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Beginner's Guide to Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the science of healing human body. It is one of the oldest recording of medical science dating thousands of years ago. It is mentioned in Atharvaveda, believed to be made around 1000-1200 B.C., so Ayurveda pre- dates that. There were 3 mighty Vaidyas (Doctors) who reconstructed the old scriptures during the course of different eras, these were Charaka, Sushruta & Vagabhat. The three books are available even today and students learn from that book.

Ayurveda has 2 ways of treating a disease, one is called SHODHAN Chikitsa and SHAMAN Chikatsa. Shodhan Chikitsa involves purification of body, and Shaman Chikitsa involves Suppressing the disease, much like the way modern medicines treat our body, by suppressing the disease. In Ayurveda both treatments are used in conjuncture to remove the ailment right from its roots, that’s the Ayurveda way! We first use Shodhan way to purify the body from toxins, and if our immune system is not able to fight back, we use Shaman Chikitsa.

Ayurvedic treatment involves first introspecting the nature of your body, because every body feels different in different circumstances, for example under direct sunlight someone might feel hot, someone who is having cold might feel it soothing, someone who has lots of body-heat might just start sweating. Keeping this in mind, it is of prime importance to observe your body first. After judging the type of nature your body has, you can tailor make the changes required to keep your body in balance. The disease manifests from within, it is important to keep all the elements in your body in balance with each other. Speaking of this let’s see what is the basis of finding out the nature of your body.

The Panchmahabhoot Theory

Also known as the Five elements theory, the Ayurveda mentions that all matter in this universe is made up of 5 elements i.e. Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space (Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu & Akash). Let us dive in to see what these element’s characteristics are and what role do they play in defining the food that we eat. The type of food we eat brings in the same characteristics to our body as well, so knowing about the characteristics of these elements will give us more insight about what food should we choose to eat.

1. Earth Element:

Like earth, Earth element denotes heaviness and solidity, anything which is heavier or is denser, has more earth element in it. For eg. If you take the same amount of rice and wheat in your hand, you would notice that wheat is slightly heavier than rice, this is because it has more earth element in it. We can use this analogy to observe food around us, particularly things like Meat, eggs and cheese makes us feel heavy as compared to things like spinach, whole grains, seeds etc. Your body becomes heavier if you have denser or heavy food items, or we shall say that your body has more earth element if you eat food that has more earth element like properties. Thus, the kind of food you have affects the balance of these 5 elements in your body.

Remember that having food that has more earth element is not bad at all, as Ayurveda says, no medicine is same for everybody, you have to analyze your body first to understand which type of food suits you better.

2. Water Element :

Water element has properties of coolness, heaviness and cohesiveness. Water is not as heavy as earth but it is definitely has some considerable mass, good thing about water is its fluidic nature, it fills the void that are present, and removes air from the space. Water element has also got binding properties, if you take a fist full of sand, it will just run off from the fist, but of you mix water with sand, it binds it together. Any food item that is watery, smooth and oily has dominance of water element in it, many solid food items have good amount of water element to it as well, to bind the material together.

A person who has flaccid mass, or muscles that are loose have more water element to his/her body. When it comes to which food has more water elements: Fruits, ghee, milk, yoghurt are few.

3. Fire Element:

Fire element has characteristics of Heat, dryness and lightness. Food items which is hot or manifests heat in body has more fire element in it. One more quality of fire is its lightness, it has the ability to make things lighter. Cooking food requires heat/fire, which makes the raw food lighter and easier to digest.

One more quality of fire is its ability to burn unnecessary waste from body. Fire element can be controlled by water element and vice-versa, you’d notice that if you have more water element in your body, you’d have problem in digestion. On the other hand if the person is eating food that is spicy and acidic, it will evaporate water from body, leading to dryness of skin and excessive sweating and redness in body.

You’d notice one thing that fire element nullifies Water and Earth elements present in body, take a note of this, as it will be required in further understanding the concept of these elements.

4. Wind Element:

Wind element has quality of movement, lightness and dryness. You can feel the wind as it moves, similarly any movement involved in body requires wind element as opposed to earth element which is associated with stability. Wind element also denotes lightness, any food item that is light in nature has dominance of wind element, like millets, quinoa, amaranth etc.

If you switch to lighter food items, it will make your body lighter and will give you more energy and will induce more wind element in your body. With excess of wind element, movement also increase, thus giving rise to gas and subsequent gas problems. Wind also has the property of drying matter, leading to dryness of skin, dandruff and wearing of internal organs.

5. Space Element:

The last element is Space, also known as aether. Every matter consists of Space, there is space between atoms, there is space between nucleus and electrons in an atom. So in totality, all matter is made of combination of the 5 elements. Space is made when there is depletion of earth and water element from body and in that space wind stays. Excess of exertion will result in destruction of earth and water element.

The Tridosha Theory

The panchmahabhoot (5 elements) are the basic elements, permutation and combination of these elements gives rise to various matter in our body, these matters can be divided into 3 categories : Dosha, Dhatu & Mala. We can say that our body is made up of these 3 types of matter. Dosha is the stimulating force behind creation, destruction and transformation of the other 2 types of matter, i.e. Dhatu & Mala. We are going to learn more about Dosha as it is the prime factorial for a healthy life.

There are 3 types of Dosha, i.e. Vata, Pitta & Kapha. In our body and in this universe 3 basic things happen : Creation, Destruction & Transformation. Creation takes place when the 5 elements come together to form a matter, the force behind getting the elements together is Kapha. Destruction takes place when we have to de-assemble the matter into elements, for this Vata is responsible. Sometimes for proper utilization of the elements, we have to change the matter into different form, this is where Pitta comes into action. Balancing of these forces in our body is of prime importance, as imbalance can harness diseases within the body. Let us understand more about these 3 Doshas.

1. Vata Dosha

Vata is made of 2 elements – Wind & Space. The word Vata signifies Motion. Vata is responsible for any kind of motion in the body, be it moving of hands or legs, be it movement of intestines or lungs, anything that involves motion, vata is making it happen. The qualities of Vata is same to the elements it is made from, like wind and space, it is light, it makes thing dry, it is always moving and it is cold. The person having increased Vata in body would be facing similar qualities too, he/ she would be light, thin, restless, talkative, weak etc. Let us know more about the functions of Vata Dosha :

Functions of Vata :

  • Vata is responsible for cleaning up the body, balanced vata would remove all wastes from the body, whereas imbalanced vata would result in constipation, bloating and gas problems.

  • Vata is responsible for eagerness to work and motivation, person having balanced vata would be active

  • Vata is responsible for proper functioning sensory organs, like touch (skin), ears etc.

  • Imbalanced Vata can result in destruction of internal organs as it harnesses destructive energy, here are a few signs the body will tell you if you have increased Vata.

Signs of Increased Vata :

  • Increased lightness and weakness in body; skin turning into dark complexion; shaking and twitching of muscles and eye-lids.

  • Dryness of skin; dandruff

  • Decreased appetite, feeling tightness and bloating in stomach due to excess air present in it; gas problems; constipation.

  • Insomnia; restlessness; fidgety movement of legs and hands; uncontrolled talkativeness.

  • Loss of hearing; ringing in ears.

Check if you have any of these symptoms, it could mean that you have increased Vata in body.

2. Pitta Dosha

Pitta is made of 2 elements – Fire and Water. The word Pitta signifies fire and is dominant of fire element. Pitta is responsible for digestion in our body, it transforms heavy matter to lighter more digestible matter. Like heat turns water into water vapours, similarly pitta changes the state and breaks the matter into simpler elements which are easy to be consumed by the organs of the body. Pitta has also a cleansing function, it breaks toxins inside the body and cleans out the veins and arteries with blockages.

