Tag Archives: Ayurveda

Ayurveda – The Basics

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the Doshas into balance using herbs, yoga and other practices so that disease cannot occur in the body and there are historical references for the use of herbs and herbal cures in all four of the Vedas, especially in the Rig Veda.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

Yoga Asana to Balance Your Doshas

Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences, two interrelated branches of the same great tree of Vedic knowledge that encompasses all of human life and the entire universe. Yoga is a spiritual path, while Ayurveda is therapeutic (and lifestyle-oriented); even so, they remain deeply connected to one another. The “Doshas” of Ayurveda are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and they describe three different forms of energy, and everyone’s basic nature (prakriti) is made up of a combination of the three. Most people have a dominant Dosha, or two Doshas that share dominance (although in very rare cases there are people who have nearly equal amounts of all 3). Additionally, the balance of the doshas, (vikruti) will fluctuate throughout your life, and can become balanced or imbalanced by factors related to your lifestyle, diet, environment, physical habits, age, and to some degree, the 4 seasons and even the time of day.

Any routine activity in your life can either tend to balance your dosha or cause imbalances and your yoga practice is no exception. So, Ayurvedic practitioners and theorists have given us some guidelines as to what types of asana works best for each Dosha type. Before we go any further, for a review of the three Doshas click on: Ayurveda & the Three Doshas. If you would like to find out what your predominate Dosha is, you can take one of the many online quizzes (do a Google for “dosha quiz”) or to get started there’s a simple 12-question quiz on Deepak Chopra’s site, click HERE.

Now as to which asanas are best suited for your Dosha, here’s some suggestions…

Suggestions and Advice for VATA:

People of Vata disposition or those with Vata imbalances benefit most from a yoga practice that is grounding, calming, and slightly warming. This practice helps to balance out Vata’s tendency to be anxious, insecure and “spacey”. Also, since imbalances in Vata commonly manifest in the large intestine and/or lower back (2nd chakra), people of Vata nature can benefit from poses that strengthen the lower back muscles and work the lower abdomen.

Recommended asanas for Vata: All standing poses are beneficial, especially Virabhdrasana II (Warrior II) and Uttanasana (forward fold), Paschimottanasa (seated forward fold), Balasana (child’s pose), Dhanurasana (bow pose), Padmasana (lotus pose).

Asanas that are best to avoid: Those of Vata nature shold avoid over-stimulation through fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences. In addition, because Vatas tend to have prominent joints, it is recommended they use padding on asanas that put pressure on their joints such as shalabasana (locust pose), salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulder stand) and halasana (plow pose).

Suggestions and Advice for PITTA:

Those who are predominately of Pitta nature are most complimented by an asana practice that is calming and cooling. Pittas have a tendency to be naturally assertive, fiery and driven, so when practicing asana they should focus on keeping their breath steady and bringing “softness” to tense areas like the shoulders and face. Additionally, Pittas are prone to irregularities in the small intestine (3rd chakra), so practicing backbends that stretch out the solar plexus area can be especially beneficial.

Recommended asanas for Vata: Ustrasana (camel pose), Bhujangasana (seated spinal twist), Dhanurasana (bow pose).

Asanas that are best to avoid: Pitta people should avoid over-stimulation through fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences, which can generate excessive heat. In addition, Pittas should not hold inversion poses such as the headstand for prolonged periods, because they generate a lot of heat in the head and the belly.

Suggestions and Advice for KAPHA:

People of Kapha nature are usually complimented by a heating, stimulating practice. Kaphas tend to be a bit slow moving and are prone to congestion in the lungs leading to upper respiratory problems, so a fast and hot practice is the best method for bringing Kapha back into a state of equilibrium.

Best Asanas for Kapha: Ustrasana (camel pose), Salamba Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose – to free up the chest and help prevent congestion), repetitions of Surya Namaskara (sun salutation) A and B.

