More than a medical system, Ayurveda is a way of life, a way of cooperating with Nature and living in harmony with nature. Health in Ayurveda means harmony, and there is really no end to the degree of harmony can achieve if you set yourself to the task. This method of living emphasizes prevention over cure. Some complain that Ayurveda works slowly, but slowness is often part of the remedy, especially today when many of us suffer from the disease of haste. Ayurveda balances and rejuvenates an organism, reducing its susceptibility and empowering its immunity to prevent new disease from developing. Ayurveda believes that every individual is a unique phenomenon. The individual is indivisible from the cosmos. Whatever is there in the macrocosm, the same thing exists in the microcosm. Every individual is a manifestation of cosmic consciousness.
We humans have not really changed much in our recorded history. Our technology is more advanced, surely, but our bodies and minds are almost identical to those of our ancestor, who suffered from the same disease and demonstrated the same admirable and despicable qualities that we do. Ayurveda’s unbroken chain of experience has much to say to us today. Its therapies, and its methods for determining the appropriate therapy for each condition, have been tested by thousands and thousands of physicians on millions and millions of patients. Its theories have stood the test of time.
In ancient days, when Ayurveda was being developed, humans were much less able to control their external environment than we can today. They had no choice but to rely on nature. Lacking fancy instruments they cultivated their intuitive abilities and because they lived in close proximity to Nature they found it easy to determine the medical effects of plants, animals and minerals. They experimented on themselves, and handed down their observations to their children. This collected medical lore was codified long ago in the form of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is most concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony to induce harmony of mind and spirit.
Ayurveda was designed by the Rishis especially for those individuals who want to enjoy the world healthy. Its daily and seasonal routines, dietary guidance, therapeutics and doctrine of antidotes for the side-effects of addictions can keep you hale, hearty and having a high time well into your senescence if you can restrict yourself sufficiently to follow these precepts strictly. You must consciously choose how much you wish to indulge, which determines how healthy you will be. There is no free lunch.
Individual balance or harmony has a vertical dimension which is the dynamic interplay of the individual’s body, mind and spirit; it’s horizontal dimension is the equilibrium between the individual and his or her environment. Your physical body must be in balance with Nature, your mind must be in harmony with the group-mind of the society or group you live in, and your soul must be in a satisfying relationship with the Universal soul if you are to be truly healthy. Balance of the mind spirit, which are ethereal and therefore inherently difficult to stabilize comes more easily once the body has been made firm and healthy. This is especially important today when most people are thoroughly enthralled with the material world.
Every human being is a unique individual, full of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. Each human is a unique manifestation of mother nature, the Creative Energy of the universe.
Everyone in today’s world who wants to be healthy has a personal responsibility to learn as much as possible about the health. Ayurveda is meant to allow you to enjoy the pleasures of life up to the point that such enjoyment interferes with your Health.
Nature gives us the space bounded by the skin and the digestive tract to call our own. Everything outside the skin is part of the environment. Nature is the sum total of all individuals and their environments. Inside your digestive tract is material which was originally part of your environment.
Diseases are being with parasitical intentions. Some have collective bodies, like worms, bacteria and viruses and show signs of collective consciousness just as social insects like ants and termites do. Other diseases have no bodies of their own and “take possession” of an organism in order to express the compulsions of the individual existences. Still others, entities like cancer are created within the body. Whatever the intruder, cure occurs when the alien personality is expelled from the organism and the host’s innate personality returns to normal. Ama acts as food for parasites and encourages them to thrive in the organism. Indigestion develops because of poor eating and living habits deliberate willful indulgence in unhealthy practices which are collectively called ‘Prajnaparadha” or ‘crimes against wisdom” . indigestion prevents nutrients from reaching the tissues and weakens the hosts immune defenses.
The aura is the first line of defense against parasitical beings. The second line of defense is formed by the skin and the gut. A third line of defense the immune system, awaits to intercept and destroy any parasites which somehow find their way past the first two defenses. The immune system, which communicates with both the skin and the gut, is a sense organ.
Rishis used the theory of the Five Great Elements, more properly known as the Five great States of Material Existence to explain how the internal and external forces are linked together.
The five great elements are :
- ♦ Earth- the solid state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is stability, fixity or rigidity. Earth is stable substance.♦ Water- the liquid state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is flux. Water is substance without stability.
♦ Fire- the power which can convert a substance from solid to liquid to gas and vice versa increasing or decreasing the relative order in the substance. Fire’s Characteristic attribute is transformation.Fire is form without substance.
♦ Air- the gaseous state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is mobility or dynamism. Air existence without form.
♦ Ether- the field from which everything is manifested and into which everything returns; the space in which events occur. Ether has no physical existence; it exists only as distances which separate matter.
These five elements condense to the Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha which are effectively Air, Fire and Water respectively. Vata is the principle of kinetic energy in the body. It is mainly concerned with the nervous system and controls all body movement. Kapha is the principle of potential energy which controls body stability and lubrication. The tissues and wastes of the body which Vata moves around are Kapha’s province. Pitta controls the body’s balance of kinetic and potential energies. All of Pitta’s processes involve digestion or cooking even if it is the cooing of thoughts into theories in the mind. The enzymatic and endocrine systems are Pitta’s main field of activity.
