[Author of this post is Dr. Preeti Dixit-Shukla. She is Ayurvedic Physician and has a Masters in Ayurvedic medicine- Kayachikitsa, and based out of New Mumbai.)
Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of medicine which evolved 5000 years back in India. Ayurveda literally means ‘The science of life’. It is an eternal science which has gained significant popularity around the world in recent years. It not only focuses on curing and prevention of illness but also on promotion of health in a healthy individuals. For effective utilization of Ayurveda, better understanding of its basic principles is necessary. These basic principles can be summarised as follows:
Triguna are three fundamental universal energies. They resemble the physical properties prevalent to the primitive earth that acted decisively to begin the active process of origin of life. These are: Sattva, Rajas and Tama which can be described as: Sattva – the highest quality of light harmony, happiness, virtue, happiness and intelligence. Rajas – the quality of movement, distraction or turbulence. Tamas – the quality of darkness or dullness which also enables regeneration. The Trigunas form the Panchamahabhutas which are: Earth (Prithvi) from Tamas; Water (Aap) from Rajas and Tamas; Fire (Teja) from Rajas; Air (Vayu) from Satva and Rajas; Space or ether (Akash) from Satva. They also form the Tanmatra or the five sense organs.
According to ancient Indian philosophy, the universe is composed of five basic elements or Panchbhutas which are: That which is rigid is Prithvi or earth; That which causes fluidity is Aap or water; That which causes heat is Teja or fire; That which causes mobility is Vayu or air; That which is space is Akash. These Panchmahabhutas in their specific combinations, with predominance of one of them, form various types of living or non-living substances in the universe. Ayurveda believes in a close relationship between man and universe so the human body, ‘The Purusha’, which is more complex than any other form of life is also made up from these elements in combination with Atma, the soul. This similarity in food and medicine with that of the body constituents, forms the base of practice of medicine in Ayurveda.
The panchmahabhutas manifest in human body as three basic humours- the Tridoshas. They act as basic physiological functions of the body. These are: Vata (space+air) that governs all macro and micro movements and is related to catabolism; Pitta (fire+water) that functions as body’s metabolic system; and Kapha (water + earth) which forms the body’s structure or is related to anabolism. These are called as Doshas as they have tendency to get vitiated and to vitiate others. They are significant as they uphold the body when in normal form. Their balance is necessary for the health of a person while imbalance leads to diseases. Acharya Susruta also includes Rakta as one of the doshas.
Prakriti is an unique combination of Tridoshas which decides the basic constitution of an individual. It is determined at the time of conception and remains unchanged throughout one’s life. It can give an idea about the favourable or unfavourable things for the person. Ayurveda has described seven dosa prakriti: three by predominance of three dosas, three mixed types and the seventh is the samadosa prakriti, which is considered as an ideal one.
The thing which provides support is called as ‘Dhatu’. Thus they are the major physical components of body. Ayurveda describes seven types of primary dhatus (The Saptadhatu). These saptadhatus along with support also provide nourishment to the body. Grossly these seven primary tissues of body may be co-related as: Rasa as plasma; Rakta as the blood; Mamsa as muscle tissues; Meda as the adipose tissue; Asthi as the bone tissue; Majja as the marrow; and Sukra as the reproductive elements. The tridosa in state of normalcy are also kept in category of dhatus owing to their efficacy to support the body.
The term ‘Mala’ refers to the waste products or the polluting agents that are produced during the normal digestive and metabolic processes. The trimalas in human body are: Purisa-the feaces; mutra-urine and sweda –the sweat. Ayurveda has a unique concept that these malas are not completely useless but also perform some useful functions to support the body when they are in a state of normalcy.
The word ‘Agni’ literally means fire. In Ayurveda it refers to the entire phenomenon of digestion and metabolism in body at all levels. Agni in human body is so important that the strength, health and longevity of life depend on it while its absence is considered as absence of life. It also directly relates to body’s resistance to diseases. Disturbances of agni is usually the chief and foremost cause of disease. Ayurveda describes thirteen types of Agni in body. Most important amongst these is the Jatharagni or the gastric fire, responsible for the digestion of ingested food. The others are: Saptadhatvagni, those of the seven dhatus each and the Panchbhutagni, of each panchbhuta. Former being the chief governs the activity of other agnis.
The organ of attention which is an essential factor for cognition is the mind or the ‘Manas’. Presence of cognition is an indication of involvement of mind. According to Ayurveda health is not mere absence of any disease but is a balance between physical and mental well being. So Manas is also an important concept of Ayurveda.
The Atma is the conscious element of living being and is considered to be the pure element. It is the one who initiates a living being to do the karma.
Ojas is a term used for the factor that provides strength and support against any disease. Thus it provides immunity and health. Oja is considered as an essence of all dhatus.
We can conclude that according to Ayurveda, health is defined as a balanced state of dosa, dhatu, agni and mala, both quantitatively and qualitatively. These principles help to determine the health, the diseases, their probable treatment, the medicines to be used, prognosis of the disease and also the diet to be followed during the treatment. Thus, the above explained basic Principles of Ayurveda are to be understood properly to live a proper life and to achieve the best futuristic goals in service of mankind.