The Basics of Ayurveda

The new year is a time for many people to begin focusing more on their mental, physical, and spiritual health, and Ayurveda is quickly becoming a popular path for achieving this balance. Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine that originated in India and has been practiced for over 5000 years. It is based on the belief that good health and wellness result from a balance between the mind, body, and spirit.

The Doshas

In Ayurveda, it is said that everything in the universe is made up of five elements: earth, air, fire, water and space. These elements combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies known as doshas: vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water). A person’s individual constitution, or prakruti, which is established at birth, is comprised of a unique combination of the three doshas. This will guide their physiological and psychological tendencies in life.

Maintaining balance among the doshas is essential for good overall health in Ayurveda. Imbalances, due to improper diet and lifestyle, can lead to physical and emotional problems.

In terms of treatment, Ayurveda aims to correct imbalances at the root cause(s), rather than simply treat symptoms. Natural remedies such as herbs, specific foods and massage are often used to bring balance back to the doshas again. Ayurveda also recognizes the mind's role in healing and may use techniques such as meditation, breath work, chanting and yoga to promote emotional and spiritual well-being.

Preventive care, however, is a key principle of Ayurveda, with practitioners believing it is better to prevent a disease from occurring in the first place rather than trying to treat it once it has developed. To this end, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of a healthy daily lifestyle and diet, appropriate for one's unique constitution and current state of health.

The Koshas

The koshas are described as the five layers of the self - as it is believed that we are more than just a physical body. These layers are:

  • the physical/food body (annamaya kosha)
  • the energy body (pranamaya kosha)
  • the mental body (manomaya kosha)
  • the wisdom body (vijnanamaya kosha)
  • and the bliss body (anandamaya kosha)

Each kosha is associated with a different aspect of the self and they are believed to all be interconnected. In this way, imbalances in one kosha, can bring imbalance to the others.

The Dhatus

The dhatus are the tissue layers of the body. There are seven dhatus:

  • rasa (blood)
  • rakta (plasma)
  • mamsa (muscle)
  • meda (fat)
  • asthi (bones)
  • majja (bone marrow)
  • shukra (reproductive tissue)

The nutrients from food that we have digested are passed from one dhatu layer to the next, nourishing each one, beginning with rasa dhatu and culminating in shukra dhatu. It is believed that the end product of the nourishment of the deepest dhatu layers is ojas - the vital energy that is responsible for our happiness, immunity and strength. Weaknesses in one dhatu can lead to imbalances in others, leading to a variety of ailments.

Individualized treatment is crucial in Ayurveda, as what works for one person may not work for another. An Ayurvedic practitioner will assess imbalances in a variety of areas including the doshas, koshas and dhatus and will help guide their client to finding the right daily practices for their unique needs.