Basics of Ayurveda
The five elements of Ayurveda
The five elements as defined by Ayurveda are Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. All life requires a combination of these to survive and this combination of the five elements gives rise to the doshas.
The term dosha is used to describe physiological function, ie. the function of the body. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each dosha is made up of a combination of the five elements:
- Vata is a combination of space and air and has no fire, water or earth. For this reason, the properties associated with Vata include dryness, coldness, mobility and lightness. Vata is responsible for the nervous system, the respiratory system and movement in the body. When it is balanced in the body it gives energy, clarity, enthusiasm and creativity. In excess it commonly causes nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and constipation.
- Pitta is comprised of 90% fire and 10% water. Its properties include heat, sourness and acidity, sharpness and the ability to spread. Pitta is responsible for metabolism, the endocrine system and temperature regulation in the body. In balance it gives energy, fluency in speech, determination, good digestive capabilities (mental and physical) and a sharp intellect. In excess it commonly causes anger, irritability, impatience, frustration and skin conditions.
- Kapha is a combination of water and earth and its qualities include coldness, stability, heaviness, and oiliness. Kapha is responsible for the immune system, lubrication and the structure of the body. When balanced it gives strength, stamina, good immunity, patience and mental stability. Out of balance, Kapha has a tendency towards depression, inertia, lethargy, stubbornness and weight gain.
All living beings have a combination of the three doshas and their elements in varying degrees and this is what forms Prakriti or genetic constitution.
Prakriti and Vikriti
Prakriti is your basic body type. This body type arises from a unique combination of the five elements which dictates the predominance of one or more doshas. There are no two beings with the exact same combination. Prakriti is unchanging throughout life and is your true nature or genetic make-up.
While Prakriti describes the genetic body type and the state of true balance, Vikriti describes the current state of health and wellbeing. Vikriti is changeable and is the result of all external influences including food, sleep, physical environment, stress, emotions and activity. When Vikriti – or current state of health – moves dramatically away from Prakriti, an imbalance occurs in the body and mind. If this imbalance isn’t addressed, it can progress further down the pathway towards ill-health and chronic disease.
True health is achieved when Vikriti(currently health) largely reflects Prakriti (genetic constitution). During the consultation, your Prakriti and Vikriti will have been diagnosed through questioning but more accurately through pulse diagnosis and tongue diagnosis.
Agni and Ama
The term Agni is used in Ayurveda to signify digestive capability. A strong Agni is required throughout the body to effectively metabolise anything that enters the body be it mental (information, stress, grief) or physical (food, medicines…) and excrete that which is not required. When Agni is weak, toxins or Ama are formed? But what exactly is a toxin in the body?
Simply put, toxins are something in the body that shouldn’t be there. This may be congestion or mucous in the lungs, acne or psoriasis on the skin, gall or kidney stones, fibroids, cysts, excess water, even negative thought patterns. Contrary to popular belief, toxins are not simply sugary/fatty food, alcohol or nicotine.
When high levels of Ama are present in the body in whatever form we may feel sluggish, tired, depressed, have generalised aches and pain and digestive disorders such as constipation, bloating and gas. Over time these symptoms can develop into longer-term problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes, IBS, arterial sclerosis, tumours and mental illness.
During the consultation, the presence of Ama will have been assessed from your answers to the questions asked and, crucially, through tongue diagnosis.
If any Ama is present, in the first instance you may be recommended to follow a detoxifying programme to address this so that subsequent treatment will be more effective. The purpose of this detoxifying programme is to kick-start the body’s own cleansing and healing mechanism. Although very simple and gentle, it is highly effective in improving the body’s digestive capacity and stimulating the effective elimination of toxins. It is achieved through a combination of warming and nourishing foods, cleansing herbs, gentle exercise and massage.