the body, one day, is in a state of dis-ease; when the senses are not working as well as they once did; when the conditions in our life are not the ways that we would hope or imagine; or even the day that we are on our deathbed, we can still be svastha — situated so deeply within ourselves that we will not be swayed by any of it.

This is the deepest goal of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is a practical science; it has to be applied in order for it to be experienced. The practice starts with very simple dietary and lifestyle recommendations which will help us feel better in our body and more content within our mind. It is said that 86% of all disease starts within the GI tract, which means that 86% of all disease can be cured through diet and lifestyle alone. So, however simple, simply apply these principles that I will lay out in the next chapters and experience the profound effects of Ayurveda.

Through purifying the body and mind we can gain access to our True Self.

From that place,

you act.

From there, you make decisions that serve to uplift your life.

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