The Five Elements
According to Ayurveda the physical universe is made of the Panchamahabhoutas (the five great elements being space, air, fire, water and earth). Earth forms the substance, water its origin and the other three are its parts. The substance is determined by the elements predominant in that substance.
The tridosha theory – Vata, Pitta and Kapha
Ayurvedic science considers there to be three functional intelligences that govern the entire physical universe (vata, pitta and kapha). These three principles or dosha’s are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the universe; they are the fundamental laws of nature. Each dosha consists of two predominant elements which determines its quality and function. The three doshas are further divided into five subtypes according to their function and location within the body.
Vata (space and air)
Qualities – dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear
Vata consists of the element space and air and is responsible for movement; it governs the movement of the earth’s orbit around the sun, the moon, the changes of seasons as well as the balance and rhythms of your body. This involves your heart rate, hormonal levels, body temperature, neurological functions, digestion and so on. When vata is in balance the body caries out its functions in accordance with natural law and the individual feels relaxed, calm and creative.
Pitta (fire and water)
Qualities – hot, sharp, light, liquid, mobile and oily
Pitta is the intelligence which governs all transformations; it is the principle of fire and water and is responsible for all chemical reactions within the universe including metabolic and digestive processes within the body.
Pitta within the body plays an important role in the digestion of foods, thought and metabolism within the bodies various tissues. When in balance in reflects intelligence, balanced digestion and assimilation.
Kapha (water and earth)
Qualities – heavy, slow, dull, cold, oily, liquid, slimy, smooth, dense, soft, static, sticky, cloudy, hard and gross
The role of kapha is to sustain, maintain and support. Earth and water make up the qualities of kapha. Kapha retains the integrity and form of the physical universe; it supports the functioning of vata and pitta and gives shape to our physiology.
When kapha is balanced within us we become sturdy, compassionate and calm with good memory retention and endurance.
The Three Gunas (Universal Qualities)
Satva (Creative) Pure essence of light, Spiritual purpose
Rajas (Dynamic) Principle of Change, Movement, Excitability
Tamas (Destructive) Inertia, Darkness, Confusion
Dhatus and Malas (Tissue systems and waste products of the body)
The dahtus (tissues) represent the structural components of the body, Ayurveda recognizes seven dhatus within the body. The dhatus may be considered as the anatomy of the body where as the doshas represent the function or physiology.
The malas are the waste products of digestion and metabolism. There are three significant malas, however each dhatu produces its own mala except shukra.
Agni (Digestive fire)
Agni is the enzymatic fraction that is responsible for the digestion of food ingredients as well as the absorption and nourishment of the tissue elements throughout the body. The main site of Agni is in the stomach (Jathara), however it is also present in each dhatu.
According to Ayurveda the key to health and longevity is based upon the strength of Agni. What this means is that if our digestive capacity is strong we are able to effectively break down the appropriate food substances to enable our body to achieve the optimum nourishment for body and mind.
When Agni becomes weakened, not only do we fail to properly absorb the food we eat, we also begin to accumulate toxins due to undigested substances accumulating in the channels of our bodies.
Agni however is not only limited to physical digestion and metabolism, it also applies to the processes of the mind. Throughout the day we are constantly absorbing, digesting and assimilating information through our sensory faculties, these neurological pathways also require Agni to process information in a similar way to our digestive systems; what goes in and how well it is digested, assimilated and organized determines the quality of the experience, whether it be food, thought or emotion. The quality of our Agni determines how well we process the information that we receive through our sensory organs, and determines the response to our environment.
Due to weakened Agni and unwholesome foods the digestive system begins to accumulate undigested food particles, this is known as ama. Ama is classified as a morbid, toxic sticky substance which is undigested that circulates in the channels and cannot be used by the body to build tissues or form waste products. When ama accumulates it becomes lodged in various systems in the body (usually the weaker area’s of the individual) leading to disease.
Ama is also a result of diet and lifestyles that increase the dosha’s in our body, for example if our biological constitution is kapha predominant and we eat foods which increase the kapha qualities such as ice cream, we put stress on our digestive fire leading to the accumulation of ama and kapha, this then becomes undigested and absorbed into the body leading to weight gain and lethargy.
Ayurveda bases a strong emphasis on preventing the accumulation of ama and ensuring that it is effectively removed from the body.
The basic approach in Ayurveda is to minimize the accumulation of ama, balance the dosha’s in the body and encourage the proper formation of bodily tissues. In doing this we maintain youthfulness, reduce degeneration and the effects of ageing.
Oja is the essence of the vital fluids which supplies energy to different tissues in thebody and relates to vitality and immunity. Ojas is considered as the essence of all bodily tissues. Ojas is moonlike in properties, unctuous in colour and cold in potency, stable moving forth, clear, soft, slimy and is chief among the seats of life: the entire body with all its organs are pervaded by it, and in its absence the body of living beings perishes. (Sushruta Samhita, Sutrasthana, ch 15)
The one which dwells in the heart and is predominantly white, yellowish and reddish in colour is known as the ojas of the body: if the ojas is destroyed, the human being will also perish. The form in which the ojas is produced in the body of the human beings for the first time is of the colour of ghee: in taste it is like that of honey, in smell it is like that of a fried paddy (laja). As the bee collect honey from the fruits and flowers, so the ojas it maintains the body of a human being by virtue of its properties and actions. (Caraka Samhita, Sutrasthana, ch17)
It is still unclear as the exact equivalent of ojas in modern medicine, however it can be likened to a combination of biological substances such as globulin, albumin and various anti-bodies such as opsonins, cytolysins, complement, agglutinins, kupher cells, macrophages, white blood cells, lymphocytes and properdin: all of which are found throughout the various dhatus to maintain strength and natural resistance against illness, which is called natural immunity.
Ojas is classified into two types: apara, which is inferior or unprocessed; and para ojas, superior. Apara ojas circulates throughout the body and is of half an anjali (one anjali represents equal to that of two hands joined together to form a cup), para ojas remains seated in the heart and is of eight drops.
Prakrti (Ayurvedic Body-Mind Constitution)
Your Prakrti is the natural biological state and is dependent upon the combination of vata, pitta and kapha within you’re body. This is your body’s optimum functioning state.
The Ayurvedic understanding is that if an individual is to achieve optimum health they must know the nature of their natural state so the appropriate path can be taken to ensure that balance is found.
Every one is made up of a unique combination of these dosha’s so understanding the Prakrti of an individual is essential in maintaining good health.
It is important also to understand the nature of your body’s imbalance. Vikrti is the result of the dosha’s in your body becoming out balance with natural law so when the nature of vikrti is recognized the appropriate line of treatment can be implemented to restore prakrti (balanced state).
For example: if your Prakrti is pitta predominant, pitta is the likely dosha to become imbalanced simply because it is the most predominant quality within you, if you indulge in pitta increasing food such as chili’s and fried food your pitta qualities will increase and this will become your vikrti.
Definition of health according to Ayurveda(3,7)
Sama dosha samaagnis ca sama dhatu mala kriya
Prasannaatmendriya manah svatha ityabhidhiyate
(Sushruta Samhita 15:38)
One who is established in self with balanced dosha’s balanced digestion and metabolism, properly formed tissues, proper elimination of wastes, well functioning bodily processes, and whose mind, soul and senses are full of bliss, is called a healthy person.