“The science that describes what is appropriate and inappropriate, happy or unhappy life, and describes the guidelines for what is essential and irrelevant for a long life, and everything about life, called Ayurveda.”
Widely regarded as “Mother of all Healing”, Ayurveda was originated in India some 5000 years ago. It is believed to be the most ancient and well-grounded medical system in the world with its holistic approach to health, which is equally relevant in modern times.
Considered as the traditional form of healing in India, the knowledge of this healing method was passed down through ancient Indian spiritual texts, called the “Vedas”. “Rig Veda” and “Atharva Veda” are two old Indian scriptures that describe the science of Ayurveda.
Meaning of Ayurveda
The Sanskrit word Ayurveda literally means, “science/wisdom of life” (Ayu = Life and Veda = Wisdom/Knowledge/Science). Believed to have been passed on to humans from the Gods themselves, it is perceived as a rare combination of science, art and philosophy. Not only it focuses on harmonizing the body with nature but also reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
The ancient Vedic literature by Indian seers has clearly laid out the guidelines to keep up well being as well as fighting illness through therapies, massages, herbal medicines, diet control and exercise.
Father of Modern Ayurveda
A physician named Charak is known as the father of Ayurveda due to its easy-to-understand compilation of Charak Samhita, a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda.
Aims and Objectives of Ayurveda
There are two main objectives of Ayurveda:
- To protect and maintain the health of a healthy person (The preventive Aspect)
- To treat the disease and giving relief to sick person (The Curative Aspect)
According to Charak Samhita, “The purpose of Ayurveda is to protect the health of the healthy and to alleviate disorders of the diseased.”
In other words, Ayurveda lays great emphasis on preservation and promotion of well-being thereby preventing the diseases. It mainly emphasizes on the pro-longevity of an individual.
Connection between Ayurveda and Yoga
According to the Hindu Scripture Bhagavad Gita (the song of the Lord), “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
Yoga and Ayurveda are two interrelated branches of a similar incredible tree of Vedic learning that encircles all of human life and the whole universe. They are known as inseparable sister sciences, with Yoga as a spiritual science and Ayurveda as the “science of life”. Together they emphasize a complete approach to the wellbeing of the body, the mind, and the spirit, that ultimately leads us to the state of Self-realization and liberation from the cycles of birth and death.
In today’s perspective, Yoga is viewed in its therapeutic way, but originally it is not a medical science. It does not address either physical or psychological disease or their treatment in a primary manner; in fact it aims at the spiritual transformation of the individual.
The yogic exploration of consciousness, the subtle energies of breath and mind, and various types of spiritual practices are all inter-connected. Yogic texts contain discussions of meditation, concentration, mantra, ritual, pranayama, asana, and related factors but as part of spiritual practice, not as a therapy or treatment.
We do not find any therapy sections in the standard Yoga texts and it is not a major topic of concern in Yoga philosophy. This is because the concern of classical Yoga is penance, austerity and devotion not therapy, which is viewed as the field of Ayurveda. Most importantly, we do not find in Yoga texts a discussion of disease, pathology, diagnosis, or treatment strategies apart from the approach of Ayurveda. There is no Yoga system of medicine in terms of diagnosis, pathology, and treatment, apart from Ayurveda.
Ayurveda tends to all aspects of medicine including diet, herbs, drugs, surgery, bodywork, and its own special clinical techniques like Panchakarma. It brings in ritual, mantra, and meditation for healing the mind. Also, it provides life-style suggestions for health, life span, and disease prevention as well as special methods for rejuvenation of body and mind. It includes the practices of Yoga from asana and pranayama to mantra and meditation as part of its healing tools.
Yoga is a journey of finding happiness and love within your own true-self through your inner spiritual practice. This does not mean that we cannot use its aspects in a therapeutic way, yet this is not its primary intent or orientation. If we want to turn Yoga into a medical system, this requires turning Yoga in the direction of Ayurveda. Disease is also mentioned briefly in some Yoga texts as it is viewed as one of the fundamental obstacles in spiritual practice. And to avoid this obstacle, a yoga practitioner is always directed to Ayurvedic treatment. Yoga for healing should be applied according to Ayurvedic guidelines of diagnosis, treatment, and health maintenance.
Today Yoga is emerging itself as a new yet powerful concept in the field of therapy with its various types of practices like Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation.
Ayurveda provides the appropriate life-style recommendations for a Yoga practitioner, whereas Yoga provides the spiritual and psychological ground for Ayurveda and its higher applications.Thus we require both Yoga and Ayurveda for a truly holistic and spiritual growth of an individual.
The Doshas Concept in Ayurveda
All the materials and creatures are composed of five basic elements called Panchamahabhutas. These five basic elements are: Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal), Wind (Vayu) and Space (Aakash). The structural aspect of a human body is made up of these five basic elements. But there is also a functional aspect of our body which is governed by basic physical energies known as Tridosha (or Doshas). Each individual has a unique balance of all three of these energies and the ratio of Vata-Pitta-Kapha is present in every cell, tissue and organ.
They are three in number, Vata, Pitta and Kapha Doshas. The balance of Tridosha leads to health and imbalance leads to disease condition.
Vata represents space and air, and controls all movement in the body, including the flow of blood to and from the heart, the expansion and contraction of lungs that makes breathing possible, and the contractions that push food through the digestive tract.
The person with a Vata prikiti is typically of slight, thin build, and demonstrates great enthusiasm, imagination, and vivaciousness. Vata types grasp new concepts quickly, but forget things easily. They have bursts of mental and physical energy, love excitement and constant change, and display dramatic mood swings. Vatas tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns.
