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Ayur is a Sanskrit word meaning life. Veda means knowledge, as in systematized knowledge. This term connotes the knowledge or science of living beings. It is an eternal knowledge but probably understood and practiced in its present theoretical form for around 3500 years. The ancient seers declared that life is the manifestation of a spiritual reality. Although this spiritual reality is not apprehensible by the senses it nevertheless exists and is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of all things in the creation. It is probably the “stuff” of dark energy and dark matter that physicists write about. Interesting, the physiology of all living things can be included in this science.
One important point about Ayurveda is that it sees everything created as composed of three fundamentally different kinds of matter or substance, each with unique properties or qualities, that in the context of interactions with one another modify the way substances are experienced. In fact there are 20 unique qualities which can describe how all substances can be perceived. But the 20 qualities are understood best in three fundamental groupings of substance: things that move or animate themselves and other substances (called vata substances), things that transform substances (called pitta substances), and things that construct, support, and lubricate (called kapha substances). Everything in the creation is made of varying proportions of these substances, and everything ultimately is governed by these three entities.
In the universe vata accounts for the vacuum of space or the atmosphere and wind and various gaseous substances. In the body vata is the gas or “empty” space in the GI-tract , in joints, and in pores and cavities in bones. It promotes coldness, dryness, lightness, mobility, roughness, subtlety, clarity. These substances promote circulation, elimination, respiration, sensation, communication, cheerfulness, and all nervous activity.
The universe has a lot of electromagnetic radiation (all forms of light–x-rays, infra-red, ultra-violet, radio, micro, cosmic waves and so on)–these and fire, are the natural forms of pitta outside the body. In the body pitta substances include digestive enzymes, co-enzymes, bile, hydrochloric acid, hormones and so on. These substances promote warmth, liquidity, oiliness, movement, sharpness or intensity, and lightness. As a group they are responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation, intellection or discrimination, body warmth, color, courage, vision, luster, and enthusiasm.
All of the supporting matter of the stars and planets are kapha and in the body they are the liquids that lubricate and include the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, hair, nails, teeth, and so on. They promote stability, hardness, coldness, liquidity, oiliness, softness, density, heaviness, dullness, smoothness, stickiness, grossness, etc. They are responsible for themes of support, memory, power, contentment, capacity, and so on.
Ayurveda says that the proportion of genes that govern in a vata way, when dominant, give rise to a constitutional expression called a vata body type. These types are lean, thin, light, agile, inquisitive, creative, quick to act, to speak, to understand and are generally the thin-short or thin-tall people around us. When out of balance mentally/emotionally they tend to worry, fear, anxiety, instability, indecisiveness, and start but don't finish many projects. Physically, they tend to dry skin, constipation, underweight, cold extremities, and so on.
When pitta genes dominate the physiology the build is more moderate, oily, hot, expressing color as in red hair and skin. Hair is generally fine and sparse. Strength is more than vata and intellect and digestion are maximal in these persons. They are more visual persons and seek it out more in nature than others. They are courageous but tend to be combative, argumentative, impatient, aggressive, competitive, hateful, and envious mentally/emotionally when out of balance. Physical signs of imbalance include excess thirst, diarrhea, skin rash, bleeding and bruising.
The kapha persons are the stout, big, muscular, slightly more fatty people. They are strongest and generally most healthy and long-lived. They are affable, compassionate, affectionate, and steady but prone to depression, greed, avarice, attachment, resistant to change and so on. Physically they may tend to over weight, lethargy, inactivity, dullness, and so on.
There is an important maxim regarding causation: all things always promote their nature upon contact with other things. In short–like increases like or similar's coming together increase the expression of their qualities; opposites reduce or diminish the expressions of their inherent nature. For example, heat plus heat means more heat but hot mixed with cold means only warmth–neither hot nor cold. The import of this law is that no matter what we experience in our life, whether we are aware of it or not, want it or not, the nature of the things we come in contact with (including our thoughts) increases that style of functioning of the body. The body is governed by DNA tendencies but these genes express differently upon contact with different substances. Thus it is that how we live, eat, and feel are all important to how the body works. Ayurveda does not try to micromanage the bio-chemistry of things but rather tries to manage the vata, pitta, kapha of things. These three principles govern the bio-chemistry directly and we manage them (vata, pitta, kapha) with our diet, lifestyle, feelings, and so on.
As a health paradigm Ayurveda also emphasizes spiritual law–the law of karma as another aspect of cause and effect. This law states that as you sew so shall you reap. The meaning of this includes all matters of experience–moral and non-moral. It is a reflection of the fundamental cause of things gone wrong–called prajnaparadha or mistake of the intellect. It points to the fact that the intellect fails to make the right choices because, mainly, of the weakness of the senses to perceive properly, which causes the intellect to misjudge cause and effect relationships. Further, the intellect may not be capable of restraining the individual to what it may know to be right and sometimes it can't remember the cause and effect of experience. Sometimes we do the right thing but at the wrong time. And sometimes we use the senses too much, too little, or in a perverted manner. Thus it is that health and the matter and manner of living may give expression to actions of another time, place, and incarnation.
Ayurveda is rather unique for its characterization of disease. There appear to be 6 types of causes or models of disease: vata, pitta, kapha (humoral), infectious, toxic (ama), mental/emotional, spiritual, and nutritional. Each of these is declared by the ancient seers to be treated in an unique way. Therefore, one must make a fundamental discrimination as to what type of disease one has. Briefly, humoral diseases are treated with palliation and elimination; infection is treated with elimination, palliation, and avoidance; toxicity with digestives and burning drugs and activities; mental/emotional disorders are treated with knowledge–especially of Self. Spiritual disorders are treated with mantra, yajnas, gems, and other spiritual themes. Nutritional causes are treated with proper nutrition.
The general theme of medical (non-surgical) treatment of disease is given in four strategies: 1) avoidance of the cause, without which no cure obtains, 2) palliation with opposites, 3) elimination or cleansing regimes (panchakarma), and 4) rejuvenation.
Ayurveda aims to perfect the life and its components by maintaining a healthy body and happy mind. When one is happy and physically healthy one's purpose is fulfilled, one gets compensation for this and one enjoys these benefits. Further, Self-realization is possible when all these happen because of perfection of mind and body.
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