What it Takes to Understand Ayurveda

As with all the Vedic sciences, the science of medicine relies on awareness, precision, and clarity. It is a path of developing the discrimination to determine what is self-healing and what is self-destructive. To this end, Ayurveda developed a system of understanding and categorizing the effects of specific foods. Although the taste of an apple may vary slightly depending on where and when it was picked, the energetics of food are mostly stable and consistent.

Let’s look at the categorization of animals as a metaphor for categorizing foods. Animals have characteristics that are common to all species within a genus. For example, in general rodents tend to have a sensitive nervous system that allows them to avoid being eaten by larger animals. They are fast moving, anxious, and quick to act. Naturally there is variation among rodents as squirrels are different from hamsters. There is even variation among squirrels; one squirrel might be assertive while another is shy. In general, however, the tendencies of an animal can be understood based on what general category of animals to which it belongs.

These categorizations also apply to people. Dr. Tillotson has related Vata to rodents, Pitta to carnivores, and Kapha to ungulates. I reiterate that we are all individuals, but in order to promote self-awareness this systematization of traits and tendencies can lead to deeper self-understanding.

Honesty is an extremely important trait in the process of self-healing. If we are unwilling to start where we truly are, then we will often not be able to cultivate the precision and gentleness that is necessary for true awakening. That is the ultimate goal of healing through Ayurveda, healing is a means to the end of self-realization. It is a practice of being able to find gentleness and forgiveness for ourselves so that we don’t continue to commit these acts of subtle aggression and self-destruction through our diet. A strict diet that does not allow for flexibility and joy is as detrimental as a diet full of sugar and overeating.

The true test of eating guidelines is to build a symbiotic relationship with ones Agni (digestive fire). It is this fire of digestion that governs the transformation of food into tissues. This process reminds us of our interconnectedness with all things. When we realize that we truly are what we eat, then it is simple to recognize, even if for only a moment, the underlying unity of all creation. Through practice and consistency in one can determine how different foods effect him or her as and individual, and therefore become aware of who they truly are. Just as the qualities of food have been determined through the Ayurvedic system, an individual’s qualities can be more fully understood through the effect of foods on certain qualities of an individual.

Eventually the effect of foods can be predicted, and one can predict whether the food they are eating will make them skinny, fat, enthusiastic, lethargic, sad, shy, energized, etc. If you understand that water is wet and fluid and that dirt is solid and dry you can predict that if you add the two together you will have mud; a combination of their respective qualities.

The knowledge of the qualities of food and the clarity that comes with understanding their effect can be cultivated. Otherwise one may fall prey to the subtle aggression and self-destructiveness that can be part of a dietary program that does not include compassion in the form of gentleness and openness. It is this self-love and self-understanding that is the primary purpose of the Ayurvedic diet. Self-healing through healthy food creates harmony within the body so that life can be lived with curiosity.

Predictability and repeatability are hallmarks of any science and that is why Ayurveda is often called the science of life. Ayurveda blends art and science to create a living, dynamic approach to awareness based food.