Basics of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the science or wisdom of life.  It is a complete mind-body medicine system that offers treatment and prevention of all disease by identifying the root cause and restoring balance to the body and mind through yoga, nutrition and natural therapies.

Ayurveda recognizes three basic qualities, or Gunas, found in all aspects of the universe and all of its creations.  The Gunas are the pillars of Vedic Science because they are the causal factors of creation behind the subtle creative energies (Tanmatras) and the elements (the gross physical effects). 

The Gunas are:
* Sattva - the quality of balance and harmony
* Rajas - the quality of turbulence and activity
* Tamas - the quality of dullness and inertia

Ayurveda emphasizes developing a Sattvic lifestyle, because from Sattva comes the clarity and peace through which we can perceive truth.  It is the quality that gives happiness and brings about the awakening and development of the soul.

Ayurveda recognizes three primary life-forces in the body, which correspond to the elements.

The three Doshas of Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water) are the active elements which determine our growth or decay.  Each of us contains all three Doshas, in different combination.  Therefore, we each have different tendencies for how the Doshas will develop to be out of balance.

When out of balance, the Doshas are the causative forces behind the disease process.  Ayurveda offers natural treatments and therapies to balance all Doshas and conditions.

The Doshas are:

Pitta ~ Fire  * VATA relates to air and ether, or wind.  Vata governs movement and sensory and
mental balance, and promotes mental adaptability.  When out of balance it creates fear, anxiety and diseases of the colon and nervous system.
  * PITTA relates to fire, or bile.  Pitta governsdigestion, both physically, in the 
formof all the chemical and 
transformation in the body, and mentally, in our ability to 
perceive and comprehend reality.  When out of balance it creates anger,
ulcers, hypertension and diseases of the pancreas, small intestine and skin.
   * KAPHA relates to water and earth, or 
phlegm.  Kapha provides substance and gives support, makes up the bulk of our bodily tissues, and also provides emotional support in life.  When out of balance it creates attachment and diseases involving low metabolism and congestion (clogged arteries, thyroid, stomach, obesity).

Agni relates to our digestive fire and metabolism.  When strong, our body is able to break down our food and experiences into 
nutrition.  If weak, the food and experiences we do not properly digest become Ama (toxins) and remain in the mental and physical body.

Prana, Tejas and Ojas are the subtler forms from which the Doshas develop.  They are the vital essences that regulate our mental and physical nature and control Vata, Pitta and Kapha (respectively).  Prana is the vital breath, which gives mental adaptability and vitality of the mind, enthusiasm, creativity and strength; it governs growth and evolution of body and mind.  Tejas is the vital fire, which gives intelligence, reason, perceptive capabilities, clarity of mind, and courage.  Ojas is the vital fluid, which gives mental strength, contentment, patience, peace of mind and a strong immune system.

Ojas is the essential vital fluid of the brain and reproductive fluid.  It is the ultimate product of nutrition and digestion and serves as the prime energy reserve for the entire body.  If this vital fluid is weak the immune system will weaken, as will our mental strength and peace of mind.  Maintaining a strong Ojas is the very foundation of good health, and will prevent all diseases from manifesting.

Ojas is the source and repository of life and healing.  It sustains the organic integrity of the body and prevents the build up of foreign matter, whether waste material or undigested food particles.  Ojas is decreased by Ama and low Ojas allows toxins to accumulate and disease to occur.  In general, Ama must first be burned up and flushed from the body before we can rebuild Ojas.

Reduction therapies decrease excesses in the body, while tonification therapies nourish deficiencies in the body.  Usually one first aims to eliminate the factors that cause disease (like accumulation of toxins, excess Doshas, tissues and waste materials) through reduction methods, before one works to build up and strengthen the tissues and energy in the body through tonification methods.  If we tonify first, there is a risk of feeding any toxins or excess Doshas in the body and make conditions worse. 

Palliation therapies (mild methods for reduction, such as using spices to enhance digestion, herbs to cleanse the tissues in the body, or therapeutic oil massage) also help foster a lifestyle which is more balancing and harmonious to one's constitution, and in this way work to establish a foundation for long-term health and longevity.

The goal of Ayurveda is not simply health as an end in itself, but as a basis for self-understanding, to recognize our true nature and live in accord with it.  It is not enough to know how to improve certain conditions, but is in fact more important to teach the patient how to apply the tools that will change their condition through self-knowledge and self-care. 

The real measure of Ayurvedic success is the extent to which we have directed people towards greater self-knowledge and self-responsibility and allowed them to become masters of their own destiny in life.

Contact Charlie via email to be added to my mailing list and receive free articles on Ayurveda and health

Frequently Asked Questions

1.  How does Ayurvedic Anatomy and Physiology differ from the usual western approach?

Ayurvedic anatomy and physiology places its emphasis on the balance of the Doshas, tissues and channel systems.  It studies the pathways for energy flow and accumulation in the body.  It views the tissues in body like islands in an ocean of plasma, as energy gets transformed and refined through different levels of density and metamorphosis.  The standard western approach views the body more like a machine with parts that are treated on a physical level.

2.  How does Ayurveda compare to modern allopathic medicine?

Modern medicine tends to employ a model for treatment that is inert, inorganic, materialistic and mechanical, emphasizing the use of inorganic drugs and invasive testing and treatment methods, without changes in lifestyle or awareness.  It views the body and mind as purely physical and mechanical.  Ayurveda focuses on harmonizing the life-force through natural substances like herbs, diet and exercise, considering both lifestyle and psychological conditions.

3.  What is energetic medicine?

Energetic medicine is more concerned with the energetic effect things have upon the life-force and balancing these energies rather than the biochemical constituents of substances and particular pathogens.

4.  What is yogic medicine?

In yogic medicine the inner levels of treatment are more important than the outer.  They are more universal and less complex, but may require a more active role on the part of the patient.  Only a medicine system that truly considers the needs of consciousness and the spiritual evolution on earth can be considered truly holistic.  Without this spiritual and ethical foundation, medicine may help on an outer level, but inwardly promotes decay.  Rather than complex diagnoses and treatments, they may be more simple and intuitive, placing the emphasis on connecting the patient with their own life-energy.