Man is the epitome of the universe. Within man, there is as much diversity as in the world outside. Similarly, the outside world is as diverse as human beings themselves. (The Ancient Ayurveda text, Charaka)
The basic premise of Ayurveda is that the entire cosmos or universe is part of one singular absolute. Everything that exists in the vast external universe (macrocosm), also appears in the internal cosmos of the human body (microcosm). The human body consisting of 50-100 million cells, when healthy, is in harmony, self-perpetuating and self-correcting just as the universe is.
The term ‘Ayurveda’ combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda means ‘the science of life’. Ayurveda is a holistic medicine that aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This balance is believed to lead to happiness and health, and to help prevent illness.
Constitution (prakriti) a Sanskrit word that means, ‘nature’, ‘creativity’ or ‘the first creation’
Constitution refers to a person’s general health, the likelihood of becoming out of balance, and the ability to resist and recover from disease or other health problems.
Life forces (doshas)
Important characteristics of the prakriti are the three life forces or energies called doshas, which control the activities of the body. A person’s chances of developing certain types of diseases are thought to be related to the way doshas are balanced, the state of the physical body, and mental or lifestyle factors.
- The vata dosha is a term stemming from the Sanskrit word vayuu, meaning “that which moves.” It combines the elements ether and air. It is considered the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing, discharge of waste, and the mind. Vata can be aggravated by, for example, fear, grief, staying up late at night, eating dry fruit, or eating before the previous meal is digested. People with vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin and neurological conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, and insomnia.
- The pitta dosha is a term originating from the Sanskrit word pinj, meaning “to shine.” It represents the elements fire and water. Pitta controls hormones and the digestive system. A person with a pitta imbalance may experience negative emotions such as anger and may have physical symptoms such as heartburn within 2 or 3 hours of eating. Pitta is upset by, for example, eating spicy or sour food, fatigue, or spending too much time in the sun. People with a predominantly pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases, and digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
- The kapha dosha is a term that derives from the Sanskrit word “shlish,” meaning “that which holds things together.” It combines the elements water and earth. Kapha helps to maintain strength and immunity and to control growth. An imbalance of the kapha dosha may cause nausea immediately after eating. Kapha is aggravated by, for example, greed, sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet foods, eating after one is full, and eating and drinking foods and beverages with too much salt and water (especially in the springtime). Those with a predominant kapha dosha are thought to be vulnerable to diabetes, cancer, obesity, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five great elements or building blocks. These are earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence, and rigidity. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells, and tissues are manifestations of the earth. Earth is considered a stable substance.
Water characterizes change and represents the liquid state. Water is necessary for the survival of all living things. A large part of the human body is made up of water. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy and carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another. Water is a substance without stability.
Fire is the power to transform solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. In other words, it possesses power to transform the state of any substance. Within our bodies, the fire or energy binds the atoms together. It also converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle. Fire transforms food into energy. It creates the impulses of nervous reactions, our feelings, and even our thought processes. Fire is considered a form without substance.
Air is the gaseous form of matter which is mobile and dynamic. Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions. It is a key element required for fire to burn. Air is existence without form.
Ether is the space in which everything happens. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Ether is only the distances which separate matter. The chief characteristic of ether is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration.
Every substance in our world is made up of these five substances.
Ayurveda defines a human as the assemblage of the five great elements plus the “immaterial self.”