You encounter advice on health and wellbeing every day. Scroll through newsfeeds and social shares. Turn on morning T.V. Flip through magazines at the grocery store checkout. It’s everywhere.

We’re all familiar with “one-size-fits-all” guidance:

  • Everyone should drink apple cider vinegar. It’s great for digestion.
  • Everyone should have a rigorous workout routine. It helps to keep you fit and thin.
  • Everyone should drink smoothies in the morning. They’re high in fiber and provide that much needed “get up and go.”

These basic tips make so much sense at face value…why don’t they work for everyone? In the nutshell, it’s because no two people are the same.

Ayurveda understands that everyone is unique. Your individual distinctions and circumstances uniquely impact your wellbeing. So “magic cures” actually affect people in very different ways—sometimes positively and, yes, sometimes negatively.

“One Size” Does Not Fit All

Anyone who has been to Ayurvedic school knows the lesson of the great master who challenges his three disciples to find something—anywhere in the world—that cannot be used as a medicine.

The first disciple explores the east and comes back with a seemingly poisonous fruit he believes will please his master. Alas, the master suggests a way in which this fruit could be consumed as a medicine. Similarly, the second disciple travels to the west. He returns with a plant the region’s inhabitants will not touch. Again, no luck. The master explains how the plant could be prepared to safeguard a certain individual’s wellbeing.

Much time goes by and the third disciple finally returns. He is grief stricken. He has spent years traveling trying to find something void of medicinal value—a pure poison. But much to his delight, his master is full of joy. The disciple learned an important lesson. Everything can be used as a medicine or poison, depending on how and when it is prepared and to whom it is offered.

Granted, the story is a little bit extreme. But its interpretation is the basis of a key Ayurvedic principle. Any substance, action or environment can bring one into alignment or out of alignment. The difference depends on the individual.

Individualized Impact

With this principle in mind, let’s go back to the tips listed above and explore how each one might benefit or negatively impact a person.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is it known to improve acid reflux in some people. From on Ayurvedic standpoint, it is likely to benefit someone with a depleted digestive function (think less acid strength in the stomach, or in Ayurvedic terms, excess Vata). The sour taste of vinegar stimulates digestion to bring the body into alignment. However, for someone with a fast and furious digestive function (excess Pitta), a daily regimen of apple cider vinegar would be like adding gasoline to a fire. In one instance, the vinegar serves as a helpful aid (a “medicine”). In the other, that same dose of vinegar might send the person running and screaming (a “poison”).

Rigorous workout routine: How many times have you heard the expression “no pain no gain”? It is ingrained into our thinking that workouts have to be strenuous to be beneficial. This isn’t true for everyone. For a die-hard couch potato, working up a good sweat is definitely the way to go. Movement offsets sluggish energy. But for a slight person with a highly reactive nervous system, a strenuous workout could be a push in the wrong direction. Movement increases frenetic energy and can create or intensify imbalances. Again, the same routine can be a medicine that brings alignment, or a poison that takes the body out of alignment.

Morning smoothie: The traditional smoothie is a combination of ice, fruit and dairy. At face value, Ayurveda considers this combination a “poison” to all. Together, fruit and dairy are known to cause indigestion. And ice, or cold drinks and foods, can smother one’s Agni (metaphoric metabolic fire). Over time, a daily smoothie will have an adverse effect on one’s wellbeing. The exception here is individuals that burn through calories with roaring digestive fires. In the short-term, a morning smoothie might have a medicinal impact and help “calm the flames.”

Self-Knowledge Is The Answer

By now, you’re probably wondering how to tell if something will benefit you or throw you more out of whack. Self-knowledge gives you the answers—understanding your true nature and how well you are aligned with it. The good news is that Ayurveda gives you the tools to explore what might serve you as a “medicine” and what might impact you as a “poison.” Keep tabs on Ayureka posts to learn more.