The Vedic scriptures say that there is an inextricable link between humans and the universe. The very elements of human life exist outside in the cosmos as well. As the poet Walt Whitman said, “I believe a blade of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” In or- der to understand the universe and environmental situations, and to understand human health con- cerns, one needs to appreciate the common link between them: the elements of creation.
The Vedas discuss the process of creation. First, there was the eternal, Divine, unmanifest existence: ever present. It is said that life was created from within the eternal, like a thread that comes from within a spider to be woven into a web. Creation eventually dissolves back into the eternal like the spider returning the web into itself.
One may ask how the nonmoving eternal can appear to move or create something. Here, the Vedic literature, known as the Upaniähads, offers a meta- phor: Just as the desert appears to create an oasis without moving to create it, so does the nonmoving eternity appear to produce this illusory creation. The creation is called illusory because it is not last- ing; only eternity is real because it is everlasting.
There is not enough space in this book to justly discuss this topic. This is a mere offering into the insight of the origin of creation as explained by the ancient Vedic ^ishis (seers).
As creation developed, it formed three under- lying principles that uphold all life: the laws of creation, maintenance, and dissolution. Everything in life is born or created, it lives, and then it dies. These principles are known as sattwa, rajas, and tamas, respectfully, and are called the three guòas
or tendencies. All of life, human and celestial, obey these laws.
The Elements: Building Blocks of Life
The creation principle developed five essential elements—or building blocks that all life forms contain: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. We can easily see how life was created from the subtlest to the grossest matter. From eternity, the subtlest form of matter is ether. Ether mixing with eternity creates air, a more observable or experiential ele- ment. As air moves, it eventually creates friction, which creates heat or fire. Heat produces mois- ture, thus creating water, the densest element yet: if one tries to walk through water, one is slowed by its density. Finally, water produces the densest form of matter, earth. The Vedas say that all of the creation, including humans, is made up of combi- nations of all five essential elements. These ele- ments are the subtlest aspects of human life, finer than the molecular, atomic, or subatomic levels.
This is the level that Áyurvedic healing works on. Focusing on the cause of the grosser levels of life, the denser aspects will be taken care of since they are made up of these five elements. Just as a strong foundation supports a strong building, when the five elements (the foundation of all matter) are strong and balanced in a person, they will auto- matically balance the more material levels.
Thus, Áyurveda does not need to look at iso- lated parts of the human anatomy, or at the vita- min, chemical, or nutritional level of health. It sim- ply balances the elements, and this balances the more physical levels.
A person diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer is an example of this balancing. Rather than create a name for a symptom, Áyurveda identifies the ill- ness as an excess of the fire element. Acid is a by- product of heat. Áyurveda will look to see in what part of the patient’s life overheating occurs. It may be due to eating excessive fiery foods and spices like tomatoes and peppers. One’s career may be causing undue anger (i.e., hot temper). Perhaps the person drinks alcohol (firewater).
Once the cause is learned, suggestions for re- ducing a person’s excessive intake of fire are dis- cussed. Simultaneously, the patient is advised to use more of the air and water elements to balance the heat with coolness (air cools heat, water puts out the fire). Thus, the holistic approach of Áyurveda seeks the cause of an illness and restores balance, using the insight of the elemental creation of the universe.
The Áyurvedic Body
Personalizing the healing process is a unique- ness that Áyurveda brings to the holistic field of health. From the insights of the Vedic sages, we learn that people are different and need to be indi- vidually treated.
Expanding upon this elemental view, the Áyurvedic practitioner understands that people are made up of various combinations of the elements. Some people have more air in their system; some people have a more fiery constitution. Others are predominantly made up of water. Still others are combinations of fire and air, fire and water, or air and water. Some people have an equal amount of all three elements (ether is combined in air and earth within water).
Thus a more air-predominant individual needs to take in less air and more fire and water. A water person already has an excess of water, so there is a need to reduce the intake of water and to increase the fire and air elements in the diet and lifestyle.
The general Áyurvedic approach is threefold.
1. Determining one’s elemental constitution (doßha
2. Learning the elemental cause of illness (vik^iti), and
3. Applying therapeutic recommendations to bal- ance elements causing the illness, without caus- ing an imbalance to the doßha (constitution).
This unique, personalized approach not only makes healing effective, but gentle as well. Other holistic measures may work, yet still aggravate the person’s doßha. Áyurveda is the only holistic sci- ence that needn’t warn people that they may feel worse while the diseases or toxins are being re- moved before they will feel better. Because of its balancing approach, gentleness marks the entire healing process.
