What is Ayurveda? : The Ultimate Guide

What is Ayurveda? A science so deep yet scientific by having its own language and concepts so that

What is Ayurveda? A science so deep yet scientific by having its own language and concepts so that all the aspects of life are covered.  This is my effort to give an introduction to Ayurveda. First of all seeking Guidance and Blessing from all the Teachers and Masters.

Ayurveda is the Science of Life which covers all the aspects of health. World Health Organisation states health as “State of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Ayurveda holds the sacred Knowledge to attain this Complete state of Health. In order to get into Ayurveda, we need to learn it’s language.

8 Branches of Ayurveda

To categorize the treatments and to pursue deeper there are 8 branches in Ayurveda called Ashtangas- The eight Angas.

  1. Kaya Chikitsa – General Medicine
  2. Bala Chikitsa  – Pediatrics
  3. Graha Chikitsa – Psychiatry
  4. Urdhwanga Chikitsa – Treatments of the upper body (Head and upper respiratory area).
  5. Salya tantra – Surgery
  6. Damstra Chikitsa- Clinical Toxicology
  7. Jara Chikitsa – Rejuvenation Therapy
  8. Vrisa Chikitsa  – Reproductive And Infertility

The categorizations made 3000 years ago explains the depth the ancient science has gone.  For reaching as quickly into the science understanding the body is important.  

Body – Doshas, Dhatu and Mala

The Physical self even though always in close association with mental self for the sake of understanding explained as a combination of Dosha, Dhatu and Mala.

  • Doshas the Functional units
  • Dhatus the Structural units
  • Malas the excretory products

Doshas – Functional units.

Even though the best tool for assessing the state and changes happening inside the body at the time of normalcy or not, unfortunately being portrayed as The only important thing in Ayurveda. The readers should not get swirled in the Doshas, of course important but there is more to get a complete understanding.  

To categorize the series of functions in the body for understanding the changes in the body the whole functional aspects are categorized into 3 Doshas named Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In a broader aspect the 3 doshas holds the duties of

  • Vata deals with all the movements in the body.
  • Pitta deals with the transformation capacity of the body
  • Kapha deals with all the Constructive duties of the body.  

The harmony of these 3 Doshas gives a perfect state of health according to Ayurveda. The Doshas are not something we can see physically but its there as a measuring tool. With the predominance of each dosha, a person is divided into categories called Prakriti.  Harmony of the Doshas leads to perfect functioning of the body.  

Dhatus – The Structural units

The Dhatus are the Structural units of the body.  Understanding it is the key for a lot of important concepts like Metabolism in Ayurveda, the reasons for all present-day concerns like Obesity, Cancer, Allergies etc.  the 7 Dhatus are

  • Rasa – Elements of Digestion in the body before its transformed into other structural elements.
  • Rakta – Blood element
  • Mamsa– Muscle Tissue
  • Medas – Adipose Tissue
  • Asthi – Bone Tissue
  • Majja – Bone Marrow
  • Sukra – Reproductive Tissue

The Dhatus gets enriched by two types of possibilities enriching from one theory is Enriching from Rasa to Sukra as Tata formation from one to another. Rasa to Rakta to Mamsa to Meda to Asthi to Majja to Sukra ultimately.  The second theory is each Dhatu getting enriched by the need of replenishment from Rasa. It may be possible by combinations of both the theories.  The stages of the disease also affect to Rasa Dhatu to more chronic stages of deeper tissues or Dhatus like Asthi Majja Sukra.  

Mala – Excretory products

There are 3 Malas :

  • Mutra – Urine
  • Shakruth – Faeces
  • Sweda – Sweat

The proper elimination is important for the smooth functioning of all the systems. The treatments like Panchakarma a cleansing treatment in Ayurveda got so popular in the recent times mainly because of the present lifestyle caused the evacuation of Malas more difficult. So the need for cleansing treatment became more. The 3 main aspects of physical self – Dosha, Dhatu, and Mala  according to Ayurveda explained and now an inseparable entity

In order to be able to understand Ayurveda on preventive aspects or curative aspect for self or for helping others some more concepts are needed to be discussed.  

Koshta

Koshta is the Gastro-Intestinal Tract.  There are 3 types of Koshta. Identification of Koshta is very important for treatment as well as for setting a suitable diet plan.

The 3 Koshtas are

  • Krura –  Constipated tendency
  • Mridu – Soft and lax stooled.  
  • Madhya – Balanced between the two.  

The basic functional aspects should be always kept in mind and the changes in the state also should be monitored self or when there is a need under a Doctors guidance The elimination therapies like Panchakarma cleansing doses and choice of medicines all determined by assessing Koshta.

Agni

Agni is the digestive fire which helps in digestion and transformation and Metabolism. The Agni can be in four states one normalcy and three types of abnormal states.  Inconsistent digestive fire is quite common and it’s called Visama Agni.  In this state sometimes, the digestion will be proper and some days digestion will be poor.  The person will lack energy in visama agni.

Sharp and powerful digestive fire is called Tilshna Agni and this is characterized by excessive hunger, and the hunger, if not fed with proper diet, will start to attack the Dhatus.  Dull and weak hunger is called Manda Agni and characterized by poor digestion. The person will always lack energy and feels heavy.  

When the digestive fire is in an optimum state it’s called Sama Agni.  Every person should be able to assess their own power of digestion and should be fed with an appropriate diet to be in optimum Agni called Sama Agni. Agni is the most basic entity to correct before we start the treatments for specific conditions.

