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Ayurveda Basics

Listen to Vd. Prasanna Kakunje explaining the basic concepts of Ayurveda


Read about the Basic Concepts of Ayurveda:

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word formed by two words Ayu and Veda. The meaning of Ayu is ‘life’ and Veda means ‘the knowledge’. That is why Ayurveda teaches about everything in life that can maintain or affect our health. The first part of Ayurvedic texts teach us about how to live healthy and the next part deals with diseases and their remedies.

Ayurveda talks about daily routine, seasonal regimen, personal & social behavior, food qualities, cooking, eating habits, wrong combinations, spiritual health, sexual health, child care, women care, elderly care, rejuvenation and such other topics in order to maintain health, prevent diseases and promote positive health. Then, the books describe diagnosis of diseases and their remedies in the form of herbal medicines, diet, lifestyle recommendations, therapies and so on.

Very fundamentals of Ayurveda, in a nutshell, can be described as below.

Concept of Panchamahabhuta (Five basic elements): The whole universe is made of five basic elements. We are a part of the universe and hence we also have same elements as any other object in the universe. Those five are, 1.Ether (space) 2.Air 3.Fire 4.Water and 5.Earth element. It should not be taken literally as earth or fire being inside us or in an object. Instead, it is the quality and properties of those elements which will reflect in all these structures.

For example, bones in our body or a wooden piece in the outer world, which are heavy, strong, solid represent a dominant earth element. The same bone or wood, when undergoes degeneration or decay as in osteoporosis, they lose earth element and are replaced by space and air. That is how turn porous, light, delicate and fragile. Likewise, muscle represents a combination of earth and water, making it solid yet soft and stretchable. Acids in the body represent water and fire combination, so is the blood. Gases and gaseous molecules represent air. All the cavities are formed by the space element.

Concept of Tridosha (Three humors/energies): The elemental concept explains more of a structural understanding. Functionally, they are reduced into three basic doshas (humors or energies). They are 1.Vata (air energy) 2.Pitta (fire/heat energy) and 3.Kapha (water/liquid energy). They are important to carry out normal physiological functions when they are balanced and coordinated. They can cause health problems and diseases when they go out of balance. Correcting those imbalances is an important approach of Ayurveda in addressing the health issues.

When normal, Vata is responsible for life and control of all functions in an individual. It is responsible for sensory and motor nervous functions. It is responsible for any movement or transportation in the body, may it be at cellular level or movements like muscle contraction, heartbeat, blood flow, intestinal movement, blinking of eyes and so on. Vata is dry, cold, mobile, light, rough, and subtle in qualities and expresses those qualities in excess when dominant or out of balance. For example, Vata can cause restlessness, sleeplessness, loss of focus, memory loss, dry skin, constipation, low energy, anxiety etc.

Pitta, in a normal state, is responsible for all transformations. Hence, it is required for digestion, metabolism, repair, colour, complexion, body temperature, intelligence, vision and so on. Pitta is warm/hot, oily, acidic, acrid, sharp (penetrating), light, mobile and liquid in qualities. Its imbalance will exhibit excess of similar qualities. For example, acidity, raise in temperature, burning sensation, inflammation, anger, diarrhea, hypertension etc.

Normal Kapha is required for stability, growth, development, nourishment, immunity, strength, vitality, sleep, lubrication, liquids in the body etc. It is heavy, cold, oily, slow, sticky, thick, smooth and stable in qualities. When out of balance, it can cause low appetite, congestion, water retention, weight gain, feeling heavy- drowsy- sleepy- sluggish, cough, cold etc.

Concept of Prakriti (Constitutional type/Personality): The three doshas influence on how we are and what we are, which is called as Prakriti (natural constitution or body mind type) of a person. This influence happens during the inception of sperm and ovum which means it is at a genetic level. People are mostly combination of doshas in constitution and rarely might we come across single dosha or all three dosha Prakriti.

Vata dominant type will be thin built, doesn’t gain weight easily, active or hyperactive in nature, energy drops very fast, likes to talk more, cannot sit in one place or focus on one task, shallow sleeper who wakes up even with a ‘tick’ sound, tends to have irregular patterns in health-digestion-mood etc, tends to have dry skin and constipation, intolerant to cold, may change decisions very often, dreams may be full of movements- falling- sky etc.

