Column: It's My Health!
The Language of Nature
by Gerald Lopez, LLB; Dip.Ayurvedic Medicine
Let's look at the ancient health system of Ayurveda today and see whether it can still be useful to us.
You might ask, "Why do we need to talk about some exotic, possibly outdated, system when you can tell us about good diet, exercise, etc.?"
Here are 3 good reasons:
Ayurveda has proven to be useful for at least 3,000 years and thus is likely to remain useful for another 3,000.
The ancient sages probably had lots of time to observe Nature. They agreed that there were some qualities of Nature - such as hot/cold, dry/moist, static/mobile, rough/smooth, dense/subtle - that were useful to describe what they observed. These same qualities were found in the body and mind, and in diseases.
They found that qualities in Nature increased similar qualities in the body: For instance, a naturally "warm" person, on a hot summer day, having a curry lunch, would break out in sweat. And if repeated daily, that person might then break out in rashes or other inflammation. Then someone would need to prescribe "cooling" food and herbs, and the rashes would clear.
Thus, the use of OPPOSITE qualities became the basic principle of therapy, or maintaining balance of health.
Later, a theory of five elements evolved ether (empty space), air, fire, water and earth. This was a convenient way of grouping qualities, so you could say something or someone was "airy" in nature rather than saying they expressed mobile, cold and light qualities.
The Three Body Types
Finally, the five elements were perceived by the ayurvedic observers to conveniently group themselves into three practical principles, called humours or doshas. The doshas are the principles by which ayurvedic medicine has been practised until today.
Everyone has the three doshas But the ratios in each person are different from birth.
Vata – ether and air
Vata governs movement in the body, such as breath, digestion, nerves and muscles, elimination and childbirth. The qualities of Vata are cold, light, mobile, dry and rough. A person with predominance of Vata is lightly built, active (physically and mentally), creative and enthusiastic.
Excessive Vata leads to anxiety, indecision, insomnia, wind, constipation, dry skin, cramps, and nervous and bone problems. Using the opposite qualities, Vata is balanced by warm climate, taking warm nourishing foods, warm and sweet spices, using oils internally and externally to combat dryness, and bringing stability into one's lifestyle.
Pitta – fire and water
Pitta governs digestion and metabolism in the gut and in every cell; its qualities are hot, sharp, light, slightly oily, and flowing. A Pitta person has a flushed appearance, and is cheerful, passionate, intelligent, organised.
Excessive Pitta leads to irritabilty and anger, impatience, inflammations, skin problems, loose stools, eye and hair problems. The keyword for balancing Pitta is "cooling." They should eat cooling foods with fresh, bitter tastes, and do calming activities like yoga, meditation and walking in nature.
Kapha – earth and water
Kapha governs structure, growth and fluid metabolism in the body. Its qualities are cool, heavy, static, soft, dense, sticky. Kapha people are usually large, with great strength, endurance and fertility. They are caring, loving, patient, and have a deep understanding of people.
When excessive, Kapha causes possessiveness, heavy depression, mucus and phlegm. Their combination of weak digestion, love of food, and tendency to inactivity often causes problems with excess weight. To balance, they need to eat warm, dry, light, spicy foods; and need - according to the ancients – regular, vigorous exercise and sex!
Using the Concept of Doshas
By gaining an understanding of yourself and your predominant doshas - and observing how these fluctuate through the day and through the seasons - you can get an intuitive sense of what you need to do to maintain balance. This is a most powerful tool for staying healthy throughout your life.
In the next issue I will talk about how our eating habits affect our digestion and health. This will answer the riddle of why some people can eat the right things but still get ill... or why some people remain very healthy despite a supposedly unhealthy diet!
* Vata, Pitta and Kapha illustrations are from "Ayurveda: A Life of Balance" by Maya Tiwari, available from Amazon.com
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