Your Health In Your Hands-LifeStyle As Per Ayurveda  – Part 1 – Introduction

Background

I am very much still a student of Ayurveda and am continuing to learn the same. I don’t consider myself to be an expert. So I’m not giving examples of herbal remedies etc. here in this article. Only discussing the basic building blocks and foundational principles of Ayurveda as I understand at this phase of my beautiful journey into the world of Vedic Sciences, of which, Ayurveda is a big part of.

Now, towards busting some myths and assumptions around Ayurveda.

Did Ayurveda practitioners know in the past about diseases like ulcers, diabetes, BP, Cancer etc.? Yes

  1. Reference articles:

  2. (Gulf News): https://gulfnews.com/leisure/health/ayurveda-approach-towards-diabetes-1.1217613

  3. Journal of Traditional Medicine: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/comprehensive-ayurvedic-care-in-type-diabetes-2167-1206.1000e111.php?aid=21839

Did Ayurveda practitioners in the past know about every disease that we’re going to get in the future ( mainly due to our irresponsible lifestyles and ignorant innovations destroying the environment that we’re very much a part of)? No.

But is there a method, a practical and a logical way to handle current and future diseases if we understand the basic principles of Ayurveda? Yes.

Is Ayurveda Hindu? No.

Is Unani Islam? No

Is Allopathy Christian? No

If I practice Ayurveda, will I automatically become a Hindu? No

If I practice Unani, will I become a Muslim? No

If I take Tylenol/Crocin/Paracetamol, am I considered a Christian? No

If I take Chyawanprash, will I become a Hindu? No

If the Tylenol question sounds silly, the chyawanprash question should also sound equally silly. So, let’s not buy into assumptions that Ayurveda is Hindu or Ayurveda is a way to push Hinduism. Ayurveda/Yoga and Hindu religion are different things.

Ayurveda’s relationship to Hinduism is the same as Allopathy relationship to Christianity or Unani relationship to Islam.

Now that, that part is out of our way, let’s get back to Ayurveda and the fundamental basic foundational concept of Ayurveda.

Basic Building Blocks –

Pancha MahaBhutas and Tri Doshas

References for this section.

  1. Tridosha introduction: A video by NLAM (National Library for Ayurveda Medicine) https://youtu.be/LsiIwbTLdGU

  2. Website for NLAM: http://nlam.in/

  3. The course material that I am taking which I cannot share.

In nature, we can observe something. Nature seems to

  1. Have created a good working model to maintain a perfect balance in both inanimate and animate objects. And

  2. Have found a way to utilize this model to create objects from micro to macro level.

Now, what do I mean by the above? Let’s just take the concept of the wheel. The wheel is a good model to transport and is also to quickly transfer energy. So we use that model in both small and big systems. We see that tiny wheels are used inside small wrist watches. And the same concept of the wheel is used in a big aircraft.

In the same way, nature seems to have found that there is a way to combine certain building blocks of the elements known as Pancha Mahabhutas in different ratios and build the whole universe out of it. Note: These elements are different from the elements mentioned in the periodic table in your chemistry textbook. So it’s better to stick to the Sanskrit term ‘Mahabhutas or tattvas” to describe the basic building blocks that nature uses to create stuff.

Pancha Mahabhutas

So what are Pancha Mahabhutas? Pancha means five, ‘maha’ means great and bhutas mean ‘elements”. They are,

  1. Akash (Space, not necessarily sky): Akasha is the most important element of all the five elements. It is subtle, light and omnipresent. It expands without any form. It is the distance that separates everything and helps other matters to exist and survive. Akasha is within us and around us. It is in our respiratory and reproductive system, gastrointestinal tract etc. We need space to grow, expand, move and exist. Akasha is nuclear energy.

  2. Vayu (Air or gaseous state): The primary characteristic of Vayu is movement. It is light, dry, clear and moving. It is formless and it exists as a gaseous state in the matter. Within the body, it exists as oxygen and air and aids in transferring the energy. The movement of air in the body can be the movement of limbs and respiratory system. It aids in vital functions like the pulse, elimination of waste, blood circulation and heart beating. The flow of thought process and desires are due to Vayu. It is the electrical energy.

  3. Agni (Fire or anything that burns or transforms): Agni is hot, dry, sharp and penetrating. It is needed for digestion in the human body. It transforms matter from one state to another. It converts food into fat or muscle and it can convert fat into sweat. Agni in the human body helps with regulating temperature and metabolic activities. It also regulates digestion, absorption, and assimilation. Agni not only helps with digesting food, but it also aids in digesting emotions, thoughts, and anger. It’s the radiant energy.

  4. Jala (liquid): Jala is in the liquid state and it is within us and around us. 78% of a typical human body is made of Jala, i.e. fluids. It is present in the fluid form in the body in many places like in digestive system, reproductive system etc. It is liquid, soft, and viscous and is needed to bind the materials together. Forex: Jala is present in the pericardial (sac-like tissue surrounding the heart) fluid, synovial fluid (lubricants in the joints) and in reproductive system (in seminal fluid form). Jala helps to carry nutrients to the tissues and also helps in eliminating the waste from the body. It helps to regulate the hormone system. Cytoplasm, Serum, Plasma etc. are all example of Jala in the body. Jala also helps us with cultivating love, compassion etc. It’s the chemical energy.