Qualities of the Three Doßhas
Parallel to the three guòas (sattwa, rajas, and tamas) in creation are the three doßhas, or consti- tutions, in the human body: Váyu (or Váta), Pitta, and Kapha. Váyu may be understood as nerve force, electro-motor, physical activity or that, which is responsible for motion. It is commonly called air. The root, ‘va’ means to spread. In West- ern terms, it is the electricity setting the organism into motion, maintaining the equilibrium between Pitta and Kapha (inerts).
Váyu relates to the nerve-force. It is responsible for all movement in the mind and body.
The movement of Váyu even regulates the balance of Pitta and Kapha.
Pitta relates to internal fire, bile, body heat, di- gestive enzymes, physio-chemical, biological, metabolic and endocrine systems. It is responsible for digesting the chyle into a protoplasmic sub- stance like sperm and ovum.
The nerve network of the mind and body.
The bones are primarily affected by Váyu
Pitta relates to the circulatory, endocrine, and digestive systems
Kapha fills the intercellular spaces of the body as connective tissue. Examples of these tissues in- clude mucus, synovial fluid, and tendons. Kapha is responsible for the gross structure of the body (solid and liquid/phlegm-plasma). Each person is made up of a combination of these elements.
The knee bones are examples of areas that are lu- bricated by Kapha.
Together, the doßhas are responsible for cata- bolic and anabolic metabolism. Catabolism breaks down complex internal bodies, and Váyu (air en- ergy) sets this energy free into simpler waste. Anabolism takes food and builds it into more com- plex bodies. The summit of the metabolic process is protoplasm or essential matter [proteins, carbo- hydrates, lipids, and inorganic salts]. Lifeless food becomes living protoplasm and is set free as use- ful energy or excess heat or motion that is emitted from the body. Thus, the purpose of the three doßhas is to move the lymph chyle (the by-prod- uct of digested foods) throughout the body. This nourishes and builds the body tissues. When any or all of the doßhas develop imbalance, the body ceases to be nourished, and disease develops.
The three doßhas (Váyu, Pitta, Kapha) exist throughout the entire body, in every cell, yet are predominant (their sites of origin) in the colon, small intestine, and stomach, respectively. Some authorities say that Váyu primarily resides below the navel, Pitta from the navel to the heart, and Kapha, above the heart.
Váyu is also found in (governing) the waist, thighs, ear, bones, and skin. Pitta also governs the navel, sweat, lymph, blood, eye, and skin. Kapha additionally controls the chest, throat, head, bone joints, small intestine, plasma, fat, nose, and tongue.
Properties of the Three Doßhas
Váyu: Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, moving Pitta: Slightly oily, hot, light, odorous, liquid Kapha: Oily, cold, heavy, slow, smooth, slimy, static.
Each of the three doßhas has five divisions or responsibilities.
Each of the five Váyus is responsible for vari-
ous physical and mental functions of the cerebral- spinal and sympathetic nerves.
Práò is located in the head and governs the chest, throat, mind, heart, sense organs, intelli- gence, expectorating, sneezing, belching, inspira- tion, and swallowing of food—outward movement.
Udán resides in the chest and controls the nose, navel, and throat, and is responsible for initiating speech, effort, enthusiasm, the capacity to work, complexion, and memory—upward movement.
Vyán is found in the heart and rapidly moves throughout the body. It regulates all body move- ments, including walking, raising and lowering of the body parts, and opening and closing the eyes.
Samán is located near the digestive fire. It works in the alimentary tract (absorbing nutrients and excreting wastes), and other abdominal organs. It holds food in the alimentary tract, helps digest it, separates nutrients from waste, and eliminates the waste—equalized movement.
Apán is seated in the colon, and controls the waist, bladder, genitals, and thighs. Its main func- tion is downward movement of wastes (feces, urine), reproductive fluid, menstrual fluid, and it also controls the downward movement of the fe- tus.
Pachaka exists in the small intestine, stomach, and colon as non-liquid heat, bile, or digestive fire. The fire digests and transforms food, emulsifying food fats and separating absorbable nutrients from waste, so they may be passed to lacteals by ab- sorption. [Food becoming partially digested in the stomach is known as chyme. This chyme passes into the small intestine where it becomes digested by the pancreatic juice and bile. The usable by- product is lymph and fatty matter, or chyle. The chyle moves through lacteals, or lymphatic ves- sels which carry chyle from the small intestine to the thoracic duct. From the thoracic duct, the chyle is sent into the blood.] Pachaka (digestive en- zymes), through digestion, automatically nourishes the other four Pittas.
Ranjaka is located in the stomach, liver, and spleen, and gives color to lymph chyle when it is transformed into blood as it passes through the liver and spleen.
Sadhaka is found in the heart. It helps in per- forming mental functions such as knowledge, in- telligence, and consciousness by maintaining rhythmic cardiac contractions.
