Ayurveda is a uniquely patient-oriented, traditional system of medicine which originated in India. It is commonly referred as the ‘science of life’ and is an ancient yet living health tradition. This health system covers all the living beings in the universe hence there are three branches i.e. Manawayuveda (human being), vrikshayurveda (plants) and pashuayurveda (animals). The most fascinating aspect of Ayurveda is the personalised diagnosis, treatments and all health advice.
Why Ayurveda for today?
Today, individualized treatments and diet are emerging as new concepts. In Ayurveda, the relationship between environment and body has been described as the theory of microcosm and macrocosm involving five basic elements (mahabhuta), three dynamic principles similar to humors (dosha), seven types of tissues (dhatus), three types of wastes and many other unique concepts. These basic principles are still valid today. Most of the other medical systems are based on the roots of Ayurveda which spread to all the neighboring countries.
Today we are suffering with the side effects of synthetic drugs. Human behavior, lifestyle and genetics have changed over the centuries. Now we are experiencing the hazardous effects of unwholesome foods, food habits and other behaviors. The human body is intoxicated with chemicals and the mind with stress and emotions. As a result, diseases are manifesting in different modes. The geo-climatic environment, plants, animals and microbes have changed. It is now that we have experienced the effects of such changes that we are searching for nature based healing / medical systems. This is the period in which we are in real need of purification and balancing treatments. According to Ayurveda, building up ojas (immunity) is the road back to a healthy life.
Who you are – The body constitution (prakriti) or your natural form
Prakriti is the prescription for your diet, life-style and therapies. It is the key for physical and mental balance. Prakriti, the different combination of vata, pitta and kapha of individuals which is determined at conception, is articulated through physical, psychological, immunological, and behavioral traits. Depending on the factors such as the nature of the season, condition inside the uterus, food of mother and so on, the Prakiti is determined. It can be dominated by Vata, Pitta or Kapha or may be by the combination of two Doshas. This has been described elaborately in the original Ayurvedic texts – Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita.
Traditionally, prakriti is determined by physical examination, which involves visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory assessments; inference based on information collected, by indirect means including asking questions and conclusions drawn based on available data, knowledge, and experience.
The visual assessment of morphological features could be skin color, hair color and consistency, soft tissue to bony tissue proportions. As an example, vata constitution’s body frame can be Alpa Sharira, Hrasva Sharira (small body frame, short stature).
Tactile features are texture of skin (dry or oily skin, body temperature). The analytical features include the pulse (naadi) which is felt by index, middle and ring fingers of the practitioner. Other characters those help in assessing prakriti are physical strength, endurance, appetite, sleep and dream patterns and bowel habit. Memory, retention, anger response, restlessness/composure are the intellectual-emotional attributes useful in finding prakriti.
Whenever you are healthy, you will stay in your natural form. Both internal and external causes can break the balance, and cause a change in your nature. This is the sign that you are out of balance.
Genome-wide studies have indicated a certain correlation between Ayurvedic prakriti classifications with genomic diversity. This is a good example for emerging old theories as new concepts.
Tridosha concept is the cornerstone of the Ayurvedic theory of human anatomy and physiology and it is the starting point for all diagnosis and treatments. The individual’s constitution at birth – prakriti – is the configuration of doshas. There are three basic doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. When determining the prakriti make up, we say that a person is vata, pitta or kapha dominated. This does not mean an absence of the other two doshas, but that the other two doshas are suppressed compared to the dominant dosha. After determining one’s dosha configuration, recommendations of diet, physical activities and medical therapies can be made customized. The original configuration of doshas will be the door way to wellness, health, and vitality.
Ayurvedic practitioners are capable of recognizing any imbalance from that original configuration that may occur. Doshas can become imbalanced by improper diet, poor digestion, daily stress levels, and environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, and chemicals.
The role of vata, pitta and kapha in the body
In simplistic terms, vata is associated to movement, kapha to structure, and pitta to digestion. Vata contributes to the manifestation of shape, cell division, signaling and movement, excretion of wastes, cognition and also regulates the activities of Kapha and Pitta. Kapha is responsible for anabolism, growth and maintenance of structure, storage and stability. The main responsibilities of Pitta are metabolism, temperature regulation, balancing energy, pigmentation, vision, and host surveillance.
Vata dosha is the combination of air and ether elements. This combination give the same qualities to vata. Therefore, vata is very much like wind: cool, mobile (flow of thought – spiritual movements, blood flow, physical movements, elimination of urine, stools etc), dry and light. Being the most powerful humor, it controls other two doshas. It resembles the wind/ air in the environment, structurally invisible, but functionally visible.
Like a mirror image, vata qualities can be seen in vata dominant people. Usually their bodies are light weight due to thin structures, appetite varies- sometimes good, sometimes not. They mostly like to have very light meals or easily skip meals. They tend to get constipated easily. They are talkative, enthusiastic, creative, flexible and energetic.
Sub types of vata reside in different places in the body bearing different responsibilities. Prana controls senses, being in head; Udana controls voice and intellectual abilities staying in chest area; Vyana found in the heart and controls all bodily functions; Apana staying between belly button and anus, responsible in all downward movements. Samana controls digestive processes, is located in the stomach.
They can easily get imbalance with emotions like worries, fear and anxiety. They become confused easily and overwhelmed. Focusing power become low and sleeping disturbances can occur.
Opposite qualities of vata can balance them. Heavy, warm foods for physical balance and love, care, attention for mental balance.
It is the synergism of fire and water elements. Therefore, it has the qualities of both but mainly of fire, hotness, penetrating nature and sharpness, it is in the form of liquid due to quality of water.
The same qualities can be seen in their personalities too. Normally their bodies are hot with oily skin, sharp eyes and other features. Their appetite and digestion is usually good. Body structure is moderate. They are competitive, energetic, courageous, highly focused and have good communicating skills.
When imbalanced, they tend to get food and drug allergies, skin rashes, infections and diarrhoea. Eating lot of red meat and fish, spices, hot weather, emotions like anger, resentment and jealousy break their balance.
Opposite qualities help them to restore the normal balance. Cold environments are favorable to them. Cooked foods and vegetables are good for them.
The sub types do different jobs locating various parts in the body. Ranjaka pitta is responsible in coloration of blood; alochaka is found in eyes and provides eye sight. All the emotions are carried out by sadhaka pitta staying in heart. Pachaka pitta which is considered as the most important out of all sub types locate in duodenum. Bhrajaka pitta is found in skin and it gives the colour to the skin.
Kapha is the synergy of earth and water elements. Therefore, kapha is cool, moist, heavy and stable. It also controls the water content of the body and fills the cavities and spaces in the body. Exhibiting the nature of earth element, they have large stocky frames, moist oily thick skin and heavy bodies. They tend to gain weight easily. Their metabolism is slow, but they are good eaters as they love foods. They like comfortable lives. They are full of love, envy and forgiveness and hardly ever get stressed.
When imbalanced they could suffer depression, lack of motivation and lethargy.
Eating light foods with less starch, dry and warm weather helps them to restore the normal balance.
As in other doshas, there are 5 subtypes. Kledaka kapha is responsible for assimilation of food and is found in the stomach; the joints are lubricated by Shleshaka; Tarpaka kapha governs intelligence and resides in brain; Avalambaka kapha is found in chest and help to lubricate heart and throat; Bodhaka kapha found in relation to taste buds and helps the taste sensation.