  5. Prithvi (solid): Prithvi is heavy, solid, rocky and bulky. It is needed for strength and stamina. It is present in the humans in the form of solid matter such as organs, nails, cartilage, bones, teeth etc. It’s needed for growth and stability. It helps us to develop patience and stamina and helps us achieve goals in life. It’s the mechanical and the physical energy in the body.

Also notice that the same building blocks are used in inanimate objects like oceans, hills, planets, and life forms like trees, insects, animals etc. So nature uses these building blocks and combines them in different ratios to create different objects.

So what are the common combinations and how is the rhythm and harmony maintained when they’re combined in different proportions? That takes us to the next section, Tri Doshas.

Tri Doshas

Tri means three. Dosha means “That which changes”.

It’s derived from the root word ‘Dus”.

There are 3 doshas. In the context of Ayurveda, dosha is used to mean ‘that is something that disrupts the harmony of the cosmic rhythm’.

The three doshas are: Vata, Pitta and Kapha and they’re formed by combining Pancha Mahabhutas in different proportions.

  1.     When Akasha and Vayu combine, then Vata is formed.

  2.     When Agni and Jala are combined, then Pitta is formed.

  3.     When Jala and Prithvi are combined, then Kapha is formed.

The proportions of the elements in each dosha determine how active each dosha is in a given entity, i.e. a person/object/time of the day/season/geography etc. is. And within that entity, the relative proportion of each dosha can be used to determine the dominant type and a course of action can be taken based on the objective. So the concept to understand is, this Vata, Pitta, Kapha dosha is not limited to humans alone, we see this in different entities as well. For Ex: Winter is governed by Vata dosha, and hence winters are cold, dry and dark.

Tri Doshas as Regulatory Mechanism in Nature

Application of TriDosha Principle From Micro to Macro Level

Let’s see how this TriDosha concept works as a regulatory system in nature from a unicellular organ to a galaxy. Let’s take a cell, the primary unit of life.


Every cell works the following way. It takes input (food), transforms a portion into nutrients/energy based on it’s type, excretes the remaining part into output (excretion), then stores some into storage (fat/muscle) for future use.


Tri Doshas (the regulatory mechanism) in the Human Body


Note:

  1. Vata moves and hence helps with input to output. Ex: Vata Prakriti in the body helps to take the food from input to the cell.

  2. Pitta uses Agni (digestive fire), hence transforms. So Agni in the body (digestive fire) helps to transform the food into nutrients and waste.

  3. Kapaha (Jala and solid), is made of Jala and Prithvi and hence helps with storage like bone formation.

Tri Doshas (the regulatory mechanism) in other entities

Ayurveda denotes that all the entities in the universe go through these three phases during different time spans in different phases of their life cycle: Origin, transformation, and destruction using the tri-doshas as regulatory mechanisms.

Forex: Even the solar system goes through these 3 phases, but these happen over such a long period of time that we see each phase as static. Whereas a fly may go through all these phases in a day. And all the entities in the universe are made up of the Pancha Mahabhutas and the tri-doshas are used as the regulatory mechanism to keep this cycle going.

Now, let’s see how these cycles affect our health and how can we design our lifestyle based on this knowledge.

Body Types by Tri-Dosha

The relative proportion of Akasha and Vayu in a given body determines how active Vata is in that person. Along the same lines, the relative proportion of Agni and Jala determines how active pitta is in that person. Or the proportions of Jala and Prithvi determines how much of Kapha is in a person. Similarly, the relative proportion of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha determines whether a given person is Pitta dominant, Vata dominant or Kapha dominant. Every individual has some proportion of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Otherwise, we simply cannot grow or digest food or think or sleep. The question is, which dosha is dominant or which combination of doshas is dominant? Based on this, the individual body types are categorized into 10 different body types; Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata/Pitta, Vata/Kapha, Pitta/Kapha, etc.

Note: In the next few sub-sections, Kapha is used as an example to explain the concepts.

Annual Cycle, i.e. Seasons by Tri Doshas

Reference article: http://www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-knowledge/seasonal-health/balance-kapha-dosha-during-spring.html

In the Ayurvedic system of health, every season has a dosha or set of qualities, associated with it. Just like body types are determined by Vata, Pitta, Kapha domination or their combination, seasons are also associated with a corresponding dosha or a combination of the same. For Ex: winter, governed by Vata dosha, is cold, dry and dark. When the sun lingers longer, the ground thaws and mud heralds the beginning of Kapha dosha season. Kapha season starts out wet and cold in March and ends up wet and warm, in May and June (In India. This may change based on the geography in other countries).

Daily Cycle by Tri-Doshas

Just as the year is divided into seasons by the doshas, the daily cycle also has its divisions into Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The Kapha time of day is 6 to 10 in both the morning and the evening. Digestion is weaker during Kapha time, especially in Kapha season. Kapha covers up Agnis (digestive fires).

