What is Ayurveda and how can it be applied in the modern/ western world?

As a registered Pharmacist, I have been trained in Western medicine and I absolutely devoured science and its place in therapy. I can appreciate the duality of pharmaceuticals but knew their place was only one piece of the puzzle to health and well-being.

Being an Australian-born Indian woman, I grew up with certain practices without understanding their place or ‘why’ and so often thought they were ‘old wives’ tales’.

Yet, after recovering from my post-natal depression with my second son, I found myself being drawn into learning Ayurveda and have since gone on to further my studies to become an Ayurvedic Yoga Teacher and currently studying to become an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant.

It feels like beautiful ancient wisdom that resonated with my heart and soul so much, that filled in the ‘blanks’ of the place of lifestyle practices in encouraging health and well-being. It particularly resonated with me by explaining in an Eastern perspective as to what had happened to my system post-birth, which I organically knew as connecting with my dharma to share my experience in order to help other women along their path.

So, what exactly is Ayurveda?
It is an ancient wisdom of practices of medicine and lifestyle, dating 5,000 years back to 3300-1300 BCE. Its literal translation from Sanskrit, means the ‘science of life’ and is based on the premiss that everything that exists in life is made up of the five elements namely; air, space, water, fire and earth.

It is the combination of each of these elements that gives rise to certain constitution types (doshas), each having their intrinsic qualities. There are three main doshas; Vata, Pitta and Kapha that make up your Prakruti, or your natural constitution that you were born with.

Tell me more about the doshas?
The Vata dosha is made up of the air and space element and comprises mainly the lower part of the body, though is responsible for movement across the whole body. It has the qualities of being cold, dry, light, mobile, rough, subtle/clear, hard and flowing.

The Pitta dosha is made up of the fire and water elements and is responsible for the process of transformation and governs digestion as its primary role and centred around the torso region. It has the qualities of being hot, liquid, light, flowing, clear and sharp.

The Kapha dosha is made up of the elements of earth and water and comprises the area of the skull, chest and upper respiratory system. It is responsible for protection and liquefaction and has the qualities of being cold, wet, solid, heavy, oily, dull, soft, static, dense, cloudy and smooth.

Knowing one’s body constitution or Prakruti can be very helpful in making choices of diet, lifestyle and practices that best support the make-up of your body and allow for it to live in optimum capacity. Our body constitution can be made up of one or all three of the doshas; with being bi-doshic as the most common occurrence. I have a Vata Pitta makeup within my body.

The theory of like increases like, forms the foundation of Ayurveda such that we choose food, spices, herbs and practices that restore balance by exerting the opposite effect. For example, an aggravated Vata dosha which may present as insomnia or anxiety caused by too much air and space aspects in life (from a busy stressful lifestyle and giving birth), can be balanced by bringing qualities of its opposite; namely heat and oiliness to bring about the earth, fire and water elements such as through a warm oil massage, Abhyanga.

What has Ayurveda got to do with the PERINATAL and POSTNATAL period?
Ayurveda believes that what a woman eats, consumes through her senses and energy system, her lifestyle practices and mindset, all have an imprint on the growing baby in her womb. Mothers are then treated as divine goddess beings, the gatekeepers of creation and life, and are encouraged to nourish their bodies, as well as not be subject to stress and strain.

I love this spiritual and holistic focus towards pregnancy and find it very beautiful, rather than a clinical process of life.
Ayurveda also explains the process of childbirth as the downward motion that can give rise to an imbalance (or Vikruti) specific to our Prana Vata and Apana Vata system; which are sub-doshas or sub-systems within the Vata dosha.

As a result of this huge imbalance that results from the downward expulsion of our baby during childbirth, it can disrupt our whole Vata system and give rise to a multitude of symptoms because of the excess of the air and space elements; given the void within our womb after birthing our baby. These symptoms of imbalance can present as; anxiety, depression, insomnia, essentially an aggravated nervous system, erratic movements and inability to switch the mind off as some examples…hello post-natal depression!

For me, this understanding gave me so much clarity as to what was happening to me as a result of this ‘imbalance’. Of course I understood and appreciated it from a Western medicine perspective of neurotransmitters and hormonal changes, yet from an internal foundational understanding of the process, it just felt like the missing piece in this chapter for me.

In my book I go into depth about my experience and how I tried to logically change all of the variables from the first pregnancy to prevent getting post-natal depression again the second time, yet they were all from a ‘scientific and logical’ basis.

I could not alter getting it the second time, yet it made me wonder, if I had relished in the practices of my ‘tribe’ to hold, nurture, rejuvenate and nourish my body and imbalance after giving birth; what would that have looked like for me?

Eating the foods, spices, drinks, partaking in the practices and indulging all 5 senses to add the fire and earth elements that my body needed; what would that have looked like in my home and for me as the patient?

Waiting for my Western medicine and treatments to work was a game of patience and waiting…which is the nature of the beast.

Relishing in such nurturing and organic practices to help restore the aspects that were vitiated from giving birth, may have provided such much needed respite…and felt like a beautiful and warm embrace that my heart and brain so desperately needed.

I want to shout from the rooftops as to what beautiful practices are available to try in synergy with Western modalities, in order to support a woman and her entire family holistically and carry her over to the side of healing and recovery.

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