Ayurveda: What It Is, What It Isn’t

Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a system of living that treats us as the complex, unique beings that we are.

Ali Cramer is a Wanderlust presenter. Join her and other luminaries at a festival this summer! Find out more | 2016 lineup | Buy tickets   

In the mindful community, we hear this term: Ayurveda.

So what is Ayurveda?

I think one of the easiest ways to understand what Ayurveda is, is to understand what it is not. Ayurveda is not a quick fix. Ayurveda is not one-size-fits-all. Ayurveda is not something we add to our “gonna get around to it someday” list, right after we finish teaching our 15 classes, update our website, or Instagram our perfect handstand. Ayurveda can be the way you are reading this article. Ayurveda can be what you choose to wear today. Ayurveda can be a part of your next meal. Ayurveda can be right now.

So what is it? Ayurveda is a system of living that treats each of us as a complex, unique being with highly specific needs regarding diet, exercise, herbs, essential oils, self-care habits, lifestyle choices, and so much more. Ayurveda is an ancient, time-tested science that recognizes that as the conditions of our life change, we need to make tiny shifts in our habits to stay in harmony within and without. Ayurveda is a daily experience of conscious living, of noticing and catching imbalances before they become disease, and permission to truly listen to our own inner teacher. You know—the one that tells us that we might not need that third drink, donut, or cup of coffee. The one that tells us when we are tired to sleep, when we are hungry to eat, and when we are around people that bring us down, to leave! It is a life long way of being, an art of living.

Yes, its origin is around four or five thousand years old, deep in the South of India. Yes, the ancient texts recommend such drastic measures as bathing in milk and rose water, waking at 4 a.m. to chant and meditate, and blood letting. But don’t get freaked out! It doesn’t have to look that way! (Although doesn’t that bath sound kind of delicious and decadent, and I must say, waking up at 4 a.m. to chant and meditate is quite magical. Blood letting I think most of us would pass on. I didn’t, but that’s another story…)

The basic premise is that like increases like, and opposites balance.

I believe that Ayurveda can also be a lifestyle that is easy, accessible, and fun. These simple changes to our lives can make a world of difference in our health and wellbeing. So how does that translate to daily living, or what I have named my workshops, “Dancing With Your Dosha”? And what the heck is a dosha, anyway?

Your “dosha” is what makes up your personal constitution. Ayurveda recognizes three different types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Although we all contain all three doshas, at any given time they show up in different ratios and in different ways. Each dosha has a whole list of attributes, both good and not so good. An easy way to think about it is through the five elements, or what Ayurveda calls the “Pancha Maha Bhutas.” The three doshas are each combinations of two elements: Kapha is earth and water, Pitta is water and fire, and Vata is air and space. Keeping these in mind, it follows that Kapha has a cool and stabilizing energy, Pitta has a heating and transforming energy, and Vata has a cold and mobile energy.

Since I was first introduced to Ayurveda, 13 years ago, and in all my studies since, it just makes so much sense to me. The basic premise is that like increases like, and opposites balance. We have all heard of this before—in yin and yang, day and night, masculine/feminine, sthira and sukha. It can be as simple as warming foods on a cold day. More oil in your diet for those with a tendency toward dryness, a few drops of invigorating eucalyptus oil on your palms and pulse points when you are sluggish, and other simple changes that can bring about more balance. These are the fine-tuning examples. In my practice, I have also treated more serious conditions, like autoimmune disorders (stemming from treating my own childhood history of eczema and hives), menopause symptoms, fibroids, migraines, and colitis, to name a few.

Basically, just like yoga, Ayurveda gives us a wealth of information and tools that can be incorporated into our lives. And then asks us to take responsibility. In other words, the “dancing” part is up to us. We can fall back on, “Well, I’m late because I’m Kapha, we move slowly,” or “I’m impatient because I’m Pitta, we need things done NOW!” or “I’m spacey because I’m Vata, I’m more spiritual than earthly,” but these are just excuses. “Dance” becomes celebrating the best parts of yourself and acknowledging what in your life needs loving transformation. Loving is an important word. This work is all about self-love, and permission to treat ourselves with care and consideration.

When we see “the work” as a loving gift we can give ourselves, our willingness shifts, and the benefits of Ayurveda unfold. In this way, we can begin to dance with our doshas, and reclaim our natural state of health and happiness.

ali-cramerAli has always followed her passions: first, for dance, which led her from the ‘burbs of Connecticut to New York City at 16; and then, for yoga at 22, which has been leading her around ever since. She did her first teacher training at Laughing Lotus in 2003 with Dana Flynn and Jasmine Tarkeshi, and began teaching at Lotus the same year. She leads teacher trainings at Lotus and is a guest teacher in other teacher trainings, both nationally and internationally. Ali is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, where she teaches Chakras and Ayurveda for their Spirituality Mind Body Institute’s Summer Immersion Master’s Program. Read more about her background here