When out of balance, Vata types experience dry or rough skin, constipation, Dehydration, frequent viral infection, tension headaches, cold hands and feet, anxiety and worry, fatigue, poor and irregular appetite, insomnia, arthritis, and difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight. The Vata constitution is characterized by swift change, and, as a result, it goes out of balance more easily than the other doshas.
Diet Instructions to balance Vata:
- Include sweet, salty, and sour tasting foods in your diet.
- Avoid bitter, astringent and pungent tasting foods.
- Eat warm, oily, or heavy foods.
- Avoid cold foods.
- Best oils to be used are almond, ghee and sesame.
- Avoid ice cream and frozen yogurt.
- Eat boiled or steamed starchy vegetables.
- Eat ripe fruits.
- Herbal tea is a good option.
- Use mild spices like cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, coriander, salt, cloves, mustard and black pepper.
- Chamomile, fennel, ginger, lemon etc. are advisable.
- Raw honey, jaggery (raw sugar), maple syrup, molasses are good as a sweetener.
- Avoid using brown sugar and white sugar.
- Include Vata balancing herbs such as ashwagandha, ginger and triphala in your diet.
Yoga Asanas to balance Vata:
Sun Salutation should be practiced slowly. Standing Poses like Tadasana (Mountain pose), Varikshasana (Tree pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Virbhadrasana (Warrior pose) should be practiced. Savasana is advisable for a longer period. Pranayama like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril), Bhramari (humming bee breath), or even Ujjayi (Victorious Breath) are good for balancing Vata Dosha.
Pitta represents fire and water, and governs metabolic activities and digestion and regulates appetite. It maintains the proper body temperature and converts external images into optic nerve impulses.
Pitta types are often of medium build and medium strength and typically have blond, red, or light brown hair with freckled or ruddy skin. The basic theme of the pitta constitution is intensity.
Pitta types are ambitious, self-disciplined, enterprising, articulate, intelligent, and outspoken. When in balance, they are warm and loving; out of balance, they can be demanding, sarcastic, critical, argumentative, or jealous. Unlike Vata types, Pittas experience intense hunger and cannot skip meals.
When out of balance, Pitta types experience rashes, inflammatory skin diseases, heartburn, peptic ulcers, an occurrence of acute inflammation or swelling in body or joints, Feeling of nausea or discomfort upon missing meals, Diarrhoea, an uncomfortable feeling of heat in the body, visual problems, irritability, premature greying or baldness, and tend towards compulsive behavior (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders, etc.).
Diet Instructions to balance Pitta:
- Include sweet, bitter and astringent tastes in your diet.
- Avoid pungent (hot), sour and salty food.
- Eat boiled, steamed and raw vegetables
- Reduce the intake of hot and spicy foods.
- Eating sweet foods will reduce Pitta.
- Drink warm milk with small amount of cardamom and ginger in it.
- Avoid buttermilk, salted cheeses, sour cream and yogurt.
- Ghee and olive oil is best to use.
- Use Mild, cooling spices like coriander, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, curry leaves, mint.
- Avoid jaggery (raw sugar) and molasses if your Pitta is aggravated use honey instead.
- Include Pitta balancing herbs such as shatavari, bacopa, triphala, amalaki and haritaki in your diet.
Yoga Asanas to balance Pitta:
Asanas like Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Mayurasana (Peacock pose) and Bhujangasana(Cobra Pose) help to balance Pitta. Pranayama like sitali and sitkari are beneficial. Yogic Kriya Kapalbhati should be done when cool and calm.
Kappa represents water and earth, and governs structural aspects of body and gives vital strength and physical form to cells and tissues. It prevents excessive friction from occurring between the various parts of the body. It adds the necessary grounding aspect to both mind and body. It is responsible for fertility and virility.
Kapha types are of solid, powerful build and display great physical strength and endurance. A primary characteristic of the kapha types is contentment.
They are relaxed, affectionate, serene, slow to anger, forgiving, happy with the circumstances, and respectful of the feelings of others. They tend to require lots of sleep, have slow digestion, and moderate hunger, though they find comfort in eating. They typically enjoy good health, but tend to become obese more often than Vata or Pitta types.
When out of balance, Kapha types may experience colds and flu, allergies, sinus congestion, depression, lethargy, asthma, and joint problems.
Diet Instructions to balance Kapha:
- Include pungent, bitter, astringent taste into your diet.
- Avoid sweet, sour and salty foods.
- Eat more of boiled, steamed and raw vegetables.
- Eating ripe foods will be good to balance Kapha except for banana.
- Minimize the intake of heavy foods, salt and dairy products.
- Use raw honey instead of other sweeteners like sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup.
- Use oils in small amounts only even the best oil if overused will aggravate Kapha.
- Strong spices like pepper, paprika, garlic, basil, cloves, fennel, mustard, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper will stimulate digestion, improve appetite, clears sinuses, and stimulates blood circulation which is very helpful for balancing Kapha.
- Include Kapha balancing herbs such as turmeric, ginger and triphala in your diet.
Yoga Asanas to balance Kapha:
Back-bending Asanas like Ushtrasana (Camel Pose), Salbhasana (Locust Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand Pose), Sirsasana (Headstand Pose) and Viparitakarani Mudra (Half Shoulder Stand Pose). Savasana should be practiced for a shorter period. Pranayama like Bhastrika and Ujjayi are good for balancing Kapha. Kapalbhati should also be done.
Authored by Shobha Gupta
Shobha is a passionate yogi, an ayurveda enthusiast and unlocking chakras mysteries is her favourite subject. Holding a degree in yoga science from the renowned Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in India, she shares her knowledge about yoga, meditation and ayurveda on Giving Hands Reiki’s blog. If you would like to read more articles by Shobha, clic here. If you would like to write an article for our blog, please read our guest posting guidelines.