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Principles of Ayurveda

The Panchamahabhutas

According to Ayurveda everything in life is composed of the Panchamahabhutas - Akash (Space), Vayu (Air), Jal (Water), Agni (Fire) and Prithvi (Earth). Omnipresent, they are mixed in an infinite variety of relative proportions such that each form of matter is distinctly unique. Although each element has a range of attributes, only some get evident in particular situations. Constantly changing and interacting with each other, they create a situation of dynamic flux that keeps the world going.

Within a simple, single living cell for example the earth element predominates by giving structure to the cell. The water element is present in the cytoplasm or the liquid within the cell membrane. The fire element regulates the metabolic processes regulating the cell. While the air element predominates the gases therein. The space occupied by the cell denoting the last of the elements.

The Panchmahabhutas therefore serve as the foundation of all diagnosis & treatment modalities in Ayurveda and has served as a most valuable theory for physicians to detect and treat illness of the body and mind successfully.

The Tridoshas

The Tridoshas (tri meaning three and doshas being the basic physical energies) are the primary and essential factors of the human body that govern our entire physical structure and function. Derived from the Panchmahabhutas, each dosha - which like the elements cannot be detected with our senses but their qualities can be - is a combination of any two of the five bhutas with the predominance of one. Called Vata, Pitta and Kapha in Sanskrit, these three are responsible for all the physiological and psychological processes within the body and mind - dynamic forces that determine growth and decay. Every physical characteristic, mental capacity and the emotional tendency of a human being can therefore be explained in terms of the tridoshas.

Ayurveda however considers only three types of constitution - in monotypes just one dosha predominates, in duo types two have near similar strength, and in the very rarely found third type all three are equally powerful. Within this broad classification, there are in the first category various sub-types that are listed below for easier reference.

The Trigunas

Just as the doshas are the essential components of the body, the three gunas - Satwa, Rajas and Tamas - are the three essential components or energies of the mind. Ayurveda provides a distinct description of people on the basis of their Manasa (psychological) Prakriti (constitution). Genetically determined, these psychological characteristics are dependent on the relative dominance of the three gunas.

While all individuals have mixed amounts of the three, the predominant guna determines an individual's mansa prakriti. In equilibrium, the three gunas preserve the mind (and indirectly the body), maintaining it in a healthy state. Any disturbance in this equilibrium results in various types of mental disorders.

Agni

Being the biological fire that governs metabolism, agni encompasses all the changes in the body and mind from the dense to the more subtle. Such changes include the digestion and absorption of food, cellular transformations, assimilation of sensory perceptions and mental and emotional experiences. Agni therefore covers whole sequences of chemical interactions and changes in the body and mind. Digestive abilities being related to the strength of agni.

Agni and pitta are closely connected. While both are hot and light, agni is subtle and dry. The heat energy to help digestion contained by pitta is agni. Pitta is therefore the container and agni the content. Agni is acidic in nature and stimulates digestion. It is subtly related to the movement of vata. In every tissue and cell agni is present and is necessary for maintaining the nutrition and auto-immune mechanism. By destroying micro-organisms, foreign bacteria and toxins in the stomach and the intestines.

A balanced agni therefore is vital for health. The strength of the body to resist disease and also its physical strength are directly related to its heat energy determining the metabolic processes of the body. Disturbances to Agni are usually the chief causes of disease.

The Dhatus

The Sapta (seven) Dhatus (tissues) elements form the pillars of the body that form the means of nourishment and growth while providing support to the body as well as the mind.

  • Rasa (fluid) Dhatu
  • Rakta (blood) Dhatu
  • Masma Dhatu
  • Meda (fat) Dhatu
  • Ashti Dhatu
  • Majja Dhatu
  • Shukra Dhatu

The Malas

Malas are the various waste products of the dhatus produced during the normal metabolical process. The three primary malas being Purisa (faeces), Mutra (urine) and Sweda (sweat). Ayurveda clearly states that only a balanced condition of doshas, dhatus and malas is arogya (good health or disease free condition) and their imbalance is the cause of ill health or disease.

Purisa is the waste left back after nutrients of digested food have been absorbed in the small intestine. While water and salt absorbed in the large intestine, the residue now converted into solid faeces, leaves the body. The consistency of the faeces depending both on gastrointestinal mobility and nature of diet.

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