The practice of Ayurveda began in India between three to five thousand years ago. According to mythology, Ayurveda was the gift of Dhanavantari, physician to the gods of the Hindu pantheon, who received this knowledge from Bramha, the creator.
Translated literally, Ayurveda means “the Science of Life.”
Although Ayurveda began as an oral tradition, with masters passing down knowledge to their disciples, one can find the bulk of Ayurveda’s practices in the Atharva, Yajur Veda, and Rig Vedas, three of the sacred Hindu texts.
What makes Ayurveda distinct from Western Medicine is its emphasis on living in balance rather than merely targeting the symptoms of a disease.
To this end, Ayurveda encompasses internal medicine, diet, psychology, and yogic practices such as ayurveda yoga. The aim is to bring the body, mind, and spirit into equilibrium, making it part of a regular holistic practice rather than a one-off treatment.
In recent years, Ayurveda is seeing its popularity growing outside of India, especially in the nutraceutical space, potentially offering a new approach to wellness to a whole host of people.
But just like with Allopathic or western medicine, you should approach Ayurveda with discretion.
Over-the-counter ayurvedic herbal preparations shouldn’t be consumed without consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner. Even herbs as innocuous as Ginger and Turmeric, consumed in excess, can adversely affect your health.
Understanding the core concepts of Ayurveda, and their internal logic, will help you integrate these practices into your lifestyle.
In this article, you will be introduced to:
- The Bhutas, The Doshas and Prakruti
- Agni, Ama and the Dhatus
- Dinacharya: A Daily 11 Step Ayurvedic Morning Practice
The Bhutas, The Doshas, and Prakruti
A central pillar of Ayurveda is the relationship between the Bhutas (Space, Fire, Air, Earth, and Water), the Doshas (life energies), and your Prakruti (a person’s constitution.)
Practitioners of Ayurveda believe that the five elements blended in different proportions manifest as the Doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, similar to the Humours of Ancient Greece and Rome.
The Three Doshas
The Doshas form the body’s essential building blocks, and ailments occur when these Doshas are out of sync.
Every individual has a predominant Dosha, and the other Doshas must be brought into equilibrium without displacing the primary Dosha.
1. Vatta Dosha
Vatta Dosha constitutes Air and Space. Ayurvedic Physicians consider it to be the most potent of the Doshas. Vatta deals with tendons, joints, the breath, the proper functioning of the heart, and endocrine glands.
Vatta, when in imbalance, presents as fear, anxiety, and even dermatological issues.
People with imbalances in Vatta should avoid eating too much or too often, staying up too late, and managing stress poorly.
Read more about the optimal Vata Dosha Diet here.
2. Pitta Dosha
Pitta combines Fire and Water. Pitta controls a person’s digestion, metabolic rates, intelligence or mental acuity, and pallor.
Your Pitta can be agitated by consuming too many spicy, salty or sour foods, red meat, Coffee, and Alcohol. Pitta can also be imbalanced by spending too much time in the sun.
Excesses of Pitta present as an excess of anger, irritation of the skin, inflammation, fever, and intense thirst.
Read more about the optimal Pitta Dosha Diet here.
3. Kapha Dosha
Kapha bears the combination of Earth and Water. A person’s build, body mass, muscle development, balance, and immune responses are associated with Kapha Dosha.
Psychological responses governed by Kapha include your mindfulness, your ability to express forgiveness, as well as expressions of love and greed.
Your Kapha can be imbalanced by consuming too many sweets, too much water, or even by indulging in sleep.
Finally, you have the Prakruti – your base nature or constitution. Ayurvedic practitioners or Vaids believe the individual’s Prakruti is a function of your parents’ Prakruti. Vaids can assess a patient’s base nature by looking at how their Doshas combine.
Prakruti consultations with Vaids help establish treatment regimens, and yogic practices specific to you.
Agni, Ama, and the Dhatus
The next set of interrelated concepts is that of Agni (Metabolic fire), Ama (Excretions), and The Dhatus (loosely translated, tissues.)
Agni governs the metabolic or digestive functions of the body and is closely associated with Pitta Dosha. When a person’s Agni is disrupted by disequilibrium in the Doshas, the body fails to digest food properly.
Consequently, a build-up of waste occurs in the body, which cannot flush out toxins.
In the cases of Vishama Agni(irregular metabolism), brought on by excesses in Vata Dosha, patients develop indigestion, gassiness, and could alternate between constipation and diarrhea.
In addition, dry skin, cottonmouth, backaches, sciatica, and sleep disorders are also closely associated with Vishama Agni imbalances.
Disturbances in the Agni lead to an accumulation of Ama. In Ayurveda, Ama is the collective term for the body’s excretions—feces, urine, and sweat.
Vaids consider Ama to be the root cause of most diseases, and it exists as the polar opposite of Agni.
