How Does Ayurveda Make Sense?
Ayurveda is one of the oldest health sciences in the world. It is said to have originated more than 5000 years ago. ‘Ayurveda‘ is a Sanskrit word, made of two parts ‘Ayur‘ meaning life and ‘Veda‘ meaning science, hence Ayurveda essentially means ‘Science of life’. Through this article we are going explore the question, why does Ayurveda make sense? Ayurveda is a unique holistic health science which focuses on the mind-body relation and the importance of balance between the various physiological components to ensure health. The beauty of this unique science is that its principles can be applied to any person, at any time and at any place. Ayurveda is one of the oldest sciences to talk about personalized wellness in form of Prakriti. According to Ayurveda, every person is born with a Prakriti (constitution) which is dominated by presence of doshas in various ranges. The doshas that are most prominent defines a persons prakriti. Ayurveda texts such as ‘Charak Samhita’ goes in great depth about the typical characteristics of each dosha Prakriti. The Prakriti description contains external features, physiology, likes and dislikes, appetite, sleep and much more. That leads us to the question, were the ancient Ayurveda texts talking about genetic traits? This question was explored further in a recent research study done by Govindaraj P, et al. which looked at the ‘Genome wide analysis of Prakriti’. The study found that various characteristics described for each prakriti type resembled a particular phenotype, hence strengthening the belief that Prakriti may have genetic basis. So we can say that Ayurveda was way ahead of its time by providing the concept of personalized wellness.
Ayurveda emphasizes that a persons ahara (food), Dincharya (daily routine) and in fact rutucharya (seasonal routine) should be in harmony with a persons Prakriti. Way before the world discovered vitamins, minerals and their physiological role in the body, the concept of balanced diet was written in Ayurveda. The emphasis is to eat foods belonging to all the six tastes such as sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent at every meal. This to ensure that a balanced diet is being consumed. The goal of Ayurveda is Swasthasya Swathya rakshanam, aturasya vicar prashmanam cha. This means protecting the health of a healthy individual and eliminating the disease. The greatness of this science lies in the fact that it not only emphasizes restoring health and balance in the body, but also believes in being preventive in nature by promoting and protecting health.
The core principle of Ayurveda is that of Tridosha (three doshas). According to this, our body contains three basic dosha’s or humors Vata, Pitta and Kapha in various levels. Vata stands for the wind element and is responsible for all the movements within our body. From the macro to micro level, every movement within the body, may it be nerve impulses, peristalsis, muscle action or breathing can be attributed to Vata.
Metabolism and transformation functions such as digestion, absorption and assimilation are said to be governed by Pitta. So when Ayurveda talks about Pitta, it is just not talking about bile, but different enzymes and hormones that are necessary for digestion and metabolism to take place. Hence these can also be considered as various forms of Pitta. The third Dosha is Kapha, also known as Phlegm. It is the dosha that provides structure, binds tissues together and gives biological strength. The functions of joint lubrication, wound healing and mucous production inside body cavities can be attributed to Kapha.
Besides Doshas, the principles of Agni, Ojas, Dhatus, Malas and Gunas are also fundamental to this great science. Agni is the digestive or the metabolic fire. The role of Agni is transformation and is the key element of Pitta. So a person having low metabolic or digestive fire, aka Agni, may suffer from loss of appetite and indigestion. If the Agni is not functioning properly in a person, it may also give rise to Amai.e. toxins or undigested metabolites. This Ama, when accumulated within the body for a prolonged period, could give rise to various illnesses. The texts also describe Ojas in detail. It is said to be the extract of all the dhatus (tissues) and the substance that maintains life. Prana is described as the energy or life force within every cell of the body. Just as in modern physiology, the body is made of various tissues and Ayurveda talks about seven dhatus or tissues. These being Rasa (plasma), Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle), Meda (fat), Asthti (bones), Majja (bone marrow) and Shukra (reproductive tissue). Besides this, Malas or waste products are described, these being urine, feces and sweat.
Ayurveda does not stop at providing details about body physiology but goes in great details about mind attributes or Gunas, these being Satva (balance), Rajas (hyperactivity) or Tamas (hypoactivity), thus providing a deep and sound connection between mind and body. The Panchamahabhoot or five element principle is also fundamental in Ayurveda. As per this great science, just as the universe is made up of five basic elements: Akasha (ether), Vayu (air), Tejas (fire), Apa (water) and Prithvi (earth), our body is also composed of these elements. Thus the secret of good health in Ayurveda as described in Sushrut Samhita is ‘Sama dosha Sama agni cha Sama Dhatu mala kriyah, prasanna atme indriya manah Swasthya itbhidiyate‘. It means: when Tridoshas, Agni, Dhatu, Mala are in balance and the soul, senses and mind in a pleasant state, then a person is said to be in good health. What a beautiful concept of health and wellness that brings together body, mind and soul!
Ayurveda is truly a natures science that promotes natural well being. It is the science of life. It is the science that creates harmony between us and nature. It emphasis on us recognizing our biorhythms and making that mind-body connection. It is a whole encompassing health system that goes beyond physical health and puts equal emphasis on mental health. That is why Ayurveda makes so much sense.