Inside This Issue
ABOUT THE AYURVEDIST
AN INTRO. TO AYURVEDA
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DOSHA
Ayurveda & Food Supplements
I get a lot of inquiries about spirulina, super blue green algae (SBGA), vitamins and other foods supplements. What does Ayurveda recommend? In my observations of Dr. Lad and his clients over the past two years Dr. Lad rarely recommends spirulina or SBGA, and only occasionally calcium, magnesium, zinc supplements. Generally, he will relent to a request but only if that supplement will not provoke imbalance in the person. One reason for discouraging the use of vitamin C is that triphala is recommended to almost everyone. If not triphala then likely amalaki (Indian gooseberry) will be suggested. Amalaki is one of the three fruits in triphala and it is the highest known natural source of vitamin C. Thus if vitamin C is not in a diet then it will be by taking one of these two supplements. Having lots of vitamin C is not the only reason for taking these supplements, however. Another, more important reason, is the consideration of a food supplement’s effect upon the physiology. Everything has quality and by means of the quality everything affects whatever it contacts. If you eat or touch some-thing hot you will immediately think: “That’s hot.” Moreover, just because it is hot it will cause some other actions in the body--expansion of tissues and channels, faster functioning of bodily processes, and so on. These qualities we experience are the instructions to the governing principles of the body (the doshas) to behave in a manner according to the quality just experienced. So what about SBGA’s affect on the body? It does increase vitality or prana. Its qualities are light, dry, and rough and these qualities tend to increase space and air in the body. This may lead to spaciness or even to difficulty with sleep and so on. These qualities are those which promote weight loss. Some marketers of SBGA promote it for its ability to help reduce weight. While the qualities of a food supplement may have an affinity for an organ or a tissue and act on that area primarily, it will also act on the doshic governor of physiology. In this case vata dosha. Vata is responsible for: elimination, circulation, motion, locomotion, speech, breathing, the entire nervous system functioning, and for all catabolic changes (weight loss). Taking SBGA thus acts on all these functions while providing its energy benefit. The question about the suitability of food supplements thus brings us back to our starting point in Ayurveda--for whom is this recommended? What constitution, imbalance, capacity of digestion, age, mental outlook, likes and dislikes, where does the person live and what season is it?. We must always consider these points when making any recommendation. For SBGA would we likely suggest this product for a thin, anxious, insomniac? Probably not for very long if at all. Returning to vitamin C, it is ascorbic acid and it has a heating effect upon the body--increasing pitta in the body. Pitta governs digestion, metabolism, thinking, sight, skin color, hormonal secretions, and immunity. If a person continually ingests high quantities of ascorbic all of these functions may be affected. Mineral supplements such as calcium, magnesium, zinc have an important role in the physiology, no doubt. But if the bodily processes which govern synthesis and absorption and assimilation of these are poor then the body will not be able to use any quantity of supplement ingested. Unassimilated calcium may circulate and lodge in joints and valves causing arthritic changes. Thus, triphala is so commonly recommended--it helps promote proper bowel function and to tone and cleanse the entire GI tract. This helps the body to absorb and assimilate better. Moreover, triphala balances all three govern-ing principles of the body. It does good without creating imbalance.
About The Ayurvedist
This newsletter is dedicated to promoting awareness, familiarity, and understanding of Ayurveda, the health care system of the Vedic Culture of India thousands of years ago. It is conceived in the face of rising interest in natural healing modalities. We would like to make this newsletter a vehicle for under-standing the theory of Ayurveda but in a practical way. We wish to make it responsive to your questions and interests and to issues of contrasting models. We can’t give advice, which could be construed as medical treatment for specific problems, but we will be glad to describe Ayurvedic protocols for hypothetical imbalances. Subscriptions are available AT $2. on a per-issue-basis. Initially, we intend to publish quarterly but when possible issues will appear more frequently. Send check or money order to: Michael Dick C/O The Ayurvedist, P.O.Box 23423 Albuquerque, N.M. Send comments by e-mail to: email@example.com or by surface mail to: P.O. Box 23423 Albuquerque, N.M., 87192
A Short Introduction to Ayurveda:
Ayurveda is the science of life and longevity including the plants and animals. Life is defined to include the conjunction of mind, body, senses, and spirit. Thus the object of study and treatment includes all of these. Central to Ayurveda is the notion that only three principles, called doshas (vata, pitta, kapha or motion, transformation, and structure respectively) need be employed to explain all of creation—including the physiology and form of humans. The three doshas are the governors of physiology, through the functioning of which the external environment influences and becomes the internal one—the body, with characteristic emotions, physical and mental functioning. Every body has a unique constitution which can be described in terms of the doshas: The key to health is given by the balance of the doshas, strength of digestion, and by the quality of elimination. Ayurveda treats physiology (the governing principles) in the context of many factors including constitution and tries to restore doshic balance. Disease is the expression of imbalance of the doshas. Maintaining and restoring balance is based on the notion that opposites balance. Imbalance is caused by the chronic experience of one or more qualities in the diet, lifestyle, climate, relationships in our life, etc.. The site of manifestation of disease has genetic and traumatic links. The path to balance is four-fold: 1) remove the cause, 2) purify the body, 3) balance the inherent doshic tendencies, 4) rejuvenate functioning to pristine levels. The essence of this is given by the term: self-referral. This means that living in the present is the key to becoming healthy in the future.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DOSHAS
Ayurveda is an ancient system of health care indigenous to India. It is a body of knowledge which embraces numerous Indian philosophical systems and numerous sciences including: psychology, anatomy, physiology, botany, biology, physics, chemistry. These have been blended together into a master science greater than our own modern concept of medicine, but including it. Ancient texts describe how the psychic, physical, and metaphysical realms interact and affect one another. Mental events have physical outcomes and vice versa. In the modern science of quantum physics, matter and energy have been shown to be no longer separate fields of existence but mere expressions of a single field more subtle and profound--even intelligent, all powerful, infinite, eternal. All of this is the field of study for Ayurveda.
One of the principles of this science is the term dosha. It often is translated to mean impurity. But it means much more. Dosha is a functional unit of physiology. It has three aspects which serve, collectively, to govern all of bodily functioning. These three aspects are called vata, pitta, kapha and give expression to movement, transformations, and structure, respectively. Ancient writers in Ayurveda translated dosha to mean--bodily humors--and described them as air, bile, phlegm, respectively. These terms were descriptive more of gross forms of the doshic principles than of their functions. More attention was placed on finding their morbid expression than on finding proof of their normal functioning. This brings us to the point that in Ayurveda function is paramount. Form follows function. Therefore, the concept of dosha is primarily a concept of physiology rather than of anatomy. It is that concept which integrates the external universe with the internal. It is the causal link which brings under-standing to why the external environment affects physiology, personality, temperament, which in turn affects the environment through our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Specifically, vata dosha is responsible for all motion and movement of the body and its systems and for catabolic processes. It governs speech, respiration, circulation, elimination, and the nervous system. Pitta governs digestion, metabolism, and thinking/discrimination. It governs thermogenesis and brings about transformations of all types e.g., energy into matter and vice versa or energy and matter into different forms of one another. Kapha is the principle of structure and anabolic processes. It governs fluid balance, secretions of the body, and thermotaxis. These principles operate from conception and give rise to bodily form. Taken together they are the body in form and process. They nourish, pollute, and vitiate depending upon one’s point of view. As they give rise to a body they nourish. When one or more is quantitatively in excess pollution of the body may occur, as in the form of gas, bile, phlegm. And if the functioning is qualitatively disturbed it may disrupt its own or another’s functions. This means that doshas, alone can cause bodily health or disease. They are the causative forces. Controlling them is the aim of Ayurveda.
We would like to digress a moment on the methodology of this construct. The term dosha is not a physical reality in the body in the sense that one can point a finger at it or touch it. The term is an organizing principle which helps us to understand certain experiences with the body and its functioning. It is a construct which forces us to categorize according to given rules such as things that move, or change, or grow. We do not have to prove the physical existence of the doshas to understand or infer that they function. Evidence of their functioning is indeed the only proof needed. Thus the term is not a description of reality but a way of relating to our experiences in reality. This is the approach of science. We build models which helps us orient in the territory but these models or maps are not the territory itself.
The doshas are said to govern any particular body in a way which is unique to that individual. Ayurvedic practitioners, called vaidyas, attempt to classify each person according to the relative contribution each of the doshas makes in an individual. This means that a vaidya determines which doshic principle is most, less, and least lively in shaping a person and expressing according to its qualities and functions. This process gives rise to a ranking such as pitta, vata, kapha where pitta is most important and kapha least important. There are seven variations of this theme in all (3 mono doshic, 3 bi doshic, 1 tri doshic). Whatever one is born with is permanent for life. This typing of constitution yields insights into what a person is like at a fundamental level. It suggests strengths and even weaknesses. It helps us avoid or prevent disease by understanding what things, behaviors, etc. are most likely to be detrimental to us. It gives insight as to why different members of the same family can have entirely different tastes, behaviors, personalities, diseases and so on. This understanding leads us to appreciate differences in humans as the result of fundamental forces in nature--they are not simply chosen paths, preferences, temperaments. Diversity is appreciated as beauty which cannot be derided. Dosha makes us appreciate this. This concept of constitution defines the state of balance which is normal to an individual. It gives the target that we try to restore when the body is out of balance. When the status of the doshas in the present is the same as that given by birth then their functioning is said to be balanced.
The Ayurvedic conception of disease is given as the imbalanced functioning of the doshas. Some-thing as simple as a runny nose is defined as imbalance or disease. The doshas bring about these changes according to influences they receive in the form of the food we eat, the kinds of things we see, hear, feel, smell, even what we think. If we experience a good thing for long time it may become the force of disease if the doshic principles can not maintain balance while experiencing it. The modern concept of disease as something you “catch” promotes a fear or antagonism toward the disease. This concept of dosha and imbalance suggests that the disease is not something alien attacking the body but our own body out of balance and in confusion. We need not fear this process but rather begin to give it new instructions and experiences which promote balance among the doshas. This understanding gives rise to a completely different psychology of disease which is in itself beneficial to healing and health.
Perhaps most importantly, we arrive at a fundamental under-standing of cause and effect with the application of the principle of dosha. Doshas get their instructions from genes at one level of understanding, but at another level of understanding also from every-thing we experience. We literally become what we experience, no matter what its form. This under-standing is a powerful tool in restoring balance and health. All we have to do is remove the cause, purify the system in some way, balance the natural tendencies of the doshas, and provide a theme of rejuvenation. This understanding is more fundamental that trying to fix disease by interfering with the mechanism of disease. We can destroy it at its very origins and cause. Every disease gives telltale signs of specific doshic involvement and this can be useful to eliminate the symptoms of disease on the level of symptoms, as well.
We want to be clear about the usefulness of doshas in relation to our modern disease taxonomy. Absolutely all disease can be understood with the application of these three principles. A couple of examples are rakta pitta (pitta in the blood) for bleeding disorders and vata rakta (vata in the blood) for gout. The physiology of disease is easily understood with these concepts, because they express function or process.
Doshas have subtle aspects as we hinted above. The functional nature of dosha is subtle but this nature is given by groupings of qualities which, taken together, are the doshic operators. For example, vata is composed of cold, dry, light, moving, rough, subtle, pervading, clear qualities; pitta is composed of hot, oily, sharp, moving, sour, liquid, light qualities; kapha is given by the qualities: smooth, solid, stable, dense, dull, heavy, cold, sweet, cloudy, slow, liquid, oily, gross. These qualities also affect emotions and thinking. Thus by controlling doshic forces (these qualities) we can exert an influence over the very things we think about and the way we interact with every thing we come into contact. Mental processes and emotions can be guided and modified with the application of a given set of qualities. Adding heat to a cold temperament can make it more warm and loving. Taking heat away from an angry person can yield cool judgment. By selecting the qualities we experience we can even experience new dimensions of our nature, which is profound, subtle, all knowing, eternal and so on. For example, clarity of mind leads to new discoveries, deeper understandings of life, which become the cause for additional and more profound changes. The cause becomes the effect and the effect becomes a cause.
Because doshas are really qualities in action we can understand and explain the nature and direction of change. On one level this means that there is order within disorder / disease. There is a structure to disease that can be explained with doshic qualities and processes. On another level all of nature functions in cycles--predictable variations of the doshic qualities. These cycles can be described as the ebb and flow of given qualities, which are none other than the doshas themselves. Knowing this we can anticipate future change and by taking appropriate action we can prevent imbalance from occurring. In the context of behavioral routines it’s important to do right things but at the correct time. Eating a big meal at midnight may satisfy a hunger but the body will be unable to digest it and do the rejuvenation of the body normally done at that time. The concept of dosha has both curative and preventative significance.
Finally, the doshas have a unifying role. We stated that we are what we experience--mentally, emotion-ally, physically because the doshas take their instructions from the qualities in our life. The body literally becomes the environment we experience. Nature is not independent of human life. Internal changes lead to new behaviors which in turn modify the environment. An example of this effect is polar ozone depletion. Thus everything has some affect on everything else. There are no spare parts. Everything is meaningful. Everything is one.
· A review of the causes and remedies of fatigue from modern and ancient views
· Therapeutic use of herbs--a commentary and synthesis
· The Ayurvedic conception of health and how it differs from the allopathic concept
· The importance of digestion in a model of health
· Food as medicine
· The concept of time in health and disease--implications for daily routines
· Responding to Time’s special issue: Frontiers of Medicine
Site Map (Table of Contents of Entire Ayurveda Website)
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