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Ayurveda

by Dr Ann Roden(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 19 - April 1997

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda means the art or science of life/living, or a way of life. The word comes from the Sanskrit, Ayu meaning life or living, Veda meaning knowledge or science of.

Ayurveda defines health as the soundness and harmony of the body, mind and the self (soul). Each must be nurtured to create good health.

According to this ancient healing system of India, disease is caused by the disruption of the equilibrium or balance within ourselves and/or with our environment (nature).

Western definition of Health

The Hippocratic writings stated that 'Health was dependent upon a state of equilibrium among the various internal factors which govern the operations of the body and the mind; this equilibrium in turn is reached only when man lives in harmony with his external environment.'

The idea of the body being in a perpetual state of flux and health being the ability to keep this flux within confined limits was widespread in the time of Hippocrates. The body was in a state of balance until something internal or external happened. The healer was able to preserve or restore this balance.

The four fluids which were suspected of causing disease were bile, phlegm, blood and black bile. These fluids are naturally present in the body but appeared to flow out during specific times of the year during illness.

These four humours were associated with the four elements of air, fire, water and earth.

The system offered the possibility of predicting the outcome likely to occur at any time of the year and the opportunity to devise a regimen that would prevent illness from occurring. The most favoured form of treatment was diet, which affected the whole lifestyle including the way one slept, dreamt, took exercise and reacted to one's environment.

Modern Western medicine has progressed from these ideas in that the emphasis is now on the 'biomedical model' which reduces the concept of illness to a biological abnormality within the body.

The powerful mixture of humoural theory, combined with the search for independent diseases that appeared and disappeared in human populations constitutes the historical origin of Western medicine.[1]

The World Health Organisation defines health as a 'state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'.

The Oxford Medical dictionary defines medicine 'as the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease'.

Thus we can see that the origins of ideas of health are present and the same in both Western and Eastern cultures.

Concepts of Ayurveda

Ayurveda traces its roots to the Vedic period of ancient India, some 4000 years old and is one of the best preserved systems of traditional medicine still practised today.

Ayurveda is based on the Sankya philosophy of the Rig Veda. Health is defined as the harmony of the body (gross), mind and spirit (subtle) triad. Disease occurs when there is an imbalance of the three. Each component of the triad has a different aspect and different requirements. The science of life therefore has three components: Ayurveda, Yoga and Tantra.

Ayurveda concentrates and deals with the physical body, Tantra with the mind and Yoga with the spirit.

Purusha, the universal soul, male energy, is unmanifested, formless, passive, beyond attributes, beyond cause and effect, space and time. It is Pure Existence.[2] It is inanimate and has no urge to action. It is choiceless, passive awareness. It is the witness.

Prakruti, the Cosmic Substance, female energy, is the creative force of action, the source of form, manifestation, attributes and nature. It is awareness with choice. It is Divine Will, the one who desires to become many.

It is only by the combination of the Purusha and the Prakruti that all existence manifests.

From these arise Mahad – Cosmic intelligence and from that the Ahamkara or sense of 'I am'. The one then gives rise to the three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

Sattva or Essence is the medium in which a thing manifests itself into intelligence, it is the principle of lightness and light. It means goodness and virtue. It has the quality of truth, virtue, beauty and equilibrium.

Rajas is the principle of energy or turbulence. It has the quality of force and impetus.

Tamas is the principle of inertia and heaviness. It restrains, obstructs and resists motion.

Tamas is black and relates to the Earth and the Night in the Vedic system. Rajas is red and relates to the Atmosphere and the Dawn. Sattva is white and corresponds to Heaven and the Day.[3]

Sattva is the natural quality of the mind, Rajas of the life-force and Tamas of the physical body. When Rajas and Tamas occur in the mind , they become the factors of ignorance and dullness (Tamas) and distraction and desire (Rajas). All Yoga consists in reducing Rajas and Tamas from the mind to bring it to a state of pure Sattva. Pure Sattva, or the mind in its natural state, has the power to perceive truth, to reflect the seer or the Purusha.

One of the key concepts in Ayurveda is that of the relationship between Man (or animals or plants) and Nature. It believes in using the principles of nature to bring an individual back into equilibrium with their true self.

