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Ayurveda—big word, simple concept. Well, maybe not that simple. But if the ancient Indian medicinal treatment says it’s OK to take naps and go to bed when you’re tired, I’m on board.
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word meaning “science of life” (ayur means “life or longevity” and veda means “knowledge, wisdom, or science”). I had heard about the practice through online articles, and was lucky enough to speak with an Ayurveda expert, Kathryn Templeton MA, RDT/MT. She is a psychotherapist with over 30 years specializing in the treatment of individuals with anxiety, depression and complex trauma; a E500RYT Praga Yoga teacher, which is the top level of yoga one can attain; a National Ayurvedic Medical Association-registered Ayurvedic Practitioner, which is similar to holding a Master’s Degree; and she is currently a faculty member at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA.
When I asked her for a basic explanation of Ayurveda, she said there are no short answers. However, she said it means to “live with optimal health in this body at this time in this place.” Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health and is designed to help people live long, healthy, well-balanced lives. It focuses on creating sustainable daily practices that support the balance of an individual’s constitution—the physical body, mental body and sense of purpose.
Ayurveda is also the medicine behind the practice of yoga. Templeton says the two are “sister sciences.” She has spent much of her practice integrating the principles of yoga, Ayurveda and clinical psychology, and created a program for the Himalayan Institute regarding these three practices, called Three Wisdom Traditions.
Similarly, Ayurveda is all about balance, or “being in balance with your true nature,” says Templeton. This means adjusting your habits and lifestyle in a way that brings about good health; and Templeton points out that this can change and mean different things at different times. “We have to attune ourselves to different stages of life and also seasons of life.” Much of Ayurvedic medicine deals with food—not only what we eat, but also how and when we eat.
Eating seasonally is a big part of the approach. Based on the climate of the region you live in, eating with the seasons is important. For the Northeast region we live in, Templeton explains that the winter is cold and dry, so you should eat warming and hydrating foods. She listed root vegetables as an example, cooked with ghee (clarified butter) and warming spices, as well as oils to keep your insides lubricated. Basically, what is growing here is the right choice; “Nature provides what you need,” Templeton says. In the summer, we need foods to cool our bodies and give air to the body, which means foods that won’t weigh you down. Templeton recommends light fruits and dark leafy or bitter greens, which act as an astringent.
Also, because all bodies are different, one diet won’t have the same effect on each person. Templeton says one-size-fits-all diets such as Paleo or drinking green juice aren’t for everyone. Ayurveda looks at each person individually, and doctors make diet recommendations based on them. In general, food should be packed with nutrients to nourish the body, and it’s not only about what you take in, but about how well it “evacuates the body.” In other words, good digestion is vital.
The origins of Ayurveda have been traced back to around 5,000 BC. It is one of the few systems of medicine developed in ancient times that is still widely practiced in modern times. Templeton says it is known as a “living science” because it incorporates modern developments and techniques into a body of ancient wisdom. For example, she says, if someone is having a heart attack they should certainly go to the hospital and receive treatment. After, they can use Ayurvedic techniques to help themselves heal and recover to their healthiest self. This may include foods that are easy to digest, breathing techniques and body oiling.
There are many facets of Ayurveda, too many to go into here. If it all seems a little complicated, Templeton explained it thus: it is simply remembering what our grandparents knew. This means rise with the sun, take a nap during the day, and go to bed when you’re tired. It’s real wisdom that doesn’t fit within society’s norms. “These are simple daily practices for a natural and healthy structure of life,” Templeton said.