At the cellular level Vata moves nutrients into and wastes out of cells, Pitta digests nutrients to provide energy fo cellular function and the cell’s structure is governed by Kapha. In the digestive tract Vata chews and swallows the food, Pitta digests it, Vata assimilates nutrients and expels wastes and kapha controls the secretions which lubricate and protect the digestive organs. In the mind Vata retrieves previous data from memory for comparison with new data. Pitta processes the new data and draws conclusions which Vata then stores as new memories. Kapha provides the stability needed for the mind to grasp a single thought at a time.
These three are forces not substances. Kapha is not mucus it is the force which when projected into the body causes mucus to arise. Pitta is not bile it is the force which causes bile to bile to be produced. Vata is not gas, but increased Vata causes increased gas. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are out of balance with one another the system is bound to lose its own balance.
Kapha, the Watery Dosha is actually associate with both the Water and Earth elements, which have no real affinity for one another. When you pour and sand into water for example, it drops to the bottom of the vessel and sits there. No matter how hard you try the sand will remain suspended in the water only so long as you continue to stir. Although some solid substances like common salt dissolve in water most others do not. Kapha is that force which nature has provided to us to keep the body’s Earth suspended in its Water in the proper proportion.
Wherever the body becomes too solid a problem always develops. For example, gall stones and kidney stones. These are concretions of earth in which water has dried out too much water and not enough earth in the system disturbances like edema can result. Kapha forces water and earth which would otherwise refuse to interact with one another to combine properly and remain in balance.
Pitta- this element is associated with both Fire and Water. While Water and Earth would love to be able to ignore one another and and are inert to each other when they do mix Fire and water are always antagonistic. Whenever you mix Fire and water together one or the other is bound to come out uppermost. If there is more water than fire, Water even when boiling hot drowns out fire. To make two such opponents cooperate together is Pitta’s job. All ‘fires’ in the body are contained in water stomach acid for example, is an extremely powerful acid with a pH of 2. It burns anything it touches just as an open flame or a bolt of lightning burns. Acid is fire contained in water. When fire predominates in this mixture the acid burns through the natural containment facilities which water provides. If this happens in the stomach a gastric ulcer results. When water predominates it douses the fire creating indigestion. Only the mediation which healthy Pitta provides can keep this uneasy alliance of fire and water intact.
Air and Ether compose Vata. Air like wind in the external universe, can move freely in the body only when its path is free of obstacles. You are safe from strong wind in your home, unless the wind happens to be strong that it blows down your walls. Likewise, insufficient empty space prevents proper movement of air unless air’s force accumulates sufficiently to blast a free passage for itself.
Ether is totally inert; Air is totally mobile. Air always attempts to expand itself free from limitations. If this tendency becomes too pronounced all limiting structures are destroyed. Excessive empty space and insufficient power of movement can also result in stasis, with adverse implications for health. Emphysema is an example of such a condition another is the type of constipation that develops after overuse of enemas or colonics. Only healthy Vata can keep Air and ether balanced with one another. Vata’s task is to ensure that there is just sufficient Ether for Air to move in.
These three Doshas have qualities or attributes which characterize their effects on the organism.
Vata possesses all the qualities we usually associate with air. It dries just as even a mild moist breeze eventually dries clothes hung on line. It cools just as even a hot wind can cool a body by evaporating sweat from its skin. It roughens, just as the desert wind erodes the mesas and buttes of the desert. It is erratic or irregular it usually comes in puffs and gusts. Not as a steady stream. Wind is not rough in itself nor need it be dry or cold to cause dryness or coldness. Its innate qualities take precedence over the conditional qualities it picks up from its environment.
Pitta likewise produces its effects because of its own innate characteristics. It is oily or unctuous not because fire is oily but because oils and fats burn brightly in fire. Like fire it is hot intense and light and its fluidity and liquidity derive from the fact it is Fire contained in water. Because it is fluid and can engulf and devour food it is able to digest and transform.
Kapha has all the same qualities as mucus. It is viscid which makes it slow – moving. It is also cold heavy dull thick smooth sticky and sluggish all qualities which we associate with mud a substance composed of Earth suspended in water. Yogurt is a characteristic example of a Kapha – type food because it too possesses all these attributes.
Vata and kapha are almost totally opposite one another in quality. Kapha which represents all potential states of energy in the body. Permits energy to be stored. Vata promotes stasis but excessive change can lead to overstimulation. Kapha promotes stasis but excessive stasis can lead to inertia. Pitta is in charge of balancing these two diametrically – opposed forces.
Vata and Kapha congregate near one another for practical reasons. The heart and lungs are continuously in motion and so require continuous lubrication. Vata provides the motion, Kapha the lubrication. Too much motion uses up to the lubricant; too much lubricant gums up the works. In the joints, synovial fluid provides lubrication and protection. The brain and the spinal cord, whose movement is confined to nerve impulses, swim in cerebrospinal fluid. Mucus protects the lining of the gut throughout its length, enabling the food within it to pass freely. Vata Kapha and Pitta.