Life Cycle by Tri-Doshas

Childhood is the time of life governed by the Kapha dosha — so whatever proportion of Kapha dosha a child is born with will be accentuated during childhood. This is the reason why we see many sinus related infections in childhood or chest congestions because childhood is dominated by Kapha Dosha. Note: As we discussed before, other doshas are also present during childhood, but Kapha dominates. The other doshas, like pitta and vata, are very much needed like the pitta is needed for the child to digest food or Vata is needed for the child to take food. But Kapha dominates so that the child can grow by developing solid stuff (Kapha) like Bones, Muscles etc.

Along the same lines, you can think and guess for yourself which dosha dominates during which phase of a human life.

Location of the Doshas in the Body

The English word “cough” comes from the Sanskrit word Kapha. The main location of Kapha in the body is in the chest. When the Kapha dosha becomes aggravated, mucus increases, leading to colds and problems with sinus congestion, allergies, and asthma.

How does Ayurveda Balance the Doshas?

Now that we’ve seen that the building blocks are there in nature in terms of the tri-doshas, the objective of the good health is sama-dosha, i.e. the balanced state wrt the tri-doshas. How can we achieve this?

For Ex: Winter to Spring seasonal change can be seen as a Vata to Kapha change.

Note: Reference article: http://www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-knowledge/seasonal-health/balance-kapha-dosha-during-spring.html

During the Vata season, i.e. winter, which is dry, cold and dark, our bodies tend to take on those qualities that pacify Vata — heavy, sweet, dense, and oily. These qualities are Kapha by nature and exactly balance Vata.

This is the ayurvedic principle of opposites balancing each other.

After that during the spring season, i.e. Kapha season, since our body has been accumulating Kapha during Vata season, it’s a good idea to do some kind of cleanse to have a clean slate. So spring-cleaning is a good idea, inside and out!

Ayurveda’s Influence on Indian Way of Living

If you are familiar with Indian festivals, you’ll notice that the rituals associated with the festivals have got these built-in tasks in them preparing the humans, rivers, plants, farms, animals etc. for the next season. Major festivals happen during this period of seasonal changes and the rituals are very much in line with Ayurveda recommendations to handle the seasonal changes and prepare not the just the human bodies, but the farms, farm animals, houses etc.

For Ex: during pongal/Sankranti, we burn the old wood and clean up our houses. We make rangoli with rice flour in the front of our houses giving that as feed for the insects in the mud.

Similarly during Rama Navami in March/April and during Durga puja during October time period, 9-day partial fasting is observed to helps us go through the cleansing needed for seasonal changes as mentioned before.

This the extent to which Ayurveda has become part of Indian way of living. So it’s a lifestyle literally not just at the individual level, not even at community level, but at Indian subcontinent level. These rituals involve many entities not just humans but other life/non-like forms like plants, animals, farms and even huge bodies like rivers. Even rivers are taken care or taken into consideration during these seasonal changes.

Please note: I do not recommend blindly following the rituals, but encourage the readers to find out the history and Ayurveda based reasons (if any) behind a given tradition/ritual. This will help us re-evaluate the traditions and if needed we can adapt them to the current conditions of the society. At the same time, I urge people to not throw out the traditions and rituals blindly in the name of secularism. Any ism if blindly followed can be very dangerous, be it secularism or atheism. Also, there is no point in throwing away time-tested Ayurveda based traditions only to re-invent them later at a big expense of 100s of billions of dollars over decades of research only to be patented and taken away from the common people’s hands.

It is really unfortunate that such valuable traditions are getting branded as one religion or the other and we are reluctant to learn the logical reasons behind such rituals that have got a solid foundation in Ayurveda. As a result, India is suffering from all kinds of new diseases that can be avoided only if we understand the Ayurveda principles governing our lifestyles.

Coming Up

In my next article, I plan to cover a very important topic:

“Recommended Daily Routine as per Ayurveda by Body Types”

I’ll also discuss how this tri-dosha combination affects not only the physique of a body but also their emotional state.

Forex: Vata dominated persons. (Remember Vata is a combination of Akasha and Vayu and Vata dosha is primarily a regulatory mechanism to transport? The input to output)

o   Body: They have got light, flexible bodies with a small frame and light muscles and little fat. Slim and underweight. Dry skin. Uncomfortable in cold weather as they lack insulation.

o   Food: They are often attracted to astringent food such as salads and vegetables but their bodies actually need sweet, sour and salty tastes. Raw vegetables increase Vata.

o   Routine: Vata people sleep less and tend towards interrupted sleep or insomnia. Nevertheless, when they wake up they are alert and fresh.

o   Mind and Emotions: Clarity is one of the attributes of Vata. They are also quick to forget things. They think and speak quickly. Vata people have less tolerance, boldness, and confidence.

Stay tuned for my next article that builds on these concepts and goes more into the details of recommended daily routine as per Ayurveda based on Body Types. 

References

Other than the reference articles mentioned in this section, there are other sources that I used. Especially watch the first video in this section.

  1. What is Vata/Pitta/Kapha? https://youtu.be/LsiIwbTLdGU

  2. Ayurveda- daily routine- by individual body type. https://youtu.be/pZONHL3Zyi8-