What Is Ayurveda? How can it help you? Sensitivity is not something to take lightly. Our senses have the power to lift us up, command our full attention, and when unchecked can even shape disease. Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine from India that recognizes the power our senses have on our health. Additionlly, the word Ayurveda translated means “the science of life.”
Ayurveda is a consciousness-based approach to health. It is a system of medicine that teaches through a traditional/wisdom approach about healing, health, and longevity. In this philosophy, there are three main causes for illness or suffering and a “primordial cause.”
Ayurveda believes, “disease begins when we forget our true nature as spirit.” Inside every one of us is a living spirit, soul, or in Sanskrit “atman.” Our souls also vibrate with perfect vibration, pitch, and harmony, so there can be no ill health or illness. Additionally, it resides in a time and place where forever exists so our soul cannot be challenged by the influence of the material world.
According to this ancient system of medicine, when we neglect the integrity of our soul and identify only with our material form, we are disconnected from our true self. Our mind then perseverates on the physical, including using the senses, filling us with challenges that spring from this confusion. In terms of the effects on our health, we also feel difficult emotions, the energetic channels are disturbed, and the elemental constitution of the body is thrown out of balance affecting the doshas (kapha, pitta, vata). When these influences affect us we feel them through our body’s discomfort, emotional problems, and psychologically.
The three main causes of disease, or illness, and suffering are misuse of the senses, failure of the intellect, and transformation and decay due to time and motion
From the California College of Ayurveda Misuse of the Senses is explained to us as, “Once we have forgotten our true nature as spirit, we start to think of ourselves as our body, mind and senses, and our goal becomes the simple pursuit of pleasure. This leads to over-indulgence. Our senses are the portals through which we interact with the world. What we eat, see, hear, smell and also touch can either bring us health or disease. If we take in that which isn’t harmonious with our constitution, this can cause us to become ill.”
Pratyahara itself is termed as Yoga, as it is the most important limb in Yoga Sadhana. – Swami Shivananda
Pratyahara (development of the senses) – in modern times is considered the forgotten limb of yoga. Yet, this teaching is a powerful form of healing drawn from yoga. It is also connected with the Ayurvedic healing arts to restore and heal the senses. Pratyahara is integral in practice of the eight limbs of yoga and as important as yoga itself. Pratayhara is fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Dr. David Frawley explains its purpose, “Pratyahara is the key between outer and inner aspects of yoga; it shows us how to move from one to the other.”
In Yoga & Ayurveda Self-Healing and Self-Realization, Dr. Frawley advises us against moving from yoga asanas directly to meditation and instead to bring the breath and senses (which link body and mind) under control through proper development. These steps for bringing the senses under control are:
Laya Yoga is the yoga of inner sound and light current, in which focus draws on the subtle senses and withdraws attention from the gross senses. Through this form of yoga we reclaim energy formerly spent on excessive emotions, activity, or mental excess and hold our energy within so as not to disperse it unnecessarily. This conservation of energy is then drawn upon for creative, spiritual, or healing purposes as needed. We can liken Laya Yoga to an inner-cultivation similar to the inner-martial arts of Daoist and also Chinese energetic arts.
Through Ayurvedic healing practices which includes sensory therapies by providing proper nutrition for the unique doshas, smell/odor, colors, touch (massage, panchakarma, abyanga) and sound – they help calm the mind and support us as we learn how to listen from deep within. This is important because it allows integration of the mind-body-spirit in order to overcome potential health challenges. By achieving a peaceful state of mind we are reminded of our own true self, spirit, and soul’s true perfection, also called Atman. The divine essence within.
Ayurveda and Pratyahara work together by providing proper integrative nutrition which views nourishment of the self on every level. Through a practice of Pratyahara we learn control of prana (Prana-Pratyahara), control of action (Karma-Pratyahara), withdrawal of the mind (Mano-Pratyahara). For excessive sensory and mental activity, Pratyahara reverses harmful stimuli and converts that energy into a higher positive force of prana, including pranic healing. “Pratyahara is very helpful in treating nervous system disorders, particularly those that arise through hyperactivity.” (Frawley, pp. 227)
In Ayurveda, health is considered a byproduct of enlightenment.
Frawley, D. (1999) Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, (2nd. Ed) Lotus Press: Twin Lakes WI
“Most of us are careful about the food we eat and the company we keep, but we may not exercise the same discrimination about the impressions we take in from the senses.”