Pitta types will be medium in built, gain or lose weight by wish, having strong appetite, perfectionist with intolerance to errors, intolerant to heat, may be arrogant or aggressive in approach, very critical and analytical in thoughts, moist skin, sweat more, tend to have sensitive bowel-skin-emotions, tendency to have loose and frequent bowel evacuation, may have acidity- diarrhea- inflammation- hives- allergies etc as common health issues, may see fire- redness etc in dreams.

Kapha types will be large in frame and heavy in built, slow and steady in everything, calm and quiet nature, consistent energy, good immunity and tolerance, deep sleep, soft and moist skin, prefer warm weather but they can tolerate all climates, may have tendency to feel sluggish, put on weight easily, retain water, may develop congestion and low appetite, may see water bodies- rain etc in the dreams (mostly forget the dreams).

In practice, we see more of dual dosha combinations and rarely single or triple dosha types. Based on the percentage of each dosha attributes, we classify people into various permutations and combinations of Prakriti. An Ayurveda expert will use different tools like pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis etc along with some questions to assess the Prakriti and dosha imbalances.

Concept of Agni and Ama (Digestive fire and wastes/toxins): The literal meaning of Agni is ‘fire’. Pitta (water and fire) when loses its water component then it works like fire. In practice the digestive and metabolic functions are considered as the Agni in living beings. A weak Agni cannot process any substance properly and completely and hence produces unwanted materials or partially processed products. This incomplete processing makes it useless and leads to accumulation of such wastes and toxins in the body. Such an accumulation can clog the channels, suppress the glands and hence, further weaken the Agni, making it a vicious cycle. Those wastes and toxins are collectively called as Ama (pronounced aama), which can lead to various diseases.

The Agni can be at a digestive system level, tissue level or even at a molecular level. Hence, weak Agni and Ama can also occur at all these levels. Thus, the remedy will also change based on the location of Ama, quantity of it, whether it is fixed or loose etc factors. For example, less Ama may need fasting or some herbs and if the Ama is more, then a proper cleansing might be more effective.

Concept of Saptadhatu (Seven basic tissues): Doshas are the functional entities in the body, whereas Dhatu is a structural tissue of the body. There are seven basic Dhatus which constitute the body and become the substrata for manifestation of disease when affected by those out of balance doshas. The dhatus are 1.Rasa (liquid tissue like lymph, plasma) 2.Rakta (cellular components of blood) 3.Mamsa (soft tissues like muscles) 4.Meda (fat tissue) 5.Asthi (bones and cartilages) 6.Majja (bone marrow) and 7.Shukra (reproductive tissue like sperm, ovum, semen, sex hormones etc). Treatments or remedies will vary based on the dhatu involved as well.

Concept of Trimala (Three basic wastes): There are three basic wastes produced in the body during digestion and metabolism. They are feces/stool, urine and sweat. They also play a vital role in maintaining health by proper formation and timely elimination. They can indicate various imbalances and diseases as well.

Concept of Triguna (Three qualities of mind): In a broader sense three qualities are spread out in the universe in a subtle form and they maintain the existence of the universe. However, in the human health domain, they are considered as the qualities of mind. They are 1.Sattvaguna 2.Rajoguna and 3.Tamoguna. Sattva is all positive and hence there is no problem to health if it increases, instead it will be better and better as it increases. Whereas, Rajas and Tamas can cause various problems if they are out of balance. Hence, Rajas and Tamas are considered as doshas of the mind which can cause diseases of the mind. Moreover, the doshas of the body and mind are interconnected and interrelated and hence can cause vitiation of each other. This is the reason for various diseases being psycho-somatic in nature. That is how in many instances we see that a physical illness causes mental disturbance and a mental disturbance resulting in physical disease manifestation.

In a nutshell, Ayurveda looks at a patient/person as a whole and treatments and health advices will be based on various interrelated factors. Those remedies will also be multidimensional involving herbal medicines, external therapies, cleansing, fasting, diet changes, lifestyle changes, counseling, yoga with meditation, spiritual learning, tuning ourselves to the nature and so on.