What is Ayurveda? Understanding the Physical, Mental and Metaphysical Aspects of Existence

The seemingly elusive term, “Ayurveda,” has been floating around in the mainstream for some time, with some claiming its miracles and others dismissing it as pseudoscience. As a Biologist and a practitioner of yoga, I took it upon myself to understand this ancient knowledge. Today, I’m taking the time to explain the practice of Ayurveda, its relevance, and what you can do to ensure your optimal health. 


What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda arose in India around 3,000- 5,000 years ago, though some believe its origins are even more ancient. A portmanteau of two words, Ayurveda directly translates to, “life (ayur) science (veda)” (you might know of another life science called Biology). However, while Biology, as we know it, is primarily concerned with the function and structure of physical structures, Ayurveda integrates the physical, mental, and metaphysical aspects of existence. 

According to Ayurveda, imbalances in the energy centers in the body cause stress, leading to disruption of homeostasis (biological equanimity), and causing mental and physical disease. The ancient doctors of Ayurveda also claimed that to understand illness, we must understand the importance and impact of our surrounding environment as well. By combining all of these aspects, the goal of Ayurveda is to reduce mental and physiological stress in order to find ourselves and live harmoniously with the world.

The Body in Ancient India

The Enlightenment of the Buddha inspired major philosophical movements in ancient India, leading to the contemplation of who we really are and how we’re led away from ourselves. Though Buddhists and Hindus had different terms to describe it, we are essentially “that which observes.” Accordingly, when we sit in the seat of the observer, we witness our thoughts, emotions, and actions with total equanimity and non-judgment. The body, therefore, is not just flesh, bone, and organs. The body is also our fleeting thoughts and emotions, our likes and dislikes, our worries and comforts. 

The five elements (earth, fire, water, air, and space) combine in various ways to make up all of the forms of nature, or Prakriti. In regards to our bodies, the elements combine to enable the biological functions of the body and the movements of the mind. These combinations are called “doshas”, of which there are three. 

What are Doshas?

Doshas can be explained as “life forces.” They explain phenomena such as the digestion of food, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the sudden arising of emotions. The three doshas go as follows:

  1. Vata – Air

Movement of the mind and physiological processes of the body, such as the contraction of muscles to move the skeleton, movement of food through the digestive tract, the movement of blood through the arteries and veins, and the passage of ions through the cell membrane.

Imbalance of the vata dosha can manifest as restlessness, anxiety, racing thoughts, increasing fear, and constipation.

  1. Pitta – Fire

This dosha is responsible for transformation: metabolism, turning food into nutrients, how we perceive our senses, and how our lives constantly change. 

Imbalance of pitta dosha presents as acid reflux, diarrhea, hot flashes, irritability, and anger. 

  1. Kapha – Earth

Reflecting the robust structure of the ground we walk on, kapha governs structural integrity of the body. It also applies to secretions of sweat and oil, as well as the fluid in between membranes and joints. 

Signs of kapha imbalance include excessive water retention, weight gain, fatigue, and allergies.

Balancing the Doshas

If you’re experiencing any of the listed imbalances of the doshas, it’s time to balance them out. Our quiz will help us understand what you’ve been struggling with and hopefully restore your dosha imbalance. As you experiment with these teas, pay attention to how they make you feel. Do you feel more relaxed? Have you relieved your heartburn? Do you feel more energized? 

  1. Calming Teas for Vata Imbalance: Oolong*, Green tea, Cinnamon, Ginger*, Chamomile 
  2. Cooling Teas for Pitta Imbalance: Oolong*, Black tea, Green tea, Pu’erh, Ginger*, Mint, Berries
  3. Energizing Teas for Kapha Imbalance: Oolong*, Black Tea, Pu’erh, Ginger*, Berries, Mint.

*tridoshic, or address all three doshas. 


In order to keep ourselves at our most optimal health, it is important to recognize the previously mentioned imbalances of the doshas, which in turn influence the basic biological processes of the body. Now, for the Ayurveda skeptics (like myself, previously), I would recommend using Ayurvedic techniques as accessory tools with conventional medicine. This allows us to have a well-rounded understanding of the physical and subtle body. We all deserve harmony of the body, mind, and soul. 

In light,

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