What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda or “science of life” is an ancient Indian system of medicine found on the immutable laws of nature. Ayurveda views each patient as a unique, complex individual. Unlike other medical modalities which focus on the treatment of symptoms of an illness, Ayurveda concentrates on the source of the patient’s disease, supporting the body’s innate wisdom to restore optimal health.
The basis of Ayurvedic philosophy is the belief that the intelligence of the natural world is within each of us. The five basic elements of the universe – ether, air, fire, water, and earth – combine in the body into three characteristic humors (doshas): Vata (ether and air), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth). Ayurvedic medicine stimulates our inner intelligence and activates our own unlimited healing potential in order to achieve the optimal balance of the three doshas.
Ayurvedic philosophy maintains that people are born with a specific constitution, which is called the prakruti. The prakruti, established at conception, is viewed as a unique combination of physical and psychological characteristics that affect the way each person functions.
Throughout life, an individual’s underlying prakruti remains the same. However, one’s prakruti is constantly influenced by various internal, external and environmental factors like day and night, seasonal changes, diet, lifestyle choices, and more. Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention of illness, and recommends maintaining health through following daily and seasonal regimens which create balance.
Ayurveda teaches that three qualities, called doshas, form important characteristics of the prakruti, or constitution. These doshas are called vata, pitta, and kapha, and they all have a specific impact on bodily functions.
Adherents of Ayurvedic medicine believe that each person has an individual, “tailored” balance of the three doshas. Individual doshas are constantly “in flux,” and are influenced by eating, exercising, and relating to others.
Ayurvedic adherents believe that dosha imbalance produces symptoms that are related to that dosha and are different from symptoms of another dosha imbalance. (For example, if the aggressive and “hot” pitta-prominent person aggravates pitta, he/she may develop a prickly rash or an acidic stomach.) Many factors can cause imbalance, including a poor diet, too much or too little physical or mental exertion, chemicals, or germs.
Each dosha is comprised of two of the five basic elements, which each have specific qualities. These elements are:
- Space (associated with expansiveness)
- Air (associated with gaseousness, mobility, and lack of form)
- Fire (associated with transformation, heat, and fire)
- Water (associated with liquidity and instability)
- Earth (associated with solidity and stability)
Furthermore, each dosha is associated with a specific bodily “build” or shape, and is linked to certain personality traits. Ayurveda also links each dosha with particular types of health problems.
It is important to note that only a trained Ayurvedic practitioner can accurately determine a person’s prakruti and dosha. This classification is based on a thorough examination, which includes observing one’s facial features, body build, way of walking, speech patterns, pulse, and much more.
What are the Three Types of Doshas?
Pitta is a term originating from the Sanskrit word taap, meaning “warmth.” This dosha, which is comprised of the fire element, rules digestive, chemical, and metabolic function, and is associated with heat and oiliness. Its main seat is the small intestine, and it is the dosha believed to add luster to the eyes, hair, and skin. In a more figurative sense, pitta also governs our ability to “digest” not only the foodstuff but also the concepts and information, which we then use to perceive our world.
Pitta-dominant people enjoy an efficient metabolism and hearty appetite. They are considered intelligent, aggressive achievers. Pitta people must be on guard against bleeding disorders, inflammations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and anger. To achieve Pitta dosha balance, Ayurveda advises avoiding extreme heat and eating less spicy food.
Thin women who look nervous are potentially vata-dominant. Vata is a term stemming from the Sanskrit word vayuu, meaning “that which moves.” It is comprised of the space and air elements, and is sometimes considered the most influential dosha because it is the moving force behind both pitta and kapha. From its main seat in the colon, vata is believed to promote a healthy balance between thought and emotion, and fuel creativity, activity, and clear comprehension.
A Vata-dominant person is quick, alert, and restless. She/he may walk, talk, and think quickly. However, vatas tend toward nervousness, fear, and anxiety, and are more susceptible to diseases like arthritis, insomnia, flatulence, constipation, and nerve disorders. To balance vata, it is important to maintain calm and routine, avoid extreme temperatures, and get adequate rest. Vata in the body increases with age.
Kapha is a term that is derived from the Sanskrit word “shlesh,” meaning “that which holds things together.” From its main seat in the stomach, this dosha relates to mucous, lubrication, and carrying nutrients into the arterial system. Kapha also governs immunity. Ayurveda teaches that its energy promotes the ongoing processes of self-repair and healing.
Comprised of the water and earth elements, kapha is also thought to offer endurance and physical and psychological strength and stability, while also promoting human emotions, like love, compassion, empathy, understanding, forgiveness, loyalty, and patience.
Kapha-dominant people are considered strong but loving, tenacious but calm, and are blessed with wise tolerance. Kapha people are believed to be susceptible to weight gain, lethargy, excessive sleep, goiter, pulmonary congestion, allergies and asthma. To maintain balance, Kapha people are advised to frequently exercise, eat light meals, and avoid napping.