Ayurveda is Sanskrit for ‘The Science of Life,’ and is an ancient medical system that encompasses a medical science and a dietary lifestyle that is approximately 5,000 to 6,000 years of age, and originates in India. No one is exactly sure within this time scale, the precise moment of its appearance on this planet. It seems some Holy men prayed for a means to ease the suffering of the people, and, miraculously, Ayurveda was downloaded from the Akasha (Ether), where everything, past, present and future (probability) is recorded. Ayurveda is regarded as the Science of Life in India, and is the most comprehensive medical system together with a dietary lifestyle that I have encountered, and I have encountered several different systems. This is a huge subject with much more knowledge and information than I have been able to learn, but, I will attempt to describe Ayurveda in basic terms to the best of my ability.
This is just an overview, and if you are interested, please see the bibliography at the conclusion of this article, where you may be able to find further information.
This is a very deep subject, and for me, one of the most significant undertakings of my life. I began the Ayurveda Dietary Lifestyle in 2003, at the age of 58, after an illness that caused me severe constipation. In fact, I was so constipated I had to travel one hour to see a Colonic Therapist and had a Colonic water treatment once a week. I felt I was dying, as I could only afford this treatment once a week, and that was the only time I could evacuate my bowels, just once every week. This went on for six months, and I was sure I was at the end of my life, until I was introduced to a visiting Indian Ayurveda doctor, who gave me a consultation, and told me not to worry, as I was not at all very sick, and that I was going to get over it quickly and live quite well. Two weeks later, the herbs arrived, and within a few days, perhaps a week, I began to improve, and within a month I was doing extremely well, with a complete recovery that continued while the herbs lasted, and beyond.
The doctor told me that my body was out of balance, and that my Vata was way too high, which, at the time, meant nothing to me. It was then, that I decided to learn about Ayurveda, and what I read excited me, and I decided to adopt the Ayurveda Dietary Lifestyle, and my overall health improved from that point onwards. I know that all techniques and modalities do not suit everyone, because we are all different, and that is where the strength, genius and efficacy of Ayurveda shines above all other dietary lifestyles/systems, in my opinion.
First of all Ayurveda is NOT a modern fad! It has a pedigree that is longer (in time) than Tao Medicine of China and Traditional Chinese Medicine, which goes back further than Tao Medicine, which has been with us for about 3,500 years, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been around for about 3,000 years, if I am correct. Ayurveda is about 1,500 to 2,500 years older than Tao/Traditional Chinese Medicine, for which I have a great respect, and I also do engage with TCM therapies from time to time, like Acupuncture, Gua Sha (from the Bare Foot Doctors System), and more, if I am unable to find an Ayurveda solution.
Ayurveda is NOT a quick fix, with a magic pill, although I did have that experience, of having a very magic pill, which I will elaborate on later in this article, when I recount my experience with RasaShastra.
Ayurveda is a way of life, and its credo is; Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food.” Nowhere, and with no other medical system have I ever read that or heard anything like that. When I read this statement, I was fully attentive, because this is what, I feel, all medicine is to include.
There are various departments or categories;
- General Medicine of the body
- Dietary Lifestyle
- Paediatrics (prenatal/postnatal, methods of conception, midwifery, even choosing dosha and intelligence for the unborn child (this does seem to be a little ‘out there,’ but the Ayurveda Masters do know all about this and more)
- Surgery (this is profound! Surgical procedures of thousands of years ago!)
- Specialization of treatments for Ears, Eyes, Nose, Mouth and Throat.
- Exorcisms/Pacification of Discarnate Beings (spirits) who may occupy one’s auric energy field
- Sexuality: Infertility, Aphrodisiacs, Transmutation of Spiritual Energy into Spiritual Energy.
- RasaShastra (Alchemy)
Within these departments or categories there are other subdivisions such as the Doshas or Constitutions;
- Vata (predominantly air, & earth)
- Pitta (Predominantly fire, & water)
- Kapha (Earth & water)
There are various other qualities attributed to each dosha, and if you are interested, I suggest you do your own reading on this fascinating subject, that could have an immensely positive effect on your body and mind. Each of us is a combination of the qualities of these three doshas in varying proportions, and this is why Ayurveda is able to cater for most, if not all, people. You ascertain your dominant dosha, and secondary dosha, and also the third dosha in their proportions, and eat food that supports that combination. In this way you are able to individualise your dietary lifestyle to ensure that your digestion is complete and efficient. Ayurveda considers that most, if not all, illnesses are the direct result of incorrect, incomplete, and poor digestion due to eating those foods that do not support your predominant dosha/dosha combination, your food combinations, like eating bananas with bread made of yeast, combining vegetables/meat (if carnivore with fruit at the same meal, which is a damaging practice anyone can indulge in. Such will cause fermentation and disturb digestion, creating ‘ama,’ an unpleasant mucous type of substance that is the byproduct of poor/incomplete digestion that is NOT eliminated from the body, and which is deposited somewhere in the body, out of the way. That is usually in various organs which block the energy channels and disease is the result. Ama is also stored in the joints causing arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Ama cause all sorts of illnesses as it is toxic to the body, and it causes congestion and constipation.