Ayurveda looks at life from an energy perspective. Health is the harmony between the energy components of body, mind and spirit. Disease – dis-ease, therefore is the disruption of one or all of these components.

The Ayurvedic approach to disturbances in the mental and spiritual aspects of an individual, aims first to harmonise the physical body and then to expand that harmony to the mind and the spirit.

The Yogic approach involves working with the spirit to induce the body and the mind to become harmonised.

The Yogic diet aims to take predominantly Sattvic food, living in a Sattvic environment, associating with Sattvic people and having a generally Sattvic life-style. Sattvic food is vegetarian, fresh, organic and prepared with love. A Sattvic environment is natural, pure, quiet and harmonious. Sattvic people are possessed of love, faith, devotion, honesty and truthfulness.

Tantra works to maximise a being's mental energy which then balances and harmonises the body and spirit.

Ayurvedic principles

In order to harmonise the body, we have to realise that everything we perceive in the external world is composed of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These elements make up the body, are present in every cell. These individual cells are not able to live independently of the whole body. Similarly we are all cells in the Universal Organism and are not able to live independently of the whole.

Earth is a solid state of matter whose characteristics are stability, fixity and rigidity. It creates a feeling of groundedness and security in the individual. It is a stable substance.

Earth is a solid state of matter whose characteristics are stability, fixity and rigidity. It creates a feeling of groundedness and security in the individual. It is a stable substance.

Water is the liquid state of matter which has a flowing, dissolving, carrying and cleansing quality. It is a substance without stability.

Water is the liquid state of matter which has a flowing, dissolving, carrying and cleansing quality. It is a substance without stability.

Fire has the ability to transform solids to liquids to gas and vice versa. It is the power in the body. It is without substance.

Fire has the ability to transform solids to liquids to gas and vice versa. It is the power in the body. It is without substance.

Air is the gaseous state of matter whose characteristic is mobility. It is responsible for all movements. It has no form.

Air is the gaseous state of matter whose characteristic is mobility. It is responsible for all movements. It has no form.

Ether is the field in which all the activities take place, from which everything is manifested and into which everything returns. Ether does not have a physical existence but is the space which separates matter.

Ether is the field in which all the activities take place, from which everything is manifested and into which everything returns. Ether does not have a physical existence but is the space which separates matter.

The five elements condense to give rise to the three primary life forces in the body or the three biological humours or Doshas: Va-ta, Pitta and Kapha.

Dosha means that which darkens, soils or causes things to decay.

Vata is composed of ether and air. It is the most important of the three Doshas as it governs and provides the motivating force for the other two Doshas. It is the kinetic energy in the body and is the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination. It governs all bodily movements.

Vata is composed of ether and air. It is the most important of the three Doshas as it governs and provides the motivating force for the other two Doshas. It is the kinetic energy in the body and is the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination. It governs all bodily movements.

Pitta is biological fire. It is composed of the elements of fire and water (liquified fire). It digests and cooks things in the body. It is responsible for all the metabolic and chemical transformations in the body. It is responsible for digestion of food, eyesight, body temperature, intellect and skin colouration.

Pitta is biological fire. It is composed of the elements of fire and water (liquified fire). It digests and cooks things in the body. It is responsible for all the metabolic and chemical transformations in the body. It is responsible for digestion of food, eyesight, body temperature, intellect and skin colouration.

Kapha is a combination of water and fire. It holds things together, providing cohesiveness. It is responsible for growth, support, lubrication and makes up the bulk of the body tissues. When the Doshas are out of balance, they are the causative force in the disease process.

Kapha is a combination of water and fire. It holds things together, providing cohesiveness. It is responsible for growth, support, lubrication and makes up the bulk of the body tissues. When the Doshas are out of balance, they are the causative force in the disease process.

Qualities of the biological humours

The Doshas should be seen as inter-related and not as separate entities. The body-mind-spirit complex is an energy continuum, rather like Einstein's theory of space time continuum. This helps in the understanding of how a state of mind can influence a disease process in the body and to a lesser extent vice versa. It also helps to understand how recovery of health can be attained by following a prescribed treatment in the context of Ayurveda.

The qualities of Va-ta are those associated with air, i.e. dryness and coldness, lightness, mobility, subtleness, roughness, agitated and irregular – like the wind coming and going.

