Ayurveda – A union of Science, Philosophy and Spirituality
Man has been in this endless quest called life for millions of years and what separates him from the animals is this instinct to know more, to experience more and most of all, to achieve a quality life. This is the driving force for the evolution of our brain.
Now, the important question is not ‘what’ we want to achieve, but ‘how’ we want to achieve. Are we marching forward towards success in so-called highly civilised ways? Or are we unwittingly rushing back to our caveman strategies, where survival is the only thought in our minds?
Surprisingly, that so-called ‘uncivilised’ caveman was also trying to know beyond the known world around him. He observed keenly the nature surrounding him and tried to apply things he learnt. He passed on to his successors the knowledge he gained from Mother Nature and a curiosity and respect for those unknown and intangible forces around him. This unending quest for knowledge evolved into several sciences. Medical science is one of them and takes various forms in different parts of the world.
According to environmental factors and cultural forms, the physical-mental-spiritual requirements of humankind vary. All cultures have their own treasures of knowledge which originate and develop from a pool of knowledge that has a peculiar geographical, geological and historical aspect, specific to that culture. This is the reason traditional forms of medical science differ in various cultures. Such knowledge also gets restricted and becomes more applicable with time.
Cultural knowledge treasures which can’t restructure themselves become neglected due to their old and unsuitable forms. As a result, a very few ancient knowledge systems have been able to survive and grow with time. One of these is ‘Ayurveda’. Ayurveda is a complete knowledge about life. It mainly helps us to attain physical fitness through healthy routines and also provides medicinal knowledge. Students, practitioners and researchers continue to be amazed at the knowledge span of this science.
Ayurveda aims for the maintenance of health. If this is disturbed, Ayurveda helps our basic resistance combat this imbalance by prescribing natural medicine with appropriate changes in both diet and behaviour. Ayurvedic philosophy is based on the following theories:
Man’s relationship with the universe
Man is a microcosm of this universe. Everything within our body is a minute form of what is in the universe. This is why our ultimate effort should be to be in tune with the universe.
Make-up of the universe
Ayurveda follows Indian philosophy which says that this universe is created with material and non-material things. Material substance is made up of five primordial substances called Panchmahabhutas (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space). Non-material substance is made up of three Omni substances called Trigunas: Satva (consciousness), Rajas (motion) and Tamas (inertia).
Make-up of man
Like all living and non-living things on Earth, our body too is made of the five basic universal elements: Earth, water, fire, air and space. Our mental and emotional constitution is made of non-material substances, the Trigunas. This is why the internal balance of our body can be changed by the consumption of natural things.
Ayurveda holds that our body has all material and non-material substances that the living and non-living things around us have. When we add substances with similar properties they accentuate the impact, but by addng substances with opposite properties, we neutralise or minimise the impact of events in the body.
Everything is medicine
Nothing on this Earth is waste. On the contrary, everything can be used as medicine if you have that special wisdom to know how and when to use it.
Body humours (Doshas)
Our body has three basic humours called Doshas which are expressions of Panchmahabhutas.
- Vata is the energy in the body which controls all the voluntary and involuntary movements and activities of both body and mind. Respiration, maintenance of the digestive system, circulation of nutrients, excretion of waste and functions of the reproductive organs are all functions controlled by
- Pitta is the energy in the body which helps transform food into nutrition through the process of appetite-digestion-assimilation and absorption. Our appetite, digestion, quality of blood, intellect and health of skin and eyes all depend on the balance of
- Kapha is the energy in the body which helps the binding and lubrication of our body to build and repair our systems on a cellular level: Protection of our digestive system by lubricating it, protection of our heart by maintaining its position and functions, protection of joints by lubrication, helping our tongue to identify taste by producing saliva and protection of our nervous and mental activities by providing lubrication and nutrition to the brain.
Mental humours (MasasDoshas)
Our body has three basic mental humours called MasasDoshas which are the expressions of Trigunas.
- Satva is the pure state of mind which gives complete realisation, consciousness or pure knowledge.
- Rajas provides us with desire for activities to strive – motion or passion for something.
- Tamas is inertia or ignorance which makes us flow with the desires and emotions that lead us to darkness.
Basic tissues (Dhatus)
Once the seven basic tissues of the body or Dhatus are nourished, they produce an essence of our health referred to as Ojus (also called Aura or Energy). The Dhatus are:
- Rasa – This is plasma or lymph which nourishes the body at cellular level.
- Rakta – The blood which provides life source to each cell and the function of the blood to provide the cells with oxygen and nutrients.
- Mansa – The musculature of the body that covers the skeleton and also performs movement.
- Meda – This is adipose tissue which lubricates and oils the cells and organs.
- Asthi – The bone tissue which provides support and protection to body.
- Majja – Marrow and nervous tissue which line the bones from inside and also carry the nervous functions of the body.
