CONCEPTS OF AYURVEDA

Like any specialized body of knowledge, Ayurved is also based on specific concepts about the areas with which it deals. These concepts form the basis of organizing the framework of its practices. Ayurveda defines a human as the assemblage of the five great elements plus the “immaterial self”.

Concept of Self
The Self, as this inner dimension of our nature is called in Ayurveda, is the central point of our being, the hub of the wheel. It is the true inner center of our diversified lives. Thought, feelings, speech, action, and relationships all originate here, deep within the personality. The whole person-and the whole field of interpersonal behavior-can be spontaneously enhanced by the process of self-referral, or looking within to experience the Self. This is analogous to the natural process by which all the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit of a tree can be simultaneously nourished and enlivened by watering the root. The Self can be directly experienced. Those who do experience it find it to be deeply peaceful, yet a reservoir of creativity, intelligence, and happiness that spills over into all phases of living.

Concept of Panchmahabhuta (The Five Element Theory)
Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five great elements (Panchmahabhutas) or building blocks. These are Prithvi (earth), Jal (water), Agni (fire), Vayu (air), and Akasha (ether).

Prithvi (Earth) represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence and rigidity. Prithvi (Earth) is considered a stable substance. It is representative of the solid state of matter; it manifests stability, fixedness and rigidity. Our body also manifests this earth/solid-state structure. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells and tissue are manifestations of the Prithvi. Bones, cells and tissue are physical structures through which our blood courses and oxygen is transported.

Jala (Water) characterizes change and represents the liquid state. Jala is considered a substance without stability. It is necessary for the survival of all living things. Jala is a substance without stability. Jala characterizes change. In the outer world, water moves through the cycle of evaporation-clouds-condensation-rain. It moves around solid matter such as rocks and mountains and it eventually wears away solid, immovable matter. Jala carries dissolved soil and nutrients along with it. A large part of the human body is made up of water. The blood, lymph, and other fluids that move between cells and through vessels are manifestations of Jala. The blood, lymph, and other fluids move between the cells and through the vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another.

Agni (Fire) is the power that transforms the state of any substance. Agni (Fire) is considered a form without substance. It transforms solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. The heat of the sun melts ice into water that becomes vapor under its influence. Fire provides power to the water and weather cycles of nature. Agni (Fire) binds the atoms of molecules together in the living bodies. It converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle and turns (burns) food into energy. Agni creates the impulses of nervous reactions, feelings, and even thought processes.

Vayu is mobile and dynamic substance. Vayu is the form of matter that is mobile and dynamic. Air is existence without form. We do not see the air that blows through the tree’s leaves, but we feel it. It is a key element required for fire to burn. It can respond to energy, absorb it, and give it off as in a hurricane, typhoon or tornado. We feel air as it courses down our throats and into our lungs. It is most essential for the maintenance of life. Vayu is the basis for all transfer reactions within the body.

Akasha (Ether) is the space in which everything happens. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Akasha is only the distances that separate matter. Akasha is the space in which everything happens, the distance between things — that helps to define one thing from another. The chief characteristic of Akasha is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration. Like outer space with millions of miles between celestial bodies there is inner space of our bodies between the atoms.

According to the Panchmahabhutas (five elements) Theory of Ayurveda, the human being is a small model of the universe. What exists in the human body exists in altered form in the universal body. Ayurveda believes that everything is made up of Panchmahabhutas (five elements), or building blocks. Their properties are important in understanding balances and imbalances in the nature as well as in the human body. All substances can be classified according to their predominant Mahabhuta (element). For example, a mountain is predominantly made up of earth element. A mountain also contains water, fire, air and ether but the proportions of these substances are very small in it as compared to the earth. So, it is classified as the earth. In Ayurvedic philosophy, the Panchmahabhutas (five elements) combine in pairs to form three dynamic forces or interactions called Doshas.

