Ayurveda is a holistic and one of the oldest branches of medicine that imparts complete knowledge about one’s health, various ailments that might affect and the different ways the ailments can be treated. The term “Ayurveda” is derived from two Sanskrit words, “ayu” meaning “life” or and “veda” meaning “science” or “sacred knowledge.” Hence, it is also known as the “Science of Life” or the “Mother Of Healing”.
This Science of Life includes everything that life depends upon like food, a well-balanced diet, exercises, yoga, a specific lifestyle, various health conditions, and their available treatment options.
As portrayed in Charaka Samhita, one of the oldest ayurvedic scriptures, Ayurveda can be described as:
Hita hitam sukham dukham ayustasya hita hitam
manamcha taccha yatroktam Ayurveda cha uchhayate
The above Sanskrit verse means that ayurveda is the science of life that contains the details of living a healthy and long life (ayu). It also teaches us about the principles and lifestyle specifications that are good (hita) and bad (ahita) for the four different types of ayus (i.e. hitayu, ahitayu, sukhayu and dukhayu, that concerns the different conditions of a diseased or healthy life).
This holistic healing technique has been there for more than 5000 years and it vividly offers remedy depending upon the various elements the body is made up of and the specific body type one has, which pertains to the three doshas. Although this holistic healing has been with us since time immemorial, it has become more popular in recent ages. Ayurvedic medicines like triphala decoction, giloy ghana vati, ashokarishta, shankha bhashma, ashwagandha and many other formulations have been widely used as an alternative herbal remedy for various health conditions like cough, cold, asthma, urinary problems, digestion problems, heart ailments, etc. Also Read: Top 8 Ayurvedic Formulations That Can Bolster Your Immunity
Many of us get confused with certain terms used in Ayurvedic medicine. Just like in allopathy, Ayurveda also defines each condition with a particular term. Interestingly, our ancient medicine believes that five elements of Mother Nature influence the wellbeing of each and every organ of the human body.
The Five Elements
As cells are the building blocks of a human body, similarly Ayurveda recognizes five specific elements or Mahabhutas that are the building blocks of nature and also constitute the human body:
Earth or Prithvi:
Represents the solid state of matter and physically it constitutes the bones, nails, teeth, tissues and the physical sheath of a human being. It also helps in perceiving smells.
Water or Ap:
Represents the liquid state of matter and physically constitutes the blood, lymph, other fluids and the energy sheath of a human being. It also connects with the tongue and helps in sensing taste.
Air or Vayu:
Represents the gaseous state of matter and within the human body, it constitutes the respiratory system, nervous system and also helps in perceiving touch sensation. It represents the wisdom sheath of a human being.
Fire or Tejas:
This element does not have any form but it helps to change the state of any substance. Physically, it helps in digestion, regulation of body temperature and connects with the eyes to help in vision. It represents the mental-emotional sheath of a human being.
Ether or Akash:
It represents space where all things exist. Within the human body, it constitutes all the hollow and empty spaces between cells like pores and channels and is connected to the ears and helps in perceiving sound. It represents the bliss sheath of a human-being.
Dhatus are the elements or the various organs and systems that make up the human body. They are categorised into seven divisions:
- Plasma (Rasa)
- Blood (Rakta)
- Muscles (Mamsa)
- Fatty tissue (Meda)
- Bones (Asthi)
- Bone Marrow (Majja)
- Semen & Reproductive tissue (Shukra)
The Gunas or Qualities
The Sanskrit word Guna can be described as an attribute that defines every substance or being present in nature or prakriti, every experience or the different states of matter. It mainly describes virtue, quality or excellence. There are three main categories of gunas, which are:
It characterizes all sorts of activity and refers to passion and preservation. People having rajasic guna are more self-centred, egoistic, driven and dynamic.
It characterizes imbalance, disorder, chaos, viciousness, ignorance, lethargy, and delusion. People having tamasic guna are more destructive, vindictive, ignorant, violent and develop negative feelings like hatred, apathy, jealousy, etc.
