In this post I would like to share some of my notes on “what is health?” as per Ayurveda from an introductory Ayurveda class I attended in Rishikesh, India last year. The information may not be 100% accurate but will give you a good idea and basic understanding.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayu means Life and Veda means Knowledge. Ayurveda is the knowledge/science of Life. Origins of Ayurveda are found in Samkhya philosophy from ancient India ~700–500 BCE and it focuses on the physical aspects of the human body. It is a medical science (today called as alternate) which also teaches us about the body, what kind of food we should eat, how can we cope in different environments, etc. e.g. Ayurveda recommends avoiding citrus fruits and dark leafy vegetables in the rainy season. As per Ayurveda life is a symbiosis of the following:
- Mind, and
Definition of health
Definition of health Ayurveda defines health as follows:
sama dosha sama agnischa sama dhatu mala kriyaaha |
prasanna atma indriya manaha swastha iti abhidheeyate || — Sushruta Samhita
Health is when you have balanced biological energies, balanced digestive fire , nourished tissues, regular elimination of urine, sweat and stool, a happy soul, elated senses and a cheerful mind.
There it is, that’s how you define good health. Let me share with you a little bit in more detail from the class.
Ayurveda defines 3 doshas or biological energies. They say if you understand these three, you can understand Ayurveda.
Doshas are components which perform physiological functions inside the body.
Represented by space and air elements, vatta is resposible for movements in the body. e.g blood, stool, urine movements
Represented by fire and water elements, pitta is responsible for digestion and maintaining the body temperature.
Represented by water and earth, kapha is responsible for structure, growth and development of the body.
A healthy person has all these energies in a harmonious balance.
Vatta, pitta and kapha are not anatomically present. These are energies which take shelters in tissues and waste materials and their imbalance can causes physical disorder.
Our teacher explained in detail about these qualities and also told us that everyone has one or the other quality that is more dominant. By finding out the dominant quality you can explain certain behaviors and health conditions. E.g. vatta people cannot tolerate cold and often have cold feet and hands, kapha people can easily skip breakfast and survive on 2 meals, etc.
As per Ayurveda, diseases don’t just show up. They are developed over time due to an imbalance in the doshas.
Also, you can fix problems by compensating for a dosha which is high e.g. Having dry skin is a sign of high pitta which can be solved by applying oil to the skin or adding it to the diet. Oil belongs to the kapha dosha and balances the excess of pitta.
Of course all this goes much deeper and has a lot of theory to learn and understand. But I hope this gives you some idea about the doshas on a very higher level.
Ayurveda defines 6 main dhatus or bodily tissues, namely:
- Plasma / Limph
- Reproductive tissues e.g. semen
On the other side in Modern science we classify tissues into 4 types, namely
- Nervous (brain, spinal chord, nerves)
- Muscle (cardiac, smooth and skeletal)
- Epithelial (Lining of hollow organs and skin)
- Connective (fat, bone, tendon)
A healthy persons tissues are well nourished.
That was pretty straight forward.
The food that we intake is divided into 2 main parts
- Stool, urine (and sweat)
Production of blood is the responsibility of bone marrow, spleen and liver. This blood carries nutrients which are distributed to every part of the body by the heart.
What remains after the nutrients are extracted from the food is released by the body in the form of stool and urine.
These wastes must not stay in the body for long periods and must be eliminated regularly.
Essentially the physical body is just formed of the above three that we discussed. Dhatu, doshas and mala. The biological tissues, biological energies and the waste.
As per Ayurveda our mind has 3 qualities, namely:
The quality of pure consciousness, purity.
The quality of intelligence and leadership.
The quality of ignorance and negativity.
Every mind has all these qualities and we need all of them to function and make decisions.
Increase in sattva does not create imbalance for the mind but an increase in rajas or tamas does.
You might be wondering why would an increase in intelligence be a problem? me too :)
The teacher told us that too much intelligence can create ego and lead to destruction.
Too much increase in tamas is of course not good as it makes you ignorant, lazy and dull and sometimes mental disorders.
Any food we consume can also be classified into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic.
If you eat a lot of tamasic food, you may suffer from lethargy, get tired easily, feel low, dull or depressed etc.. These foods are essentially heavy for the body. e.g. stale food, alcohol, fried food, processed foods etc.
If you eat too much rajasic food, you may feel more energetic, active, dominant etc. These foods are essentially stimulating e.g. spices, coffee, tea, chocolates, chillies, etc.
Sattvic food is light on the body and eating more sattvic food doesn’t create any imbalance as stated earlier. These foods are essentially light for the body. e.g. organic rice, milk, sprouts, fresh vegetables and fruits etc.
People who are on a spiritual path are recommended to be on a sattvic diet.
Note: The examples I have given above may be inaccurate. e.g. I have seen many people say that garlic and alcohol are rajasic.
I think Ayurveda picks up the most important aspects of a healthy human being which not only include physical aspects like healthy and nourished tissues and organs but also mental aspects. It emphasizes greatly on balance and identifying imbalance as the cause of disease. Hence, an approach to fix the imbalance is used instead of fixing the symptoms of the disease.
Ayurveda also claims that food we eat has great effect on our mind and behavior.
Again I would like to state at the end what health is as per Ayurveda:
- Balanced biological energies (sama dosha)
- Balanced digestive fire (sama agni)
- Nourished tissues( sama dhatu )
- Regular elimination of stool, sweat and urine( mala kriyaaha )
- A happy soul ( prasanna atma )
- Elated senses(indriya)
- Cheerful mind (manaha)