Concept of Tridosha (Three dynamic forces)
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the Panchmahabhutas (five elements) combine in pairs to form three dynamic forces or interactions called doshas. The term Dosha means “that which changes” because doshas are constantly moving in dynamic balance, one with the others.. It is a word derived from the root ‘dus’, which is equivalent to the English prefix ‘dys’, such as in dysfunction, dystrophy, etc. In this sense, dosha can be regarded as a fault, mistake, error or a transgression against the cosmic rhythm. The doshas are constantly moving in dynamic balance, one with the others. Doshas are required for the life to happen. In Ayurveda, dosha is also known as the governing principles as every living things in nature is characterized by the dosha. Doshas are primary life forces or biological humors. They are only found in life forms (similar to the concepts of organic chemistry), and their dynamism is what makes life happen. The three active doshas are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Vata (Va-ta) is conceptually made up of the elements ether and air. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space ) affects the ability of air to gain momentum, as expressed in Vata. In the body, Vata is movement (a dynamism of the combination between ether and air), and manifests itself in living things as the movement of nerve impulses, air, blood, food, waste and thoughts. Vata is a force conceptually made up of elements ether and air. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space) affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, as in ocean, air can gain momentum and become forceful such as a hurricane. Vata means “wind, to move, flow, direct the processes of, or command”. Vata enables the other two doshas to be expressive. The actions of Vata are drying, cooling, light, agitating, and moving. Vata governs breathing, blinking of the eyelids, movements in the muscles and tissues, pulsations in the heart, all expansion and contraction, the movements of cytoplasm and the cell membranes, and the movement of the single impulses in nerve cells. Vata also governs such feelings and emotions as freshness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, pain, tremors and spasms. The primary seat or location of the Vata in the body is the colon. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, and bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity, skin, and is related to the touch sensation. If the body develops an excess of Vata, it will accumulate in these areas. Vata has seven qualities viz. coldness, lightness, irregularity, mobility, rarefied, dryness, and roughness. These qualities characterise their effect on the body. Too much Vata force can cause nerve irritation, high blood pressure, gas and confusion. Too little Vata, we have nerve loss, congestion, constipation and thoughtlessness. When the movement of air is unrestricted by space (as in the open ocean) it can gain momentum to become hurricane winds moving at speeds of over 150 mph. When air is restrained in a box, it cannot move and becomes stale.

Pitta (Pit-ta) is conceptually created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These two seemingly opposed forces represent transformation. They cannot change into each other, but they modulate each other and are vitally necessary to each other in the life processes. In our bodies Pitta is manifested by the quality of transformation. Pitta is responsible for digestion of our food and the regulattion of our metabolism. In the mind, the Pitta is transforms impulses into understood thoughts. Too much Pitta can cause ulcers, hormonal imbalance, irritated skin (acne), and consuming emotions (anger). Too little Pitta causes indigestion, inability to understand, and sluggish metabolism The Pitta is described according to eight characteristics viz. hotness, lightness, fluidity, subtleness, sharpness, malodorousness, softness and clarity. When you boil water on a fire, if the fire is too hot, all the water boils away and the pot burns. If you put too much water into the pot, it overflows and puts out the fire. Pitta is a force created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These forces represent transformation. They cannot change into each other, but they modulate or control each other and are vitally required for the life processes to occur. (For example, too much fire and too little water will result in the boiling away of the water. Too much water will result in the fire being put out.). Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes: and also intelligence and understanding. Psychologically, pitta arouses anger, hate and jealousy. The small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes and skin are the seats of Pitta.

