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    A Short Note on Basic Concepts of Ayurveda

Ayurveda - it is a Sanskrit word derived from two words "ayur" meaning life and "veda" meaning knowledge combining to give the meaning as "Knowledge of life" or in a more general sense "Knowledge of Longevity". Ayurveda advocates a Holistic approach to life and Nature. It is much more than a medical science. It stresses the need to harmonise man and nature to improve the quality of life. Over many thousands of years Rishis, Seers and other enlightened persons through close observation of nature and their relationship with man formulated the basic principles of Ayurveda and passed down their revelations to their disciples. Its origin is buried in the ancient culture and traditions of India and it is considered as the oldest natural healing system extant. Much of the old texts have decayed into oblivation but findings of Charaka to Sushruta and others survived in complete form. Today it exists in the form of texts and poetry and it tells why and how man can cooperate with nature to attain a better "quality of Life"

Roga (Disease) - Any situation which impairs the "Quality of Life" is a Roga or disease. It is the opposite of ease, or dis-ease. It is a condition of the body where its vital functions are impaired bringing about an absence of ease. The human body contains three primary essential factors. The entire biological process is controlled by these humors or morbid substances. They are known as Vata, Pitta, Kapha. They are individually called Dosha, collectively Tridosha. When the Doshas are displaced or unbalanced due to any cause they create impurities (Mala) in the body. When these impurities are obstructed or move along improper channels they cause diseases.

Tridhatu - Human body is made up of five principles - Panchabhutas. They are Ksiti or earth, Op or water, Teja - fire, Marut or air and Byom or space. Any part of the body, however minuscule, is an inseparable combination of these principles. In Ayurveda the five principles are combined into three - Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is a combination of space and air, Pitta is Teja and Kapha is combination of earth and water. These three elements build, sustain and fulfil all biological functions of the living body. These dhatus pervade through all parts of the living body. They cannot be detected individually in their fundamental form in any part of the body. Hence they are identified with those parts of the body where they predominate. Vata is the constituent that generates power and motivity and sustains the nervous system. Pitta is the material that digest the food and converts it into body-constituents. Kapha structures and sustains the body. These are Tridhatus. They collectively maintain the integrity of the human body and govern the entire physical structure and functions in a living being. They govern all the biological, psychological, and physio-pathological functions of the body and mind.

Tridosha - Some particular portions of the Dhatus always tend to increase or decrease due to internal and external factors like food, activity, climate, time, age, place etc. Certain parts of the body also undergoes changes due to factors like disease, activities etc. The parts of the Dhatus liable for such easy changes are called Doshas and collectively called Tridoshas for the three Dhatus of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Tridosha & Diseases - External and internal stimuli of the lifestyle create situations which aggravates certain Doshas and cause an imbalance between them. Misplaces and unbalanced Doshas are manifested as diseases. For example; For a river small tributaries flow into it, water level of the river rises (Sanchay = storage), if the inflow is more than it can handle the water overflows the banks (Procope = severity) and spreads over other places (Prasar = spread) and settles there (Sthan Prapti = placement) and it effects other places (Prakash = outcome). This outcome is the disease. Action of drugs selectively adds to or decreases the effect of the Doshas to bring them into balance again.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha represent the five Bhutas. Dhatus sustain the body, Doshas degrade the tissues of the body and Mala pollutes the body channels. In the Dhatu state they are duly balanced and promote health. In the Dosha state they are unbalanced and makes the body prone to diseases. In the Mala state they are so aggravated that cure must be initiated to return the body to a healthy condition.

Drugs - They are substances of vegetable/herbal or mineral origin which effect the Tridosha because of their properties. The properties are of taste or Rasa, physico-chemical properties/qualities or Guna, post digestive/assimilative properties or Vipaka and potency of the drug or Virya. The effect of the drugs directly or indirectly on Tridosha can be quantified using these properties.

