By Karta Purkh Singh
Ayurveda is the holistic healing system of India. Translated from Sanskrit as “the science of life” (ayus means life, veda means knowledge, science), Ayurveda is a huge collection of practices that oversee every aspect of a person’s health and lifestyle. Ayurveda places particular emphasis on longevity, promoting good health throughout a lengthened life.
Ayurveda is one of the oldest continuing healing systems on the planet. Ancient Ayurvedic adherents experimented with how people could best live to be as happy and healthy as possible. Over many generations of patient, careful observation and exploration, they recorded what worked and did not work about every aspect of living. These folks took the opportunity to closely observe people over very long periods of time—in extended families over generations.
In Ayurveda, mind, body, and spirit are inextricably entwined. Ayurveda looks to create balance among body, mind, emotion, spirit, and environment and places emphasis on the ability of the human body to heal itself, with the assistance and support of a variety of nontoxic therapies, including medicinal foods, dietary programs, and herbal medicines.
Like all the healing traditions of the East, Ayurveda sees the physical world—including the body—as made up of energy. Ayurveda assigns all matter-energy interactions in the world to a scheme of five primal elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
The five elements are further condensed into three primal metabolic forces in the human body, called doshas. The mix of these three master forces or doshas are responsible for promoting and sustaining balance in the daily and lifelong health of the individual. Ayurveda defines disease as an imbalance in the doshas. The doshas are characterized by the energies intrinsic to each master force. Such traits include temperature, moisture, weight, and texture.
The Kapha dosha is cold, wet, oily, heavy, slow, and stable, and manifests those qualities in the body. It is anabolic (tissue building) in function. This energy predominates in the chest and stomach. Kapha maintains structure, solidity, and lubrication in the body, forming connective and musculoskeletal tissues.
The Pitta dosha is, hot, wet, oily, light, and intense. It is metabolic (tissue fueling) in function. Pitta predominates in the small intestine, the most intense region in the body, with the highest metabolic rate. It is a metaphor for destruction, especially the destruction of the digestive process. Ayurveda says that bile is the most concentrated essence of pitta. The stomach acid is also a site of pitta. Pitta maintains digestive and glandular secretions, body heat, and metabolism, including digestive enzymes and bile.
The Vata dosha is dry, cold, light, and irregular. It maintains movement in the body, such as respiration and joint mobility. It is catabolic (eliminative) in function. Vata predominates in the large intestine.
From the Ayurvedic point of view, all functions occurring in your body at any moment are a result of the mixture of the three doshas. Every single action affects their balance. They are ebbing or flowing in the body at any given time.
Determining your Body Type
For convenience, Ayurveda commonly divides body types into seven categories. Thus it is possible to be: vata, pitta, kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, vata-kapha, or tri-dosha. Fortunately, there is no “best” body type to be. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, its own strengths and weaknesses. Single-dosha constitutions tend to have fewer but more serious health problems. Dual-dosha types and the tri-dosha type tend to have a wider variety of less severe problems.
The fire type, pitta, tends to be fiery. They are likely to be leaders, passionate, colorful, argumentative, competitive, decisive, and convincing. The air type, vata, is the creative nervous type. They are restless and disorganized (in other words, spacey). The kapha type is destined to be (what else?) down-to-earth: conservative, loyal, slow, calm, and steady.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master. Karta Purkh has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda.
He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. [email protected]