Our goal, whether we acknowledge it or not, is to be happy. It would be even more correct to say that we want to be full of bliss. I know most of us don’t get out of bed in the morning set out to live our blissful day, but why not? Maybe that thought is too daunting….maybe we just “have a nice day” and be happy with that. What would one need to do to be “blissful”? Again that might sound like we are setting our goal here really high! Ayurveda believes that blissfulness comes only when the body, mind and soul are in perfect balance, healthy.
Somewhere in years past our idea of “healthy” changed in this country. It no longer became important. I just happened to notice one day how many more hospitals, health care facilities, and outpatient emergency rooms had popped up around town, as if appearing overnight! What happened? How did we lose our way?
First we stopped eating when we were hungry (in fact we added more meals…sometimes up to 6 times a day) and when we did eat, it was something fast, cheap, available and sometimes not even food. We were too tired to eat breakfast, we would rather sleep in. Then at lunch, we grabbed what we could and ate it at our desks, because we really needed to keep working. Then sitting down for dinner with the family went by the wayside for soccer practice or dance lessons and we scarfed down something sitting in front of the television at nine o’clock. We also did away with recess, added some video games, and stopped going outside to play. Some of us over trained, under-ate, ran too many marathons, spent hours in the gym, stressed out our bodies until they broke. We have lost all common sense when it comes to health.
A healthy person, according to Ayurveda, is said to be one who has balanced doṣas (life forces), Agni (digestion), properly formed dhatus (tissues), proper elimination of malas (waste products), and a well-functioning body. The mind, soul and senses are also functioning properly by being calm, focused and clear.
To achieve this state we must first understand our constitution, or Prakruti (our true nature). This is the elemental distribution that we are born with: air, ether, fire, water, and earth. With these elements, come “life forces”, called doṣas. The doṣas are responsible for the health as well as disease in the body. If the body’s elemental distribution remains close to its origin, health ensues. However, if the elemental distribution falls away from the Prakruti, or its true nature, it will no longer be balanced and dis-ease will begin, as the doṣas will become aggravated. When the doṣas become aggravated or out of balance they in turn aggravate principles in the body, such as tissues, organs and channels. The doṣas (life forces) govern all aspects of life, and have specific qualities, sites and functions.
There are three doṣas:
- Vata, made up of ether and air, is the only doṣa that has mobility. It moves other physiological forces in the body.
- Pitta, primarily made up of the fire and water elements, governs transformation and is responsible for digestion, absorption and assimilation of both food and experiences. It also regulates metabolism and temperature.
- Kapha is made up of the earth and water elements. It is the energy that governs the body’s structure. It binds cells together and creates structure. It is also the lubrication of the joints and the water in the skin and immunity.
A verse from Sushruta (a scholar and surgeon of Indian Medical Science known as Ayurveda) states:
visarga ādāna vikṣepaiḥ soma sūrya anilā yathā|
dhārayeti jagat deham kapha pitta anilā tathā||
Just as the moon, sun, and wind sustain the world, kapha, pitta, and vata sustain the body by promoting strength (anabolism), reducing strength (catabolism), and initiating action.
Doṣas are described in terms of qualities or attributes (gunas). Vata is described as dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. Pitta has attributes of oily, sharp, hot, light, foul smelling, fluid and liquid. Pitta also has two tastes, pungent (katu) and sour (amla). Kapha presents itself as unctuous, cold, heavy, slow, smooth, soft, and stable. All matter can be classified by its qualities. This includes human beings. That being said, everyone has all the elements within them, but in varying quantities. If you have more air and ether elements, you will possess the qualities of dry, light, cold, rough, subtle and mobile, the qualities of Vata. If you have more fire and water, you will bear the qualities of Pitta. If your body is made mostly from earth and water, you will present as Kapha.
It is not always easy to relate to your gunas. The short quiz that follows will help you identify some of these qualities. Pick one per category, and then add up your score at the bottom. You want to identify the characteristics that you were born with, so if you have a hard time deciding, pick the one that most suited you as a child. (This quiz is from Kripalu healing arts ayurvedic guide to healthful living)
Once you have determined your doṣa you can use the qualities of that particular doṣa along with the qualities of food, herbs, and live choices to stay in balance. Remember that like increases like. Therefore, if you are vata and feeling dry, you will not want to eat dry, cold, raw food as that will just increase your dryness and throw you out of balance. To stay balanced, eat warm, cooked food. Next look at your daily routine. If you are pitta and you run outside every day in high heat, you may overheat and become ill. On really hot days, run inside on a treadmill to keep from overheating. If you are kapha and feeling tired, napping will only increase the lethargy. Instead, try adding some exercise to your routine to increase your energy.
Balancing takes some practice. Returning to a common sense view of health is very freeing. Enjoy the process, feel and rejoice in the changes. That state of blissfulness you are just imaging now, will find its way to you. Your blissful day….is just a few choices away.
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