- Shukra – This is reproductive tissue containing all the genetic data to propagate life. This tissue in women is called Artav or
Ayurveda further explains that Dhatus produce certain by-products in their metabolism; these are known as Upadhatus. They are again seven, namely; breast milk (Stanya), menstrual blood (Artav), tendons (Kandara), vessels (Sira), oily substance in muscles (Vasa), skin (Twacha) and muscles (Snayu).
Basic excreta (Trimalas)
Our body produces some waste in the process of metabolism, which should be eliminated from the body at its correct time. These excreta are mainly: Mala (faeces), Mutra (urine) and Sweda (sweat). They are important in our metabolism as their status reflects the status of our health. There are some other by-products called Upamalas which are excretions from organs, secretions in the nose and throat (Mala-Kapha), secretions in the stomach and intestines (MalaPitta), nails (Nakha), hair (Kasha-Smashru) and sebum from the skin.
Balance and relation of basic body components (DoshaDhatuMala Siddhanta)
We all have these basic components in our body as set out above, but with different permutations and combinations. We also have a profound sense of balance in body and mind on both gross and subtle levels, making each of our bodies unique. Moreover, our life depends on a good balance of these basic components, the three Doshas, seven Dhatus and three Trimalas. When any of these are disturbed, it causes imbalance in organs or systems controlled by those components. Although all the components are important in this complex mechanism, an imbalance of the Doshas always initiates imbalance of other factors of disease.
Causes of imbalance (Samanya Vishesha Siddhanta)
This theory says that if you consume any external ingredient like food or medicine and also follow a behavioural pattern with similar qualities to that of any of doshas in the body, then it will increase the qualities of that specific dosha in the body. Conversely, if you eat opposite quality food or medicine or follow a negative behavioural routine, it reduces the qualities of that dosha. For example, if you eat food which is dry and stale, it causes increased activity of vata creating dryness. This ultimately makes your skin dry. If you want supple skin then you should consume warm, juicy and fresh food. This helps to regulate pitta which performs the function of skin maintenance.
Ayurveda pathology summary
Ayurveda contends that improper diet, behaviours and external factors are the main cause of diseases. Due to contact or consumption of negative factors, doshas get accumulated in excess or get aggravated and reduce in original quantity. They may also get vitiated due to production of undigested, slimy and toxic by-products of impaired digestive function called aama. The disturbed or vitiated doshas in turn disturb the seven basic tissues, three basic excreta and sometimes even spread to the entire system related to that pathological process. In short, this is the Ayurvedic pathology. An Ayurvedic doctor has to go through all the subtypes of these doshas, all three basic excreta, all 13 types of systems, and all 13 types of digestive fires (macro and micro metabolisms) of our body.
Ayurvedic pharmacology summary
Materials outside our body make changes inside our body, either by increasing or decreasing the power of basic body humours. Substances having similar properties to that of the body humours increase the power of those humours, while substances having different or opposite properties to that of the body humours decrease the power. This is how food and medicines affect our body and mind constitutions. As food is said to nourish our mind, great emphasis is placed on the selection of food as per the constitution or to achieve certain changes in the mind.
A special branch of Ayurveda deals with knowledge regarding Ayurvedic pharmacology, known as Dravya-guna-Vidnyan. This branch of Ayurveda deals with the identification and pharmacognostic knowledge of medicinal plants used in treatments. According to Ayurveda, every plant works due to the following active principles:
- Rasa – taste of the plant.
- Vipak – post-digestive effect of the plant.
- Veerya – potency of the plant.
- Gunas – properties of the plant.
- Karma – pharmacological actions of the plant.
Concept of Desh
According to Ayurveda, Desh is a specific geographical pattern with a specific soil pattern, climate and flora-fauna. Ayurveda has divided geographical patterns into three types:
- Jangal is a desert-like or semi-desert-like geographical pattern in which there is mostly thorny, succulent plants and dry, blowing winds.
- Anoop is a coastal or highly humid forestation area like rain forests or beaches with hot and humid climate; plenty of plants of all varieties; a variety of animals and birds; high rainfall and wide rivers or sea.
- Sadharan is a combination of both these types and said to be an excellent habitat for people.
Body and mental constitution
Ayurveda believes that the physical and mental constitution of our body is decided at the exact time of conception. Although seven basic constitutions are told, every individual has their own combinations of factors which have to be determined by an expert. Ayurveda has a unique approach to deciding the basic body and mental constitution of an individual, which, in turn, decides the basic balance of humours in their body and mind. It takes almost a full one-hour session for an Ayurvedic doctor to ask you questions and check you from head to toe. Once your constitution is decided, it’s relatively easy to then determine the reasons behind the disturbances in the body.
Excerpts Odyssey Magazine – Volume 33 No 3 – Content provided by Dr Sharduli Terwadkar.