Let us start by giving you a basic understanding of some of the working principles of Ayurveda and point a finger or two in the direction of how to develop the above mentioned refined body-mind unit. We hope that both together will you great benefits and will help you to move closer and closer to perfect health and abundant happiness.
Ayurveda was first recorded in the Vedas, India’s ancient books of wisdom, and here in the Atharva Veda, the youngest of the Vedas. During the first millennium B.C., the first compendiums of Ayurvedic knowledge were put together: the Sushruta Samhita, a text mainly containing surgical information (and still considered the source of plastic surgery), and the Charaka Samhita, a text which focuses on internal medicine. Later (around 700 A.D.), a text called the Asthanga Hrdaya of Vagbhata was written. This is the text most widely used today.
The Sanskrit term Ayurveda can be translated as “knowledge of life” and also as “art of living”. This implies that Ayurveda is more than just a medical system focused on alleviating symptoms or healing disease. Ayurveda is based on unique concepts that form the very basis for understanding human physiology and its inherent bio-energetic processes, concepts that have been verified over hundreds and hundreds of years through application, observation and experimentation. This wisdom, gained over centuries, enables Ayurveda to understand human beings on a truly individual level and to come up with diagnoses and therapeutic solutions that are impossible to simply transfer from one individual to another. In this sense, and like in many other areas where skill is executed to perfection, it becomes an art.
Ayurveda as an art of living is as much concerned with the prevention of disease as it is with healing disease. Maintaining health is of paramount importance to Ayurveda because when we are healthy, with abundant energy, mobility and a clear mind, we are able to go into the world and express ourselves and contribute. We can build bridges, plant trees, support the elders, develop ideas and create opportunities for ourselves, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and the world at large.
Ayurveda clearly urges us to not wait for a disease to develop but to actively engage in creating a lifestyle that is in itself healthy, balanced and harmonious. For us in order to succeed in doing so, we need to take into consideration (1) our individual constitution or Prakriti – which is our unique makeup, including our physiological, mental and emotional tendencies, (2) our Vikriti – which are our current imbalances, (3) our lifestyle – which includes our diet, our thoughts and emotions and all other activities that we choose to engage in, and (4) the impact of seasonal and (5) cosmic activities on our body. All the above aspects influence us either towards a state of health and balance or away from it and they all have individually or in conjunction the power to bring our body-mind-spirit unit into imbalance. In other words: they have the potential to form the ground on which diseases can begin to grow.
At the base of the Ayurvedic scriptures lies the Samkhya philosophy of creation which reminds us that we as human beings are part of the universe, and just as the universe is made up of 5 great elements (or: panchamahabhutas), so are we. Ayurveda’s holistic approach always seeks the real cause of an illness and aims to restore balance at the core by using the insights gained from the elemental creation of the universe. These elemental building blocks are – loosely translated: space, air, fire, water and earth (or Akasha, Vayu, Tejas, Ap, Pritiwi). These building blocks can be found within our bodies and, always in varying degrees, in all other matter outside of our body as well, organic or inorganic. Our ears, nose, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and even cellular space are for example manifestations of the element space. When there is movement in space we can find the element air. All movements related to our central nervous system, like muscular movements, the peristaltic motion of our GI tract, swallowing, breathing etc. are expressions of the element air.
According to Samkhya philosophy, the third element to appear during creation after ether and air is fire. In our body fire is manifested in all metabolic, enzymatic, transformative actions. Digestion of food matter by our digestive system and digestion of information by our mind is due to the element fire. If our digestion (physical or mental or emotional) is impaired, it is always the element of fire that has to be considered and most likely strengthened, either directly through medicines, diet, activities and/or treatments or indirectly, by controlling one or more of the other elements. If you are diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer or gastritis, Ayurveda identifies this imbalance as an excess of the element fire. Acid is a by-product of heat, so it makes sense to question yourself where does the heat come from in your life. Maybe you carry by birth already a fiery temperament (Pitta constitution) and maybe you live in a hot climate or it is the peak of summer and you are eating excessive spicy food and predominantly drink heating liquids? Maybe you are prone by your genetics to have a hot temper and you have recently been very upset and haven’t found a way to release and transform your emotions successfully…you get the idea!
Water, the fourth great element manifests for instance as glandular secretions, digestive juices, cytoplasm and plasma. The fifth and last element to appear during creation is earth. It is the element that gives support, structure, solidity and groundedness. Bones, nails, teeth, cartilage, muscles and tendons all derive from the earth element.
The five great elements, space, air, fire, water and earth, express themselves according to Ayurveda in our body through three basic regulatory, vital bio-energetic principles, called tridosha. To find out why the concept of the tridosha is the key to understanding your own constitution and can help you immensely to make better decisions around diet and lifestyle, click here: