Frequently used Ayurvedic terms simplified for the modern world
Ayurveda defines health as a state of physical, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being. According to its principles and theory, the ancient medicinal science is based on Pachamahabhoota (the five essential elements – Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth) and Tridoshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) which are present in every cell of the body along with the mind and spirit.
Vata is one of the three Doshas or life forces that is responsible for energy, movement, and nerve impulses. It contains the properties of the elements, ether, and air. Annually, Vata is more prominent during the fall and change of seasons, and that’s the time Vata dominant people need to be extra careful of their diet and lifestyle.
Vata Dosha characteristics
An individual with a Vata type constitution is creative, light, and full of enthusiasm. While they are capable of understanding concepts quickly, they are quick to forget them as well. They are alert, active, and like to move.
Vata types tend to love music and dance. Classical music is relaxing for them, and they do enjoy warm and gentle oil massages. A comfortable ambiance and soft fabrics like silk or cotton work best to maintain their inner balance. Additionally, they should live in rooms that radiate warmth and comfort.
Since people with a Vata constitution don’t lack in spontaneity, they may tend to make rash and meaningless financial expenditures. However, if they live in equilibrium, you will find them to be lively, friendly, and creative beings for their whole lives.
Generally, the Vata types are either very small or quite broad in their build. They have delicate statures and are rather muscular like that of marathon runners. Thin skin that is prone to early ageing, fuzzy hair and tooth irregularities are some of their typical physical characteristics.
Typical Vata disorders
Vata types have fluctuating digestion and appetite patterns. Skipping meals can affect that even more. Due to their activity on different levels, they also have to deal with sleep disorders. An unbalance in Vata for a long time can result in feelings of fear, anxiety, and nervousness.
Vata people are prone to diseases like emphysema, arthritis, and pneumonia. Other disorders that affect them are flatulence, twitches, dry skin and hair, aching joints, constipation, nerve disorders, and mental confusion.
If you have a dominant Vata constitution, having regularity in meal times is essential. Try to avoid fasting, staying in air-conditioned rooms for long, and strenuous physical exertion. Staying in warm and humid locations can be beneficial.
Warm, well-cooked, and oily foods are proper Vata Dosha diets. Besides, they can use more oil for cooking their food as compared to Pitta and Kapha Dosha types. While the foods that Vata should avoid raw, frozen, or dried vegetables, they can occasionally enjoy a salad with oil or creamy dressing. In conditions of stiff and aching joints, it's better to avoid eating nightshades like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes.
Oil baths, good food and beverages, regularity, peace, and tranquillity are quite healing and good Vata Dosha treatments. It’s vital to avoid sugar, caffeine, and tobacco as Vata people are susceptible to addiction.
Individuals with a dominant Pitta constitution are characterized by the properties of fire – sharp, penetrating, and agitating. Though Pitta also contains the properties of water, fire is more pronounced. It regulates all metabolic processes, body temperature, as well as the hormonal balance.
What is Pitta Dosha?
The Pitta types are alert, intelligent, and sharp. They are well-structured and can concentrate on a particular task exceptionally well. Thus, they would make good leaders, planners, and teachers. When it comes to money, they are systematic and prudent in their spending habits.
They prefer bright and well-ventilated workplace. An open-plan office or one that feels like working at the stove would make life difficult for them as well as for their colleagues sharing the workspace. A firm massage with rose or sandalwood oil can be soothing to them.
Pitta Dosha characteristics
Pitta dominant people usually have medium build and height. Their skin is bright, sensitive, warmer, and less wrinkled than the skin of Vata types. Although they may have silky hair, premature greying, or hair loss is common among them. With a strong appetite, digestion, and metabolism, the Pitta types tend to like hot spices and cold drinks. But having Pitta Dosha diets that are sweet, bitter, and astringent in taste pacify their constitution.
Typical Pitta disorders
Pitta dominant people tend to have fits of rage and anger at times, especially when they are hungry. They find it hard to relax after prolonged concentration on their work. The Pitta type is prone to sleep disorders also.
If there is excess Pitta in the body, inflammation can result. Other illnesses that could develop are acne, stomach, and intestinal ulcers, gastritis, liver infections, eczema, and other skin diseases like furuncles and abscesses.