Pitta is hot, intense and light like fire, it is fluid and liquid due to the fact that it is contained in water. It is primarily hot, moist and light.

Kapha has the qualities of mucous. It is heavy, dense, sticky, viscous, cold and moist.

The qualities of the Doshas are fundamental to the under-standing of our bodies and to the understanding for treatment when they become aggravated.

Anything which possesses the same qualities as the Dosha will increase it and anything which possesses the opposite qualities will decrease it. for example, yoghurt has similar qualities to Kapha, excess will increase it.

The Tridoshas are forces, not substances. Kapha is not mucus but the force which when active in the body, causes mucus to arise. Similarly Pitta is not bile but the force that causes bile to be produced. Va-ta is not air but increased Va-ta causes increased gas.

Our unique individuality

The Doshas have an influence on all aspects of the body; physical, mental and psychological. According to Ayurveda every individual is made up of a unique proportion of Vata, Pitta and Kapha which is determined at conception. The proportions of the Doshas vary in each individual and because of this Ayurveda sees each person as unique.

This uniqueness accounts for our diversity. Because of this unique makeup, treatment is designed specifically to address a person's health challenges. When any one of the Doshas becomes accumulated, Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to assist the individual in decreasing the Dosha which has become excessive and out of balance.


Reductionist and Holistic Approaches to Medicine
Reductionist Holistic
The human body is compared to a machine which can be analysed in terms of its parts An individual is considered as a non-divisible unity, an integrated whole which cannot be reduced in terms of its parts, nor can the individual be separated from the social, cultural and spiritual environments and the cosmic link
An illness is seen as the malfunctioning of its (body-machine) parts An illness is viewed as the consequence of disharmony within the cosmic order. It is not limited in space or time
The various mechanisms of the body are understood at biological and molecular levels, and malfunctions are treated by physical and/or chemical intevention. Thus, for the purpose of treatment, body and mind are considered to be separate entities Malfunctions are understood and treated in the context of the social, cultural and spiritual environment. For the purpose of treatment, body, mind and soul are considered integral
Chance plays an important role in phenomena causing disease The universe is perfectly in organised, whole, where nothing happens without reason or fortuitously and everything is moving towards a definite goal. It is not a meaningless combination and separation of chemicals occurring by chance that causes a disease
Both time and matter are reduced to smaller units
Matter is interlinked, intercon- nected, dynamic. It is constantly changing and it is this trans- formation that denotes time. Time is eternal

 

The cause and management of all Disease

Ayurveda states that Lifestyle is the cause of all disease. Therefore in order to remain in a balanced state of health, knowledge of one's own Dosha balance and lifestyle need to be known in order to assist the individual to restore and maintain their own balance. To this end diet and lifestyle are the most important things in maintaining a healthy life in body, mind and spirit. Maintenance of health is dependent on the food we eat, the climate, the environment, as well as our thought patterns and emotions.

Hence this whole creation is considered an energy system or Prakruti, of which all individuals are a part. There is a constant exchange between the individual and the Prakruti and health is determined by the efficiency of this exchange of nutrients from the Prakruti, and for waste from the individual. Tantra and Yoga also work on this exchange between Prakruti and the individual according to their specific components. Ayurveda works on the physical component. It is easier to balance this entity, and therefore it is usually best to start with the physical, before progressing onto Tantra and Yoga. Our health is therefore related to our surroundings because of this concept of Prakruti.

References

1. Conrad, LI (1995) The Western Medical Tradition 800BC to AD1800, Cambridge University Press, page 492
2. Lad, Dr Vasant (1984) Ayurveda – The Science of Self-Healing, Lotus Press, page 17
3. Frawley, David (1990) From the River of Heaven, Passage Press, page 111

Acknowledgements

I should like to acknowledge the help given to me by three medical students, from St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Pushpa Khatri, Imran Tabrizi and Rajan Tailor, whom I supervised for three different Ayurvedic Projects which formed part of their Second MB.

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About Dr Ann Roden

Dr Ann Roden, M.B., B.S, Paediatrician (retired). Craniosacral Therapist, Polarity Therapist. She can be contacted at 020-8866 5944.

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