What is Ayurveda, Anyway?

BY: Groupon Editors |Mar 22, 2017

Are you a vata, a pitta, or a kapha? Think carefully, because your answer could determine what oils you use for your daily abhyanga.

If you're confused, then you're probably new to Ayurveda. But you needn't be intimidated by its Seussical-sounding terms—the Indian system of alternative medicine is accessible and, for many, beneficial. To get a better understanding of what the ancient art entails, read these answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is Ayurveda, exactly?

Ayurveda (pronounced eye-yurr-VAY-dah) is an Indian approach to holistic medicine that has been around for thousands of years. No one knows exactly when it first rose to prominence, as its methods were passed down orally before they were ever written. Its name comes from the Sanskrit words for life (ayur), and science (veda), which is why many practitioners refer to it as the "science of life".

That didn't answer my question, like, at all.

OK, so, practically speaking, it is a system of medicine that's largely preventive and focused on the concept of balance. Ayurvedic practitioners strive to help their clients achieve balance as it pertains to their body, feelings, and overall lifestyle. Mental health is just as important as physical well-being, and is, in fact, considered to correlate with it. Ayurvedic doctrine actually states that the mind has the ability to affect and heal the body.

Cool. How do I achieve balance?

That depends on your dominant dosha.

When you use words that I don't understand, I feel like you are being purposefully condescending.

Dosha is another word for energy (or life force, or humor). In Ayurveda, there are three doshas, and everyone has a combination of the three within them. Typically, one dosha is present in the largest amount. The doshas are vata (vah-tah), pitta (pit-tah), and kapha (kah-fa). They correspond to the elements of wind, fire, and earth, respectively. Each is associated with a whole slew of physical characteristics and personality traits.

For example, vata characteristics include a creative, quick mind, a tendency to always be on the go, and a lean body. If you'd like to know what your dominant dosha is, you can consult with a specialist, or take an online quiz, such as the one from the Chopra Center.

How does this help me achieve balance?

The program that an Ayurvedic practitioner prescribes will try to offset imbalances in your doshas, imbalances that lead to things like stress, anxiety, and physical ailments. The end goal is to get your body and self back to its original, unique constitution, known as your prakriti, or nature. Recommendations for a "fire" won't be the same as those given to an "earth," even if they're addressing similar symptoms.

What sorts of recommendations are you talking about? What does an Ayurvedic program consist of?

The holistic medicine system's treatments are many and varied, as are the symptoms that they try to alleviate—everything from acne to insomnia to indigestion. Expect to be prescribed herbal compounds and plant-based medicines, a custom diet, and exercises that include yoga and meditation.The practice also prioritizes hygienic practices such as routine bathing and skin cleansing.

Finally, Ayurvedic practitioners recommend several types of body treatments. Two of the most prevalent are abhyanga and shirodhara. Abhyanga is a type of Ayurveda massage that you can administer yourself as a daily practice, often with the use of dosha-specific oils. Shirodhara involves the continuous pouring of heated oil or liquid from a specialized bowl onto the forehead, where the third eye is said to reside.

Does it work?

Studies have yet to conclude whether or not it is effective. Its proponents are quick to vouch for its successes, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether or not you feel more balanced.

Where can I go to try it out?

Many spas offer Ayurveda massages and treatments, meant more for relaxation than a major lifestyle change. You could also seek out a local Ayurvedic practitioner for an exam and advice on how to incorporate Ayurvedic practices into your routine.

If you're looking to really dive into Ayurvedic tenets, though, you might inquire about a panchakarma retreat. Panchakarma is a cleansing program that uses different therapies in its attempts to detoxify the body. During multiple-day retreats, panchakarma participants might undergo herbal massages, sweat-inducing steam treatments, shirodhara, and procedures designed to purge harmful substances from the body.