Asanas to Avoid: Almost all asanas are good for those who are predominately Kapha, but since their weakest areas tend to be kidneys and lungs, avoid prolonged holding of poses that place pressure on the lower abdomen, like Dhanurasana (bow pose).

What if you have more than one Dosha that share dominance?

If you discover that you have a “combination” dosha, it may be tricky to navigate the suggestions and recommendations above. A good example would be if you are Pitta/Kapha, you are advised to avoid heat on the one hand, but generate it on the other? For these types of “dual” dosha personalities, a few suggested recommendations follow, although obviously it would be best to seek an actual ayurvedic/yogic consultation!

First, try to find out if you have a dominant Dosha  by taking a different online Dosha quiz; for instance, if you took a fairly long quiz, try taking a shorter one and see if you get a better overall assessment.

Next, you can analyze your results and see if your physical attributes (as opposed to temperamental ones) fall into one category more so than another; this might help to guide your physical practice.

If you still are uncertain, you may need to do some serious self-study to find what is right for you. Going back to the Pitta-Kapha example above, you may find that in the mornings you have lots of fiery energy typical of Pitta, so then a morning practice should be slow and calming. On the other hand, you may find that at this particular time in your life, your Kapha is dominating, and you can compensate with a more stimulating practice. This is also the case if you are one of the rare people who have a balance of all 3 doshas; you will need some careful self-examination to ascertain which Dosha applies to which of your physical and personality attributes.

Discovering your Dosha is an unending process! The balance of these 3 attributes in your life will fluctuate over the years, seasons, even the different times of the day. But Ayurveda is always a great resource for some handy tips for how to get (and keep) those elements in balance, remain in touch with your own unique “Dosha pattern” and stay in tune with your true nature.

Ayurveda & the Three Doshas

Ayurveda is a holistic science of health, focusing on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. Ayurveda began about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago when Indian sages were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the sages believed that preserving an optimal state of health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. Since the term itself, Ayurveda, is a combination of the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (knowledge or science), which means “the science or knowledge of life,” this collection of knowledge came to be known as “the science or knowledge of life” – Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is based on the principles of three Doshas. It is difficult to translate the precise meaning of Dosha and it is commonly translated as “biological type”, “humor” or physical constitution. This definition presents a simplistic understanding of the concept. However, the original Sanskrit definition of Dosha is more complex, being defined as “doosyati iti doshah.” The literal translation of this is “that which contaminates is called Dosha.” So in this sense, Doshas may be considered pathogenic factors, or disease causing agents in the body. Imbalance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha Doshas cause diseases in the body.

So Doshas are the energies (or types of energy) that make up every individual and each Dosha performs different physiological functions in the body:

The 3 Dosha types:

1.    Vata Dosha: The energy that controls all the bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing and your heartbeat, even blinking your eyes…

  • –      In balance: Results in creativity and vitality.
  • –      Out of balance: May produce fear and anxiety.
  • –      A dominant Vata is thought to make you susceptible to certain conditions, heart disease, insomnia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

2.    Pitta Dosha: The energy that controls all the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and bodily temperature…

  • –      In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
  • –      Out of balance: May cause anger resulting in ulcers.
  • –      A dominant, Pitta can lead to rashes, heartburn, excessive body heat and indigestion

3.    Kapha Dosha: The energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.

  • –      In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
  • –      Out of balance: May lead to insecurity and envy.
  • –      A dominant Kapha may predispose you to diabetes, cancer, obesity and asthma.

Because one or two of these Doshas usually dominate in each person, the various Dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits, as well as their general likes and dislikes.

