Ayurveda

The overwhelming popularity of Dr. Deepak Chopra and his best sellers in the million plus range, have legitimized in the West, Ayurveda, the ancient mind-body system of Indian medicine.

Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit terms “Ayu” meaning ‘life’ and “Veda” meaning ‘knowledge’.  The ancient texts characterize “ayu” as being comprised of four essential parts – mind, body, senses and the soul.  In Ayurveda, the mind (or consciousness) and the body (or physical mass) not only influence each other – they are each other.  Together they form the mind-body that regulates our physiology.

In order for the mind to act appropriately to assist the physical body, the senses are utilized as information gatherers; thus, Ayurveda maintains the clarity of our senses is an essential part in allowing the mind and body to integrate their functions and help in keeping us healthy and happy individuals.

In Ayurveda, a person is viewed as a unique individual made up of five primary elements, or building blocks – earth, water, fire, air and ether (space).

Earth represents the solid state of matter.  It manifests stability, permanence, and rigidity.   In our bodies, earth is prominent in bones, teeth, cells and tissues.

Water characterizes change and represents the liquid state.  It is a substance without stability.  Our blood, lymph and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another.

Fire is the power to transform the state of any substance.  Within our bodies, the fire or energy binds the atoms together.  It also converts food to fat and muscle and transforms food into energy.  It creates the impulses of nervous reactions, our feelings, and even our thought processes.

Air is the gaseous form of matter that is mobile and dynamic.  Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions.  It is a key element required for fire to burn.

Ether is the space within which everything happens.  It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists.  Ether is only the distances that separate matter.  The chief characteristic of ether is sound.

Ayurvedic philosophy teaches everything is made up of these five elements  which combine in pairs to form three dynamic forces or interactions called “doshas” (collectively tridoshas).   Each of us is made up of unique proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  The proportion varies according to the individual and usually one or two doshas predominate.  The dosha determines a great deal about an individual – the body, the personality, even how one relates to other people.

Ether and air combine to form the Vata dosha.  Vata governs the principle of movement and can be seen as the force that directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination.  Vata also governs such feelings and emotions as freshness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, pain, tremors and spasms.  The primary location of the Vata in the body is the colon, but it also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity and skin.  If the body develops an excess of Vata, it will accumulate in these areas.

Fire and water are the elements that combine to form the Pitta dosha.  The Pitta dosha represents transformation.  The metabolism of foods into nutrients that our bodies can assimilate is an example of a Pitta function.  Pitta also governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence and understanding.  Psychologically, Pitta arouses anger, hate and jealousy.  The small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, eyes and skin are the seats of Pitta.

The water and earth elements combine to form the Kapha dosha.  Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure, biological strength and natural tissue resistance.  It lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives 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 in the liquid secretions of the body.  Psychologically, it is responsible for the emotions of attachment, greed, and long standing envy.  It is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness and love.  The chest is the center of Kapha.

A balance among the tridosha is necessary for health.  When their actions in our mind-body constitution are balanced, we experience psychological and physical wellness.  When they are somewhat unbalanced, a person may feel uneasy.  When they are more obviously unbalanced – when one or more of the three dosha influences are excessive or deficient, discernible symptoms of sickness can be observed and experienced.  Specific disease conditions are symptoms of this underlying imbalance

Ayurveda gives us a model to look at each individual as a unique makeup of the three doshas and recognizes that different foods, tastes, colors and sounds affect the doshas in different ways.  This ability to affect the doshas is the underlying basis for Ayurvedic practices and therapies.   Because we each have a unique constitution, our health prescription must be unique to us.  This means that in order to be healthy, one needs to eat certain foods that are beneficial for that body type and stay away from others.  Exercise programs must be personally suitable as well.

When the three doshas reside undisturbed in their proper organs and tissues, the body is supported by them and is in balance.  When disturbed, the doshas cause disease and deterioration of the body.  To address such problems, Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to assist the individual in reducing the dosha that has become excessive.  Certain herbal supplements may be suggested to hasten the healing process or if there are abundant toxins in the body, then a cleansing process may be recommended to eliminate the unwanted toxins and bring the body back into balance.

Balance is the key to Ayurveda.  When out of balance, not only does one’s health decline, but all aspects of life are equally affected.  This is common sense, and not the exclusive property of an esoteric tradition.  Curiously enough, this ancient practice – Ayurveda encompassing tridoshas – has found a place in opposite sides of the coin medically speaking.  Of course it is a function of the New Age, but it is also an aspect of allopathic medicine as well.


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