Ayurveda Basic Principles
Ayurveda , or Ayurvedic Medicine, is the Traditional Health Care System of Classical India
Ayurveda originates in the ancient Vedic civilization of 1000 B.C.E. Ayur-Veda means Science of Life. It is a natural, preventive approach to health care, that emphasizes
- a diet appropriate to one’s mind-body type (Dosha) and basic principles of nutrition.
- proper digestion, elimination, rest, relaxation, and mental attitude.
- the use of herbal medicines, pranayam, and meditation to balance the doshas.
- the use of fasting, oil massage, and panchakarma treatments for eliminating buildup of ama, or toxins.
The basis of Ayurveda is prevention–strengthening the body’s defense system and self-repair mechanisms so the individual has the ability to naturally resist disease.
The Value of Ayurvedic Medicine
Like Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda is especially valuable to people who perceive spiritual health and physical health as inextricably intertwined.
The Three Doshas--Vata, Pitta, and Kapha
Radiant health, according to Ayurveda, is a state in which you are happy and experience a zest for life. Ayurveda cares that you feel integrated and whole. Your appetite, digestion, and elimination are good, you breathe deeply and easily, your skin is radiant, you sleep well, and you experience the full range of human emotions in a manner that is congruent with your experiences.
The Three Doshas–Vata, Pitta, and Kapha
How each of us achieve this state of integration and wholeness, as well as how we experience physical and mental disease and suffering, is described in Ayurveda as a function of our individual and unique bodymind type or dosha. The doshas vary by degree, but also by how they express themselves.
While there are three doshas, they combine into ten types,
a) the three monodoshics: in which one dosha strongly predominates, and the other two are equally secondary.
b) the six bidoshics: in which one dosha strongly predominates, the next dosha is of secondary strength within the bodymind, while the third is of weakest influence. These are:
c) Tri doshic: Those in whom the three doshas have equal value.
Each of the ten doshic types have specific characteristics, some of which are as follows:
Vata types are light and thin in build, move quickly in speech, activities and thought, tend towards dry skin, are averse to cold, dry weather, have irregular appetites, digestions, and schedules, tend to worry, become constipated easily, and sleep lightly and with easy interruption. Their eyes are light colored and can be nervous. Hair is thin and dry.
Pitta types have a moderate build with prominent tendons. They have penetrating intellects, are enterprising and sharp in character, good public speakers, with a tendency toward quick anger and irritability. They have intense hungers, can’t skip meals, are averse to hot weather and prefer cold drinks and foods. They tend toward reddish hair, moles, and freckles with oily and easily inflamed skin. Their eyes are sharp and penetrating. Hair is wiry.
Kapha types have a solid large boned heavy build. They have good strength and endurance, are slow and methodical, can be steady and tranquil with oily and smooth skin. They have mild hunger, and slow digestion and can gain weight very easily. Their eyes are large and like water and their sleep is heavy and long. They tend towards plentiful thick wavy hair.
As you can imagine, how each of these types combine in any one individual has a near infinite number of permutations and gradations, however, certain very generalized observations can be made about the nature of a dosha when balanced or imbalanced.
Balanced Vata is mentally alert with strong sleep, immunity, and exhilaration with life.
Imbalanced Vata has dry rough skin, insomnia, nervous disorders, anxiety and worry, underweight, intolerant of cold, and dry hard stools. The nervous energy of vata imbalance leads to exhaustion and non-specific fatigue.
Balanced Pitta has normal heat and thirst mechanisms, strong digestion meaning the ability to consume and digest physical and mental things easily, a lustrous complexion born of its natural fire element, a sharp intellect and sense of contentment.
Imbalanced Pitta suffers easily from inflammation of the skin or emotions, excessive bodily heat and heat in the digestive tract yielding disorders like ulcers, gastritis and hemorrhoids. They grey and bald early in life, develop hot-type visual disorders, and can be unnecessarily argumentative or irritable.
Balanced Kapha is possessed of above average muscular strength, good vitality and stamina, with good immunity and stability of mind and also joints.They are capable of strong affection, generosity, courage and dignity.
Imbalanced Kapha suffers from slow digestion, cognition, obesity, lethargy and dullness. They develop disorders of phlegm easily, like allergies and sinus congestion.
Primary and Secondary Doshas–How the Elements Combine in an Individual
As you can now see, a Pitta-Vatta, for example, will have a combination of attributes and or imbalances that reflect Pitta having the primary role, Vatta the secondary, and Kapha the tertiary.
Can a PittaVatta type have an imbalance in Kapha? Absolutely, but their Kapha imbalance will tend to affect them less profoundly on both physical and spiritual levels than an imbalance in their predominant dosha.
