Beginners Guide to Ayurveda
— Dr. Jayakrishnan G B.A.M.S, M.D
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 a Beginners Guide 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 in Ayurveda
To categorise the treatments and to pursue deeper there are 8 branches in Ayurveda called Ashtangas- The eight Angas.
Kaya Chikitsa – General Medicine
Bala Chikitsa – Pediatrics
Graha Chikitsa – Psychiatry
Urdhwanga Chikitsa – Treatments of upper body (Head and upper respiratory area).
Salya tantra – Surgery
Damstra Chikitsa- Clinical Toxicology
Jara Chikitsa – Rejuvenation Therapy
Vrisa Chikitsa – Reproductive And Infertility
The categorizations made 3000 years ago explains the depth to which the ancient science has gone.
For getting 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 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 categorise the series of functions in the body for understanding the changes in the body the whole functional aspects is categorised 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 Doshas 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 , one theory is Enriching from Rasa to Sukra as that formation from one to another.
Rasa to Rakta to Mamsa to Meda to Asthi to Majja to Sukra ultimately.
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 disease also affect from 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) and 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 causing the evacuation of Malas and vitiated dosas 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
Mind having two dosas like the body Doshas –
- Rajas – The active mind
- Tamas – The Lazy mind
When these gets increased or decreased the normal functioning of mind is affected.
As medicine for 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.
In order to be able to learn Ayurveda for preventive aspects or curative aspect for self or for helping others some more concepts are needed to be discussed.
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 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 at some times 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 characterised 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 characterised by poor digestion. The person will always lack energy and feels heavy.
When the digestive fire is in optimum state it’s called Sama Agni. Every person should be able to assess their own power of digestion and should be fed with 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 excessive buildup of Medas Dhatu or Fat tissue, Excessive Mamsa Dhatu leading to Tumours.
The wise physician should consider the state of Agni and which Agni is affected while considering treatments.
Rasas are the tastes and 6 in number called Shad Rasa. Rasas are one of the tool 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 gives an access to modulate the factors like Doshas, Strength, Dhatus, Malas, Agni and opening or closing of Channels in the body.
Dravyas are the perceivable matter which are classified into
- Samana – Pacify Doshas
- Kopana – Aggravating Doshas
- Swastha hita – helps to maintain the normalcy.
These can be used to regulate the Doshas and there by being equilibrium.
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 day today 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’s 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.
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 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
- Guru – Heaviness
- Laghu- Lighness
- Manda – Slow
- Tikshna- Quick/ Sharp
- Hima- Cool
- Ushna- Hot
- Snigdha- Unctuous/ Lubric
- Ruksha- Dry
- Slakshna- Smooth
- Khara- Rough
- Sandra- Thick/ Solid
- Drava- Liquid
- Mridu- Soft
- Kadina- Hard
- Stira- Stable
- Sara – Moving/ Flowing
- Sukshma- Subtle
- Sthula- Bulky/ Gross
- Visada- Lucid
- Pichila- Slimy
Easier way to memorise 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 recognise each of these concepts in all aspects of life.
At the same time while we Ayurvedic Doctors have taken longer 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 their age old Culture and habits to adhere to the concepts of Ayurveda.
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.