Rasa (Taste) - There are six Rasas and they have different effects on the body

  1. Amla - sour- digestive, appetizer, sialagogue
  2. Kasaya - astringent - diuretic, wound healer
  3. Katu - pungent - lacrimatory, appetizer sialagogue
  4. Lavan - salty - digestive, appetizer, sialagogue, expectorant, diuretic
  5. Madhura - sweet - brain and heart tonic, galactogogueTikta - bitter - appetizer

Relationship between Rasa and the Doshas

Rasa Vata Pitta Kapha
1. Amla Decreases Increases Increases
2. Kasaya Increases Decreases Decreases
3. Katu Increases Increases Decreases
4. Lavan Decreases Increases Increases
5. Madhura Decreases Decreases Increases
6. Tikta Increases Decreases Decreases

Guna (Qualities) - There are twenty qualities of a drug called gunas. They are:

  1. Drava - fluidity - spread through the entire body.
  2. Guru - heaviness- induces heaviness and fatigue, impairs digestive functions, increases quantity of waste products.
  3. Kathina - hardness - causes stiffness and firmness in a body, excites Vata.
  4. Khara - roughness - causes emaciation, aggravates Vata.
  5. Laghu - lightness - imparts lightness or fitness in body, helps digestion.
  6. Manda - dullness - slow acting, placate deranged Doshas.
  7. Mridu - softness - increases softness in relation to body tissues, stimulate Kapha, depress Vata and Pitta.
  8. Piccila - sliminess - stimulates excretory system, increases body weight, promotes wound healing.
  9. Rooksha - un-unctuous, dryness - promotes Vata, reduces Kapha, reduces vigour and virility.
  10. Sandra - solidity - nourishes the body.
  11. Sara - mobility - stimulates excretory system.
  12. Sheeta - cold - produces cooling effect, aggravates vata and kapha, pacifies Pitta, impedes blood flow, reduces syncope.
  13. Shlakshana - smoothness - promotes tissue making, increases Kapha and Pitta.
  14. Snigdha - unctuous - produces soothing effect on the body, promotes Kapha, reduces Vata, eliminates waste products.
  15. Sthira - stability - makes physiological functions normal and stable.
  16. Sthula - bulkiness - not easily digestible.
  17. Sukshma - fineness - pervade through the whole body, stimulates Vata.
  18. Tikshna - sharpness - sharp, potent, promotes Pitta, acts against Vata and Kapha.
  19. Ushna - hot - increases body temperature, promotes Pitta, reduces Vata and Kapha, improves blood circulation, stimulates appetite, increases amount of urine, excreta and sweat.
  20. Visada - clarity - removes sliminess, promotes Vata, heals ulcers.

Vipaka (Post-Digestive Action): - It is the action of the drug after it has undergone digestive and assimilative alterations. It is the metabolism of the drugs after the biochemical changes in the gastro-intestinal tracts. Rasa and Vipaka has certain difference in their actions. Action of Rasa is immediate, local and perceivable but Vipaka's actions are delayed, systemic, inferable and estimated. The ancient texts on Ayurveda describes three kinds of drug metabolism, Katu (pungent), Amla (sour) and Madhura (sweet) responsible for increase in Vata, Pitta and Kapha respectively.

Virya (Potency) - It refers to the strength of the drug not accounted for by the classifications of Rasa, Guna or Vipaka. Generally it can be of three types, Usna (hot), Sheeta (cold) or Prabhava (influence). Usna Virya causes storing of energy, easier digestion and subdues Vata and Kapha but aggravates Pitta. Sheeta Virya works in just the opposite way in reducing secretions including haemorrages, aggravates Vata and Pitta but pacifies Pitta, increases vigour and vitality and stabilises excretory functions. Prabhava refers to the specific and distinctive influence of the drug.

Dhatus (Tissues) - All the drugs when administered systemically effect different areas in the body. In other words drugs have selective affinity for different organs or tissues of the body. In Ayurveda the body consists of seven types of tissues or Dhatus. They are

The seven dhatus or tissues are:

Rasa Plasma, Lymph
Rakta Red Blood Cells
Mamsa Muscle Tissue
Meda Adipose Tissue
Ashti Bone Tissue
Majja Bone Marrow, Nervous Tissue, Connective Tissue
Shukra/Artava Male / Female Reproductive Tissue

The basic object of Ayurveda is to bring back the balance of the Tridosha in the different dhatus and in the body and to take steps to prevent its recurrence in the future so as to maintain the "Quality of Life". Other than drugs, use of various cleansing processes like meditation, breath control, special baths, use of emesis etc. for the body and the mind are also recommended in Ayurvedas.

Some of the concepts of Ayurveda seems puzzling from the point of view of modern clinical methods and practice of medicine. Clinical diagnosis uses the physical sciences to help define conditions with medical implications, the object being eradication of symptoms. Concepts of Ayurveda and their applications leads to removal of the symptoms as well as prevention of their recurrence using a holistic and natural approach.