Introduction to Ayurveda

by Indiana


Oct 28, 2019

Ayurveda, one of humanity’s most ancient holistic healing modalities, translates as “the science or knowledge of life”. It is the sister science to Yoga and can be viewed as the “conjunction of body, mind and spirit found in Cosmic Consciousness and embracing all of Creation” (Dr. Vasant Lad). In this introduction, you will learn what Ayurveda is about.

Ayurveda is a medical science and offers a unique approach to health and well being in that it is rooted from a preventative rather than symptomatic treatment perspective. Perhaps most fundamentally, this science focuses on cultivating quality and longevity of life. Within Ayurvedic treatment, removal of the cause/s of “dis-ease”, treatment of the condition and rejuvenation of the body, mind and spirit are all encompassed through diet and lifestyle changes as well as the use of herbs, yoga and other purificatory methods. It is considered to be a “living science”, incorporating modern science and ancient wisdom. 

While Western medicine generally says, “you are what you eat”, Ayurveda says, “you are what you digest.” One of the characteristics that sets this science apart most is that it does not offer a “one size fits all” approach to health. Rather, each individual is honored for their unique mind, body, spirit constitution and make-up. An individual’s digestive fire or “Agni” is considered to be one of the greatest indicators of their present state of health. In fact, Ayurveda says that Agni is the main source of life and health. 

When returning to the definition of “Ayu” meaning “Life”, Dr. Lad further conveys that “Every individual life is a microcosm of the Cosmos.” This is often expressed as “the microcosm is as the macrocosm” or “the part reflects the whole” as referenced in physics with scale invariance. Following this, what do you see when you look outside in nature?

The five interacting elements in the natural world are defined as the “Panchamahabhutas” in Ayurveda, which literally translates as “the five elements”. From this perspective, the elements evolve from the most subtle in nature to the most gross. Ether/Akasha, or space, is said to be the “home for all objects in the universe”, omnipresent and the first expression of Consciousness. Its qualities or “gunas” are described as clear, light, subtle, soft, immeasurable and dispersing. Air/Vayu is described as the principle of movement, governing consciousness when it moves in a particular direction. Its gunas are mobile, dry, light, cold, rough and subtle. Next comes Fire/Agni, the principle of transformation, intelligence and radiance. The natural qualities of fire are hot, sharp, dry, light, subtle and mobile. Water/Apa is cleansing, cool, liquid, dull and soft. On the most gross or tangible level lies the element of Earth/Pruthivi, grounding and holding in its essence, calling to mind gravitation, physicality and stability. Its gunas are heavy, dull, static, dense, hard and gross.

Following that “as within, so without”, Ayurveda understands these five elements to also be present within each conscious being. From this, these energies are grouped into three doshas, or principles of organization. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are, as Dr. Lad says, “the agents of DNA which form the blueprint for the physiology. They are energy complexes…known by their attributes, or gunas.” Each dosha has within it all five elements with a predominance of two and each individual has within it each dosha, with, most often, a predominance of one. Balancing the body, mind and spirit requires an understanding of how these energies interact and manifest within the individual. 

The chart below indicates qualities associated with each dosha as well as the physical, mental and emotional tendencies and susceptibilities of each. In reference to the significance of these qualitative states of being, the Ayurvedic law states that, “like increases like and opposites balance”. In example, in the simple case of a severe sunburn, indicating excess heat in the body, it is understood that opposite application of something cooling, whether aloe, ice or otherwise, will be most effective in relieving the uncomfortable symptoms one associates with experiencing a sunburn. 

VATA (Ether + Air)
Principle of Movement
PITTA (Fire + Water)
Principle of Transformation
KAPHA (Water + Earth)
Principle of Cohesion + Structure
dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear, dispersing, astringent Oily, sharp, hot, light, mobile, liquid, sour, pungent Heavy, slow, cool, oily, slimy, dense, soft, static, cloudy, hard, gross, sweet, salty
In Balance: Creative, expressive In Balance: Understanding, perceptive, intelligent In Balance: Loving, generous
Out of Balance: Fear, emptiness, anxiety Out of Balance: Anger, hate, jealousy Out of Balance: Attachment, possessiveness, greed
Governs: motor and sensory functions Governs: temperature and digestion Governs: Stability and lubrication of joints and tissues

Attached below is a link to discover your unique doshic constitution from Banyan Botanicals! Two concepts to consider when taking your quiz are your Prakruti and Vikruti. An individuals’s Prakruti is determined by the genetics, lifestyle, diet and emotions of the parents at the time of conception and expresses itself in proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is similar to an individual’s genetic coding and does not change during the lifetime. The Vikruti is the present state of the doshas. This state will reflect any dietary, lifestyle, emotional or environmental conditions that are not in harmony with an individual’s Prakruti. It is these discrepancies that provide an Ayurvedic physician with the information needed to form a treatment plan to bring the person back into a state of balance. When Vikruti is in alignment with Prakruti, one is in a state of optimal and ideal health. 

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