Vata Kapha and Pitta are all essential to life, but can cause great harm if they are allowed to fall out of harmony with one another. How much of a each Dosha your body produces depends primarily on which Tastes you consume. The Tastes influence the balance of the doshas in the body.
Sweet –Composed mainly of earth and water sweet increases Kapha, decreases Pitta and Vata and is cooling heavy and unctuous . It nourishes and exhilarates the body and the mind and relieves hunger and thirst. It increases all tissues.
Sour –Composed mainly of water and fire sour increases kapha and Pitta decreases Vata and is heavy heating and unctuous. Sour refresh the being encourages elimination of wastes lessens spasms and tremors and improves appetite. It softens and loosens the tissues.
Salty –Composed mainly Water and Fire salty increases Kapha and Pitta decreases Vata and is heavy heating and unctuous. Salty eliminates wastes and cleanses the body and increases the digestive capacity and appetite. It softens and loosens the tissues.
Pungent –Composed mainly Fire and Air Pungent increases Pitta and Vata decreases Kapha and is yheating light and dry. Pungent flushes all types secretions from the body and reduces all Kapha like tissues such as semen milk and fat. It improves the appetite.
Bitter –Composed mainly Air and ether, Bitter increases Vata decreases Pitta and Kapha and is cooling light and dry. Bitter purifies and dries all secretions is anti – aphrodisiac and tones the organism by returning all tastes to normal balance. It increases appetite and controls skin diseases and fevers.
Astringent –Composed mainly of Air and Earth Astringent increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapka and is cooling light and dry. Astringent heals purifies and constricts all parts of the body. It reduces all secretions and is anti – aphrodisiac.
All these tastes are essential for proper functioning of the organism, and reach us primarily through our food. My teacher Vimalanda always maintained that it’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest that counts. The healthiest food in the world is the deadliest of poisons if you cannot digest and assimilate it properly. Digestion begins in the mouth at the instant the tongue Tastes the food. Taste does not disappear from food even after it is digested. Each of your cells has a rudimentary sense of taste and each is affected by the Taste of its nutrients. Since each cell in your body affects every other cell and since all those cells affect your senses and your mind the Tastes in the food you eat exert a critical influence on your consciousness and your health. Taste predominates over all other physical influences on the individual even the Doshas because Taste is the first input from ingested food that the system receives. Everything you eat has three opportunities to affect your organism.
The effect a food has on you before digestion begins is the taste your tongue picks up from it while it is in the mouth. This effect is called Rasa or taste. The second effect which is experienced during digestion is the food’s Virya or energy. ‘Hot ‘ food increases the body’s ability to digest freeing energy for other metabolic tasks. ‘Cold’ food requires extra energy for its digestion. The gut obtains this energy from the rest of the body which must reduce its other activities as a result.
The Vipaka or Post Digestive effect is that which occurs after digestion is over and the nutrients are assimilated deep within the tissues. Sweet and salty usually produce a sweet satisfying nutrive effect after being digested a net gain for your organism. Sour usually produces a sour effect increasing the desire for new things to dgest but neither adding to or subtracting from yourself. Bitter, Pungent and Astringent reduce Pitta because even though their Post – Digestive Effect is usually Pungent because their cold Taste and energy more than compensate for the Pungency produced.
Sour, salty and Pungent are always hot and sweet Bitter and Astringent are always cold but sometimes it happens that a substance may have a heating Taste with Cold energy which means that when it enters the body it increases the digestive power but during digestion it does not aggravate Pitta. Sometimes it may be the other way round a substance may have a cooling Taste and Hot Energy reducing appetite when it is eaten but increasing digestive juice flow while digestion is going on.
Your personal constitution which is your individual metabolic makeup helps determine how much effect specific tastes and emotions have on you. This is why everyone who eats the same food does not necessarily suffer from exactly the same mental or physical effects from it.
Inborn metabolic pattern is called ‘prakruti’. Prakuti also means Nature she who is the first creation. Your prakruti is your first creation your first reaction when you are forced to adapt to some change in your environment. Your constitution is that set of metabolic tendencies which determine how your body and mind will instinctively react when they are confronted by a stimulus. Many of the traits you prize in your personality arise from and are dependent on these metabolic tendencies. Many of the qualities you dislike in yourself arise from these tendencies.
Your personal constitution was determined by the state of the bodies of your mother and father at time of your conception. That certain sperm which could best endure the conditions prevalent in those two bodies won the race to reach the ovum and its genes mingled with the genes in the ovum to form the new child. Your constitution is influenced by your parents genetics by your mother’s diet and habits during her pregnancy and by any abnormal events at time of your birth. Once your personal constitution and its accompanying tendencies have been set they cannot be permanently altered. Like genes, you have your constitution for the rest of your life, like it or not.
Ayurveda is a very common – sense sort of medical system.