The word Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit root words meaning life principle and knowledge. It is a tatpurusha word which means a word with compound meaning in the Sanskrit language. When the two words combine they translate to, “Knowledge of Life.” Ayurvedic medicine is steeped in Indian culture, and aims to care for the body, sense organs, mind and soul. It is the world’s oldest known systematic health care system. It is said to have been derived from a text by Agnivesha, in his book Agnivesh Tantra which dates from Vedic times. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are incorporated into yogic science.
From the more mythical translations of Ayurveda’s origins, it is thought to have been a divine revelation of Lord Brahma as he arose to create the Universe. The knowledge of Lord Brahma was passed directly to Daksha Prajapati in the form of a shloka with is a sung verse (this makes it easier to remember). These teachings were then passed to a lineage of deities and to Lord Indra who is considered the protector of the dharma or sacred teachings. From here it was transferred orally for a long time before being scribed onto papers which decayed easily. Later, the transcriptions were done on copper and other metals, so that the practices could be recorded and perpetuated through time.
Ayurdeva is based on healthy living and preventative measures so that the environment for disease cannot be sustained within the body. If the body is out of balance, only then can disease take hold. According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are three humors which control all the processes of the body. These humors are similar to those derived from the Greco-Roman and Medieval European medicinal practices. You can find symbols for these three humors in the modern symbol that Western doctors use to depict their practice. The three humors in Ayurvedic medicine are called Doshas. A Dosha is something which causes the body to be imbalanced. From Sanskrit, the word translates to mean, “deviation.” The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They can stand alone or be combined together to cause various states of balance or imbalance in the body.
Vata is considered a combination of the space and air elements. Pitta is considered to be the fire element and Kapha is akin to the water element. Usually these three elements are in balance so that none dominates another, and therefore the body stays balanced and free of disease. Over many lifetimes, however, one of the Doshas begins to rule the personality and causes the body to become imbalanced. Whichever Dosha is more dominant for a person, it is said that this is his constitution. Every person is considered to be ruled by at least one or a mixture of the three Doshas. Ayurveda attempts to bring the doshas into balance via herbs, and other practices so that disease cannot occur in the body. There are historical references for the use of herbs and herbal cures in all the four Vedas especially in the Rig Veda.
The five elements which Ayurveda refers to are akin to the Chinese system of the five elements. They are earth, air, water, fire and space (or ether). Vata is usually composed of space or ether and air. This is the humor which controls the other two. Vata governs movement in the body as well as an open mind. Too much Vata can lead to worry, insomnia and digestive ailments. It also controls blood circulation, the elimination of wastes and breathing. It activates the nervous system and greatly influences our emotions. An imbalance in Vata will cause disease first and foremost. Vata is essentially Pran or life force moving through the body.
People who are considered Vata dominant usually have certain traits, according to Ayurvedic medicine. Vata people are usually slight in build with very little fat on the body. They sometimes can even be underweight and if they are women, will often have small to no chest. They often need sweet, sour and salty tastes. Each of these tastes corresponds to a specific element in the body. Vata people usually move quickly, often multitask, can be impatient and run out of energy quickly. They need to eat often. Vata people are thought to be sexually active, creative and intelligent. They consume and understand ideas quickly. You can tell them something once and they will remember it for a short amount of time and then forget it. They are quick to change moods. Their skin tends to be dry and cold. Although imaginative, they can be restless, fearful and insecure.
People who are Pitta are governed most by the fire element. Heat is responsible for the metabolism of thoughts and also energy within the body. Pitta people are usually of medium build and height. Their weight is usually rather constant regardless of what they eat. They are usually a bit stronger than Vata people. Pitta people often grey early or lose their hair and become bald. They often have moles or freckles on their skin. Too much Pitta leads to anger, and overt criticism. Pitta people often suffer from stomach acidity, ulcers, and rashes. Pittas tend to be fair haired and sunburn easily. They tend to have lighter colored eyes such as blue, green or hazel. Pitta-types have a more stable emotional base, with lesser frequently changing moods and accomplish much with a more focused mental disposition. A balanced Pitta-type is often a charismatic leader. They have clear and decisively toned speech.
Kapha people are ruled by the earth and water elements. These ‘earthy; elements cement the body together and allow its physical-ness. Kapha is responsible for lubricating the joints, and helping wounds to heal. Kapha-types are usually sturdier, or thicker than others, often tending toward overweight. The skin is usually thick and clear and the hair is usually, thick, lustrous and often wavy. The eyes of Kapha are usually brown or blue and very prominent. They have high endurance and move at a steady, even pace, if slow. You could compare a Kapha to a turtle. Slow and steady wins the race. Their movements are slow and liquid, as if moving through water. Exercise if very important for Kapha otherwise they can grow very lethargic. They are one of the most caring and giving of the three types. Kapha people usually are very loyal, but also tend to hold grudges, finding it difficult to forget a slight. They also have wonderful memories, though they take more time to learn things. Once they have it in their minds, though, it is there forever. Winter weather can often be especially trying for Kapha-types. They are prone to seasonal disorder and a general malaise if not active. Mentally, they are calm and stable, not likely to have changing emotions, but can also become depressed easily, also due to lethargy.
Each constitution also will have different bio-rhythms which cause them to be more prone to activity or stillness throughout the 24-hour period cycle. Vata people are usually more active between 2pm and 6pm and then again from 2am to 6am. They are often early risers to due this energy cycle. Kapha people are usually more energetic during the hours of 6am to 10pm and then again from 6pm to 10pm and usually need to go to sleep rather early due to this energy cycle. Pitta people are usually most active from 10am to 2pm and then again from 10pm to 2am. Pitta people often like to sleep in due to this energy cycle.
Ayurdeva also describes seven Dhatus or “body tissues.” They are essentially liquids in the body that control different aspects of the body and are developed through metabolic refinement via both the application of herbs and the practice of yoga. Yoga is an essential component to most Ayurvedic treatment. The Dhatus are as follows:
Rasa – nutrient fluid which forms the base of blood
Rakta – oxygenating factor of blood through all the tissues
Mamsa – muscle tissues which forms the vital organs
Meda (fat) – lubricates and insulates the body, especially the joints.
Asthi – Bones and cartilage which act as the body’s frame and support.
Majja –Bone marrow responsible for filling up the bones and aiding the nervous system in communicating with the body tissue.
Shukra – Reproductive juices containing sperm and ovum.
The terms listed herein are a starting place for students of Ayurveda. Practiced doctors of Ayurvedic medicine can often feel the pulse of a subject and known which of the Dhatus are out of balance. The doctor can also look at a patient’s eyes to determine his or her constitution and recommend appropriate changes in his diet and lifestyle. In this ancient science, regardless of its origins, many have been healed. Form cancer to the common cold we can look to this ancient healing technique as an alternative to allopathic remedies.
About the Author:
Christina Sarich runs http://www.yogaforthenewworld.blogspot.com