Ayurveda – The Basics

20 March 2014

The Sanskrit word Ayurveda comes from two root words which mean life principle and knowledge. It is a tatpurusha word (a compound of two words in the Sanskrit language  “ayus” and “veda”). “Ayus” means life and “Veda” means knowledge or science, so when the two words are combined they translate to, “Knowledge of Life” or “Science of Life.” Ayurvedic medicine is permeated in Indian culture, and its purpose is to care for the body, sense organs, mind and soul. It is the oldest known systematic health care system in the world and dates back to Vedic times. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are incorporated into the science of yoga.

Ayurdeva is based on a healthy lifestyle which believes in taking preventative measures that eliminate the environment that disease needs to spread and be sustained within the body. Only when the body is out of balance can disease take hold. According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are three “humors” which control all bodily processes. Symbols of these three humors can be found in the modern symbol that many Western doctors use to depict their practice. In Ayurvedic medicine and yoga these three humors are called Doshas. A Dosha is an element that generally causes the body to become imbalanced. From the Sanskrit, the word Dosha translates as, “deviation.” The three Doshas are named Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and they can stand by themselves or be combined to cause various states of imbalance (or balance) in the body.

Vata is viewed as a combination of the space and air elements. Pitta is considered the fire element and Kapha represents the water element. When the body is free of disease these three elements are in balance so that none dominates another. However, over time one of the Doshas often begins to rule the personality and this causes the body to become imbalanced. Whichever Dosha is more dominant for a person determines their basic constitution. Nearly every person is believed to be ruled by at least one (or a mixture) of these three Doshas. Ayurveda attempts to bring the Doshas into balance using herbs, yoga and other practices so that disease cannot occur in the body and there are historical references for the use of herbs and herbal cures in all four of the Vedas, especially in the Rig Veda.

Ayurdeva also describes seven Dhatus or “body tissues.” From the yogic standpoint of meditation and contemplation, these seven are encountered, explored, and set aside as not being the Self or Atman, as is done with the other inner aspects. The Dhatus are reffered to as not Self in the Atma Shatakam by Adi Shankara.

The Dhatus are essentially liquids in the body that control different aspects of the body and are developed through metabolic refinement via both the application of herbs and the practice of yoga. Yoga is an essential component to most Ayurvedic treatment.

The Dhatus are as follows:

  1. 1. Rasa: The nutrient fluid (plasma) which forms the base of blood.
  2. 2. Rakta: Oxygenated blood cells which are the foundation of living tissue.
  3. 3. Mamsa: Muscle tissue which provide strength and forms the vital organs.
  4. 4. Meda: Fat that lubricates and insulates the body, especially the joints.
  5. 5. Asthi: Bones and cartilage which act as the body’s frame and support.
  6. 6. Majja: Bone marrow responsible for filling up the bones and supports Ashti Dhatu.
  7. 7. Shukra: Tissues and juices that help reproduction, including sperm and ovum.

These basics of Ayurveda are only a starting place for students of Ayurveda and yoga. Experienced doctors of Ayurvedic medicine can often simply feel the pulse of a patient and know which Dhatus are out of balance. The doctor can also look in a patient’s eyes to determine their predominate Dosha (constitution) and then recommend appropriate changes in their diet and/or lifestyle.

Regardless of its origins, as a result of the ancient science of Ayurveda, innumerable people have been healed. Everyone from cancer sufferers to those afflicted with the common cold can look to this ancient healing technique as an effective alternative to allopathic remedies.

Of related interest, click on: Ayurveda & the Three Doshas

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

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