Ama disorders can manifest as fatigue, heaviness after meals, heartburn, indigestion, and brain fog. Psychologically, Ama accumulation leads to fear, low self-esteem, anxiety, worry, and depression.
The 7 Dhatus
Lastly, you have the Dhatus. A direct translation of the word doesn’t exist, but they are closely associated with the tissue layer of the body.
Seven Dhatus exist, and each serves as the foundation for the next.
- Rasa is associated with plasma and the lymphatic system.
- Rakta, or blood. It arises from the Rasa, and functions as a vehicle for Red Blood Cells and oxygen.
- Mamsa consists of muscle tissues, tendons, and ligaments and is sustained by the Prana(life energy) delivered by the Rakta.
- Meda, is the adipose or fatty tissue of the body. It helps insulate the body, retain heat, and maintain mobility in the joints.
- Asthi Dhatu relates to bones and skeletal tissues. This Dhatu forms the foundation of the body’s frame.
- Majja Dhatu combines the marrow and nerves, tasked with communication between different organs.
- Shukra Dhatu is the reproductive fluid. Ayurveda considers it to be a repository of energy that has implications on a person’s vitality.
Dinacharya and You: A Daily 11 Step Ayurvedic Morning Practice
Now that you have a grasp of the foundational concepts in Ayurveda, you can attempt this 11 step morning practice to improve your wellness.
People’s lifestyles are a result of their daily habits. Rapid technological change has altered how people live and behave. These changes are primarily responsible for many disorders.
To address these diseases, people need to alter their daily living patterns and how they configure their days.
Ayurveda suggests a variety of approaches that to do so. One such approach is the Dinacharya.
Dinacharya is a Sanskrit word that brings together the concepts of Dina(daily) and Charya(practice.) It recommends that well-structured patterns of behavior can enhance a person’s health.
Step #1: Bramhamurta Jagrana | Wake up before dawn
Dinacharya emphasizes waking up in Bramha Murta, a period of the morning an hour and a half before sunrise. Ayurvedic practitioners believe this is a time that is both calm and rich in oxygen.
Step #2: Ushana Jalapana | Drink water out of a copper cup
Next, you have the Ushna Jalapana. It recommends drinking a glass of water, from a copper cup you filled the previous evening.
You shouldn’t begin your day with tea or coffee. These beverages put pressure on your kidneys, and stress the adrenal glands.
Step #3: Malotsarga | Go to the toilet
Seek to clear your bowels, or Malotsarga, as it flushes your system of waste products that accumulate at night.
Step #4: Danta Dhavana | Clean your tongue, mouth, teeth
Danta Dhavana follows the Malotsarga. Clean your tongue, mouth, and teeth. Use a copper tongue scraper to clean your tongue. Scraping the tongue removes unpleasant smells and the accumulation of Ama on the surface of the tongue.
Step #5: Nasya | Wash your face and use a neti pot
Wash your face and eyes with cold water. Then you are ready for the Nasya. Flush your nostrils with warm water with a touch of salt, using a Neti pot. This improves a person’s sense of smell, clears the sinuses, and revitalizes the muscles in the face and neck. It also prevents headaches.
Step #6: Gandusha Kriya | Cleanse with coconut oil
Fill the mouth with coconut oil or water and hold it for a few minutes. This enhances your ability to taste, and improves how clearly you speak.
Step #7: Vyayama | Exercise
Daily exercise or Vyayama dissipates stress, promotes sound sleep, and improves your ability to digest food. During this period of the morning, do not overexert yourself, and limit your practice to about half as much as you could achieve if you pushed yourself.
You can choose from a variety of physical exercises. For example, a walk, doing Ayurveda yoga or swimming. By doing Ayurveda yoga in the morning, you freshen the body and mind, maintain your weight, and it leaves you feeling happier as your body is flushed with “Prana.”
Step #8: Abhayanga | Massage your scalp
One way that Ayurveda prevents premature aging is through the practice of Abhayanga.
This consists of oiling and massaging your body with a focus on your scalp, forehead, temples, hands, and feet. Do this for about 5 to 10 minutes. Then, seek to spread oil all over your body, from head to toe.
Step #9: Karna Purana | Cleanse your ears
You can improve your hearing by following the practice of Karna Purana. It consists of dropping warm sesame oil into your ears. It is especially useful in winter, or after extensive travel. Please consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner before attempting to do this.
Step #10: Snana | Bathe
Ayurveda stresses the importance of bathing, or Snana, on a daily basis. It suggests that a bath improves your vitality, appetite and removes sweat from your body. Avoid bathing your scalp in water that is too hot. If the climate permits, cold baths are highly recommended.
Step #11: Ahara | Eat a light breakfast
You can end this series of practices with your Ahara(meals), with a light breakfast.
Think of your stomach as a four-chambered space. Ayurveda recommends that you fill two chambers with solid food, one with liquid, and leave the fourth empty for optimum digestion.
After some post-ayurveda yoga breakfast inspiration?
Check out this article on the Yogic Diet: