What Is Ayurveda? A T+L Wellness Primer

We asked the experts how you can incorporate the ancient healing practices of Ayurveda into everyday life.


Photo by Sujay Govindaraj/Getty Images Pro/Canva

By David Ngo

Feb 8, 2022


WELLNESS IS FRONT AND center on just about everyone’s mind these days. The last two years have taken a considerable toll on our collective mental and physical health, and more and more people are seeking solutions. And not just in the form of “the old normal” travel—long weekend in a resort, visit to a luxury day spa—so much as diving deeper into traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine teachings, among others. Lucky for us, humans have been striving to heal minds and bodies for millennia, and have acquired quite a bit of wisdom along the way, and this series of wellness primers aims to get you acquainted with some of those learnings. 

Ayurvedic medicine, which has been practiced in various forms for more than 3,000 years, is one of the oldest holistic healing systems in existence, having originated in India. Ancient Hindu scriptures reference Ayurveda, though it is not a religion. Modern medical experts believe that there’s a lot that we can learn from it. We asked doctors and practitioners how this age-old art can help us live better today. 

What is Ayurveda exactly?

FROM LEFT: Courtesy of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle; courtesy of Six Senses Spa Fort Barwara

At its core, Ayurveda promotes the belief that a human being’s life force is ruled by three energies, or doshas, set in a uniquely calibrated balance. Every person has Pitta (fire; controlling digestion and metabolism), Kapha (water; controlling fluids and the immune system), and Vata (air or space; controlling circulation and respiration) doshas. But different individuals will be ruled by different doshas. Achieving a higher state of wellness is all about figuring out how your doshas are meant to align, then bringing them into balance with customized adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. Above all, it’s about a more intentional approach to living and self-care.

“Being mindful means being conscious or having awareness of the environment. In today’s fast-paced world, it is easy to become distracted and live in our head with all the stressful thoughts and habits,” says Dr. Shanika De Silva of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle in Sri Lanka. “This leads to various mental health disorders which can manifest into physical health disorders.”

Ayurveda : Six Senses Spa Fort Barwara
Morning Yoga. Courtesy of Six Senses Spa Fort Barwara

Experts are quick to stress that while we all want a quick-fix nowadays, this isn’t really what Ayurveda is about. A warm oil massage incorporating Shirodhara (the slow, steady dripping of herbalized oil onto the forehead), for example, will probably make you relax, de-stress and sleep better—with further benefits in Ayurvedic parlance being to stimulate the “third eye” to awaken intuition and pacify the Vata dosha by calming that monkey mind. But Ayurvedic medicine goes beyond a single treatment or experience. And just like any other branch of medicine, you shouldn’t wait until you’re sick to seek help. 

“As we all know, prevention comes first then cure. Ayurveda is all about promoting preventive practices to keep your health in check,” says Dr. Jitendra Varshney, wellness director, Six Senses Spa Fort Barwara. “An imbalance in our work-life and unhealthy eating practices have led us closer to a number of lifestyle-related disorders. Now it is understandable that bringing lifestyle changes according to Ayurveda is the only way for a better and healthy life.”

How can you incorporate Ayurveda into your daily life?

Ayurveda : Oneworld Ayurveda in Bali
Courtesy of Oneworld Ayurveda

So how do we do that exactly? The answer, of course, is a little complicated. No two people are the same, which is why a one-size-fits-all approach to Ayurvedic practices doesn’t cut it. If you’re serious about incorporating these holistic healing practices into your life, start by consulting a pro. 

“The best way to integrate an Ayurvedic practice would be to first find out what are your primary doshas,” says Dr. Ninnu Sudarshan, the head Ayurvedic physician at Oneworld Ayurveda in Bali. A doctor is likely to assess your ailments through the lens of your doshas, and not only prescribe treatments but also tweak your diet based on the elemental qualities of food to help you find the right internal balance. Even foods that are considered nutritious in general might not be good for you specifically, depending on your body type.

Courtesy of Oneworld Ayurveda (2)

Although each individual’s diagnosis will vary, there are a few simple practices that are beneficial for just about everyone, Dr. Sudarshan says: “Have a daily regimen starting with a few morning rituals such as tongue scraping, oil swishing, drinking hot water with lemon and meditation.” While Ayurveda focuses on preventative care, it also offers practical remedies. For instance, if you’re suffering from a common cold or feel one coming, sip warm milk with turmeric—this is the original “golden latte”—or a tea of steeped ginger, turmeric root, lemon juice and a touch of honey. Both of these simple concoctions are also a beneficial addition to your daily routine, according to Dr. Varshney.

“Waking up before or around sunrise gives you the benefit of inhaling pollution-free and oxygen-rich air. This practice keeps you energetic and positive throughout the day,” Dr. Varshney says. When you rise with the dawn, he suggests sipping a cup of lukewarm water with honey and lemon, which both flushes toxins out of your body and gives you a healthy glow. Of course, a little extra pampering doesn’t hurt either. “Regular massage with sesame oil makes the skin radiant,” he says. “It increases blood circulation, improves strength, quality of sleep and longevity.”

Where should I go for an Ayurvedic retreat?

Ayurveda : Six Senses Fort Barwara
Aravali View Suite Balcony. Courtesy of Six Senses Fort Barwara

Practicing daily meditation, rising with the dawn, and eating a balanced diet carefully calibrated to your doshas can yield powerful, even transformative healing results. Still, there are times when you want to go the extra mile and really give your mind, body and spirit a conscious reset. For those moments, it’s best to take a break from your everyday routine and indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. You’ll benefit from the wisdom of specialists and return to your regular life clear-eyed and rejuvenated. There are many luxury locales offering Ayurvedic guidance and healing across Asia, so we’ll just get you started with two outstanding ones close to the source, and one well-rounded jungle resort in everyone’s favorite holistic wellness capital, Ubud. 

Six Senses Spa Fort Barwara. A brand-new stunner of a resort where you can seek Ayurvedic healing in not just luxury but a style fit for actual kings, built as it is in a 14th-century fort originally owned by the Rajasthani royal family; five-night Ayurvedic retreats from INR40,400 per person.

Sri Lanka
Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle. Known as the Teardrop of India, Sri Lanka has a strong Ayurvedic tradition as well, and this sprawling luxury resort on the southeast coast has a thorough and thoroughly pampering Ayurvedic-centric spa; five-day Inner Harmony Ayurveda Programme from US$783 per person. 

Oneworld Ayurveda. Immerse in layers of tradition in Ubud, the spiritual heart of the only place in Indonesia that’s remained predominantly Hindu, and take your Ayurvedic practices to the next level with a Panchakarma detox; seven-day Ayurvedic retreats from US$1,912 per person. 


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