Ayurveda is a comprehensive system of healthcare originating in India over 5,000 years ago. Of these, the Atharva Veda, dated around 1200 BCE is widely regarded as the most important source book. Ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit words: ‘Ayus’ meaning life and ‘Vid’ meaning knowledge. Classical Ayurvedic texts such as the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, compiled between the second century BCE and the second century CE, took account of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the person in their consideration of health and ill-health, and the complex concepts and theories they embody continue to underpin the modern practice of Ayurvedic medicine. The Universe according to Ayurveda is composed of five basic elements or pancha mahabhuta, namely, ether air, fire, water and earth. These are present in all things and in the human body they are represented as the doshas, dhatus and mala.
What is a Dosha?
Dosha is an Ayurvedic term that generally describes our inherited traits, individual characteristics and tendencies such as the body frame, eye colour, digestive capacity and also the emotional balance. Everybody has different levels of doshas. The constitution is set at birth but some traits may accumulate. If the accumulation does not leave the body in the usual way like stools, urine or sweat; it increases. According to Ayurveda, this is the cause of most disease. If the doshas are cared for properly they will offer great potential for health and vitality.
Doshas are not visible. You will only know through inference as they manifest through the products of disease like phlegm, swellings, and inflammation, bleeding, nervous imbalance and dry skin. You would not see these symptoms if you were in perfect health.
‘Dosha’ is commonly known as ‘humour’ but is also known as ‘constitution’ or ‘functional principle’. ‘Humour’ comes from the Latin ‘umere’. There are three humours (tridosha: vata, pitta and kapha). Your constitution is described in terms of the doshas.
Your constitutional make-up means your inherent nature (prakriti). You have a mental nature (manas prakriti) as well as a physical humoural constitution (doshas prakriti). When there is an accumulation of a particular dosha/doshas an aggravated state of the humours (doshas vikriti) arises-your present state. This brings ill health.
Doshas literally means ‘fault’. This comes from ‘dush’ meaning error and relates to the prefix ‘dys’ (from Greek), as in dyslexia, dysfunctional or dysentery.
VATA: The vata dosha is comprised of ether and wind. Vata is the air element that is held within the confines of ether. Vata is cold, light, rough, mobile, subtle, clear, dry and astringent. The primary site of vata is the colon. It also resides in the bladder, thighs, ears, bones and the sense of touch. The root ‘va’ means ‘to spread’ and it is responsible for all movement in the body; flow to the breath and blood, elimination of wastes, expression of speech, it moves the diaphragm, muscles and limbs, regulates the nervous system and it also stimulates the function of the intellect. It is the messenger. Without vata the other doshas are inert.
There are five sub-categories of vata, called the five winds (panchvayu):
Prana, Vyana, Udana, Samana and Apana.
These regulate inhalation and swallowing, circulation of blood and the messages from the nervous system, speech, digestion in the centre of the abdomen and excretion of urine, wind, stools, menses, sperm and babies.
Vata is brought on by astringent, bitter and pungent flavours (as they increase dryness), end of a meal, in the early morning and evening, by fear and insecurity, in early autumn and spring, at the later stage of life (the driest stage), by excessive movement, by a dry and cold climate, and by going to bed after 11pm. Dry foods, such as popcorn aggravate vata, as do dry natured foods such as pulses.
The pitta dosha is made up of fire and water. Pitta exists as water or oil in the body, thus preserving the tissues from the destructive aspect of fire.
It is pungent, hot, penetrating, oily, sharp, liquid, spreading and sour. Its main function is transformation. It is the force of metabolic activity in the body associated with the endocrine function, hormone levels, digestion, body temperature, visual perception, hunger, thirst and skin quality. Mentally it plays a role in understanding and in digesting sensory impressions. It resides in the eyes, blood, sweat glands, the small intestine, stomach and lymph. Its primary site is in the small intestine.
The five types of pitta are: Alochaka, Sadhaka, Ranjaka, Bhrajaka and Pachaka.
They regulate sight, the heartbeat and ability to discriminate between different pieces of information, the function of the liver, the quality of the skin and digestion in the stomach and small intestine.
Pitta is set off by pungent, salty and sour flavours (as they increase heat), in the middle of a meal, at midday, by anger and irritation, repressed emotions, in summer, from adolescence to middle age, from excessive ambition and in a hot and damp climate. Hot and oily foods like garlic and fried foods disturb pitta.
In summertime you need to be particularly careful of aggravating pitta. Stay away from chillies, fried foods, salty foods and keep up the fresh juices, water and steamed vegetables.
The kapha dosha is a combination of earth and water elements. The water element is contained within the earthen structures of the tissues and skin; the dry earth is moistened by the reviving water element. It is slow, heavy, cool, dense, soft, oily, sticky, cloudy, liquid and sweet. Kapha literally holds the body together. It is cohesive, gives shape and form, aids growth and development, lubricates and protects, helps smelling and tasting. It relates to phlegm in the body. It resides in the chest, throat, head, pancreas, stomach, lymph, fat, nose and tongue. Its primary site is the stomach.
The five types of kapha are: Bhodaka, Tarpaka, Sleshaka, Avalambaka and Kledaka.
They regulate the experience of taste, the cerebrospinal fluid and white matter in the brain, the synovial fluid that nourishes the joints, the lubrication of the lungs and heart and the protective lining of the stomach.
Kapha is aggravated by sweet, sour and salty flavours (as they increase moisture), at the beginning of a meal, morning and afternoon, by greed and possessiveness, in winter, in childhood, from a damp and cold climate and from sleeping in the day.
The dhatus form the basic structure of the body. There are seven in number and each has its own function. Mala are metabolic end products, which serve to support the functions of the body and are then excreted. The tridosha should be in a state of perfect equilibrium for the body to remain healthy. Any imbalance of these bio-energetic forces results in ill health. Ayurveda places particular emphasis on the individual constitution or prakriti, which is determined by the unique combination of the tridoshas, genetic factors, the health, nutrition, lifestyle and life experiences of the mother as well as the pancha mahabhuta (five elements) that make up the foetus.
Proper hygiene, diet and lifestyle are essential prerequisites for good health. Treatment is tailored to the individual in question. The starting point is to determine your constitution.