The treatment includes two stages one is to

  • Increase the Agni called Deepana
  • Digest the undigested matter in Koshta and Body called Pachana.

The Agni is of 3 types

  • Kaya Agni
  • Bhuta Agni
  • Dhatu Agni

Kaya Agni also called Jadara Agni is the Agni that does the Digestion in the Koshta or Gastrointestinal tract. It is the first one to get affected.

Bhuta Agni helps to break down the products of Digestion or Kaya Agni into more subtle components for easy transformation into specific Dhatus or elements of the body.

Dhatu Agni is located in the Dhatus which acts as the receptors for products of Digestion and appropriately transform into Dhatus in need of replenishment. This is where the modern era problems like Obesity which is an excessive buildup of Medas Dhatu or Fat tissue, Excessive Mamsa Dhatu leading to Tumours.  

The wise physician will always consider the state of Agni and which Agni is affected while considering treatments.

The Mind

Mind having two dosas like the body Doshas 

  • Rajas – The active mind
  • Tamas – The Lazy mind

When these get increased or decreased the normal functioning of the mind is affected. As a medicine for the mind, the 3 therapies are getting the patient counsel with Dhi – intelligence, Dhairya – Confidence and Knowledge of Atma or self.  

The 3 remedies if a person can attain himself it is the solution for mental concerns like Depression, Anxiety etc.

Rasas

Rasas are the tastes and 6 in number, called Shad Rasa. Rasas are one of the tools to consider while deciding the treatments and medicines.

The rasas are

  • Madhura – Sweet taste
  • Amla – Sour taste
  • Lavana – Salt taste
  • Tikta – Bitter taste
  • Katu – Pungent taste
  • Kashaya – Astringent taste.

The Rasas are a direct access to the Pancha bhootas with each rasas having specific bhoota composition. The rasas give an access to modulate the factors like Doshas, Strength, Dhatus, Malas, Agni and opening or closing of Channels in the body.  

Dravya

Dravyas are the perceivable matter which is classified into

  • Samana – Pacify Doshas
  • Kopana – Aggravating Doshas
  • Swastha hita – helps to maintain the normalcy.  

These can be used to regulate the Doshas and thereby being equilibrium.  

Virya

Viryas are the properties of dravya which are two

  • Ushna– Hot
  • Sheeta – Cold

Virya is not just the feeling of hot and cold like hot water or cold water.  It is the result or manifestation produced in a body after it comes into contact internally or externally.

This needs to be considered in the day to day routines as well as while prescribing medications.  Veerya is one quick thing to cause side effects with Ayurveda medicines but can be reversed as quickly as it shows the signs. The veerya is one of the factors that cause incompatibility in foods and activities.

Just like hot rod dipped in cold water the unwise utilisation can result in completely unexpected outcomes.  

Vipaka

If Rasa is the perceived taste, Vipaka is the taste after the process of Digestion.   

If there are 6 Rasas the digestion of these Rasas produces 3 Vipakas.  

  • Madhura and Lavana Rasa attain Madura Vipaka.
  • Amla Rasa attain Amla Vipaka itself.  
  • Katu, Thikta and Kashaya Rasa attain Katu Vipaka.  

While making a diet plan or while prescribing medications Vipaka needs to be considered.

Gunas

Gunas are the inherent qualities of matter which primarily won’t do any action but it enables the matter for its actions.  

20 types of Gunas are mentioned and these along with Rasa, Veerya, Vipaka, etc to be kept in mind.  

The 20 Gunas are categorised starting from

  1. Guru – Heaviness
  2. Laghu- Lighness
  3. Manda – Slow
  4. Tikshna- Quick/ Sharp
  5. Hima- Cool
  6. Ushna- Hot
  7. Snigdha- Unctuous/ Lubric
  8. Ruksha- Dry
  9. Slakshna- Smooth
  10. Khara- Rough
  11. Sandra- Thick/ Solid
  12. Drava- Liquid
  13. Mridu- Soft
  14. Kadina- Hard
  15. Stira- Stable
  16. Sara – Moving/ Flowing
  17. Sukshma- Subtle
  18. Sthula- Bulky/ Gross
  19. Visada- Lucid
  20. Pichila- Slimy

An easier way to understand the 20 Gunas are the Sanskrit way of Picking the alternate names and rest are the opposite of that.

While in this short and concise entry into the concepts of Ayurveda for Beginners I have explained the basic language we need to get deeper into.  While we go deeper and starts to think it in a broader aspect we will be able to recognize each of these concepts in all aspects of life.

At the same time while we Ayurvedic Doctors have taken a long time to go through each of the concepts we were able to discriminate tendencies not to overindulge in the concepts.

Most of the Tools like Dosha, Dhatu, Agni, Veerya, Vipaka, Guna etc have everyday applications. But it doesn’t mean that somebody should alter the age-old Culture and habits should be changed.

In the next series of articles, I will be going in detail about everything mentioned here as well as that is yet to be explained. Since most of the people who are going to read this will be non-medical professionals, care should be kept not to overthink about the concepts.

Myself Dr. Jayakrishnan.G, I am lucky to be part of a long tradition of Ayurvedic Doctors. I am the 5 th Generation of Ayurvedic Doctor in our Family.  The next articles I will try to explain the wisdom of Ayurveda with the best of my Knowledge.

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