Ayurveda, separated into its component parts “ayur” and “veda” means ‘life science,’ respectively. “Veda” also means ‘knowledge of everything’ and Vedas are the ancient Sanskrit texts. Ayurveda is the knowledge of all life, though primarily focused on human life.
In modern usage “ayurveda” refers to the traditional Indian system of medicine, and is roughly equivalent to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). (But I’ll be comparing ayurveda and TCM much more in the upcoming months.)
Ayurveda is both preventative and curative: a daily and seasonal prescription for maintenance of health, as well as diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Ayurveda is based on Five Elements:
- Space (akasa),
- Air/wind (vayu),
- Fire (agni),
- Water (jala), and
- Earth (prithvi).
These 5 Elements combine in different proportions to make up everything in the universe. Specifically they combine to form what are known as the Three Doshas (Tri Dosha):
- Vata (space and air),
- Pitta (fire), and
- Kapha (water and earth).
The doshas can be thought of as different types of energies that are always present in the body in varying amounts.
The 5 Elements also makeup the Seven Nutritive Factors (Sapta Dhatu):
- Plasma rasa (water)
- Blood rakta (fire & water)
- Muscle mamsa (water & earth)
- Adipose meda (water)
- Bone asthi (earth & air)
- Bone marrow majja (water)
- Reproductive tissue sukra (water)
There are also Three Waste Products (Tri Mala):
- Feces pureesha (earth & water)
- Urine mutra (water)
- Sweat sweda (fire & water)
This 3-7-3 combination (all are needed) form a human being. When they are in the correct proportions and reach equilibrium, the body is said to be healthy.
In both Chinese medicine as well as ayurveda, each individual is thought to have a “constitution” or general characteristics which describes their physical makeup and temperament. It roughly groups people into similar categories such as perhaps the combination of blood type plus personality type, or (for those into astrology) astrological sign. In ayurveda, a person’s constitution, including physical, mental, and psycho-emotional, is determined by which of the Three Doshas is dominant and the interplay of those.
Diagnosis and, particularly, treatment relies heavily on looking at a person’s constitution–while true in Chinese medicine, it is even more important in ayurveda. Digestion and appetite patterns and seasonal routines are are generalized according to a person’s dominant dosha. Therefore one of the very first things to consider when treating a disease or maintaining health according to ayurvedic principles is to know the dosha. (Here is a self-evaluation questionnaire to determine dosha.)
Besides lessons on the above topics, I also had theory class on digestive fire (agni), alimentary canal (koshtha), and life force/congenital essence/immunity (Ojus), toxins, daily health-keeping routine, seasonal health-keeping routine, and medicated oil massage (abhyanga). There were also three training session each on head massage and face massage, and two each on foot, hand, and body massage. Now is the end of my first week of lessons and it was as much learning Sanskrit as it was massage techniques and concepts of ayurveda 😛