Over 5,000 years old, Ayurveda is the most ancient and authentically recorded health system in history. It was created by yogis who spent their lives studying nature and the human condition. Meaning ‘the science of life’ it is exactly that, viewing health in four dimensions of physical, sensory, mental and spiritual and is centred on preventative medicine and bringing a person back to balance.
Energy plays an important role in our lives. We need energy and vitality to be able to live our life in a healthy and harmonious way. We get energy from nature through the sun and other natural elements. Ayurveda believes that there are primary functional energies in our bodies that are aligned with the elements of nature. These three forces of energies are known as the doshas in Ayurveda and include vata, pitta and kapha. The entire system of Ayurvedic healing is directly related to these three doshas.
There are understood to be five elements in nature - earth, air, water, fire and space/ether - which are contained within the three doshas. Vata comprises air and ether, pitta comprises fire and water, and kapha comprises water and earth. Our biological existence is a dance of the three doshas and life is a multi-coloured tapestry of their movement in various plays of balance and imbalance, coming together and going apart. These three powers colour and determine our conditions of growth and aging, health and disease.
Essentially the doshas impact on us on two primary levels. Firstly, they are the factors that produce the physical body and are responsible for its substance and its function, for example our tissues are mainly kapha or watery in nature, the digestive system is mainly pitta or fire and the nervous system is mainly vata or air. Secondly, one of the three doshas predominates in each individual and becomes the basic determinate of his or her particular constitution or mind-body type.
However the word ‘dosha’ (which is Sanskrit) translates as a fault or a blemish and indicates the factors that bring about disease and decay and where we are therefore out of balance. Ayurveda will therefore seek to establish the dosha, or imbalance and treat to that, thereby allowing more of the natural constitution to reveal itself. In this way Ayurveda seeks to discover the causative factor for loss of wellbeing and will focus initially on restoring digestive function as this is believed to be the seat of all imbalances and disease.
Healthy digestion is therefore fundamental to wellness in Ayurveda and to establishing strong immunity, an open and loving heart and a peaceful and calm mind. If the digestive system is out of balanced, the digestive fire is not functioning properly, then this will create a loss of physical and mental wellbeing which will negatively impact on the immune function, let alone the mental state of an individual and their experience of themselves ad life.
As Ayurveda seeks to restore digestive health, diet is always considered, together with life style factors that may also be contributing to a loss of wellbeing. Like attracts like and we will often be attracted to those foodstuffs and activities that will enhance imbalances. We may also be living a life that isn’t true to our life path (dharma), and this will show up as physical and mental illness that cannot be effectively treated with modern medicines but can be helped by Ayurveda.
A person can possess just one predominant dosha, have two equally dominant dosha or have all three doshas in balance. Here follows a rough guideline for how the doshas apply to different people:
Tall or very short, thin and bony with good muscles
Tendency to do many things – make things happen
Quick moving and actions
Oval, narrow face and smaller eyes
Dry, rough and thin skin texture, dry and thin hair
Variable appetite, tendency towards constipation
Poor endurance and easily exhausted, with bursts of energy
Light sleep, possibly interrupted, dreams full of movement
Poor circulation and sensitive to the cold.
Intolerance to pain
Forgetful and disorganised.
Sociable and imaginative
Drawn to creative activities
Anyone can experience vata imbalances, though the vata-dominant individuals are more prone to them.
Signs of a vata imbalance include:
Dryness of skin, hair, ears, lips and joints
Dryness internally, bloating, gas, constipation, dehydration, weight loss
Dry and lightness of mind, restlessness, dizziness, feeling ungrounded
Roughness, especially skin and lips
Cold – poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness.
Excessive movement, anxiety, fidgeting, agitation, muscle twitching and palpations.
Medium height, average build, often athletic.
Warm skin texture
Intelligent by nature
Loose joints and good circulation
Moderate immune function
Thin and oily hair
Good stamina levels.
Strong metabolism and a healthy appetite (tendency towards ‘hangry’
Tendency towards anger, intolerance, impatience and jealousy
Tolerant to pain
Subject to mood swings
Sensitive to hot weather
Motivated and goal-orientated
Strong leadership skills
Organised, private and have good will power.
Tendency towards inflammation.
Anyone can experience pitta imbalances, though the pitta-dominant individuals are more prone to them.
Signs of a pitta imbalance include:
Heat increases in the body and causes discomfort.
Inflammation in the body that can lead to joint pain.
Stomach heat increases leading to heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers.
Diarrhoea or impaired digestion.
Mental heat increase can cause excess anger, irritation, and frustration.
Increased sweating and body odour.
Increased hunger and thirst.
Headaches with burning pain in the head.
Sore throat with infection.
Giddiness and/or hot flushes.
Heaviness or tenderness in the testicles/breasts.
Becoming judgmental and perfectionist tendencies.
Large, well-formed frame, usually short but can be tall and large
Cold and damp skin texture
Thick and lustrous hair
High immune function and high endurance
Often relaxed and calm
Have a strong pain threshold and a strong will power.
Tolerant, composed, patient, calming and forgiving
Metabolism tends to be slow, making them sluggish
Prone to respiratory disorders
Heart disease is a risk they face
Needs motivation, otherwise can get depressed
Caring in nature and shows empathy
Emotional over eating
Stubborn, possessive and greedy
Wise and mature
Anyone can experience kapha imbalances, though the kapha-dominant individuals are more prone to them.
Excess mucous in the body
Slow/sluggish bowel movements
Increase in body weight
Thick white tongue coat
Fatty accumulation in the arteries
Excess ear wax
Oily skin and hair
Poor sense of taste and smell
Lethargy and drowsiness
Ayurveda also uses elemental medicine to balance out imbalances in earth, fire, water, air and ether in the body. As mentioned above, Ayurveda places great emphasis on helpful changes to diet (with consideration of the six tastes and whether a food stuff has a heating or cooling effect on the body), lifestyle factors (including exercise, rest, yoga, meditation), massage and herbal medicines to bring a person back to health, and keep them there, promoting natural immunity and a more balanced and harmonious state of being on all levels.