Ayurveda is a holistic lifestyle medicine that originated in ancient India nearly 5000 years ago. The Sanskrit word ‘Ayurveda’ translates to ‘Science of Life’, and this traditional system of healing encompasses just about every aspect of lifestyle: diet, self-care, yoga, meditation, herbal therapy, and environment.
In this article, we’ll examine the origins of Ayurveda, how this ancient science of life treats mind and body, prakruti, the three doshas, the seven dhatus, and a brief summary of Ayurvedic remedies.
The Origins of Ayurveda
There are many stories to Ayurveda’s origins. Tradition has it that the knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine was passed on from the Vedic Gods to a group of mystics who tried to discover the secrets of a long life and the cures to various illnesses. Through a series of meditations, they received knowledge ranging from everyday wellbeing to internal medicine to surgery.
The science of Ayurveda remained a verbal tradition in India for hundreds of years until it was compiled into 3 basic books – Charak Samhita (internal medicine), Sushruta Samhita (surgery) and Ashtanga Hridayan.
Apart from these books, there were many manuscripts that once existed which have been lost over time.
Mind and Body are Related
According to Ayurveda, the mind and body are not two separate entities, but are in fact a unique physiological system with intricately related influences.
Ayurveda also perceives each person as an individual entity. While similarities exist between one person and the next, we all look and behave differently. This is why Ayurveda teaches us that there is no universal solution for any health problem.
Ayurveda believes in living in balance. Here, ‘balance’ doesn’t mean a state of all things being equal. Rather, once you’ve understood your own natural blueprint, ‘balance’ can be understood as keeping it in equilibrium both in its physical and emotional tendencies.
Prakruti – Your Unique Mind-Body Constitution
In Ayurveda, there is “no one-size-fits-all” policy. The way food affects one person is definitely going to be different from how it affects someone else.
The Ayurvedic concept of Prakruti, a Sanskrit word which means nature, refers to your natural mind-body constitution, the unique characteristics you are born with, perceptible through emotions, behavior, body type, metabolism and health tendencies.
The overall nature of a person’s constitution is largely determined by which of the doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) is predominant. More on the 3 doshas later.
Most people have mind-body constitutions dominated by more of one dosha than the other two. This means that our emotional capabilities, physical characteristics and behavior will mostly reflect the qualities of the dominant dosha.
When the doshas are in equilibrium, they help us be our best selves. However, when they are out of balance, they create problems such as sluggishness, dehydration, inflammation, and other illnesses.
The Three Doshas (Ayurvedic Body Types)
In Ayurveda, one’s individual nature is mirrored in their body type or dosha. The doshas reflect three main governing principles of nature, called vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth-water).
People with vata-dominant prakruti are creative and free-spirited. They have amazing comprehension skills and are perhaps inclined to be spiritual. They make talented artists, writers, scientists, etc. They have a hard time sitting still.
People with a pitta-dominant prakruti are intense, organized and execution-oriented. They also have a fantastic sense of purpose. They tend to be logical and make good leaders, managers and mathematicians.
People with kapha-dominant prakruti are compassionate and meticulous. They make good health-care workers, caregivers, or workers in any occupation that requires persistence and stamina.
Dosha imbalance leads to excess or accumulation of any one or more of the doshas, causing toxins to flow through the body. Minor disparities of vata, pitta and kapha are often manifested as dryness, a general sensation of heat and heaviness in the mind and body. Left unattended, these imbalances can lead to illnesses.
The pressures of modern life cause our doshas to go askew. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise contribute heavily in disrupting our doshas, making it all too easy to get stressed out. Ayurveda understands the importance of balancing the three doshas and helps set our dosha composition back to prakruti, its natural state.
Vata is the most volatile of the three doshas. Vata imbalance causes dryness in the colon, causing pain, fatigue and reduced immunity. It also causes stress and anxiety and makes you behave in an erratic fashion. It also disturbs your sleeping pattern.
Pitta imbalance raises heat in the mid-digestive tract. Too much pitta energy manifests itself emotionally as anger, intolerance, and criticism. Physically, it causes acidity, inflammation and allergies. People with pitta imbalance are prone to acne and heat toxins.
Kapha imbalance causes excess juices in the upper digestive tract, causing sluggishness, depression, fat and excessive mucus. Excess kapha energy can lead to clogged pores and can cause weight gain.
While the doshas are responsible for the physiological process of the body, there are seven dhatus that are the main physical constituents of the body. Dhatus are tissue layers formed from the digestive process.
The seven dhatus include:
- Rasa (Plasma)
- Rakta (Blood)
- Mamsa (Muscle)
- Meda (Fat)
- Asthi (Bone)
- Majja (Nerve)
- Shukra (Reproductive)
After digestion, food takes two forms: prasada (essence) or kitta (refuse). Prasana provides nourishment to the seven dhatus while kitta nourishes the three doshas.
Ojas is the supreme essence distilled from all seven dhatus, beginning with rasa and ending in shukra. An insufficiency or overabundance of any dhatu will negatively impact ojas which in turn hampers our physical and mental capacity.
Ayurveda offers a variety of ways to balance your doshas and help you get your prakruti back. The key is to find balance with a wholistic approach—addressing mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic remedies draw on a number of modalities:
In the coming weeks, we will cover more aspects of Ayurveda, Ayurvedic diet and nutrition, and even prepare a quiz to determine your dosha-type.
In the meantime, you can read more articles on Ayurveda in our Ayurveda section.