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The philosophy of ayurvedic medicine

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:

Vata traits

  • Tall or very short, thin and bony with good muscles

  • Tendency to do many things – make things happen

  • Quick learner

  • Flexible

  • 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

  • Stiff joints

  • 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:

  1. Dryness of skin, hair, ears, lips and joints

  2. Dryness internally, bloating, gas, constipation, dehydration, weight loss

  3. Dry and lightness of mind, restlessness, dizziness, feeling ungrounded

  4. Roughness, especially skin and lips

  5. Cold – poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness.

  6. Excessive movement, anxiety, fidgeting, agitation, muscle twitching and palpations.


Pitta traits

  • 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:

  1. Heat increases in the body and causes discomfort.

  2. Inflammation in the body that can lead to joint pain.

  3. Stomach heat increases leading to heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers.

  4. Diarrhoea or impaired digestion.

  5. Mental heat increase can cause excess anger, irritation, and frustration.

  6. Increased sweating and body odour.

  7. Increased hunger and thirst.

  8. Headaches with burning pain in the head.

  9. Sore throat with infection.

  10. Giddiness and/or hot flushes.

  11. Heaviness or tenderness in the testicles/breasts.

  12. Becoming judgmental and perfectionist tendencies.


Kapha traits

  • Large, well-formed frame, usually short but can be tall and large

  • Cold and damp skin texture

  • Thick and lustrous hair

  • Firm joints

  • Moderate circulation

  • 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

  • Trusts others

  • Wise and mature

  • Happy

Anyone can experience kapha imbalances, though the kapha-dominant individuals are more prone to them.

  1. Excess mucous in the body

  2. Slow/sluggish bowel movements

  3. Increase in body weight

  4. Thick white tongue coat

  5. Sinus congestion

  6. Depressed metabolism

  7. Fatty accumulation in the arteries

  8. Mucoid diarrhea

  9. Pre-diabetes

  10. Cold/cough/runny nose

  11. Hay fever

  12. Cold sweats

  13. Excess urination

  14. Excess ear wax

  15. Oily skin and hair

  16. Poor sense of taste and smell

  17. 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.

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