Ayur-whata? This mysterious ancient practice provides structure and healing in your life like no other natural remedy. And yogi Sarah Kucera might just be the biggest advocate yet for Ayurvedic medicine.
In her new book, “The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook”, she shares over one hundred daily and seasonal holistic healing rituals. From reconnecting with nature to beating burnout and getting out of a funk, Kucera has just the recipe for you.
Now she’s here to share the philosophy and benefits behind Ayurveda, including three daily ritual practices for fall:
What is Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurveda is an Eastern medicine that is both preventive and healing. It is considered natural and holistic in that its approach uses dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal therapies and bodywork in its treatment plans. The word “Ayurveda” translates to mean “science of life”. Although it’s often referred to as “yoga’s sister science” since some of the methods from yoga, such as pranayama (breathing practice) and asana (physical postures) are within Ayurveda practices.
The Ayurvedic philosophy and its origins
Ayurvedic medicine is an Eastern remedy, but it can be practiced anywhere. This is because the foundations of Ayurveda are based in nature. It comes with an understanding that we are a part of nature. When we respect its rhythms, we are more likely to thrive. We also thrive when we are living as our truest self. And Ayurveda encourages us to learn more about ourselves and our uniqueness.
Our individuality is explained through the five elements found in nature (ether, air, fire, water and earth). Including the three constitutions or doshas (vata, pitta and kapha).
The main benefits of Ayurveda practice
Many benefits come from incorporating Ayurveda into your life—even if only adding a few simple components to your daily routine.
These range from increased energy, improved sleep, a better functioning digestive system, glowing skin and clarity within the mind.
How Ayurveda complements yoga
Our Western culture has clung to the physical component of yoga so tightly that we overlook this discipline as a practice of turning inward. The physical practice of yoga means to take you on that journey, going through the layers of your outer body to your inner or energetic body.
Ayurveda differs in that it has a more physical or outward focus.
This doesn’t at all exclude the internal—such as the mind—as the broad definition of health includes mental and emotional clarity. Rather, that’s how Ayurveda and yoga complement one another; Ayurveda is the practice of the body, whereas yoga is the practice of the mind.
How Ayurveda differs from Chinese medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy
Only having a superficial understanding of other alternative medicines like traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathy, it’s difficult to identify distinct similarities or differences. However, it’s clear that all of these practices have an interest in looking at the entire being when considering health and healing, rather than reducing illness or people to parts.
They aim for preventing illnesses before they begin, and also work more with plants versus pharmaceuticals.
Ayurvedic medicine is most like Chinese medicine in that they both recognize different energies and elements. Though these aren’t numbered or labeled quite the same.
For example, Chinese medicine works with yin and yang energy (two opposing energies). Ayurveda has the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha (the three energies that describe our individual constitution).
When should you use supplements and herbs
It seems unfair to label supplements and herbs as “better” or superior to Western prescription medications or pharmaceuticals, as they each have important roles. Most often, pharmaceuticals are used when a condition has already manifested and does to us what our body can’t.
Herbal therapies mean to assist the body and support its functions, rather than to replace or to do something to it. For this reason, we tend to see fewer side effects from herbs or supplements and less of a need to take them long term.
The Ayurvedic perspective on illness
The theory of accumulation
There are three primary causes of illness. Before learning these, it’s helpful to know about Ayurveda’s theory of accumulation or “like increases like.” This theory is quite sensible and can simplify our perspective on conditions and situations that otherwise might feel complex.
The notion is that when we have or experience too many things of the same or similar quality, we accumulate that quality. As this increases, we begin to feel imbalances that could be described in the same manner.
For example, if we eat dry foods and live in an arid climate, we might begin to experience symptoms that are also dry, such as dry skin and dry eyes. If left untreated, they will develop into something more severe and potentially move into other areas of the body or mind.
The idea of accumulation becomes most relevant when we encounter one of the three causes of illness.
1. Going against nature
The first of these three is the act of going against nature. When we don’t stay synchronized with nature’s rhythms, such as eating seasonal foods, sleeping when it is dark, and making lifestyle changes based on our climate and environment, we risk getting sick.
2. Going against your own intellect
Secondly, the possibility of becoming ill is greater when we go against our own intellect. If we make a decision contrary to what we know is the greater good—think eating too late, skipping the gym, having a little too much wine—we aren’t listening to our internal instincts and needs for being well.
3. Misuse of your sense
The third is the misuse of our senses. Our senses are the way we internally process the external world. Long ago this would mean having finely tuned taste to detect poisonous foods or acute hearing to be alert to danger. But today we abuse our senses by using screens to experience things instead of getting out into the world to feel, touch, see and taste first hand.
How to prioritize and conserve energy for what matters most
In my experience, one of the top concerns of patients is lack of energy. Either they start their day feeling depleted, or they lose steam in the afternoon. Though there can be many causes for this, one common theme is the lack of a container for our energy. Our ability to do anything from anywhere, and to access information at any time, has left us sporadically using our energy. This is much like how water would spill everywhere without a vessel to hold it.
If we consider this as a major cause for energy depletion, one of the best ways to use energy effectively is to create structure in our day. This includes being consistent with the times we do different tasks like eating, exercising and sleeping. This results in a more mindful approach to our activities and leaves us feeling much more fulfilled.
Rituals for a balanced life
Rituals define our day. They are like announcing your intentions to your own inner being and the outer world. They signal us to slow down and to act with mindfulness in a world that has become so fast-paced and focused on quantity versus quality. Most of all, rituals allow us to tune in and learn more about ourselves and needs. This is so we can make the right decisions for health in our ever-changing world.
3 daily ritual practices for fall
Creating a routine so that we don’t succumb to the illnesses that go along with the change in seasons is very much within Ayurveda’s repertoire. In the fall, we look to have more warming spices, root veggies, cooked foods and activities that are calmer than they are invigorating.
You can easily bring balancing components to your daily rituals by trying these three things:
- Morning Ritual (before 8 a.m)
Use your tongue cleaner. Your tongue is the window into your digestive tract, of which a well-functioning one is of utmost importance. Before you’ve consumed anything or brushed your teeth, use a tongue cleaner to remove anything that has accumulated on your tongue.
- Midday Ritual (between 10-2 p.m)
Choose to do a breathing practice, such as a balanced breath where you inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of four. This gives us pause in the middle of the day to calm our nervous system. It also allows us to observe how we feel so that we make appropriate choices for balancing ourselves during the second half of the day.
- Evening Ritual (between 9-10 p.m)
Rub oil, such as sesame oil, onto the soles of your feet. This creates a grounding and nurturing feeling and sets you up for a stellar night of sleep.
With anything we are doing to improve health, be it herbs or a lifestyle change, we should consistently do it for two weeks to determine if it is providing the benefit we need. With the simple rituals above, you should feel more grounded as we move into fall. You’ll achieve better sleep, healthier digestion and a more settled feeling in your mind.
Kucera’s Ayurvedic Day
Adding Ayurveda to your day can sound complex, but I use it to help simplify. My routine and rituals shift with the season, but there are many things I do year round.
On a daily basis, I use my tongue cleaner, drink warm water in the morning, go to bed by 10 p.m., wake by 6 a.m. and eat my biggest meal for lunch.
The medicinal herbs and foods are consumed based on how I feel or the season we are in. For example, if I eat a meal too late in the evening, or consume something I might need help digesting, I’ll take triphala. Or if I feel somewhat bloated, I’ll chew fennel seeds.
What made Kucera write “The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook” book
I was inspired to write this book because I felt so many of my patients were doing all the right things, but not always feeling well.
It turns out their day simply didn’t have the structure it needed. I would encourage them to focus on the how and when of their health acts instead of just the what. So much emphasis is placed on what we do instead.
As I saw them improve their health by organizing their day and becoming more connected to nature, I wanted to help other people do the same.