Ayurveda is a word derived from one of the oldest known languages, Sanskrit, and means the ‘knowledge of daily living’. There is mention of Ayurveda in the Vedas, the world’s oldest literature, which suggests that this healing system has been practised for over 5,000 years.

Ayurveda considers human beings to be part of the ‘whole’, indivisible from all else. There are many authorities who define Ayurveda in different ways but in principle it is a way of life rather than a medical doctrine and includes spiritual, emotional, social and physical concerns. As much importance is given to sleep as to activity, to diet as to ablutions and hygiene, and to exercise as to meditation.

Ayurvedic medicine cannot be separated from a consciousness of one’s entire lifestyle. Ayurveda is only properly practised if the individual is willing to change all aspects of ill-health-creating activities. The current fad of using Ayurvedic remedies is like taking painkillers for a badly injured limb. It is only one part of the necessary treatment to regain function.

Ayurveda is based on three principal forces known as the tri-dosha. Vatta represents air and space, pitta represents fire and water, and kapha represents water and earth. All these overlap to some extent and none can survive without the other. For example, fire cannot burn without air and without some substance to burn. Water becomes stagnant without air and fire cannot be controlled without water. Different emotional states and physical activities fall into these categories. Movement and breathing are vatta, temperature and digestion are pitta, and energy and stability are kapha. Emotionally, dreams and intentions are represented by vatta , ambition and drive by pitta and nurturing and forgiveness are covered by kapha .

All people are made up of all doshas but usually one or two predominate. Most books on Ayurveda help individuals to understand their constitutional type, and knowing this can help balance the tri-dosha. People who are predominantly vatta/pitta may benefit from having more kapha, for example. All foods have their own elements. Chillies and hot soups are generally pitta, whereas red meat is predominantly pitta and kapha. Knowing one’s constitutional dosha allows a diet to be set for that particular body type.

Ayurveda is a complex philosophy, made more so by the use of Indian terminology, but once the basics have been grasped, the commonsense attitude and approach are simple and can have a profound effect on well-being. Unfortunately, in the West the necessary dedication to an all-around lifestyle is not easily formed or followed and, I think, Ayurveda is probably only of benefit to those with time to dedicate to their health and not to those looking for a quick fix’.

Steam baths are one of the five Ayurvedic purification therapies. The three doshas – vatta, pitta and kapha – are brought to a balanced state, thus promoting well-being.