Kapha (Ka-pha) is the conceptual equilibrium of water and earth. Kapha is structure and lubrication. One can visualize the Kapha force as the stirring force to keep the water and earth from separating. For example, if we take a pot, fill it half with water and then add sand to it, the sand will gradually sink to the bottom of the pot. (It separates from the water). The only way to keep the sand in equilibrium with the water and separate is to stir the mixture continuously. The Kapha force can be visualized as this stirring force in our body. Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure. This dosha maintains body resistance. Water is the main constituent of Kapha, and this bodily water is responsible physiologically for biological strength and natural tissue resistance in the body. Kapha lubricates the joints, provides moisture to the skin, helps to heal wounds, fills the spaces in the body, gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention, gives energy to the heart and lungs and maintains immunity. Kapha is present in the chest, throat, head, sinuses, nose, mouth, stomach, joints, cytoplasm, plasma and liquid secretions of the body such as mucus. Psychologically, Kapha is responsible for emotions of attachment, greed and long-standing envy. It is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness and love. The chest is the seat of Kapha.

Concept of cause-effect
In the Ayurvedic organization of cause and effect, too much Kapha causes mucous buildup in the sinus and nasal passages, the lungs and colon. It creates rigidity, a fixation of thought and inflexibility in the mind. If not enough Kaph is present, the condition causes the body to experience a dry respiratory tract, burning stomach (due to lack of mucous, which gives protection from excess stomach acids), and inability to concentrate. The Kapha has the qualities of oiliness, coldness, heaviness, stability, denseness and smoothness.

When a handful of sand is thrown into a container of water, the two will separate as the sand settles to the bottom. Only by continuous stirring will the mixture remain in balance. The force of Kapha is like the stirring, maintaining the balance of Jala (water) and Prithvi (earth).

Like And Unlike

Anything that enters our body (microcosm) can exert three possible effects on the organism.

It can act as food. This nourishes the organism
It can act as medicine. This balances the organism.
It can act as poison. This disturbs the organism.
The five elements may exert one, two, or all three of these effects. The rule that governs the interaction between the environment and the organism is the Law of Like and Unlike. Like increase like. Unlike decreases like.

For example, when you lie in full sun, your body temperature goes up. Similarly, when you take bath in cold water, your body temperature goes down. Everything you experience, food, medicine, or poison, increases like parts of your microcosm and decreases those parts that are unlike it. Similarly, thought also enters your microcosm. Thought can be positive or negative and will influence your being. Positive thoughts increase while negative thoughts decrease the well being of personal self.

Knowing what is good and what is bad for the personal self enables one to make informed choices in the life. Harmonious thoughts and attitudes actually induce prosperity while disruptive thoughts and deeds lead to ultimate ruin of the microcosm that is an individual.

Concept of sickness
Ayurveda holds that specific disease conditions are symptoms of an underlying imbalance. It does not neglect relief of these symptoms, but its focus is on the big picture: to restore balance and to help create such a healthy lifestyle that the imbalance won’t occur again. Living in health and balance is the key to a long life free from disease. Perhaps the most important lesson Ayurveda has to teach is that our health is up to us. Every day of our lives, every hour of every day, we can, and do, choose either health or illness. When we choose wisely, nature rewards us with health and happiness. When we persistently choose unwisely, nature, in her wisdom, eventually sets us straight: She makes us sick and gives us a chance to rest and rethink our choices.

This approach of Ayurveda is fundamentally huministic-holistic in stark contrast to reductionist-mechanist approach of modern scientific medicine.

Concept of Prakruti and Vikruti
According to Ayurveda, the basic constitution of a body is determined at the time of conception. This constitution is called Prakruti. The term Prakruti is a Sanskrit word that means, “nature,” “creativity,” or “the first creation.” One of the very important concept s of Ayurveda is that one’s basic constitution is fixed throughout his lifetime. The combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha that was present in the individual at the time of conception is maintained throughout his lifetime. This is the base point. Different persons can have different combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha as their basic constitution or Prakruti. This is how Ayurveda explains the subtle differences between individuals. This also explains why everyone is unique and that two persons can react very differently when exposed to the same environment or stimuli. The Prakruti is unique to a person just as like fingerprint and DNA. Thus, in order to understand a person, it is necessary to determine his or her Prakruti. Ideally, the basic constitution should be maintained throughout the life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Every person is subjected to constant interaction with his or her environment that affects the person’s constitution at any given time. The body continuously tries to maintain a dynamic equilibrium or balance with the environment. The current actual condition of the body is called vikruti. Although it reflects the ability of the body to adjust to various influences and is always changing, it should match the prakruti, or inborn constitution, as closely as possible. If the current proportion of your doshas differs significantly from your constitutional proportion, it indicates imbalances, which in turn can lead to illness. Farther the Vikruti is from the Prakruti, more ill the body becomes. Ayurveda teaches that the Vikruti can be changed by various means such as diet and meditation so as to approach the Prakruti or the state of perfect health. The concept of Prakruti and Vikruti can be illustrated by reference to our body temperature. When healthy, we maintain an average body temperature of about 98 degrees F. Though different persons may have different base temperatures, it does not change much so long as the person is healthy. When we go outside on a winter day, our body temperature may go down slightly; but will pick right back up to the normal if we are healthy. Similarly, jogging on a hot day can temporarily raise our body temperature. When we are sick, or catch a cold, our body temperature will go up. This indicates that we are sick or outside our normal base condition. We may take medicine to bring the body temperature back to the normal range. In analogy to Ayurveda, our present temperature may be considered as Vikruti and the difference between the Prakruti (our normal temperature) and Vikruti (our present temperature) can determine whether any medical intervention is required. Just like an allopathic doctor will take your temperature and blood pressure routinely as the first step in diagnosing your condition, Ayurvedic practitioners starts with determination of Prakruti and Vikruti as the first step in diagnosing the condition of an individual. Hence, prior to embarking on a journey to perfect health and longevity, it is important to understand one’s Prakruti and Vikruti and determine how far separated these are. Armed with this knowledge, we can map a treatment strategy. This is the basic premise of Ayurveda.

Changing Tridhoshas
According to Ayurved, the three Tridoshas are constantly changing and balancing each other in living things. They make life happen. In a plant, the Vata is concentrated in the flowers and leaves (which reach farthest out into space and air). The Kapha is concentrated in the roots (where water is stored in the embrace of earth) and Pitta is found in the plants’ essential oils, resins and sap (especially in spices which stimulate digestion). Different plants have different concentrations of Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Therefore, the use of different foods, plants, and specific plant parts can alter the body’s proportion of Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Eating root vegetables, milk products, or sedating herbs like valerian, increases our Kapha. Drinking herbal flowers like jasmine, or eating dry grains, increases our Vata. Eating hot, spicy foods like cayenne, or concentrated protein like bee pollen, increases our Pitta tendencies.

Concept of The Six Tastes
Scientifically, finding out a balanced diet requires the understanding of the different food groups, nutrient values of the food and an understanding of the daily requirements of the. An unbalanced diet results in the deficiency or excess of the nutrients in the body. Ayurveda had developed a very simple system of identifying balanced diet for a body. This is called the system of six tastes. Ayurveda recognizes only six basic tastes. It postulates that all the important nutrients that are needed for life are contained in a meal that consist of all the six tastes. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. All the food items are categorized according to their predominant taste. Any meal that contains food items from all these six tastes will be a balanced meal. It has all the nutrients for the proper functioning of the body and will balance all the doshas.

Ayurveda recognized how the six tastes affect the doshas. It, therefore, uses the taste of food items in bringing about the required modification in the dosha status of a body. In the Ayurvedic system, the taste of different food items has central place in coming up with a proper diet in case of imbalances in our doshas or vikruti. For example, a woman who is a few days away from her monthly period, will feel bloated from fluid retention. This is also accompanied by mood change and depression (we call this PMS). Ayurvedically speaking, these all mean that the Kapha is out of whack, an excess of Kapha in the system prior to menstruation period. In order to reduce Kapha, Pungent (onions, radishes, garlic, ginger, cumin etc.), Bitter (green leafy vegetables such as spinach, bitter greens, turmeric) and astringent foods (such as lentils, broccoli, cabbage etc.) are required. Sweet foods (candy bar) or salty food (such as potato chips, salted nuts etc.) obviously will make things worse. Similarly, for a person who feels very angry or irritated (signs of Pitta imbalance), foods that are sweet, bitter or astringent will be helpful. Herbs are also be used according to their taste.

Effect of Sweet Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Decreases Vata. Decreases Pitta. Increases Kapha
Property: Cooling (Earth + Water)
Source/Example: Fruits with natural sugar such as peaches, sweet plums, grapes, melons, and oranges. Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets. Milk, butter, and whole grains such as rice and wheat bread. Herbs and spices such as basil, licorice root, red cloves, peppermint, slippery Elm and fennel. Ayurveda recommends avoidance of highly processed sweets such as candy bars and sugar, which also contain additives, food coloring, and preservatives.
Actions: Sweet is the taste of pleasure. It makes us feel comforted and contented. It is one of the most important healing tools for debilitating weakness in Ayurveda. Nourishing and strengthening and promotes growth of all tissues, so is good for growing children, the elderly, and the weak or injured. Increases ojas and prolongs life. Good for hair, skin and the complexion, and for healing broken bones. Adds wholesomeness to the body. Increases Rasa, Jala and ojas. Relieves thirst. Creates a burning sensation. Nourishes & soothes the body.
Disorders: In excess, sweet taste promotes Kapha imbalances and disorders such as heaviness, laziness, and dullness, colds, obesity, excessive sleeping, loss of appetite, cough, diabetes & abnormal growth of muscles.

Effect of Sour Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Decreases Vata. Increases Pitta. Increases Kapha
Property: Heating (Earth + Fire)
Source/Example: Yogurt, vinegar, cheese, sour cream, green grapes, lemon (and other Citrus fruits), Hibiscus, rose hips, tamarind, pickles, Miso(fermented soybean paste) and herbs such as caraway, coriander and cloves.
Actions: Creates a feeling of adventurousness. Adds deliciousness to food. Stimulates appetite & sharpens the mind. Strengthens the sense organs. Causes secretions & salivation. Is light, hot & unctuous. Good for the heart, digestion and assimilation. Helps in dispelling gas.
Disorders: Increases thirst, sensitivity of teeth, closure of eyes, liquefaction of kapha, toxicosis of blood, Edema, Ulceration, Heartburn & acidity. Causes weakness and giddyness. It also may cause itching, irritation, thirst, and blood toxicity.

Effect of Salty Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Decreases Vata. Increases Pitta. Increases Kapha
Property: Heating (Water + Fire)
Source/Example: Table salt, Sea Salt, Rock Salt, Kelp, sea weeds.
Actions: A basic unit of electricity, salt helps retain moisture in vata. Helps digestion. Acts as an Anti-spasmodic & Laxative. Promotes salivation. Nullifies the effect of all other tastes. Retains water. Heavy, unctuous, hot.
Disorders: Excess salt can aggravate skin conditions, weaken the system, cause wrinkling of the skin and graying and failing out of hair. It promotes inflammatory skin diseases, gout, and other Pitta disorders. Disturbs blood. Causes fainting & heating of the body. Causes peptic ulcer, rash, pimples & hypertension.

Effect of Bitter Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Increases Vata. Decreases Pitta. Decreases Kapha.
Property: Cooling (Air + Ether)
Source/Example: Dandelion Root, Holy Thistle, Yellow Dock, Rhubarb, bitter melon, greens such as Romaine lettuce, spinach, and chard, fresh turmeric root, fenugreek, Gentian root.
Actions: Considered one of the most healing tastes for many kind of imbalances in the mind-body. Bitter foods and herbs are drying and cooling and create lightness. Promotes other tastes. Acts as an antitoxic & germicidal. Is an antidote for fainting, itching & burning sensations in the body. Relieves thirst. Good for reducing fevers. Promotes digestion. Cleansing to the blood and helps remove ama in system.
Disorders: Too much bitterness can cause dehydration. It can also increase roughness, emaciation, dryness. Reduces bone marrow & semen. Can cause dizziness & eventual unconsciousness.

