The Ayurvedic Approach…
In Ayurveda, health is defined as an active state of wellness – a state in which you truly live, not merely exist. This active state of wellness, according to the ancient texts of Ayurveda, extends beyond the physical body to the mind, heart, senses and spirit. In this “zone,” you experience physical vitality, mental alertness, emotional bliss, sensual balance and spiritual awareness, not just for a fleeting time, but day after day, year after year.
The Ayurvedic approach to health is inclusive, extending to your daily diet, your routine, and your environment. Your needs for achieving that active state of wellness, which Ayurveda calls balance, change over time. Age, environmental factors, stress levels, poor lifestyle choices and dietary excesses or deprivation can all cause imbalances in your physiology. Ayurveda offers a wide range of therapies and tools to restore balance, from dietary recommendations and Ayurvedic rasayanas (herbs, fruits and spices that help maintain good health) to internal cleansing and rejuvenation treatments.
In Ayurveda, each person is viewed as a unique individual made up of five primary elements. The elements are ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. Just as in nature, we too have these five elements in us. When any of these elements are present in the environment, they will in turn have an influence on us. The foods we eat and the weather are just two examples of the presence of these elements. While we are a composite of these five primary elements, certain elements are seen to have an ability to combine to create various physiological functions.
The Three Dosha Types…
Vata: Ether and air combine to form what is known in Ayurveda as the Vata dosha. Vata governs the principle of movement and therefore can be seen as the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space) affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, as in ocean, air can gain momentum and become forceful such as a hurricane.
Vata means “wind, to move, flow, direct the processes of, or command.” Vata enables the other two doshas to be expressive. The actions of Vata are drying, cooling, light, agitating, and moving.
Vata governs breathing, blinking of the eyelids, movements in the muscles and tissues, pulsations in the heart, all expansion and contraction, the movements of cytoplasm and the cell membranes, and the movement of the single impulses in nerve cells. Vata also governs such feelings and emotions as freshness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, pain, tremors, and spasms. The primary seat or location of the Vata in the body is the colon. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity, and skin. It is related to the touch sensation. If the body develops an excess of vata, it will accumulate in these areas.
Pitta: Fire and water are the elements that combine to form the Pitta dosha. They cannot change into each other, but they modulate or control each other and are vitally required for the life processes to occur. For example, too much fire and too little water will result in the boiling away of the water. Too much water will result in the fire being put out. The Pitta dosha is the process of transformation, or metabolism. The transformation of foods into nutrients that our bodies can assimilate is an example of a Pitta function. Pitta is also responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems as well as cellular metabolism.
Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence, and understanding. Psychologically, pitta arouses anger, hate, and jealousy. The small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes, and skin are the seats of Pitta.
Kapha: Finally, it is predominantly the water and earth elements which combine to form the Kapha dosha. Kapha is what is responsible for growth, adding structure unit by unit. Another function of the Kapha dosha is to offer protection. Cerebral-spinal fluid protects the brain and spinal column and is a type of Kapha found in the body. Also, the mucosal lining of the stomach is another example of the Kapha dosha protecting the tissues. One can visualize the Kapha force as the stirring force to keep the water and earth from separating. For example, if we take a pot, fill it to the half with water and then add sand to it, the sand will gradually sink to the bottom of the pot. (It separates from the water). The only way to keep the sand in equilibrium with the water is by stirring the mixture continuously. The Kapha force can be visualized as this stirring force in our body.
Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure. This dosha maintains body resistance. Water is the main constituent of kapha, and this bodily water is responsible physiologically for biological strength and natural tissue resistance in the body. Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs, and maintains immunity. Kapha is present in the chest, throat, head, sinuses, nose, mouth, stomach, joints, cytoplasm, plasma, and in the liquid secretions of the body such as mucus. Psychologically, kapha is responsible for the emotions of attachment, greed, and long-standing envy. It is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness, and love. The chest is the seat of kapha.
We are all made up of unique proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These ratios of the doshas vary in each individual. Because of this, Ayurveda sees each person as a special mixture that accounts for our diversity.
Ayurvedic Approach to Management of Imbalance and Disease
- Determine Prakruti
- Determine Vikruti [the present altered state of dosha in the body].
- Determine cause(s) of illness such as: Diet, lifestyle, emotional patterns, quality of relationships, genetic predisposition
- Remove the cause
- Provide the proper regime [diet, exercise, pranayam] according to the person’s Prakruti, Vikruti, seasons, climate, age, and so on.
- Provide a detoxification procedure, such as Panchakarma, of either Shamana [palliation], or Shodhana [elimination]
- Provide therapies that are antagonist to the provoked dosha /antagonist to the disease
- Provide rejuvenation [Rasayan] for the body in general to maximize immunity, to strengthen specific organs and tissues.
- Panchakarma [cleansing] therapies
- General management for body type energy.
One of the most unique aspects of Ayurveda is its cleansing and rejuvenation program known as Panchakarma. Pancha in Sanskrit stands for Five and Karma are therapeutic measures thereby meaning five types of therapeutic measures. ” Panchakarma consists of five therapeutic actions or treatments that are specific methods to safely and effectively remove ama (toxins) from different areas of the body without damaging or weakening the system. These are undertaken for the purification of the body and Ayurveda considers it necessary before the start of any other therapy. The logic being -as a cloth needs to be purified or cleaned of impurities and dust before it can be imparted a new color. Similarly the Body needs to be purified before it can be imparted new colors of youthfulness, health and vigor etc. In fact, most of the times, Panchakarma is an end in itself rather than a prelude to other therapeutic measures.
There are so many subtypes of this therapy and different types of herbal massages, fomentation’s like steam, external oil treatments, Basti (medicated enemas), Virechana (purgation through herbs), Vamana (emesis through herbs), Nasya (nasal administration of oils) etc. are incorporated. These practices are extremely helpful in relieving deep seated diseases as well as it is also beneficial for maintaining and improving physical and mental health.
Panchakarma needs special Ayurvedic operation requiring proper guidance from a highly trained and skillful Ayurvedic practitioner. One should consult with an Ayurvedic physician, not just someone with a modest amount of training prior to deciding for these cleansing procedures. Panchakarma is done “individually” for each person with their specific constitution and specific disorder or need in mind, thus it requires close observation and supervision.
It is recommended for healthy persons also as a preventive treatment to keep physically and mentally fit and energetic. It is also done to best advantage, although not always, at the junction period between two seasons, thus helping a person to prepare their internal environment for the oncoming season.
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