The ancient seers also declared each Dosha represented different elements and attributes…

Elements of the Three Doshas




Air + Ether

Fire + Water

Earth + Water

Attributes of the Three Doshas





Sharp (penetrating)

Slimy (smooth)
Static (stable)
Cloudy (sticky)

(attribute, not a guna)

(attribute, not a guna)

Hard, Gross
(guna but not a classical attribute)

Astringent, Bitter

Sour, Pungent

Sweet, Salty

We are most susceptible to imbalances related to our predominant Dosha, and you are probably wondering which Dosha (or Doshas) dominate you. There are many books and websites online that will offer questionnaires that can be used to determine predominate Dosha. A comprehensive one can be found by clicking on: Dosha Diagnostic Test

Summary: Ayurveda offers specifically personalized recommendations for every individual which range from general lifestyle changes to the treatment of disease. For this reason, Ayurveda can truly be called a system of individualized health care, something remarkably different from the Western approach of “one-pill for all.” Since the Doshas are used to detect imbalances before the manifestation of disease, Ayurveda is also considered a complete system of preventative medicine.

The Five Principles of Yoga…

The following are the five main general principles of all traditional yoga. As a holistic system, Ayurveda states that each aspect should be done in an individualized manner and according to the season and your current individual constitution (and/or imbalance) to avoid any aggravation of the “Doshas” (bodily humors that make up one’s constitution) and promote or restore health. Ayurveda and Yoga complement each other for an overall balanced and healthy lifestyle.

These Five Principles of Yoga are the basis of attaining a healthy body and mind through the Practice of Yoga.

The Five Principles:

Principle 1: Proper Relaxation

By releasing the tension in the muscles and putting the whole body at rest, you revitalize your Nervous System and achieve inner peace, making you feel relaxed and refreshed. This relaxed feeling is carried over into all your activities and helps you conserve your energy and let go of all worries and fears. Proper relaxation leaves you refreshed like after a good night’s sleep.

Principle 2: Proper Exercise

This principle revolves around the idea that our physical body is meant to move and exercise. Proper Exercise is achieved through the Yoga Postures or Asana which systematically works on all parts of the body – stretches and tones the Muscles and Ligaments, enhances the flexibility of the spine and the joints, and improves Blood Circulation. The asanas are designed to regulate the physical and physiological functions of the body. Practicing these Yoga Poses makes your body relaxed, gives you more strength and energy, and rejuvenates the various systems of the body. The Yoga Posture goes together with Proper Breathing. Each movement and stretch should be guided by your breath, making your movement and your breath coordinated; feeling like one and the same. The execution of the Asana is beneficial to the body, and at the same time contributes to spiritual and mental growth.

Principle 3: Proper Breathing

This means breathing fully and rhythmically, making use of all the parts of your lungs to increase your oxygen intake. Proper Breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. To achieve this, you need to be able to regulate the length and duration of your inhalation, exhalation, and the retention of air in your lungs or the pauses between breath. Yoga Breathing Exercises or Pranayama teaches you on how you can recharge your body and control your mental state by regulating the flow of Prana – the life force. This helps you achieve a calmer and more focused mind, and increases your energy level.

Principle 4: Proper Diet

What you eat extremely affects your mind. Improper diet results to mental inefficiency and blocks spiritual awareness. Proper Diet is one that nourishes both mind and body. It should be well balanced and based on natural foods. Proper Diet in Yoga also means eating in moderation and eating only when you are hungry. We sometimes tend to eat when we are upset, using food to fill the gap or the emptiness that we feel. Bad eating habits will cause our senses to be dull that we won’t even notice how much we eat or how it tastes and may result to diet related ailments like Obesity and Diabetes. Food should sustain our body. It should keep the body light and supple, the mind calm, and it should also help in keeping a strong immune system.

Principle 5: Positive Thinking and Meditation

The way we think highly affects our way of life. Practice keeping a positive outlook in life, this will facilitate in having a peaceful mind. Positive thinking and Meditation helps you remove negative thoughts and place your mind under perfect control.

* The first 4 yoga principles mentioned above will strongly support your meditation practice (the 5th principle) by providing you with the necessary tools to attain (and maintain) a healthy body and mind, calmness and peace, as well as discipline and inner strength.