Ayurveda originated in India approximately 5000 years ago. The philosophy was built based on a wide variety of herbs, and how they interact with our body and environment. During the British Colonial period, Ayurveda was forbidden and all health clinics were closed. As Western medicine became more common, Ayurveda was considered as a poor people’s medicine.
However, since the independence of India, Ayurveda slowly emerged. After the long interference caused by the British Colonial, the consistencies of the knowledge of Ayurveda were scattered, which explains the varied theories you will find even with renowned ayurvedic doctors today.
In the early 80’s, a number of the doctors felt a need existed to re-establish the knowledge of Ayurveda. What came out of their efforts is now known as modern Ayurveda. This approach to Ayurveda is practiced widely in the United States, India, Europe, and Asia. Today, there are many Ayurvedic health centers in the United States.
What Are Doshas?
It is difficult to translate the precise meaning of dosha. It is often translated as a “biological type” or physical constitution. This definition allows a simple and easy understanding of the concept. However, the original definition of dosha is more complex and maybe completely lost to us. In recent times though, it has been translated to “that which contaminates”. Because doshas were used to diagnose the body’s pathogen, it may have been later translated to indicate disease or a contamination.o indicate disease or a contamination. However, this may not be entirely correct. Every being has an inherent dosha during their birth, but this might not be ‘contamination’, what causes disease is an imbalance of vata, pitta and kapha doshas in their body and not the ‘dosha’ itself.
As an imbalance of these elemental combinations is the direct cause of physical disease, they are the prime disease causing factors (the “contaminants”). Secondary factors in the disease process, like body tissues (dhatus), toxins (ama) and waste materials (malas) are actually the product of, or dependent upon, an imbalance in the doshas.
Ayurveda believes all individuals have the elements of three doshas, often one of them being stronger than the others. This is called the primary dosha of that individual, which can be similarly recognized as their body type. It is often possible that one can have one primary dosha, with a second strong if not as dominant as the first. The second primary dosha is called “sub-dosha”. One rarely has all equally portioned predominant dosha.
The Doshas And Their Connection To The Universe
Ayurveda defines a human being as the assemblage of the five maha bhutas plus jivatman (individual consciousness). The five maha bhutasgive rise to the doshas (psycho-physical tendencies). The doshas are derived by combining different pairs of the five elements. Doshas are comprised with the combinations of these five elements; earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Ayurveda thinks that each of us has micro universe within ourselves, just as there is macro universe outside of us. These five elements are important in understanding the functions of the body.
Earth represents stability such as bones, cells and tissues. Water presents change, and we have liquids in our body such as blood and lymph. The water elements deliver nutrients, carrying away the waste, regulating temperature, and carrying hormonal information. Fire represents heat and energy, which is critical for digesting foods or building muscles. Air is the movement, mobile and dynamic functions of the body. Ether is the space in between everything. It defines one thing from another.
There are seven possible combinations of vata, pitta and kapha. Every individual has all three doshas within them but it is the dominance of any one, two or all three that makes up a person’s individual prakruti (constitution). Established at conception, prakruti is the psycho-physical constitution of an individual. It creates the inborn tendencies that influence how one experiences life. When functioning normally and present in normal quantities, the doshas maintain balance in all body processes.
When out of balance they create disease. The imbalanced state is referred to as vikruti. If the present state of the doshas is the same as prakruti, that individual is balanced and healthy. Vikruti is the result of any aspects of diet, lifestyle, emotions, age, and environment which continually change from moment to moment. No matter what the constitution, it is possible to achieve optimal health through proper diet, cooking methods, lifestyle habits and an attitude towards life that specifically suits each individual.
The word Vata is derived from the Sanskrit verb “vah” means vehicle; to carry; to move. The elements of ether and air combine to form the dosha of Vata. Vata is connected to the nervous system and therefore reaches every part of the body. Traditionally, Ayurveda calls these the “winds” of the body – the impulses traveling along nerves, muscles, blood vessels and anywhere there is bodily motion.
Vata is the combination of air and ether, and its characteristics are light, active, quick, cold, and dry. Individuals who have primary Vata dosha are often of thin frame and tall or short. They are often positive, imaginative, active, and learn new things very quickly and make friends with people easily. When one has too much Vata (imbalance), they are likely to be distracted, forgetful and have anxiety and insomnia. Being air and ether, they can develop gas in the stomach, have constipation, cold and dry skin. Vata is associated with the sattva guna and the vital life force of prana.
The word Pitta is derived from the Sanskrit word “tap” meaning heat; austere. The elements of fire and watercombine to form the dosha Pitta. Pitta is responsible for metabolism and is equated with the body’s heat as well as digestion of food and thought.
Pitta is the combination of fire and water, and its characteristics are heating, light, mobile, and oily. Pitta individuals are often of moderate frame with good proportion. They are passionate, confident, and eloquent and like challenges and often possess good leadership skills. In Pitta imbalance, they often experience indigestion, acne, heartburn, and over perspiration. The emotional Pitta imbalances are anger, criticism, destructive and controlling. Pitta is associated with the rajas guna and the fire element Agni.
The word Kapha is derived from the Sanskrit roots “Ka” which means water and “pha” which means to flourish. The elements of water and earth combine to form the dosha Kapha. Kapha comprises all our cells, tissues and organs as is responsible for maintaining structure of the body as well as keeping it moist and well lubricated.
Kapha is the combination of water and earth, and its characteristics are cold, oily, heavy, slow, and stable. Kapha individuals are often large framed, and easily gain weight. They are loyal, compassionate, calm and peaceful. Their sleep is long and sound and they are slow to learn new things, however, once learned, they never forget. A Kapha imbalance tends to result in being sluggish, attached, uncaring, and are likely to experience respiratory imbalances, water retention, and weight gain. Kapha is related to the tamas guna and the elements of earth and water.
How Do You Diagnose Doshas?
Ayurvedic physicians use “pulse diagnosing” to determine what are an individual’s primary dosha and existing imbalances. Highly experienced ayurvedic doctors can identify numerous health histories with no prior knowledge of the patient by checking their pulse.
Can One Change One’s Doshas?
You cannot change your elemental nature or dosha. For instance, if you wish to acquire kapha qualities, you cannot do so by eating a lot of food high in kapha elements of water/jala and earth/prithvi. By doing so, you will only disturb your primary dosha. Changing your nature through acquiring positive qualities, and minimizing negative temperamental characteristics, is the role of the mind.
When you are healthy, you are generally instinctively attracted to foods and activities similar in elemental composition to your own body. When you are sick and the elements are unbalanced, you are attracted to those foods opposite in nature. For example, if you are suffering from a cold, or chest congestion (due to an imbalance in kapha), you usually choose to avoid those foods that are kapha in nature such as dairy products, or heavy and oily foods.
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