The 7 Types of Dhatus (roots of human biology) are:
- Bone Marrow
- Reproductive Fluid
These include the following Dominant Elements/Attributes (I have excluded the Sanskrit names, which confuse me and no doubt will confuse you, as this is an overview only);
- Water (Vata), circulating the nutrients, hormones, proteins throughout the body
- Fire (Pitta), transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
- Tissue that covers all organs, relating to strength and stability.
- Earth (Kapha), solid, firm, storage for excess fat in the body
- Body stability
- Nervous System. Metabolic process in the brain and spinal cord
- Vitality, energy and Life Enhancing.
Next comes the Malas or waste products of the body, and here are two main types of Malas;
- Waste from food metabolism, including faeces, urine, and perspiration.
- Waste from cell metabolism and tissues. This includes secretions from nose, eyes, ears, and, strange as it may seem, hair, nails, carbon dioxide, and lactic acid, which seem to also be waste from metabolic processes.
Finally, in this technical section I present to you, Ojas.
Ojas is the substance that connects the body to the mind, in a conducive state of consciousness that enhances the ability to live a fulfilling life, and completing one’s destiny. It is an extremely subtle essence that is supported by the correct, refined digestion, metabolism, absorption and assimilation of the food we eat. It is a wholesome, and yet biochemical, substance that nourishes all biological cells, body tissues, which affects the ability of a person to feel feelings and emotions, and also has a direct effect on the physical and mental state of a human being. Ojas is the essence, the sap of the entire physiology, which is the means by which a human being sustains life. The center of operations of Ojas is the Heart, need I say any more?
The above is about all the technical knowledge I can share with you, in this short summary of Ayurveda, but, nevertheless long article. There is so much more for me to learn, and I would suppose it is a lifelong pursuit as I perfect my own ability to take better care of my body, mind and soul/spirit.
Ayurveda is extremely adaptive, and caters for all diets, whether it is carnivorous, or herbivorous. The question is, whatever your diet, are you feeding yourself with knowledge of what you eat, and what effect your food has on your body and mind? Unfortunately, most do not, and this is a major reason why people get sick.
When I began my love affair with Ayurveda in 2003, I purchased various cookbooks, which I list in the bibliography at the end of this article. At this time, in 2003, I was not a vegetarian, although I did not eat beef. Chicken and fish were the only flesh I ate, although, in my search for a suitable lifestyle, I tried a number of different dietary systems. One such system or dietary plan, was to eat raw food, including raw meat. I purchased organically reared beef and seared the steaks on either side for 30 seconds, and ate them like that. I ate raw fruit and vegetables, and it did not take long for me to realize that I was upsetting my digestive track again, and I ceased those systems immediately. I tried the Macrobiotic system, I tried the protein system, the carbohydrate system. You name it, and I tried it. Even though I tried quite a few different dietary systems, it was only when I started with Ayurveda did my digestion become balanced again, as it resonated with me very well indeed, and I have stayed with Ayurveda ever since. It works for me!
I am 75 years of age, and I am very healthy, even though I abused myself with alcohol and a poor lifestyle in my younger years. I seem to be regaining my vitality again, and generally, I feel wonderfully good, most of the time. I do not take any medical drugs at all.
Some years ago my cholesterol went up to 300, and my doctor wanted me to take statin drugs, which I refused, of course. I went home and did my research. I read a paper of an American doctor describing his hypothesis that high cholesterol levels may be due to excessive amounts of inflammation, and that the cholesterol is produced by the body to act as a ‘band aid/plaster, especially within the vascular system. I decided to practice on myself, and started a regime of a daily dose of turmeric, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory, starting with ½ teaspoon to see how I reacted, the 1 full teaspoon, twice a day, and after about a month I took one teaspoon only once a day. When I went back to my allopathic doctor six months later, and had a blood test, my cholesterol had been reduced by 80 points, from 300 to 220. My knowledge of turmeric was acquired through Ayurveda, and more especially with the aid of a marvelous, 108 page book entitled, ‘Turmeric, The Ayurvedic Spice of Life,’ written by an extremely knowledgeable Prashanti de Jager, M.S., with the foreword written by the well-known Ayurvedic author, Dr. David Frawley, whose book, Ayurveda and the Mind, The Healing of Consciousness, I also have in my possession.
Furthermore, since I have been following the Ayurvedic lifestyle, my body has become used to eating that food, and food combinations which help me to maintain my physiological balance, and which keeps my physical systems working normally and naturally. When I eat something that does not support me in this way, I feel it immediately, to the point that my body indicates what it likes and dislikes. This does have the effect of limiting what I eat and where I eat it. However, I am fortunate to live in Israel, where the food is of an excellent quality, and most restaurants offer vegan menus. There is also a good Ayurveda presence here, with many of the herbs and spices readily available in the ubiquitous spice shops, and health food shops. However, I tend to avoid restaurants, preferring to cook our own food, usually from scratch, using the best and healthiest ingredients possible.
Ayurveda says that we are not what we eat, but rather, we are what we digest. This is because so many people are not able to digest their food very well, which is the cause of many of the diseases and illnesses – incomplete, inadequate digestion! This is the consequence of people having little, or no idea what constitutes a healthy meal for their individual body type, or physical constitution, they eat inappropriate foods, cooked in an inappropriate manner, or raw food which is inappropriate for certain body types, and/or poor food combinations, such as eating fruit and vegetables at the same time, or drinking ice-cold fluids during the meal. This is because most people believe that all healthy food is good for all people, a ‘one size fits all,’ philosophy, and which, could not be further from the truth.
Ayurveda is also based upon the understanding and usage of the five elements, space (ether), air, fire, water earth, which are found in all matter, including our human bodies. It is also based upon the six tastes; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Another consideration is whether any particular food is heavy or light, cooling or heating (this has nothing to do with temperature of the food, rather, it is the effect on the body within the digestive tract), dry or moist/unctuous, amongst other considerations.
The individual constitution forms the basis of Ayurveda, which is the means by which we are able to maintain correct physiological function and balance, Below is a description of each Dosha;
This is the energy of movement, and is influenced by the subtle energy that governs biological movement, which we can call prana, or life force, which is the basic essence of Vata. This life-force supports intelligence that is communicated between cells, and thus, maintains the correct life functioning (homeostasis) of our physical biology. Vata governs movement or mobility, which influences and regulates all the activity within the body and of the mind, including our nervous system. When Vata is in balance, one is more creative, happy, flexible, with the feeling of being light (rather than heavy). Out of balance Vata produces feelings of fear, anxiety, nervousness, and possibly physical spasms, including a tendency to constipation. Vata has a tendency towards dryness, airiness, with short spurts of energy, a short- term memory, and is quite inspirational. It is also the factor that moves both Pitta and Kapha. Without Vata nothing moves. In this way, when Vata is out of balance it adversely affects the other two doshas.
The key word for pitta is ‘fire,’ because this is the underlying principle of pitta. In this way pitta governs the energy of metabolism, heating, body temperature, biochemical changes, digestion, absorption, and assimilation of digested food. Pitta governs appetite and vitality, and when a pitta person is hungry, they usually have to eat immediately, or become quite irritable. Pitta promotes intelligence and understanding, and the ability to learn, and thus they are usually dynamic, with good, long term memories. When out of balance, pitta can be fiery, contentious, frustrated, and even display jealous tendencies.
The key words for Kapha are water and earth, the two elements that underscore the quality of Kapha. In this way, Kapha provides us with the liquid and moisture that is required by each cell of our bodies to exist. Kapha is the lubricant, it is unctuous, and thus lubricates the joints, skin, heals wounds, and supports our immune system. Kapha provides endurance, strength and stability, and is heavy, slow, cool, unctuous/oily, and sweet. On a psychological level, Kapha, when in balance, supports love, calmness and forgiveness. When out of balance, there is a tendency towards attachment, greed, lust and envy.
The basic philosophy of Ayurveda is that if I, as a Vata, eat cold, dry, airy foods I will have a tendency to get out of balance, and I may become anxious, fearful, and the movement in my colon will be slow, so that I may be constipated. It is better for me to eat warm, cooked food, that may be spicy hot, and the food is to be full of moisture. Then I compensate for my own qualities and maintain balance. Having said that, and this is one of the reasons I love Ayurveda, because;
- If I do eat popcorn (light, airy, dry) I can put lots of ghee (clarified butter) on it, to overcome, in some measure the negative effects the popcorn has on me. However, since I originally wrote this book, I became a vegan, so, instead of ghee, I use flax oil. In other words, Ayurveda supplies antidotes for foods that are not supportive of our constitution/body type.
- Another example, is that one can eat ice cream (cold), or a Kapha may also eat ice cream (dairy, moist) if we put clove powder on it, as this will help mitigate some of the negative effects. I can use clove to help me offset the cold, if I eat vegan ice cream, or other such foods, in moderation.
- The same approach occurs with coffee, which starts out as a stimulant, then usually has the effect of being a catalyst for depression. Adding just a pinch of ground cardamom, and a pinch of nutmeg will help mitigate this negative effect. I obtained this information from Dr. Vasant Lad’s book, ‘Ayurveda, The Science of Self-Healing, A Practical Guide.’
- For lovers of chocolate, the negative effects are similar to coffee, and the antidote is cardamom, or cumin.
These are just a few examples of what I am learning, as I continue with my chosen dietary lifestyle. Ayurveda is a great study, and is the best dietary lifestyle I have yet encountered. My health has improved, as has my digestion, and I am in better shape than many men my age, or even younger. I do not have a large gut, and I do not take any drugs or allopathic medicines, only herbs, and supplements as and when I require them, and if I am in any doubt, I consult the appropriate alternative health professional.
While I am not an Ayurvedic physician, nor a practitioner, I am a layman, learning all the time, and perfecting my cooking abilities, of which I have become quite proficient. In fact, I now find it less appealing to eat food I have not cooked myself, however, I have found a few local restaurants which offer good quality food, cooked in a way that is compatible to my Ayurveda Vegan lifestyle.
To help you discover your body type, constitution or doshas, I include a Dosha Test questionnaire below, that I have drawn up, for you to complete. However, it is far better to go to an Ayurvedic practitioner who will be able to take your three pulses (Nadi Pariksha), observe your body, look at your tongue, nails and hair, and note the answers to various questions posed. Such a practitioner will be able to ascertain your dosha far more accurately than by completing a questionnaire. It is such a subjective exercise, that, more often than not, a practitioner will be more accurate, most of the time. Please remember that the questionnaire poses generalized questions, and such questions do not necessarily indicate such a state or condition. If a particular dosha with which you were born (prakruti) is deranged (out of balance), the distortion is known as vikruti. It is helpful to answer the Dosha Test twice, first, provide the answers according to how you were in your youth, and then repeat the test with answers according to how you observe yourself in the present time. This will give you some idea as to what your prakruti (natural state) was, and what your vikruti (distorted state) is currently. Consequently, you will know what to do in order to return to your natural state. If in doubt, consult an Ayurvedic professional. We are combinations of all three doshas, and so the indicators can be from all three doshas, but, which one is dominant, which is second, and third? You can go to these websites and complete two or three more dosha tests, then take the average. This will be more accurate than doing just the one. Have fun!
Another recommendation I can make, and perhaps, the best one, is to purchase a copy of “The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, written by Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc. ISBN 0-609-80286-0. In this impressive book you will learn a great deal about Ayurveda, and you will also see a very comprehensive dosha test.
Dr. Vasant Lad wrote an excellent and comprehensive introduction to Ayurveda, which I recommend: Ayurveda, The Science of Self-Healing. This is an excellent practical guide. Dr. Lad together with his wife Usha Lad, also wrote my favourite Ayurveda recipe book; Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, which I also recommend.
Dr. Partap Chauhan also wrote a few books, of which I have one, ‘Eternal Health, The Essence of Ayurveda, in which there are also some home remedies and cooking recipes. Dr. Chauhan is the director of Jiva Ayurveda, Faridabad, just South of New Delhi, India, where I spent 4 months helping out, and receiving some treatments. Unfortunately, after a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, I contracted what I believed to be amoebic dysentery, and was very ill. Dr. Chauhan said I was to persevere for 5 days, whereupon he will treat me with RasaShastra, of which he is a master. On the 6th day Dr. Chauhan arrived with a tiny pill, and within half an hour I began to feel some improvement. My recovery was almost instantaneous and complete within a few days. RasaShastra is an adjunct to Ayurveda even though it was created around the 7th century CE, and is, therefore, regarded as modern. It is Ayurveda’s department of alchemy, where various metals and substances, of which some are poisonous are subjected to a cooking/heating/fire process with added herbs, to create a healing system that is nothing short of being miraculous, as I experienced myself.
My other favourite recipe books are written by Amadea Morningstar, the first one having been written in conjunction with Urmilla Desai, which is entitled, ‘The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Amadea’s other book, which I also like, is entitled; Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners. Armed with these books, and following an Ayurveda Dietary Lifestyle you will, no doubt, be well fed as you have fun, while having the opportunity to do some good healing, and this is an excellent process by which you can also maintain your good health in good measure.
Here, below, is a Dosha/Constitution test, comprising thirty five questions that will require you to be extremely subjective about yourself. You will have the opportunity to ascertain what Dosha/Constitution you are. You will find out, if you can answer the questions accurately, which Dosha is dominant, or if they are of equal prominence, which is rare. Print out the form, check/tick where appropriate, and each check/tick equals 1 point. Assign each point to the appropriate dosha/constitution; Vata, Pitta, Kapha. The resultant score will help you understand what your dominant dosha may be. Sometimes, two or three doshas may be equal. I suggest you do the test a few times, as mentioned before.
I will be happy to enter into dialogue with anyone who is interested in following such a dietary lifestyle. Even though I am only a student of Ayurveda Dietary Lifestyle, I have learned much, even as I continue to learn. Ayurveda is a good study, with a plethora of information about the multiple effects different foods have on different constitutions, and although there is much to learn, one can do it as I do, learn a bit each and every day. Once you have the principles, you are well prepared. You can contact me by sending me a message on the Contact Page of my website.
- Ayurveda The Science of Self-Healing, by Dr. Vasant Lad, The Ayurveda Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, and India.
- The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, written by Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc. ISBN 0-609-80286-0
- Eternal Health, The Essence of Ayurveda, by Dr. Partap Chauhan, B.A.M.S of Jiva Ayurveda, India.
- Turmeric, The Ayurvedic Spice of Life, by Prashanti de Jager, M.S.
- Ayurveda and the Mind, by Dr. David Frawley (USA)
- Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, by Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad.
- The Ayurvedic Cookbook, by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai.
- Ayurvedic Cookbook for Westerners, by Amadea Morningstar.
|Body frame/Type||thin, slender, bony, tall, short||Medium||fleshy, large|
|Weight||Thin, low||moderate, medium||Plump,heavy|
|Skin||dry, rough, cool, dull||soft, oily, ruddy, warm||thick, moist, cold, pale|
|Hair||dark, dry, curly||soft, oily, fair/red||thick, oily, wavy|
|Eyes||small, dull, dry, nervous||sharp, penetrating||large, thick eyelashes|
|Teeth||protruding, uneven, large||medium, yellowish||white, strong, even|
|Nails||rough dry, brittle||soft, pink, strong||soft, large, white|
|Urine||frequent, sparse||yellow, copious||infrequent, normal|
|Appetite||variable, small||good, regular||slow, steady|
|Elimination, Stools||dry, hard, constipated||soft. Oily, loose||thick, heavy, slow|
|Perspiration||Minimal||profuse, odorous,||slow, then heavy|
|Blood Circulation||variable, poor, sluggish||good||moderate|
|Pulse||weak, erratic||stable, strong||slow, smooth|
|Sleep||light, disturbed, minimal||sound, moderate||heavy, excessive|
|Speech||Rapid, high, hoarse||Sharp, cutting, loud||Slow, harmonious|
|Libido Sexual||Varies, directed in fantasy||Passionate, excessive||Slow, strong|
|Immune system||Variable, poor||Moderate||high|
|Activity||highly mobile, restless||moderated, directed||minimal, slow|
|Mind||restless, curious, creative thinker||aggressive, bright, initiator, leader||calm, slow, organizer & project maintainer|
|Memory||short term||sharp, good||long term|
|Faith||erratic, changeable||enthusiastic, fanatical||steady, devoted|
|Moods||variable, fluctuates||strong, excessive||changes slowly|
|Finance||spends rapidly, not thrifty/abundant||moderate, buys luxuries||prosperous, thrifty|
|Hobbies||travel, art, philosophy||sports, politics, luxuries||serene, leisurely|
|Food||simple, sparse, snacks||regular meals on time||gourmet, luxury, fatty|
|Creativity||original, fertile||technical, scientific||entrepreneurial|
|Sensitive to..||cold, wind, dryness||heat, sun, fires||cold, damp humidity|
|Temperament||nervous, insecure, shy||determined, motivated||conservative, resilient|
|Dreams||frequent, fearful||fiery, aggressive, vivid||romantic, calm|
|Exercise||Likes movement, relaxing||competitive||Disinclined, leisurely|
|Digestion||Variable||Usually good||Good, sometimes slow|
|Climate Preferred||warm, sunshine, humid||cool, well ventilated environment||all climates, except humidity|
|Emotions||Can be anxious||Can be irritable||Can be indifferent|
Anthony Altman is an author of books on Self-Empowerment, Self-Help/Improvement and Self-Healing, and also provides lectures, workshops and seminars on these subjects. For further information and contact, please visit his website.