The language that Ayurveda uses to work with this understanding is that of the five great elements – panchamahabhutas in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. These five great elements are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space (or Ether). Everything in the natural world is made up of these five elements. During the formation of the theory of Ayurveda they were combined into the three basic energies of life, the doshas. Often they are considered bodily humors, showing the relationship with ancient Greek medicine, the direct ancestor of our modern medicine. These three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata combines the elements of air and ether, Pitta of fire and a little bit of water, and Kapha combines water and earth. Since the meaning of the Sanskrit word “dosha” is “defect, blemish, weak point, damage, fault”, the doshas, as the energies they are, need to be managed and kept in balance, since when out of balance they are the cause of disorder and disease. The combination of the three doshas in different proportions is what the entirety of creation is made up of, both the psychophysiology of humanity, as well as the natural world, so anything can be classified in terms of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Ayurveda is slowly making its way into the Western world. Originally India-based spiritual groups such as the Transcendental Meditation movement, headed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ guru, made the introduction. Now there are schools all over the US and Europe, offering an education in Ayurveda and producing generations of Ayurvedic practitioners, who offer help in staying and getting healthy, or as is more Ayurvedically appropriate, “live a balanced life”.
There are many ways in which Ayurveda can contribute, and already contributes to healthcare and life in general.
- First of all it can function as preventative healthcare. Considering that Ayurveda suggests a way of eating that is based on keeping digestion strong and healthy, and a lifestyle based on nature’s cycles, people don’t need to wait until they are sick to visit an Ayurvedic practitioner. The biggest benefit is to learn how to eat and live in order to feel optimally healthy, and ward off disease.
- It offers low-cost medicine. When people practice preventative healthcare through their Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, there will be less need for doctor’s visits and medical treatment. When treatment is needed or is desirable, Ayurveda will employ the help of the plant world. Herbal medicine generally is low in cost. Especially if we replant our world with herbal gardens, possibly a way to help restore our imbalanced ecology. Ofcourse we should always check in with our doctor first, before we take herbal medicine, and in many instances the urgent care of the Western doctor will be necessary.
- It connects the mind and body, which offers understanding of disease development, and the healing of disease. For example Pitta dosha will shape a personality that is on the hot side. Very focused, easily angered, impatient, with great insight and understanding, courageous and charismatic. The physical counterpart of that is a body that is well distributed, not heavy, not skinny, that is easily overheated and sensitive to the sun, being prone to headaches and skin rashes. A strong appetite and joy of eating, a tendency towards loose stools and heavy menses. When there is an understanding that certain ‘hot’ personality traits go with certain ‘hot’ physiological traits, it becomes easier to keep track of the manifestation of the symptoms of these. Headaches usually comes with impatience and anger, as do the Pitta kind of pms symptoms.
- It promotes a simple, sustainable lifestyle. One of the guiding principles of Ayurveda is desa-kala-patra or locality-time-identity. Basically one’s diet and lifestyle should be dictated by what is locally available, is appropriate in the current time period and, according to one’s constitution or balance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in the body-mind. According to Ayurveda it is best to eat what your direct environment can provide. When food is locally grown or raised, it is picked when it is ripe, and will provide the most nutrients. It also will be the most balancing for the climate and geography of its region. Taking into account the time period that we live in, with its reality of overpopulation, industrial agriculture, GMO’s, disappearing rainforests, extinct and disappearing species, we need a different approach to sustainable diet than the times from which Ayurveda originates, when there were few people on the planet and sources of food were everywhere in the natural environment. One should probably consider a diet and lifestyle that has a low impact on others and the planet. When considering ‘identity’, we can relate this to Ayurvedic constitution. We all have different needs according to this.
- It offers an energetic blueprint of one’s constitution, which includes physical and physiological tendencies, but also mental-emotional tendencies, or maybe we can say certain personality traits. All this in terms of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. If we have an understanding of these tendencies and traits, we tend to have a good amount of self-knowledge, but also knowledge of others. The Ayurvedic model provides us with a way of understanding each other and ourselves in relationship to others, and others in relationship with each other. It might give us a way to respect each other more, based on how we know that someone who has a lot of Vata in their constitution, will have a tendency to be very creative, but not be very good at finishing off tasks. Will have a tendency to be fearful, easily overwhelmed, chaotic, but enthusiastic, sensitive and caring. They will be wonderful in certain jobs and professions, or positions in a large company, but not so good in others. The same applies to Pitta and Kapha constitutions. They all have their own qualities. Obviously this level of understanding one another is precious in our personal relationships, with our partners and our family members. It makes us see each other for who we are and what we are made of. It takes the personal edge off our experience of each other. We will have less of a need to be defensive and interpret other’s actions as being in reaction to us.
Learning about your Ayurvedic constitution, level of imbalance, and how to treat these, is a very valuable addition to anyone’s life, relationship and possibly to a society at large.