Ayurvedic practitioners may sometimes seem holier than thou.
You go for an Ayurvedic consultation, unsure of exactly what you’re going to come away with. They check your pulse, and your tongue, and ask you deeply personal questions. Then you walk away with tips like ‘chew slowly,’ ‘drink ginger tea,’ ‘rub oil all over your body,’ or ‘say a prayer when you wake up every day.’
As an Ayurvedic practitioner myself I say, for one, thank you for your trust. And two, there really is a method to this madness.
Ayurveda is a holistic science. Holistic, meaning that all parts of your being are taken into consideration when it comes to your healing. This type of healing takes your participation and sometimes a lot of focused effort. And Ayurveda is scientific, as in, this stuff has been tried and tested for thousands of years and it works.
Your Ayurvedic practitioner may be skilled in the more esoteric sides of Ayurveda like yoga, jyotish (astrology), marma therapy, face reading, palm reading, etc. These aspects, which are less familiar, and seemingly more mystical than talking diet, can make you feel less connected, or less aware, or even less inclined to want to seek out Ayurveda for your healing.
Ayurveda pulls from 6 different philosophical systems. Some of the most influential include Sankhya, Vedanta and Yoga. Quite a few expound upon the pros and cons of different Methods of Acquiring Knowledge. How can we trust the information we’re learning about, if we don’t know how we know what we know? The four main ways of acquiring knowledge include Direct Experience, Inference, Comparison and Testimony.
A practitioner asks you all sorts of questions during an Ayurvedic consultation. They are trying to narrow down the cause of the imbalance. An Ayurvedic practitioner is always looking for the cause – and if possible, removing the cause before applying any other treatment plan.
By using these methods above, rishis and sages throughout the ages compounded knowledge mostly through direct experience or intuition from deep meditations. Much of this information that has been tried and experienced by humans for thousands of years, is written down in the ‘Big 3’ books of Ayurveda: the Charaka Samhita, Ashtanga Hrdayam, and Susruta Samhita. And to the benefit of those of us who do not read Sanskrit, they have all been translated into English!
You can experience Ayurveda for yourself and when you know the basics, you will understand how it is that a practitioner comes to the conclusions he or she does at your Ayurvedic consultation. To reiterate, you can cultivate direct experience when you know the framework of Ayurveda. And then, after practicing this for a while, you may be able to activate your intuition, or Inference, as intuition may be nothing but the compounding of experiences.
I find that this is most easily learned when it comes to diet and food, and habits around our eating.
The most important tool for beginning to practice this is knowing about Dravya guna. This is basically the qualities of things, all things in the universe. All things are made up of elements. In the Ayurvedic system, it has been narrowed down to 20 gunas, or ten and their opposites, to make it easier. It is those gunas that we look for as practitioners, and then dietary choices, and activities with the opposite gunas are applied to bring balance.
Heavy or Light
Dull or Sharp
Cold or Hot
Oily or Dry
Smooth or Rough
Dense or Liquid
Soft or Hard
Stable or Mobile
Subtle or Gross
Clear or Sticky/Cloudy
Feel these gunas in your foods each time you eat. Look for these gunas in your body. Sense these gunas in your life. Look for them in the air, the season, your environment. And look for them in symptoms that arise. The way to find and feel them is to cultivate mindfulness, and this can be the most difficult part.
When I teach about Ayurveda, I start with and end with the gunas. I reiterate what my teacher, Dr. Claudia Welch, states often: Ayurveda is not finding a new reality, is is just learning a new way to describe our reality. When I found Ayurveda, I felt like I finally found a language to describe the patterns I was seeing and feeling around me. I find that is true with most of us who feel called to learn more about Ayurveda – it just seems so practical, it just makes sense to us.
All of this said, Ayurveda is certainly still mystical and magical, just as our whole universe is, just as all of mother nature is. There are no doubt that practitioners and teachers who are living an advanced life, who are free of karmas, and who may be advanced yoga practitioners and see more clearly an individual’s healing path. These teachers may be able to heal with their presence, or their touch, more than anything else.
With this understanding of the gunas, you can be an active participant in your healing process. With a bit of further study, you can easily learn more basic Ayurvedic concepts to deepen your understanding of your body and more particulars of using food as medicine.
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