If the Pitta is quite prominent in an individual, they need to stay away from the extremes. Exercising is good if it is done during the cooler times of the day. Besides, activities that cause moderate exertion like cycling, dancing, and jogging works best for them.
They must be moderate in their food intake as well. Anything in excess or large portions is not good for them. Moreover, a diet that mainly consists of vegetables, preferably the bitter ones, is more suitable. They should avoid too spicy, salty, or sour food. Occasional intake of beer or stimulants like coffee or tea is all right.
Deep massages, including shiatsu, rolfing, and rebalancing are the recommended Pitta Dosha treatments.
Kapha regulates structure and lubrication in mind as well as the body. It is responsible for controlling weight and growth, lubrication of joints and lungs, and formation of all the seven tissues (blood, bones, muscles, marrow, fat, nutritive fluids, and reproductive tissues).
Strength, stamina, and endurance are the qualities of a Kapha dominant individual. In balance, they are stable and grounded, and always seem to be patient and understanding. They can be ideal managers who can take a calm approach to solve issues. Due to the tolerant and forgiving nature, they are a real pleasure to have around.
When Kapha is out of balance, they develop a tendency to overeat, avoid exercise, and sleep for prolonged hours. They may also experience greed, possessiveness, envy, and attachment.
The Kapha body type is characterized by well-developed bodies and muscles and thick skin. Also, their skin is oily and smooth.
Typical disorders associated with Kapha Dosha
People with a dominant Kapha constitution can suffer from obesity, depression, diabetes mellitus and litholysis if Kapha imbalance continues for long. They are more likely to be affected by diseases connected to the water principle such as flu, congestion, and sinus. Sluggishness, water retention, and headaches are other Kapha imbalance symptoms.
The Kapha types can preserve their health and strength for a lifetime if they can exercise regularly and change their profession and place of residence from time to time. It is better to avoid napping during the day and do something exciting instead.
When it comes to the Kapha Dosha diet, they should avoid dairy products and fried or greasy foods. Vegetables that are leafy or are grown above the ground are best for them. They can eat chicken, eggs, seafood, rabbit, etc. Since the Kapha types don’t need high amounts of protein, they should eat legumes in moderation. But as legumes are low in fats, these are better than eating meat.
They can add a variety of spices to their diet with ginger and garlic being optimal for them. Besides, they are not as harmed as the other two Dosha types by tobacco and liquor. If they must consume alcohol, wine is more suitable.
The Sanskrit word, Prakriti, refers to the natural form of the body’s constitution that is fixed during the time of creation. Prakriti includes both the physical as well as the psychological constitution of our body. The constitution, once fixed, remains the same throughout the entire life.
As the science of Ayurveda focuses on the complete physical and mental state of an individual instead of just the disease, Prakriti is an essential factor in treatments. Once the constitution is identified, the treatment is planned and carried out to help an individual lead a life of balanced and optimal health.
An individual can be any of three Prakritis – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha or their combinations. However, most people have Dwandvaja Prakriti, which means that they have a combination of two Doshas. Ayurveda says that a healthy life is one where all the states of Doshas, sensory organs, and the mind are balanced.
The following primary factors determine Prakriti:
- Sukra-Shonit Prakriti or the condition of the sperm and ovum
- Kala-garbhasaya Prakriti or the state of the uterus
- Matu-ahar Prakriti that is the food regimen adopted by the mother during pregnancy
Ayurveda categorizes Prakriti into seven types where a combination of the three Doshas manifest in an individual. They are:
- Monotypes – Here, any one of the Doshas, i.e., Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, is predominant in a person.
- Dual types – The dual types are those who have a combination of two Doshas. They can be of Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Kapha, or Kapha-Vata types.
- Equal types – They have Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Doshas in equal proportions.
According to the Ayurveda philosophy, the universal life force manifests as three different energies of Doshas categorized into Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each one of us is a unique combination of these three Doshas. They govern the processes of our mind and body and provide a blueprint for achieving long-term health and fulfillment.
