The term Ayurveda can be translated directly as "the science of life". It has sacred meaning, sharing its Vedic origins with Buddhism, and therefore should always be capitalized. The original and intended purposes of Ayurveda are life extension and enlightenment.
In Ayurveda, life is defined as the functional integration of mind, body and spirit, with this triad first being described and detailed thousands of years ago. Ayurveda originates from the Atharva Veda, and thus qualifies as the oldest recorded medical system on the planet. Fascinatingly, Ayurvedic philosophy and the context of philosophy recorded in the Upanishads have stood the test of time, and remain completely relevant today for all dimensions of human activity, and are still considered a highest authority on key topics for perhaps a billion people. It seems most serious inquirers into the nature of reality will eventually find their way to Vedic Science, the ground from which Buddhism sprang into being, and with which modern Quantum Mechanics finds remarkable agreement.
In Ayurvedic theory, the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are how the five elements manifest in the body. The five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space compose all material reality and therefore are at the basis of Ayurvedic treatment on this material and in subtle form, the psychological realms. The five elements are composed of 20 gunas (qualities), which are arranged in 10 axes of opposing pairs. Each of the three doshas has five subtypes, which can be organized with correlation to the five elements.
There are three maha gunas which operate with particular relevance to the nature of mind. Incidentally, mind and body are, in Ayurveda, considered to be functionally integrated, and it is understood that mental toxins, which may be the seed of disease, can be extracted from the body as physical substance. Digestion is central to Ayurveda and is a primary focus, since metabolism is critical to create, maintain and restore health. A main cleansing process in Ayurveda is Pancha Karma, which translates as five therapeutic actions, and relates to a means for removing elemental level imbalances from the body, especially deep tissues and organs.
Ayurveda specifically prefers not to name a disease, and instead offers a discussion of states of imbalance and how to correct them. However, the Western version of Ayurvedic medicine, which should be distinguished from the more superficial "spa" Ayurveda, can be applied with specific power and efficacy as a complementary medicine to Western medical science. In fact, the techniques of Western medicine fit within the body of Ayurvedic theory---the eight branches of Western medicine likely came to the Greeks as a result of Ayurvedic medical conferences in Tibet.
Perhaps the oldest record of complex surgical procedures was written and practiced by the legendary Indian physician Sushruta of 2500 years ago, who made important contributions to plastic surgery and cataract surgery. Acupuncture too may have originated in India.
Today there are perhaps four main branches of Ayurveda: 1) the South Indian version, as practiced in Kerala which
emphasizes fresh quality herbal oils and massage with them; 2) the North Indian version, which includes alchemical techniques and highly potentized medicines; 3) the medicine of Tibet, which integrates indigenous shamanic practices, Buddhist philosophy and Chinese medicine into a foundation of Ayurvedic theory; and 4) the constellation of Ayurveda that has now rooted into Western culture, and when truly qualifying as a medical science, may be largely informed by training more based in the North Indian philosophies, but is in fact taking on its own form as it integrates with the Western ways, especially Western medicine.
The highly potent herbs of Ayurveda have become very popular throughout the world; and many are now being studied intensely by Western science, which is finding remarkable results, even when one substance is studied alone without the synergistic effects of herbal combinations and the comprehensive treatment modalities that tradition suggests. Additionally, Ayurveda has partnering sister sciences, two being the sciences of Jyotish astrology and of Yoga, since Ayurveda specifically considers the full human lifespan and employs meditation, Yogic physical postures and breathing practices for healing. Spiritual practice and meditation are of special importance in Ayurveda, particularly when working on imbalances with emotional causes, as well as difficult or chronic conditions.
The body is governed by three vital bioenergies called dosha. These three doshas are called vata, pitta, and kapha and are condensed from the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth). The doshas are responsible for the physical and emotional tendencies in the mind and body. Thus, if someone has more ether and/or air, they are said to be mainly vata dosha and have a vata constitution. If there is more fire, then one has more pitta dosha and a pitta constitution. If one has more water and/or earth they have a majority of kapha dosha and a kapha constitution.
Characteristics of the Three Doshas
Vata is a combination of the elements space and air. It is dry, light (versus heavy), cold, mobile, active, clear, subtle, rough, and astringent, and its energy is dispersing. Vata governs the principle of movement and can therefore be seen as the force that directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination. Thus, vata controls some of the basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing, nervous system, and the mind.
Due to the light quality of vata, a person with this constitution is likely to have a slim body frame, slim muscles, and little or no fat. Because of the cold quality of this dosha, vata types will tend towards poor circulation evident in cold hands and cold feet. There may be an aversion towards anything cold and a strong attraction to warmth and love. The mobile quality of vata makes these individuals quite active, fast-speaking, fast-moving, creative, and energetic. When vata is balanced, they are creative, enthusiastic, and inspiring and make excellent artists and healers.
Vata is easily thrown out of balance during the vata predominant seasons (windy, cold, rough, or dry) such as fall and winter in many temperate climates. Imbalances also happen from a vata-provoking lifestyle such as staying up late at night, moving or traveling a lot, multi-tasking, or eating too many dry and cold foods. A person with a vata predominant constitution often has a tendency towards dry hair, dry skin, irregular appetite, constipation, cracking or popping joints, anxiety, or insomnia.
