Ayurveda is India’s ancient science life, health, and longevity. It is thought of by many scholars to be the oldest form of health care in the world. It originated in India over 5000 years ago, and was taught for thousands of years in an oral tradition from accomplished masters to their disciples. The purpose of Ayurveda is to heal, to maintain a high quality of life, and to increase the longevity of the individual. It is an art of daily living that has evolved from practical, philosophical, and spiritual insight. Even though they have been used for thousands of years, Ayurvedic principles have never changed, since they derive from universal laws of nature that are eternally true.
In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means the “Science of Life.” Life is the integration of body, mind and consciousness. Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through diet, lifestyle, yoga and meditation practice, the use of herbs, as well as cleansing and and rejuvenating therapies (panchakarma, abhyanga, shirodhara, nadi swedana, etc.)
Ayurveda is a science of self-understanding. By understanding our own unique nature or constitution we can begin to understand how we interact with our environment and thus make choices that will lead us toward greater health. Ayurveda defines disease as the natural end result of living out of harmony with our original constitution. Therefore, the Ayurvedic approach is very individualized, since the path to optimal health is different for each person, depending upon their unique constitution or prakruti.
The Ayurvedic system believes that the individual’s constitution (prakruti) is recorded at the time of conception as a genetic code that can be expressed physically and mentally as disease proneness and emotional response. This constitution is determined by vata, pitta and kapha, which are the three main doshas, or psycho-physiological functional principles in Ayurveda. They govern the individual’s response to changes and they promote the disease process when out of balance.
Many factors, both internal and external, can disturb this balance and bring about changes in the original constitution that may lead to disorders and disease. Some of these factors include emotional and physical stresses, improper food combinations and choices, physical trauma, or seasonal and weather changes. Once we understand how these factors affect us on a constitutional level, we can take appropriate actions to nullify or minimize their effects and eliminate the causes of imbalance. The aim is to understand the nature and structure of disorder, so we can re-establish order to gain control over our health and well being.
The science of understanding our constitution is the science of tridosha. Tridosha defines the three fundamental doshas or principles that govern the function of our bodies on the physical, mental, and emotional levels. Each individual has a unique balance of all three of these energies. These principles can be related to the basic biology of the body.
Energy is required to create movement so that fluids and nutrients get to the cells, enabling the body to function. Energy is also necessary to metabolize the nutrients in the cells and is utilized to lubricate and maintain cellular structure. Vata is the energy of movement; pitta is the energy of transformation, digestion or metabolism; and kapha is the energy of lubrication and structure. Everyone has the qualities of vata, pitta and kapha, but one is usually primary or predominant, one is secondary and the third is usually the least predominant.
Vata is the subtle energy associated with movement. It governs respiration, circulation, and elimination, as well as the pulsation of the heart and motor neuron impulses. Vata is very much like the wind –it is light, cool, dry and mobile. People with a vata nature experience more of these qualities. Their bodies tend to be light, their bones thin, and their skin and hair dry. They often move and speak quickly. They tend to be talkative, enthusiastic, creative, flexible, and energetic. When aggravated, vata can cause confusion, insomnia, flatulence, constipation, weight loss, tremors, spasms, asthma, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, as well as many neurological and immunological problems.
Pitta represents the fire element in the body. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, and body temperature. Pitta tends to be hot, sharp, and penetrating. It is also somewhat volatile and oily. People with a pitta nature reflect these qualities. They tend to feel warm, have somewhat oily skin, penetrating eyes, and sharp features. They tend to have moderate weight and good musculature. They tend to be highly focused, competitive, capable, courageous, energetic, and clear communicators who get right to the point. They can however become overly intense and speak with a sharp tongue. Pitta disorders include diarrhea, infections, hyperacidity, ulcers, skin eruptions, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, colitis, liver, spleen, and blood ailments, as well as numerous inflammatory problems.
Kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure and provides the cohesion that holds the cells together. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. Kapha tends to be cool, moist, stable, and heavy. In the body these qualities manifest as dense, heavy bones; lustrous, supple skin; low metabolism and large, stocky frames. In addition, those with a kapha nature tend to feel cool. The heavy, stable nature of kapha reflects in a stable personality, not prone to quick fluctuations. When out of balance, kapha individuals are prone to gaining weight and tend to accumulate mucous. Kapha can also cause obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, edema, asthma, tumors, and a variety of congestive problems.
Ayurveda also states that like increases like. For example, the summer has attributes similar to those of pitta –hot, liquid, light, mobile, and penetrating. Therefore, in the summer pitta in the body tends to be increased. Vata is light, subtle, dry, mobile, rough, and cold. So in the fall, which also exhibits these attributes, vata will tend to be increased in the body. Kapha is liquid, heavy, cold, sticky, and cloudy. In the winter, when these characteristics predominate in the external environment, internal kapha tends to be increased. The constitution of an individual is a dynamic force, and vata, pitta, and kapha are dynamic energies that will change and be affected by the environment and other factors in various ways. An Ayurvedic regime and lifestyle, along with dinacharya routines, will enable the individual to gain more awareness and control over how those factors can be diminished or nullified, so as to improve and maintain optimal health and well being.
From the time of birth until death, the body is engaged in maintaining life. Vata, pitta and kapha play an important role in the maintenance of cellular health and longevity. Kapha maintains longevity on the cellular level. Pitta governs digestion and nutrition. Vata, which is closely related to the life energy (or prana), governs all life functions. Ayurveda offers different therapies that may support the individual’s constitutional harmony at all levels, while promoting cellular rejuvenation and overall vitality and immunity. The key to optimal health is to help the body eliminate toxins and reestablish the constitutional balance of the doshas. For such purpose, Ayurveda offers diet and lifestyle guidelines, herbal preparations, and cleansing and rejuvenating programs such as panchakarma and vata management therapies.