Alochaka resides in the retina of the eyes and governs sight.
Bhrajaka resides in the skin. It regulates com- plexion by keeping secretions from the sweat and sebaceous glands of the skin active.
Avalambaka is found in the chest and creates cohesion, softness, moistness, and liquidity, which result in maintaining body strength.
Kledaka is in the stomach, liquefying hard food masses.
Bodhaka is found in the tongue and is respon- sible for taste.
Tarpaka exists in the head and nourishes the sense organs.
Shleßhaka is located in the bone joints and lu- bricates them.
People who are predominantly an air (Váyu)
prak^iti will have different experiences depending
on whether their doßha is balanced or in excess. Balanced Váyu-prak^iti individuals will be adapt- able, cheerful, have natural healing tendencies, be thin-framed, and very tall or very short. If there is excess Váyu in their bodies, they may be very thin, have dry skin, gas, constipation, bone problems, or arthritis. They may talk very fast or become eas- ily tired. Mentally, they may quickly grasp con- cepts but soon forget them; be anxious, worried, fearful, or nervous.
Pitta-dominant individuals, when healthy and balanced, will be warm, and have clear, penetrat- ing thoughts. They will tend to be leaders and/or athletic. They will be of moderate, muscular build, and will be passionate. When they overheat, they may find themselves impatient, hot-tempered, or too critical. Physically, they will develop heat-re- lated problems like ulcers, infections, rashes or acne, eye problems, or high blood pressure.
The Kapha-paramount individuals, when bal- anced, are loyal and calm. Physically, they are big boned and strong, with deep-toned voices. When Kapha is excessive, they tend toward water ex- cesses like water retention, being overweight, or having bronchitis. Mentally, they will find them- selves lethargic, too attached, and sentimental.
As we discussed earlier, each person is made up of a combination of these elements, yet each usually has a combination predominantly of two or all three of these elements. These elements in turn, form three physiological principles, Váyu (ether and air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water and earth). Like the elements, people are predominantly made up of one or more or these doßhas.
People fall into seven prak^iti categories:
1. Váyu 5. Pitta/Kapha
2. Pitta 6. Kapha/Váyu
3. Kapha 7. Tridoßhic (equal amounts).
4. Váyu/Pitta (combination)
These constitutions may be further subdivided,
8, 9. Váyu/Pitta (with Váyu or Pitta being predomi- nant)
10, 11. Váyu/Kapha (with Váyu or Kapha being predominant)
12, 13. Pitta/Kapha (with Pitta or Kapha being pre- dominant)
14-19. Tridoßhic (six additional constitutions, with one or two doßhas being more predominant: e.g., Váyu predominance, Pitta and Kapha predomi- nance, etc.)
Three external reasons cause doßhas to become increased (imbalanced):
1. Time of day or season (e.g., around noon- time is ruled by Pitta; Fall is predominantly a Váyu time)
2. From inadequate, excessive or untimely sen- sory experiences (e.g., excessive loud music, over- eating)
3. Actions (e.g., excessive speaking, inadequate exercise, etc.)
Agnis: Digestive Fire (Enzymes)
Most diseases are due to poor digestion. Agni (enzyme) is found in the alimentary canal and di- gests food. The normal digestion of the three doßhas produces Samágni. Digestive activity (healthy, deficient or excessive) is governed by the doßhas becoming aggravated. The three doßhas produce three agnis (vißhamágni, tíkßhnágni and mandágni respectively). Excess Váyu in the body produces weak, irregular digestion, and causes gas.
Excess Pitta creates a situation like an over- heated furnace. Food burns up quickly, and per- sons experience burning sensations, thirst, acid indigestion, etc. In some cases the agni fire even burns up nutrients, causing malnutrition.
When excess Kapha is in the digestive tract, the digestive fire is low, making it difficult to digest any foods. As a result, a person feels dull, poor, inadequate, and lethargic; the stomach is heavy, or the person may experience constipation. Váyu dis- orders produce hard stools from the dryness caused by gas. Pitta stools are soft or liquid due to excess heat. Kapha stools are moderate. A healthy stool is also moderate and easily eliminated once or twice a day.
Thirteen agnis reside in the body and are re- sponsible for digestion,
Jatharagni: Works at the gastrointestinal level, governing basic digestion and the 12 other agnis.
5 Bhutagnis: Metabolize the five elements that are present in the body’s tissues. They are a form of heat that is always present in all the tissues that are responsible for proper function and develop- ment of the tissues.
7 Dhatagnis: Metabolize in the seven tissues (dhátus). This is a biochemical process beyond food digestion. It includes anabolic and catabolic activity.