Pitta represents the elements of fire and water. It has evolved from the functions of fire in nature. As fire cooks, digests, or destroys everything that it comes across according to its strength; similarly, pitta is the basic energy-generating constituent necessary for all the metabolic operations of the body. Pitta is responsible for the metabolism in the organ and tissue systems as well as cellular metabolism. Pitta is hot, sharp/penetrating, light (versus dark), liquid, slightly oily, sour, and its energy has a spreading quality. Pitta predominant constitutions often have a medium frame and good muscle tone. They are most likely intense, energetic, dynamic, perfectionistic, and focused.
Pitta is easily provoked during the hot summer season, and by a pitta provoking lifestyle such as eating too much spicy, sour, or salty food; also anger, intense competitive sports, excessive heat, or unfair acts of others. When pitta is out of balance, a person likely experiences the following emotions and physical symptoms: hostility, easily impatient, jealousy, overly critical, strong unbearable appetite, hyperacidity, nausea, heartburn, inflammation, itching, or rashes. A pitta person can sweat at 50 degree F (whereas a vata person may not perspire at all even at a much higher temperature).
Kapha combines the elements water and earth, and its attributes are heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, dense, soft, thick, static, and cloudy. Kapha provides structure and lubrication in the body. Kapha is responsible for growth, immunity, and strength, and it also offers protection. For example, cerebral spinal fluid is a type of kapha found in the body that protects and nourishes the brain and spinal column.
People with a predominantly kapha constitution tend to have larger bones, thicker muscles, fat, thick, wavy hair, and big attractive eyes. They tend to put on weight easily, move and talk slowly with grace and dignity, have slow metabolism and digestion, cool, clammy skin, and great strength and endurance. When balanced, kapha predominant individuals are consistent, dedicated, loyal, calm, nurturing, devoted, forgiving, loving, generous, and compassionate. Thus they make great friends, wonderful caretakers and supporters.
An imbalance in kapha dosha may cause congestion, excess mucus, lethargy, weight gain, depression, over-attachment, and resistance to healthy change. Kapha is aggravated during moist and cooler seasons such as the spring and by a kapha-provoking lifestyle such as sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet, sour, salty foods, overeating, eating fatty and oily foods, and a sedentary lifestyle.
The Latin word 'ignis', from which the English word 'ignite' is derived, has a common root with the Sanskrit word 'agni'. Agni means that which ignites, which is fire. - Dr. Lad
Agni is the biological fire that governs metabolism in the body. Agni contains the acids and enzymes essential for digestion, absorption, assimilation, and transformation of food and sensations into energy. Visualize your digestion as a fire in the stomach; you need to provide the proper fuel and conditions so that it can burn optimally. If you dampen the fire or do not feed it, it can burn out. If you feed it too much, or with the wrong fuel, it can burn too hot and be out of control.
When agni (fire of digestion) is strong, we are free from symptoms such as: Irregular appetite, Bloating, Loud or smelly gas, Constipation, Excessive burping, Intense and unbearable hunger, Abdominal cramping, Acidity, Heartburn, Nausea, Loose stool or diarrhea, Lack of appetite, Heaviness and/or sluggishness, Lethargy. Because some of these symptoms are so common, they are often considered normal; however, each and every symptom is a sign of imbalance occurring in the bodily system. If we pay attention to these signs, we can correct the imbalance in the early stage before it begins the disease process, leading to more serious issues.
In the course of everyday life, the body accumulates toxins. This may be due to stress, improper diet, chemicals in the foods we eat or drink, or other lifestyle-related factors. In Ayurveda, toxins are called ama. Ama originates from undigested food turning into a morbid, toxic sticky substance which clogs the channels in the body. Some of these channels are physical and include the intestines, lymphatic system, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Others are subtle channels called nadis through which the energy flows. Ama toxicity accumulates wherever there is a weakness in the body and can result in fatigue, feeling of heaviness, indigestion, body ache, stiffness, bad breath, perverted taste in the mouth, and brain fog. If the tongue has a thick coating, there is ama. All internal diseases begin with ama's presence in the body.
Doshas, Agni and Ama offered by Heidi Nordlund
The term 'Pancha-karma' consists of two words 'Pancha' and 'Karma'. 'Pancha' means five and 'Karma' means method of treatment, i.e. fivefold therapy. The root cause of all disease in Ayurveda is ama. Ama is a general term used in Ayurveda for internal toxins produced by improper metabolic functioning. Panchkarma is one of the major healing techniques of Ayurveda, which aims at removing ama through classical cleansing and revitalizing therapies which have been practiced for thousands of years. They effectively improve health by strengthening immunity, releasing stress, and slowing the aging process.
Offered by Dr. Vaidya
1) Life Energy carried through the body that travels with the breath, similar to the concept of Chi. Thus, we have one of the 8 limbs of yoga relating to breathing practices, called pranayama, which specifically tonifies the 2nd body, pranamayakosha. 2) The most subtle of the 5 subtypes of Vata Dosha, associated with the element of Space, Akash. 3) There are 3 grades of Prana, the most coarse associated with energizing the physical body, constituting the chakra system, and relating to etheric energy systems. A mid grade of Prana is related to the working of mental activity, more subtle than coarse neurological function. The finest Prana relates to pure witnessing presence and the cosmic source, e.g. the cosmic Prana that travels and emanates from the Ground of all being.
From the professional and student members of Colorama