One of the best qualities that represent balance, goodness, purity, lightness and all the positive attributes that are present in nature. People having sattvic guna are mainly good at heart and characterizes positivity, creativity, holistic, peacefulness and virtue.
Below are the 10 pairs of gunas that define and characterize every being, substance, and experience in nature.
- Heavy (Guru) Light (Laghu)
- Slow (Manda) Sharp (Tikshna)
- Smooth (Slakshna) Rough (Khara)
- Dense (Sandra) Liquid (Drava)
- Hard (Kathina) Soft (Mridu)
- Cold (Shita) Hot (Ushna)
- Oily (Snigdha) Dry (Rukshna)
- Cloudy (Avila) Clear (Vishada)
- Stable (Sthira) Mobile (Shara)
- Gross (Sthula) Subtle (Sukshma)
The universe as a whole comprises the five natural elements mainly Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. A combination of these five elements constitutes the three specific doshas or energies in human beings. When the doshas are in balance they help in achieving a better quality of health. However, when not in balance they can cause dissolution and various adverse effects in a human body. Although, all the tridoshas are present in every individual, generally one or two are dominant than the rest.
Also known as life forces, the doshas help in regulating the physical and mental health and the various lifestyle factors. Doshas have specific physical and psychological characteristics and are directly related to an individual’s health.
The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
It is a type of energy that constitutes of air and ether and is associated with movement, creativity, and impulse. A person having Vata Dosha in balance will generally be thin and light, taller, rough and dry-skinned, impulsive, lively and creative. However, when out of balance the individual tends to be hyperactive, experience lower back pain, insomnia, neural problems, poor circulation, constipation, dry skin, cracking joints, emaciation, headache, poor digestion, anxiety, and psychological problems.
The Vata Gunas or characteristics of an individual are defined as dry, rough, cold, light, subtle, mobile and clear.
This type of energy consists of fire and water and is characterized by digestion, metabolism, absorption, assimilation, and regulation of body temperature. People having Pitta doshas are generally strong with medium-built bodies, fair freckled skin, good digestion, and great intelligence. They are also warm, and good decision-makers and are hence often present in leadership positions. The imbalance of Pitta doshas may cause stress, anger, aggression, indigestion, loose stools, migraines, rashes, bruising, ulcers, gastritis, liver problems, inflammatory problems, hypertension, and heart disorders.
The Pitta Gunas or characteristics of an individual are defined as are hot, light, sharp, liquid, mobile, and oily.
Kapha doshas consist of water and earth and represent structure, stability, and cohesiveness. It is generally characterized by growth, nourishment, regeneration, fluid balance, strength, memory capacity and contentment. Individuals having Kapha doshas in balance have a strong and well-built body with huge bones, oily skin and often tend to gain weight. They are also calm, peaceful and compassionate. The imbalance of Kapha can cause obesity, fatigue, possessiveness, excessive sleep, depression, sluggish metabolism, congestion, water retention, sinus, bronchitis, and respiratory problems.
The Kapha Gunas or characteristics of an individual are defined as heavy, slow, oily, cool, smooth, soft, stable, gross, dense, and sticky.
Depending upon the above-mentioned doshas, an individual might be Bi-doshic mainly having two predominant doshas like Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Kapha or Vata-Kapha or Tri-doshic with all three doshas having equal influence on the body. When in balance, the various doshas can uplift the body's health but when out of balance they can wreak havoc and create lots of troubles for the health.
This ancient medical science is widely used as a means of treatment to treat a host of ailments. The holistic science can immensely benefit and individual’s health by boosting the immune system. It also ensures one to follow a daily routine packed with a well-balanced diet depending upon your body’s constitution and some yoga or meditation to soothe the mind and body. An ayurvedic approach towards life will not only improve the sleeping pattern, energy, and vitality but also ensure beautiful skin and hair. Also Checkout: International Yoga Day: Practice Asanas Daily For A Healthy Life- Infographic