Getting acquainted with Ayurveda
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
During this summer, I did a 3 day workshop on #ayurveda, taught by students of the venerable and famous #drvlad. He's from India and is a life long ayurvedic doctor who has been practicing at his institute in New Mexico for more than 30 years.
I have been dabbling in Ayurveda for a few years now. How can I not? I am from India. I have watched a few TED talks on it, viewed a few documentaries, read a few books, and done more than a few courses on it. However, practice is the best way to learn it. This blog covers some basic concepts which I learnt from the 3 day workshop. I hope it whets your appetite into learning more and giving it an honest try.
A one sentence description of ayurveda would be knowledge/Science of life based on the vedas; the vedas being the ancient scriptures of India. Ayush means life and veda depicts knowledge/science.
Indian philosophers believe there are three components to every living being- mind (sattva), body (sharira) and soul (atma).
They also believe, every living being once born pursues four life goals, most of the time in different life phases- the right way of living (dharma), making money (artha), pursuing pleasure (kama) and finally, achieving enlightenment (moksha).
Ayurveda and Yoga are two disciplines provided to us to pursue these life goals. Ayurveda focuses on the goal of dharma; living the right way while yoga if practiced correctly helps achieve the goal of moksha.There are 4 types of yoga: dharma, gyana, bhakti and karma yoga.
One main source of ayurveda texts is the #Shad Darshan, the six philosophies of life. Of these six philosophies, the one that has contributed the most towards understanding ayurveda is #Samkhya. Sāmkhya gave Āyurveda a theory of cause and effect.
Samkhya philosophies speaks about the #1.--5 elements which as the belief goes we are all comprised of (#panchamahabhuti). These 5 elements are:
Ether/space element = sense of sound,
Air element = sense of touch
Fire element = sense of sight
Water element = sense of taste
Earth element = sense of smell
as well as #2. --3 qualities (#gunas). The 3 qualities (of nature) are:
#Sattva (light, translucent matter, quality of harmony)
#Rajas (the catalyst of creation) and
#Tamas (heavy, obscuring matter)
Each of these elements, have thus certain qualities associated with them. In a chart, it would look something like this.
Panchamahahuta (element) Guna (quality)
Ether (akasha) Clear, light, subtle, soft, immeasurable
Air (vayu) Mobile, dry, light, cold, subtle
Fire (agni) Hot, sharp, light, dry, subtle
Water (apas) Cool, liquid, dull, soft, oily, slimy
Earth (pruthivi) Heavy, dull, static, dense, hard, gross
Ayurveda then is all about qualities. To understand ayurveda, start to look at the world through a lens of qualities and see what you experience.
10 pairs of Guna (20 qualities):
Guna Opposite Guna
Guru (heavy) Laghu (light)
Manda (dull, slow) Tikshna (sharp)
Hima (cool) Ushna (hot)
Snigdha (oily) Ruksha (dry)
Shlakshna (smooth) Khara (rough)
Sandra (dense) Drava (liquid)
Mrdu (soft) Kathina (hard)
Stira (stable) Chala (mobile)
Sukshma (subtle) Sthula (gross)
Vishada (clear) Picchila (cloudy, sticky, slimy)
According to Samkhya philosophy, Prakriti or Nature is responsible for all manifestation and diversity. Prakriti is an eternal reality and the first cause of the universe. It is without cause, but acts as the cause and source of all effects, and "the ultimate basis of the empirical universe.”
However, Prakriti has no power or control over the souls (Purushas), which are eternal, numerous, independent and immutable. It cannot create life forms without the participation of the souls. According to the Samkhya philosophy, in all 24 realities (tattvas) emerge or evolve out of Nature, each having the predominance of one or more gunas. The 24 tattvas are listed below.
Mahat, the great principle
Buddhi, discriminating, reasoning and causative intelligence
Ahamkara, ego or ego-principle
Manas, the physical mind or brain
The five panchendiryas, sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue, nose)
The five karmendriyas, the organs of action (mouth, hands, feet, reproductive organs, excretory organs)
The five tanmatras, subtle elements (sound, touch, sight, taste, smell)
The five Mahabhutas, gross elements namely the earth, water, air, fire and ether
Ayurveda teaches that the central principle of health is balance. there are four aspects of the body that must be kept in balance for perfect/ideal health. These are doshas, dhatus, malas and agni.
Doshas in the simplest term are energies that pervade the body and mind, right inside every cell. Each cell of the body has all doshas but some doshas express more in one person giving him/her their character.
Someone may have a tendency towards one dosha vs. another. This tendency towards a particular dosha or 2 of the doshas determines a person's constitution. The three doshas are:
Vatta: this is the force of movement, activity and sensation. Its primary elements are ether and air. Characteristics include achieve, conscious movement, dry, cool. After 50, people have more vata characters (light, dry, rough, cold)
Pitta: this is the force behind all transformative processes. Its primary elements are fire and water. Characteristics include digestion, assimilation, comprehension, heat, spread. Adults who are ambitious show pitta tendencies.
Kapha: this gives the body strength and stability. Its primary elements are earth and water. Characteristics include earthy, solid, heavy, dull, cool, fat, sleep, nourishment, regularity. Growing kids have a lot of kapha. Example of too much kapha is when compassion turns into attachment or greed.
The balance of the doshas is health(prakritti), imbalance (vikritti) is sickness. Each Dosha is made up of two of the five elements above. Since all of us have all doshas (in some degree in us), that means all of us have all five elements in us.
Another goal in ayurveda for all practitioners is that regardless of the dominant doshas in a person's constitution, he or she should always be attempting to increase sattva to keep the mind healthy. Both
doshas and gunas affect a person's behavior/personality. For example, a person with a vatta constitution may be enthusiastic when sattvic, anxious when rajasic and depressed when tamasic.
Agni: The main form of agni is the body's digestive system. If it's working well then food gets digested. Undigested food creates toxins and this leads to disease. When not in balance, can show up as 1. Vishama(irregular), 2.Tiksna(sharp) 3. Manda (dull). Perfect/balanced Agni is known as Sama agni.
Dhatus:The seven dhatus are the tissues that make up the body's physical form. These are plasma, blood, muscle and skin, bones, nerve tissue, reproductive organs. They are created in chain once agni digests food. First plasma is created, then blood and so on.
Malas: Body's excretion: sweat, urine and stool. Passing them in a timely manner helps keep the body's system in balance.
Some other terms that come up often in the study of ayurveda are as follows:
Amma: This can be considered as physical evidence of imbalance in the body. It usually shows up on the tongue as a white coating. It could happen from over or under eating, mental, emotional balance or eating unhealthy food (such as fried, sugary, refined etc.) In some cases, proper digestion through proper agni can remove amma.
Ojas: A form of energy that is produced through proper digestion (using agni), also known as the eighth dhatu that helps support prana (vital life energy)
Tejas: Sort of complimentary to Ojas and can be compared to hormones and amino acids that regulate cellular metabolism.
Ahaar: diet or food. Bihaar: lifestyle
Now, let's dive deeper into practical matters. How do we know what tendencies we have and then how do we balance our doshas? Take this quiz to find out. Once you know what's out of balance in your body, take food and follow practices to rectify it. For example, if you feel sluggish, that may mean you have too much kapha, so you would need to eat foods rich in pitta.
Kapha food- ginger, pickle, raw and crunchy foods (salad). Too much kapha means not hot enough, need energetic fire such as as a mix of ginger, lime, pink salt taken 10-15 minutes before taking a meal or after a meal. Another example of imbalanced kapha is scattered mind; not grounded enough.
Pitta food- to improve digestion. Such as CCF tea, cilantro, lime, coconut. Too much pitta means too much heat, need cooling food like ginger, turmeric, hibiscus.
Vatta food- golden (turmeric) milk, shake with dates in it. Too much vata means too mobile, needs something grounding. Needs warm, well cooked, well spiced, oil.
Some general Ayurveda guidance:
It's important to remember, like increases like. Heat will increase pitta in the body. Sticky will increate Kapha. Dry will increase vata.
Churnas (powdered herbs and spices) can be put on food to help balance our doshas. For example, Hingvastak powder is used for excess vata; it helps reduce gas and bloating. Trikatu churna helps combat excess kapha by adding heat to the body/kindling the digestive fire.
Promote real hunger by keeping 4-5 hours between meal times. In other words, avoid snacking.
Eat your heaviest meal between 11.30-1.30. Keep dinners and breakfast light.
Cooking mindfully; while listening to music or chants or something calming is huge.
Another huge improvement is when you allow yourselves to just eat and not multitask.
Show gratitude for everything; including the food. you eat before you offer it to your body.
Pick and maintain a regular sleep time
Apply oil on feet before bed; it's grounding and a thank you to our feet for going all day.
Practice proper breathing exercises (pranayama) for 3-5 minutes a day.
Start your day by: waking up at the same time, drinking a glass of warm water and doing some yoga/pranayama.
In Summary, have rituals to start and end the day, they will be like your bookends that can hold whatever the day has in store for you.
Ohm and here's to a living life wholly, not just surviving or getting by.
Some resources referenced to create this blog: