Summary: Additional basic FAQs on the Ayurvedic Healthcare System, the concepts of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and the origins of disease
Q. The terms ‘Vata, Pitta and Kapha’ frequently occur in Ayurveda – what do they relate to?
A. In Ayurveda, the major constitutional mind-body types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas: Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K).
- Vata is the principle of movement
- Pitta is the principle of fire and metabolism
- Kapha is the principle of solidity and structure
So every person will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural predominance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’. This natural predominance stays the same throughout one’s whole life. If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of either Vata, Pitta or Kapha: V or P or K (often referred to as ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’, etc.). Often two doshas predominate giving rise to categories PV (or VP); PK (or KP); VK (or KV). Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level giving rise to the final category of VPK. So we have seven possiblities:
V or P or K
PV (or VP); PK (or KP); VK (or KV)
Ayurveda views anything that causes a change in the individual’s inherent natural balance as potentially harmful. Changes that cause imbalance can occur from any of the following factors: emotional, dietary, climatic, environmental, work patterns, stress, physical and emotional trauma, seasonal influences, etc.
From a more theoretical perspective, Ayurveda views the development of disease as being due to the fact that the individual is not fully in tune with the laws of nature. Meditation and yoga help unite the individual with these universal laws.
Q. What emphasis does Ayurveda place on digestion and elimination?
A. A great deal! This is arguably one of the most important factors in Ayurveda. A weak digestion leads to the build-up of toxins in the system, so Ayurveda has a lot of practical tips on increasing the digestive fire. It is not just food that needs to be digested, but all inputs to our system, including emotional experiences, traumas, etc.
Q. Do I have to be a vegetarian to follow Ayurveda?
A. Certainly not. In fact, I have heard a world renowned Ayurvedic Doctor saying ‘it is better for a pure Vata type to eat a little white meat rather than blow away’ .
Ayurveda acknowledges that it is much more difficult to digest red meat than white meat, however in this case the digestive fire can be increased with spices such as chillies. There are of course, karmic implications involved in eating any form of animal flesh – particularly those of the higher sentient beings.
Q. Does Ayurveda have any surgical techniques associated with it?
A. Ayurveda, as now practised, does not involve any major surgery. However, an ancient Ayurvedic text written several thousand years ago (by a Sage called Sushruta) involved extensive sections on surgical procedures, instruments, etc. Much of this practical knowledge has been lost over the millennia, but this Ayurvedic text has great historical importance in that it was the first ever to give detailed instructions on surgery.
Q. How does Ayurveda view the origin of disease?
A. On a practical basis disease is seen as arising from an imbalance of our naturally occurring dosha predominance (Prakriti.) This disturbance could be due to many factors, such as improper diet, weak digestion, emotional disturbances and even environmental factors such as excessively hot, cold or windy weather or environmental pollution. Ayurveda acknowledges that the Vata dosha usually goes out of balance first and the other doshas follow. Matters are also complicated by the presence of toxins (known as ‘ama’ for simple toxins, or ‘amavisha’ for more potent forms) in the physiology. These toxins can arise from imperfect digestion and elimination.
Ayurveda identifies six stages in the development of a disease. Surprising as it may seem there are no symptoms in the first two stages! In the third stage and fourth stage the patient may feel ‘not quite right’, ‘off color’, etc., but without disease specific symptoms. Clear symptoms only occur in the fifth stage – the stage at which Western medicine can usually give a named diagnosis. In the sixth stage the body’s own mechanisms are unable to reverse the changes and the patient experiences a long-term chronic disease. Ayurveda’s unique value lies in its ability to detect the very earliest stages in the disease process and offer remedial strategies even before the symptoms manifest!
1. Article giving an Introduction to Ayurveda