For example, a PittaVatta type with a Kaphic imbalance might suffer some exacerbation of lethargy in the winter, which is the Kapha season, but would suffer much more from a Pitta imbalance in Summer, the Pitta season. Here their tendency towards heat and inflammation, if their Pitta were running wild, could lead to skin and digestive disorders, especially if the climate were tropical.
On the other hand, if a KaphaVatta were in Kapha imbalance during winter, they might develop full scale seasonal affective disorder, rather than just mild lethargy, particularly in a long, cold, wet, dark northern winter.
The role of the physician in Ayurveda is to accurately describe the patient’s dosha proclivities and imbalances, and then to give the proper dietary, lifestyle and herbal regimens to correct imbalances and promote radiant health.
There are specific diets to “pacify” each of the doshas, which means to keep them from becoming imbalanced. There are specific lifestyle recommendations to promote the most healthy physical and spiritual expression of each dosha as well. These recommendations extend from types of exercise, pranayam and meditation, to daily routines regarding when and how much to sleep and eat. It also involves responding to the rhythm of the seasons according to your individual doshic tendencies. Finally it involves an awareness of how the doshas transform through the ageing process.
For example, in the above case of KaphaVatta with a Kapha imbalance and seasonal affective disorder, the treatment would begin with a Pitagenic diet, that is a diet to strengthen digestive fire (agni) and Pitta so to warm and stimulate the cold damp Kapha. This would center on warming spices like cayenne, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardomom, and clove. It would involve lightly cooked vegetebles and soups with emphasis on lots of colorful and slightly bitter green vegetebles. Certain foods, like dairy products and wheat, especially pasta, and also deep fried foods would be avoided. Sweets would need to be minimalized, and green tea and bright stimulating herb teas like peppermint would be useful.
Of course full spectrum lighting would be recommended, and fast exercises, like aerobics, with intense music to push one out of one’s Kaphic imbalance. Staying up a bit later and doing something creative or exciting like an art project or music concert would be recommended. On the other hand, getting out at high noon (maximum pitta time) doing something like cross country skiing would be beneficial. Bring hot spicy tea with you.
Sauna, not steam, vigorous massage with warming mustard seed oil and essential oils like eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme, oregeno, jasmine, and sandalwood would be useful, as would walking meditation and breath of fire style pranayam breathing exercises. Warm intense bright colors would be useful in the home as well as clothing, for example crimson red, burgendy, turqoise blue and gold. This would be a case for fresh cut flowers, regardless of cost. Even fiery gems would be useful in jewlery, like rubys and fire opal. Gold is stimulating while silver is calming
.In this case the healthy expression of feelings would be encouraged, perhaps in a safe therapeutic environment, so as to ensure that kapha, with its long memory, is not turning anger inwards, and that the free and open movement of emotions (like fear, sadness, attachment in its many form, loneliness, and its inverse selfishness) is not inhibited by Kapha’s sluggishness or Vata’s fear.
This person will benefit from volunteer work, dance class, playing a musical instrument, taking previously unacceptable risks, and making friends with some PittaKaphas. This is just a keyhole glimpse at the kinds of recommendations that can be made in an Ayurvedic consultation.
Ayurveda treats illness and prevents disease by treating the whole person. It understands that healing occurs from the inside out. Your body mind type in Ayurveda includes a lot of what in the West we would describe as personality type. That can be a tricky thing to deal with. Ayurveda is a non-judgmental process. Its based on seeing things as they are and deciding what to do about it. If you are naturally hot tempered, you are better off understanding how that makes you sick, both generally, and specifically. Just one example. For more about Ayurveda, please see some of the many articles I have on my blog, or give me a call or email and set up a 90 minute first time Ayurveda consultation.
Treatment in Ayurveda
Origins of Disease in Ayurveda: Unbalanced Dosha
The name for Qi, or life-force in Ayurveda is Prana. From the center of the being Prana controls the functioning of the bodies organs and physiological processes. Channels, called srotas, similar to the channels of Acupuncture, facilitate the circulation of prana. Disease is caused by blockage of these channels, and by pranic insufficiency.
Ayurveda describes individuals according to their constitutional or body-mind types, called doshas.
The three basic doshas in Ayurveda are vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata governs bodily and mental functions concerned with movement and metabolism. Pitta governs bodily and mental functions concerned with heat, catabolic break-down of things taken into the body-mind, and energy production. Kapha governs bodily and mental functions concerned with the building up and maintenance of structure and fluids.