Ether, air, fire, water, and earth are considered as the five elements that act as the building blocks of life. While these elements lay a foundation that unites all human beings, they also manifest uniquely through the Doshas, giving rise to our differences. Besides, each Dosha is composed of one or two of the elements. The Vata Dosha contains the energy of space and air, and the Pitta is a mixture of fire and water. Finally, the Kapha reflects the qualities of the elements of water and earth.
Doshas play a dynamic role where they are continually changing following our actions, the habits we cultivate, the food we eat, our thoughts and emotions, and the seasons. Our Doshas remain balanced if we live into the fulfillment of our natures. But if we go against our inherent qualities and develop unhealthy patterns, physical and mental imbalances set in leading to the beginning of diseases.
You can achieve vibrant health if you can maintain your current proportions of Doshas close to your birth constitution. Deviation from these states brings imbalance and is termed as Vikruti.
There is a total of three primary doshic states, i.e., balanced, increased, and decreased. In the balanced state, also referred to as ‘equilibrium,’ all the three Doshas occur in their natural proportions. When one of the Doshas exists more than its normal proportion, it results in an increased or aggravated state. A particular Dosha may also be present in less than the standard proportions. This state is called the decreased state or depleted state.
Understanding which Dosha predominantly governs your mind and body is vital. The more you know, the more you can be sure of what needs attention whenever something’s out of track.
Dhatus are basically the structures that make up the body. There are seven types of Dhatus responsible for the functioning of the bodily systems and organs – Rasa (plasma), Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle), Medas (fat), Asthi (bone), Majja (marrow), and Shukra (reproductive tissue).
New Dhatus are formed out of the previous ones. They derive their nourishment from the digestive system.
- Rasa: It is the first Dhatu and forms the first constitution of our body. Rasa is the fluids of the intracellular and extracellular parts of the body that nourishes the blood
- Rakta: The Rasa further gives rise to Rakta Dhatu. It circulates through the blood vessels to reach and nourish every cell and tissue of the body. It is said that the metabolic refinement of the Rasa Dhatu forms Rakta Dhatu. It acts as the preserver of life and helps with the exchange of gases as well
- Mamsa: The internal organs of the body are composed of Mamsa Dhatu. It is derived from the Rasa and Rakta Dhatu. Mamsa Dhatu can be classified into the following types – Hridya Kandara or cardiac muscle, Vartul Kandara or Smooth muscle, and Asti Kandara or Skeletal muscle
- Meda: Meda Dhatu or fatty tissues are formed from the refined part of the Mamsa Dhatu. Their primary task is to lubricate the organs of the body. In addition to forming the base of the fatty tissues, Meda Dhatu also constitutes the tissues of the brain, spinal cord, and the nervous system. Besides, it plays a vital role in maintaining the proper internal body temperature
- Asthi: Our body gets its basic structure from the skeletal tissues or Asthi Dhatus. Compared to other Dhatus, the Asthi Dhatus exists in the most solid form among the others
- Majja: Majja Dhatu also goes by the name of myeloid tissue or bone marrow. They are semisolid and are usually yellow or red. The Majja Dhatu exists within the bone cavity and also inside the brain and spinal cord
- Shukra: The Shukra Dhatu is the most refined essence of all the other Dhatus. It represents the reproductive elements of the body
Lehyams are a form of ayurvedic medications prepared by using sugar or jaggery, herbal powder, herbal pulp, decoctions, and other ingredients. It is semisolid, and the appropriate constituency is obtained by boiling the ingredients with the prescribed liquid. Honey is also added after cooling it down to preserve the water extract of medicines.
Lehyam preparations are used to treat many ailments like cough, asthma, skin diseases, arthritis, etc. The average dosage prescribed for an adult is usually 10 to 15 grams. Specific Lehyam formulations can rejuvenate the body also. Examples of such preparations are Brahma Rasayanam, Agasthya Rasayanam, and Chyavanaprasam.
The Thailam is an ayurvedic preparation in which a herbal paste is heated with a prescribed liquid media in an oil base. The oil is filtered and preserved in plastic or glass containers. The usual composition of Thailam is described below.
- Base oil or fat also called Sneha Dravya. Sesame oil is commonly used as the base oil.
- Liquid media or Drava Dravya. The liquid media consists of either herbal juice or decoction and sometimes use both.
- Gandha Dravya. Sometimes it is added as a natural perfuming agent.
For a potent Thailam, fresh ingredients should be used, and the dried herbs used for making decoctions should not be older than six months. Each medicine requires a specific amount of ingredients to be added. But according to the general rule, four parts of base oil, one part of herbal paste and 16 parts of liquid media must be used.
A significant part of the ayurvedic principles is directed at maximizing the production and maintenance of Ojas. In Sanskrit, Ojas represents vigour. It's the vital energy that our mind and body need for health, strength, long life, mental and emotional wellness.
Individuals can enhance and protect their Ojas by consuming a pure and sattvic diet, meditating, and bringing balance in all areas of their life. As the heart is considered to be the seat of Ojas, it is recommended to practice heart-opening asanas to invigorate the Ojas.
A high amount of Ojas is accumulated from food that is nourishing and adequately digested. Everything we eat needs to be converted into toxin-free and life-giving energy. But that can be obstructed by Ama or toxins. Ama is produced by consuming non-sattvic foods, weak digestion and metabolism, and stress. Foods that are reheated, oily, not freshly prepared are non-sattvic and hard for the body to convert into Ojas. Meat is considered as a non-sattvic food as well.
The Ama thus produced builds up like a toxic residue inside the cells and causes disease. Ama blocks the flow of energy within the body’s microcirculatory channels and hinders the work of Ojas to create a vibrant and blissful state of mind and emotions.
Ayurveda describes Ojas as the most refined and subtle essence of our body that brings inner bliss and provides immunity from all diseases and infection. When you have plenty of Ojas, the mental and physical strain is eliminated, so are the causes of illness and suffering. Ojas is characterized by happiness, bliss, immunity, strength, a clear mind, a radiant complexion, and health.
Rasayana is composed of two words, ‘Rasa' and ‘Ayana' meaning essence and path, respectively. Thus, Rasayana translates to ‘the path of the essence'. Moreover, Ayurveda defines Rasayana as the science of promoting longevity, maintaining optimal health, and reversing the effects of aging with the help of herbal remedies.
Ayurveda, yoga, and Rasayana all work closely to help the practitioner gain physical, mental, and spiritual health. Rasayana is of two types – behavioral and herbal. It includes maintaining a positive balance of mind and spirit by sattvic foods, yoga, and meditation as well as practicing other positive behaviors such as honesty and kindness.
The herbal preparations used as a part of Rasayana typically include ten to twenty herbs along with fruits and minerals. Rasayana can also be categorized into two more types. The first one is Kamya Rasayana, which focuses on enhancing the lifestyle of an individual and promote their health and energy level in the process. The second one is Nimittika Rasayana, which focuses on fighting diseases. The Kamya Rasayanis again divided into three categories of Pranakamya, Srikamya, and Medhakamya. The Pranakamya fosters vitality, Srikamya enhances complexion, and the Medhakamya fortifies intelligence.
Panchkarma is a Sanskrit word that refers to five actions or five forms of treatment. The processes involved in Panchkarma treatment focus on getting rid of toxic materials accumulated in the body by disease, poor nutrition, and the environment. In addition to detoxifying the body, Panchkarma is an excellent way to rejuvenate and strengthen the immune system.
The human body can process and remove the accumulated toxins on its own. But due to continued poor choices of food, lifestyle, and activities, the body’s internal homeostasis is disturbed. With Panchakarma, the imbalance of Doshas and toxins can be eliminated. Moreover, Panchakarma can be a relaxing experience. It involves:
- Daily warm oil massage (Abhyanga)
- Herbal steam therapy (Swedana)
- Lymphatic massage
- Herbal enemas (Basti)
- Nasal administrations (Nasya)
- Other special treatments such as Shirodhara, Garshana, Udvartana, Pinda Swedana
Panchkarma is a proven natural therapy that eliminates harmful Ama from the body and restores the body’s optimal health and vitality.
Dr. Varsha Avinash Tawde
Dr. Varsha’s experience in healing through Ayurveda spans almost a decade. Over the years, Dr. Varsha has proved her mettle in the wellness industry and has successfully handled cases that involved patients with challenging disabilities through holistic treatments based on Ayurvedic principles.