Functions of Pitta :

  • Pitta is responsible for digestion in our body.

  • Pitta helps in maintaining warmth in the body, it also regulates healthy metabolism.

  • Pitta is responsible for healthy functioning of eye-sight.

  • Pitta creates a sensation of hunger and thirst.

  • Pitta gives taste to the tongue, it removes the sticky kapha from tongue, which is a breeding ground for yeast and bacterias.

Balanced Pitta maintains good digestion and metabolism in body, as we all know improper digestion is the root cause of many ailments, we should keep our pitta in check. Here are a few signs of increased pitta in our body :

Signs of increased Pitta :

  • Increased Pitta will give yellow colour to your stool, urine, eyes and skin.

  • Increases body heat, heat in sole, palm, eyes, ears etc.

  • Disturbed Sleep

  • Getting unconscious randomly

  • Acidity

3. Kapha Dosha :

Kapha is made of 2 elements water and earth. Kapha means who grows body/ Strengthens body. As the nature of its forming elements, it has properties of heaviness, cold, stability, binding, lubricating etc. Kapha dosha is responsible for creation, it acts as a binding force between elements to form matter. That’s why kids have increased kapha, as they are in a stage of growth, they need excess kapha to grow and develop their body. Kapha is also cold in nature, it nullifies the heat generated from Pitta, that’s why people having increased signs of Pitta should consume products having Kapha like properties, like oil, ghee, cream, butter etc. Increased Kapha in body can lead to clotting of blood inside vessels, leading to heart diseases, one should balance it out by increasing Vata in body. Let us understand more about the functions of Kapha.

Functions of Kapha :

  • Kapha provides lubrication and moisture to the organs, it stabilizes them and reduces wear and tear.

  • It helps in development of cells and recovery of organs, thus it recovers body from any damage or destruction within. It helps in growing/ binding of any matter.

  • It reduces body heat and helps in lowering stress and anxiety, thus keeping mind in peace.

Kapha plays an important role in balancing out the other two Doshas in body, as the other Doshas give rise to destruction and wear and tear of the body, they are also the ones causing more harm if not in balance. Thus, by increasing Kapha we can maintain a healthy balance of Doshas in the body.

Signs of Increased Kapha in body :

  • The metabolism of body decreases when Kapha increases in the body. Hunger and thirst goes down and the person starts feeling lazy, lethargic and sluggish.

  • There’s excessive salivation. Whiteness starts appearing in the tongue which reduces tastes, and disrupts digestion.

  • There’s a feeling of excessive heaviness in body.

  • Whitish colourization in the lower part of nails; skin starts looking pale.

  • Looseness in muscle and tissues.

  • A person having increased Kapha might have breathing problems, cough and other sinus related problems.

  • Deep and sound sleep.

As we know the 2 basic theories of Ayurveda, let us spend some time to analyze our body, which Dosha in our body is dominating more. Remember that there should be a balance between the three Doshas, for balancing the 3 doshas, we must increase the other doshas to nullify it. Vata can be reduced by increasing Kapha, Kapha can be reduced by increasing Vata and Pitta, Pitta can be reduced by increasing Kapha. To increase any of the Dosha, we have to first analyze the food we eat. The type of food we eat determines the type of Dosha we are going to increase in our body.

Food are of varied tastes and texture, some are sweet, some are salty, some are solids, some are liquidy, the elements present in the food gives characteristics to its taste and texture. We should analyze these characteristics to judge which food is dominating which Dosha. The kind of food we eat decides which Dosha will dominate our body, so with no further ado lets learn about the Six Taste Theory or we call it as the Shadrasa Theory.

The Shadrasa Theory

Shadrasa (Shada- Sweet; Rasa – taste), also known as the six taste theory. Ayurveda has given importance to six types of tastes i.e. Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent/Spicy and Astringent taste. The food carrying any of the mentioned taste has dominance of 2 major elements. This knowledge is very important as it would give us insight about the food we eat. We can balance our diet based on the taste of the food and select only those which will help us balance our Doshas. Below is a chart showing dominance of elements based on the taste of the food.

1. Sweet Taste : (Earth + Water)

Sweet Tasting food are dominant in earth and water element, they increase kapha in our body and reduces Pitta & Vata. Sweet tasting food is given prime importance in Ayurveda, that’s why it is the first in the list, it helps in growth of body that’s why kids love eating sweets. We often remove sweet tasting food from our diet thinking that it will increase our weight, however that is not true. We should include sweet tasting food as much as possible in our diet as it promotes growth and brings more stability in the body. Confused ?, well need not be, the sweet tasting food I am talking about are whole grains, seeds, quinoa, cereals, dairy products, oil, ghee etc., anything sweet tasting that is not processed and does not contain added sugar.

2. Sour Taste (Earth + Fire)

Sour tasting food are generally lighter (less dense) than sweet tasting food. The fire element present in sour tasting food increases the body fire and helps in Digestion. Sour Tasting food increases Pitta and Kapha in body and reduces Vata. Some eg. Of sour tasting food are Indian goose berry, tamarind, pomegranate, butter milk, curd, etc.

People suffering from common signs of Vata like suppressed hunger, tasteless tongue, digestion problem, gas problem should have more of sour tasting food. However excessive eating of Sour tasting food can lead to manifestation of other diseases, like skin diseases, anemia, altered consciousness are a few.

3. Salty Taste (Water + Fire)

Salty tasting food increases Kapha and Pitta, reduces Vata. Salty food are known as good appetizers, they increase the fire in the body and subsequently digestion. Salty food are suited more for humid climates, as there should be some element to subset the moisture around, that’s why you find coastal food to be salty in taste. The only way you can make food salty is by adding salt, thus choosing the right salt is very important. Sea salt is widely available but is known to have high amounts of Sodium which is not good with hypertensive patients and is not good for the eyes. On the other hand, rock salt (Sindhav namak) is the only salt mentioned in Ayurveda which is good for eyes. Black Salt (dark red in colour) has good carminative effect on body.

4. Bitter taste (Wind + Space)

Bitter tasting food are dominant of wind & space, it creates Vata in body. As one eats food (Earth+water), fire within keeps burning it for energy, in turn this creates space in which wind stays, so if it is already happening in the body, one would ask why do we need bitter tasting food. Well, this food that we are eating are also feeding the bad bacteria in the body, we need bitter tasting food to suppress their growth, that’s why all the antibiotics are bitter in taste. The reason why we have mentioned this taste on the 4th place is that it should not be had much, as eating excess of bitter food will increase vata in body, bitter food should be had in small quantities only.

5. Pungent/ Spicy taste (Fire + Wind)

Spicy tasting food increase Vata and Pitta in the body. Naturally these elements should be used in moderation as excessive use can increase Vata & Pitta in body that’s why it is mentioned in the 5th position, as most of the diseases emerge from imbalance of Vata and Pitta. Spicy tasting food increases fire in the body and is good for digestion, it can also be used to reduce Kapha from body. People suffering from cold are advised to eat hot spicy rasam to relieve them from their kapha, the spiciness of rasam increases body heat which in turn expels kapha from body.

6. Astringent Taste (Wind + Earth)

Most important property of astringent tasting food is its holding action quality, that’s why it stops loose motions. It also acts as against kapha & pitta. Most dals (pulses) and vegetables have astringent taste, eg. Chana, okra, beatle nut (supari) etc. Excess use of them will increase Vata.

This blog contains only the basis of Ayurveda, the basic theories which you would need to understand your body and material nature in general. It gives you an idea that many body ailments can be cured by just observing the food we eat. Ayurveda is not just a science it is a lifestyle and we would be covering more on the lifestyle it teaches, so stay tuned for more. Thank you for reading the article, comment, like and share.

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