Vata is derived from the air element, Pitta from the fire element, and Kapha from a combination of water and earth.
Each individual has aspects of each dosha as well as a specific doshic proclivity, which is apparent in one’s physical features, lifestyle tendencies, and psycho emotional or spiritual temperament. The doshic proclivity helps determine the illnesses you are prone to, and so can be used to prescribe methods to avoid disease.
Ayurveda describes how in the natural course of living, the doshas may become imbalanced, and when they do, this leads to the blockage of the channels by Ama, the accumulation of toxic substances within the bodymind. Ama increases if physical and mental digestive fire (agni) is weak, if foods contraindicated for your dosha are eaten, especially to excess, if spiritual consciousness is not cultivated, if sensible lifestyle practices are not followed, or if fecal waste is not properly eliminated.
Treatment in Ayurveda
Ayurvedic treatment focuses on rebalancing the doshas.
It’s important to remember that you are never just one dosha. We are made up of all 3 doshas–inside each of us is Space, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water –these elements manifest in our bodymind in predictable ways governing specific functions and corresponding to specific tissues.
What we want to know is what our proportions are–are we fire dominant, water dominant, air dominant? Are Pitta, Vatta, or Kapha dominant. And then we want to know what our secondary dosha is–are we Pitta Vatta, Vatta Pitta, Pitta Kapha, etc. Knowing your dosha type/combination is so important because your dosha predicts how your health is likely to fail, and therefore guides your choices for healthy living, wellness, and longevity.
But we also want to know where the current imbalance is. It can even be in your third or tertiary dosha, though it is typically in your first or second. In any event, the starting point is always to know where the current imbalance is.
First one’s natural dosha is determined through intake and exam. Then one’s doshic imbalance is determined by a combination of pulse and tongue diagnosis, questioning, and observation. Treatment in Ayurveda therapy focuses on eradicating the lifestyle and dietary errors that are creating doshic imbalances. This is root treatment. Secondly, the Ayurvedic physician may prescribe breathing and meditation exercises to eradicate mental ama, specific foods and dietary regimens to correct your particular doshic imbalance, herbs to treat the doshic imbalance and its specific disease symptoms in the tissues.
I have used Ayurveda for the past 36 years in my own life, including three years in India and Sri Lanka during which I took tutorials with Dr. V. M. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and Dr. S. Wickeramasinghe in Sri Lanka . Since 1992 I have used Ayurvedic herbs, dietary and lifestyle counseling techniques to help many people resolve their illnesses and progress towards radiant health.
Key to Understanding Dosha--The Five Elements
Each human’s body-mind is comprised of three Doshas–Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. And everything you can say to help in understanding dosha is everything you can say about the fundamental elements of matter on earth and in the cosmos.
The Five Elements Are the Basis for Understanding Dosha
The fundamental elements of matter, as understood before the invention of the advanced telescope and electron microscope, are Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. There is no matter on earth or in space that you can see with the naked eye that is not liquid, solid, or gas, and that of not made up of air, fire, water, minerals (earth) and space.
You can quiz yourself.
When you lie on your back on a summer day, and gaze into the sky, you are peering through Air full of moisture, dust and other particulates, and oxygen out into space in which a great fiery orb, the sun, appears. When you lie on your back at night and stare out into the awesome cosmos and ponder the vastness of space into which God and the milky way appear, that is also Space. Because space is by nature etheric, it is sometimes referred to in older translations as Ether.
The ocean, rain, lakes, and streams are made of water. Our bodies are mostly water. Every food we eat, save those that have been dehydrated, is full of water. Every plant has water in it, and the soil at the surface of the earth in most places is full of water, if not at the surface then just below it.
The earth itself is “earth.” The minerals in the oceans are “earth.” The plants that grow on earth are mixtures of earth, water, air, and space. The iron at the earths center is earth, but molten hot fiery earth.
There is air through out the atmosphere, and its effects are most noticed when it moves, as wind. In fact the atmosphere is in constant movement, as is the earth, on its axis, but also at its crust. All the cells in living bodies are in constant internal movement, from phagocytosis to the movement of the DNA living and dieing.
There is movement in our blood streams, our guts, our joints, and our nervous systems. There is air in plants and there are spaces between fibers. Cabbage and onions are full of space, whereas flesh food is less so.
Our bodies are full of spaces just as the earth is full of spaces between trees and mountains and in cave and holes. Without air our body’s would die. There is air in our bodies in the form of gases, the gases in our lungs, in our blood, in our guts, and in the peritoneal cavity, itself a space. Of course the gut is a giant space and the uterus is a smaller one. The Lungs are full of spaces, the joints have space between the bones, and our sinuses and nasal cavities are spacious.
There is fire throughout space in the form of stars. There is fire in the sky, as lightening, and on earth as fire. There is fire in animals, both in terms of the fire you see in the eyes of predators hunting, herbivores fighting for the chance to mate, but also in the electrical charges in bodies, and in the fiery liquids of the digestive tracts and in the enzymes that act like fire in breaking down material into energy.
The colorful flowers that grow out of earth and on the wood of trees, resembles fire in their brightness. Wood is a kind of blend, comprised when living, like humans, of all the elements. Wood has minerals and cellulose-earth, water, internal movement-wind, enzymatic reactions like fire, and spaces within and throughout. The plants we and the animals that we eat eat are the same as wood in this way.
Of course there are solar winds and terrestrial winds. There is the vastness of space itself. And every animate object moves, even if in the case of mollusks very slowly. But most animals move fairly quickly, that’s wind. And within our bodies there is actual wind, the gases within cells, and the gases produced in the gut that lead to belching and flatulence, known as “wind” in English.
So there is nothing on earth or in the cosmos that is not made up of space, air, fire, water, or earth. And each of these elements, space, air, fire, water, and earth have qualities and characteristics that are mimicked by the human body and mind. We can, therefore, describe every aspect of being, from conception to death in terms of the elements, every aspect of our body’s and minds the same.
The Three Doshas Are How the Five Elements Express Themselves in Humans
The way in which these 5 elements coalesce in humans is called Dosha. And there are three–
- Vata is the expression of Space and Air/Wind in our Body-Mind
- Pitta is the expression of Fire and Water in our Body-Mind
- Kapha is the expression of Earth and Water in our Body-Mind
The manner in which these three Doshas coalesce in a single human is unique. No two people people are identical, and no two combinations of Dosha are identical. Each single dosha has so many different ways to express itself in a person, because each dosha is associated with such a variety of qualities, tissues, and mental characteristics, that when you combine three in one person there is a lot of variety.
That, too, one person may be 90 Pitta -70 Kapha- 40 Vata, as it were, and another, 60, 60, 30, also Pitta-Kapha-Vata. Here the numbers are not percentages, but degrees of Pitta, Kapha, or Vata.
The Properties of the Doshas Derive from the Properties of The Elements
The starting point of Understanding Dosha typology is to think about the properties of the elements in Nature that comprise each dosha.
Vata–the combination of Space and Air
Space is not Air. Air is the stuff in the atmosphere that we breath, and most of what Ayurveda says about air is really about moving air–wind. So let’s talk first about Space.
Space is vast, freezing cold, and nearly empty. Its a semi-vacuum, containing the lowest density of particles, and even then the particles of space are the lightest of all, hydrogen and helium.
Hydrogen is so light it has no metallic state we know of. It is theorized that there may be solid hydrogen at the core of Jupiter, condensed into an elemental metal by the planet’s great mass. Helium is so light that if you fill a balloon with it, up it goes. Lighter than Air, full of oxygen.
There are other things in space–all quite etheric, from the mysterious neutrinos, subatomic particles with almost zero mass that are so rare scientists had to wait for years in the bowels of an old lead mine in Japan to capture a single one, to electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, dust, and cosmic rays, all about as “woo-woo” as nature gets.
Space is as cosmic as Nature gets, in the vernacular metaphoric sense of “cosmic” which obviously derives from the literal sense of the word. You cannot look out into space in the dark night, without considering things much greater than yourself, especially if you are Vata dosha predominant.
The vastness of space helps to explain why Vata types, (and from herein when I say “type” i will mean “predominant”, because we are all a mixture of all three) are naturally philosophical, naturally prone to mind expansion, naturally more at risk to abuse mind expanding drugs, naturally ungrounded, light, and etheric by personality, easily spaced out and day dreamy, or just dreamy. When you see someone who seems like they might be from another planet, that is going to be a quality of Vata dosha. And you will more likely encounter this quality in creative artistic types than grounded practical methodical detail minded Pitta types, because this quality comes naturally to Vata dosha. Vata types tend to creativity of one type or another. It could be in the arts, or it could be an inventor like Tesla, or a very creative engineer/entrepreneur like Steve Jobs, who was a mixture of Vata and Pitta both. Ruthlessness is a quality of fire, ergo, Pitta dosha.
(to be continued…in process….)
Here's a Beet Salad for Vata Dosha I learned from my Morrocan friend Edith that I like to make in Autumn and Spring as a side dish with heavier food. Beet are an excellent Vata vegetable as they are easy-to-digest and, like turnip and radish, and excellent digestive...
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