This dark time of year tends to make us more reflective, and I recently found myself reflecting on time passing and the energies of the different seasons. I was remembering a radio interview I heard years ago, where a scientist of some kind was talking about his teacher and mentor who at 96 had still been fully productive. He had asked his mentor how it was possible that at his age he was still so full of life and engaged. The man had answered that throughout his life he had never related to chronological time, but only to cyclical time. That really resonated with me and I remembered that when I had two little children and was very engaged with them, I used to forget my age. When people asked me, I always had to count back to my birthday. Cyclical time for me also is much more meaningful than chronological time. The phases of the moon, the passing of the seasons and the ripening of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the time of life. Now that I live close to the water, there is the reality of the tidal cycles as well, and how that is connected to the lunar cycle.
I realized that this is the way Ayurveda relates to life as well, and that it continuously reminds us to live according to these cycles. Since it considers the macrocosm and the microcosm to be the same, only in a different manifestation, it is clear that nature's cycles also are found in how our bodies function. Ofcourse Ayurveda relates to this in the language of vata, pitta and kapha, and we see these energies cycling through the day, the seasons and life in general.
For example the window of time between 10 and 2 is considered pitta time. Since pitta mostly represents the element of fire, this window of time during the day is a good time to eat. The fire in the belly is strong at this time. At night this is the time when people get their second wind when they stay up late. Suddenly there is a lot of focus, and energy to get things done, again a way that fire manifests itself - in the mind this time. The recommendation is to go to bed before this time, so that you don't get caught in a second wind. What really needs to happen during these nightly hours is for the liver to go through its cycle of detoxing the blood. Staying up late and putting in mental and physical energy, takes away from this important physiological task. So here we go again, nature's cycles... we should go to bed when nature goes to bed. A little later in the summer, a little earlier in winter. And it's okay to sleep a little more in winter, it's dark out!
Winter, at least the beginning of this season, is vata season. Vata represents the element of air, or wind, which is always moving, is cold, and dries things out. This is the time of year when we feel cold and easily dehydrated. We deal with emotions like fear and anxiety. So the best thing to do is to take real good care of yourself through eating a very nourishing diet, by getting enough sleep, by oiling your skin, by slowing down in general. Each season has its own characteristics, and dosha, and because of that a different way in which to treat ourselves.
The doshas also show up in the time of life. For example childhood, up until puberty, is kapha time of life. Kapha has the energies of earth and water. And when we bring these two together there is growth. Seeds sprouting into plants and blooming into beautiful flowers. This is children's job, growing up and flowering into beautiful mature people. They need lots of water and earth, in the form of nourishing food and loving care, to do this.
To go back to where I started... Ayurveda reminds us to live in cyclical time, not chronological time. We move through vata, pitta and kapha cycles all the time. Reminding ourselves of this reality, makes us take care of ourselves differently. Honoring the cycles of life and death and life again, keeps us young and healthy and always rejuvenating our body and mind.
Ayurveda, the “science” (from ayur) of “living” (veda), is a system of medicine that was developed in ancient India. It recognizes that all of the physiological and psychological functioning of the individual, is the same as the workings of the larger environment, or nature. This makes it holistic, connecting humans to the greater rhythms of nature, understanding that all in nature are subject to the same forces and fluctuations. It offers a clear, simple, and elegant theoretical framework from which to explore life, health, disease, balance and imbalance.
The language that Ayurveda uses to work with this understanding is that of the five great elements – panchamahabhutas in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. These five great elements are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space (or Ether). Everything in the natural world is made up of these five elements. During the formation of the theory of Ayurveda they were combined into the three basic energies of life, the doshas. Often they are considered bodily humors, showing the relationship with ancient Greek medicine, the direct ancestor of our modern medicine. These three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata combines the elements of air and ether, Pitta of fire and a little bit of water, and Kapha combines water and earth. Since the meaning of the Sanskrit word “dosha” is “defect, blemish, weak point, damage, fault”, the doshas, as the energies they are, need to be managed and kept in balance, since when out of balance they are the cause of disorder and disease. The combination of the three doshas in different proportions is what the entirety of creation is made up of, both the psychophysiology of humanity, as well as the natural world, so anything can be classified in terms of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Ayurveda is slowly making its way into the Western world. Originally India-based spiritual groups such as the Transcendental Meditation movement, headed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ guru, made the introduction. Now there are schools all over the US and Europe, offering an education in Ayurveda and producing generations of Ayurvedic practitioners, who offer help in staying and getting healthy, or as is more Ayurvedically appropriate, “live a balanced life”.
There are many ways in which Ayurveda can contribute, and already contributes to healthcare and life in general.
Learning about your Ayurvedic constitution, level of imbalance, and how to treat these, is a very valuable addition to anyone’s life, relationship and possibly to a society at large.