Effect of Astringent Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Increases Vata. Decreases Pitta. Decreases Kapha.
Property: Cooling (Air+ Earth)
Source/Example: Unripe banana, cranberries, pomegranate, Myrrh, goldenseal, turmeric, okra, beans, mace, parsley, saffron, basil, and alum.
Actions: Astringent foods and herbs squeeze out water. Drying and firming, astringent taste stops diarrhea, reduces sweating, and slows or stops bleeding. Causes constriction of blood vessels & coagulation of blood. Anti-inflammatory. Promotes healing. Has a sedative action, but is constipative. Is dry, rough, cold.
Disorders: Excess astringent is weakening and causes premature aging. Its drying effect causes constipation and retention of gas. Promotes dry mouth. Promotes Vata disorders such as paralysis and spasms. Obstruction of speech. Too much astringent taste can adversely affect the heart.

Effect of Pungent Taste

Effect on Tridosha: Increases Vata, Increases Pitta, Decreases Kapha
Property: Heating, (Fire + Air)
Source/Example: Onion, radish, chili, ginger, garlic, asafoetida, cayenne pepper, black pepper, mustard.
Actions: Stimulates appetite and improves digestion. Gives mental clarity. Helps cure Kapha disorders such as obesity, sluggish digestion & excess water in the body. It improves circulation, is germicidal, stops itching, facilitates sweating and elimination of ama (toxic accumulations). Keeps the mouth clean. Purifies the blood, cures skin disease, helps to eliminate blood clots, cleanses the body keeping it light, hot & unctuous.
Disorders: Too much pungent taste can cause weakness, feeling of weariness, impurities, burning sensations in the body. Increases heat, sweating, can cause a peptic ulcer, dizziness & unconsciousness.

Concepts of Rasayana-Tantra
Rasayana Tantra is one of eight major specialities of Ayurved. This branch refers to nutrition, natural resistance and geriatrics. According to the Ayurvedic concept, Rasayana can be a drug, a food or a life-style (Achara). Achara rasayana forms important part of the Rasayan Tantra. According to Ayurved, a Rasayana helps in strengthening Oja, Bala and Vyadhikshamatva.

Bhel Samhita clearly indicates that there are twelve types of Oja. The Oja is essence of all the Dhatus. It also indicates their sites. The Ahara, Vihara, and Manasa Bhava, if properly used, support Ojas but if abused, they have bad effect on it.

Three types Bala are recognized. These are Sahaj Bala– the power that is naturally present, Kalaj Bala– power that comes with passage of time i.e. season and changes in age and Yuktikrita Bala– power that is provided through therapeutic measures viz. Rasayan prayoga (use of Rasayana) etc. The Bala is influenced by a variety of factors. The Tridoshas i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha influence the Bala mainly through the Prakriti. The Agni is another factor influencing Bala. The Prana and Bala, both produced by Oja, are synonyms of Kshamatva.

The Vyadhikshamatva is capacity of the body to limit virulence of the factors producing disease. It is of two types namely Vyadhi-Utpad-Pratibandhakatva (the capacity to restrict the products of disease) and Vyadhi-Bal-Virodhakatva (the capacity acting against the force of disease). Dhatu-Sarat, especially that of the Shonit (blood), Mamsa (Flesh) and Asthi (bones) result in good Vyadhikshamatva. Samhat-Sharira i.e. a well-nit, compact and well-composed body has good Vyadhikshamatva and is said to resist the ill effects of a disease in efficient manner.

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One Response to “CONCEPTS OF AYURVEDA”

  1. Dayanira Reyes Says:

    I found this information useful for somebody like me who knows so little about Indian philosophy, but I gotta to know.

    I just couldn’t find the author of this post, and I would like to know where did he/she find this information from.

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