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WTF Is Ayurveda?

It’s the ancient science inspiring modern meal plans, travel retreats and self-help books. WH delves behind the doshas to find out how – and why – Ayurveda has gone mainstream

Alix O’Neill

Feeding your digestive fire. Eating for your dosha. Syncing with the earth’s circadian rhythm. Be so brave as to announce your burgeoning interest in Ayurveda at the next family gathering and you risk being written off as the kind of wellness warrior who lives for their daily Goop newsletter. But suppress the cynicism by imparting the knowledge that Ayurvedic habits have probably slipped into your companions’ daily routines while they weren’t looking and suddenly you’re no longer going out on a woo-woo limb. That morning hot water and lemon or turmeric latte addiction? Just two trends that, while feeling totally modern, are actually as old as the hills – around 5 000 years, in fact.

Ayurveda’s ancient Eastern sister practice, yoga, has gone from niche to normal and now #Ayurveda pulls up over one million snaps on Instagram, while beauty giant Clarins has added turmeric to its cult Double Serum anti-ageing product. Ayurveda retreats are the new yoga escapes and you could fill a library with the new-release book titles aiming to bring ancient Eastern wisdom to modern Westerners.

“Ayurveda was born out of deep meditation practised by Vedic sages, known as ‘rishis’, who were in search of peace and enlightenment about the secrets of eternal well-being,” explains Geeta Vara, an Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Ayurveda: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Wellbeing. “The rishis passed on this knowledge to their students and descendants orally until it was transcribed into written texts around 1000BC. It is from these scriptures that practitioners have learnt this ancient wisdom ever since.” Ayurveda is one of the few indigenous sciences that still thrives; it shapes India’s healthcare landscape much like visiting the GP is the norm here.

To reap the health rewards, first you need to get your head around what Ayurveda actually is. Which, we won’t lie, isn’t exactly easy. The deeper you dig into Ayurveda, the more confusing it becomes – but allow us to at least offer you an introduction to the basics.

The low-down on doshas

It’s best to start by understanding the body types fundamental to Ayurvedic thinking – not apples and pears, but doshas. If you haven’t come across them on your scrolling travels – the online quizzes that promise to reveal whether you’re vata/pitta/kapha are the new “Which Game Of Thrones character are you?” – a reference to them may well have cropped up during a recent spa visit.

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