AYURVEDA – Basic principles

Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medical system. Alongside with Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional Tibetian Medicine (derived from Ayurveda) in has been acknowledged by WHO is complementary medical system (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255448/) in year 1978.

As any Vedic science, Ayurveda pays much attention to Parampara – or due respect towards origins of the tradition. Ayurvedic texts with most authority are:

·        Charaka Samhita (approx.. 4th century BC)

·        Sushruta Samhita (approx. 1th century BC)

·        Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita (approx. 7th century AD)

Of course, it is quite hard to determine exact age of these texts, as in ancient Indian students had to learn scriptures by heart (that is quite impressive, as only Charaka Samhita contains 8 parts and 120 chapters covering such topics as human physiology, descriptions of illnesses and ways of treatment, medical substances and etc.), Sushruta Samhita may be considered first fundamental work in surgery and Sushruta himself is considered to be father of Indian surgery. Usually, apprenticeship in any Vedic science took 12 years and knowledge was given by Guru to his students. Moreover, scriptures were written on palm leaves, which are not very long-lasting material, especially in humid Indian climate.

I have already mentioned that Ayurveda is Vedic science and the word Ayurveda itself is derived from two roots “Ayu”- that, what moves from birth to death (one of the meanings of word “life”, along with jivika -that what spiritualizes, anubandha – unbreakable bound, nityaga – that, what is eternal or dhari – that what supports and preserves).

Here I must mention, that, from Vedic perspective life doesn’t end with person’s death – it simply flows further into another body, but Ayurveda, studies life as something that is moving from birth to death, so only certain interval of live is subject of Ayurvedic studies, despite the fact that Ayurveda, in general, accept concept of reincarnation. Ayurveda itself may be qualified as spiritual science or scientific spirituality. Something we here can hardly imagine, but this is completely different point of view, which combines and embraces achievements of human intellect and spiritual knowledge.

Second root “Veda” derived from the root “vid” – to know. Vedic knowledge, first of all, means practical knowledge. There are three ways of receiving such knowledge:

·        Guru (teacher)

·        Shastras (scriptures)

·        Sadhu (practicing student)

Vedic knowledge is practical knowledge and it is based on four pillars:

-         Pratyaksha – direct perception (we see fire burning)

-         Anumana – causation (we see smoke and feel heat, so fire is burning)

-         Shabda – authoritative testimony (scientific magazine (“Lancet”for example) published an article, describing how fire burns), originally shabda means sound, so it is something student has heard from his Guru

-         Yukti – practical application of gained knowledge.

Ayurveda is considered to be sister science of Yoga (which has very little to do with exercises – my video on Yoga here: https://youtu.be/fa_xkRbK62Q), but from certain point they move into different directions. Original goal of Yoga is exploration of consciousness and liberation from cycle of reincarnations, so it leads certain to imbalance on purpose. Ayurveda is about leading healthy and balance life of a social, but spiritual person. But both have very close connection to such darshana (discipline) as Sankhya.

According to Sankhya perspective, the world was created due to desire of Atman (or Purusha) to manifest. According to scriptures, Purusha is something beyond our understanding, eternal and unchangeable witness of everything. As a response to his needs Prakriti (or material nature) has began it’s “performance”, so Purusha, who is present in all the things and beings, could experience what he wanted to.

Purusha’s will gives Prakriti impulse to create material universe. From their cooperation Mahad or Universal Intellect is born. Out of Mahad Ahamkara “I am” is created. From Ahamkara three gunas (qualities) of material nature are derived. These are Sattva (Bliss), Rajas (Action) and Tamas (Ignorance). Sattva and Tamas are static, Rajas is dynamic. Sattva listens and percepts, Tamas manifests, Rajas transforms. Everything in the Universe has all the three gunas, but one or two of these may be suppressed. Gunas can never be in state of equilibrium, as when they come to complete balance Universe will cease to exist. Same happens with human being – this system is always in the state of imbalance, as complete balance means death. But we have to be in process of constant balancing, and, as nature changes through the seasons, as the Sun rises and sets, the same processes take place in human body.

Sankhya philosophy of creation can schematically be presented like this:

Mind is sattvic by nature, but it is a tricky substance. When we speak of human being, besides the body, which is only one aspect of a complex system, we have to remember that, according to Vedas, we have “Internal instrument” or Antahkarana, which consists of four parts: Ahamkara (individual “I am”), Manas (Mind), individual Buddhi and Chitta (Memory + Intellect). When physical body dies, Antahkarana migrates into new physical body.

Moreover, Ayurveda uses pancha kosha (five layer) approach to describe human and only one of them – Annamaya kosha (“body made of food”) is physical body. Pranamaya kosha connects physical body and Antahkarana.

So, when we speak of health from Ayurvedic prospective, we think not only about physical health, but also of psychical, social and spiritual health.

Ayurveda is a science about useful, healthy and happy longevity.

Happy life according to Ayurveda:

-         Absence of physical and mental illnesses

-         Youthfulness

-         Following the path of four life goals (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha)

-         Strength

-         Energy

-         Honor, good name, reputation

-         Humanism

-         Spiritual knowledge

-         Strong and healthy sense organs which are focused on strong, healthy and beautiful objects

-         Living in the moment

-         Achievement of set goals

-         Ability to go where one wants to (spiritual trips)

Useful life brings joy to the person and people around him/her. Useless life creates grief and suffering.

How useful life manifests:

-         Taking care of all the living beings

-         Absence of desire to take things which belong to others (not only physical objects)

-         Sincereness, honesty

-         Calmness, temperance

-         Performing any deed only after evaluation of consequences

-         Attentiveness, alertness

-         Harmonious desire to achieve first three goals of human life – Dharma, Artha and Kama, avoiding conflicts and harming environment and other living beings

-         Serving others like serve yourself with dignity and respect

-         Constancy, calmness, appeasement which arise from spiritual knowledge and personal spiritual experience

-         Virtue and piety

-         Serving the elders

-         Mind, which is free from passion, wrath, envy and vanity

-         Thankfulness to others and God, generosity

-         Humility through knowledge, which is attained through voluntary forbearance and chastity

-         Ability to see spiritual nature of everything

-         Ability to distinguish and accept material and spiritual worlds

-         Excellent practical memory, which allows to make right decisions

For goals of human life:

-         Dharma – duty, fulfilment of own purpose. Dharma is that what sustains and supports.

-         Artha – material well-being, attained in honest ways

-         Kama – fulfilment of material wishes

-         Moksha – final liberation from karma (Article on Karma here: https://teletype.in/@obscurenotes/4JPms9NTe)

Kama, Moksha and Prema – love to the divine and all the creation, unconditional and pure. Combined together Kama, Moksha and Prema form Sukha. Sukha is frequently translated as “happiness”, but more accurate meaning would be “auspicious space”. As happiness can be different for all the people, but Suhka is certain way to be happy – non-harming and beneficial for person and those who are around.

Six enemies of mind

According to Vabhata, cause of all illnesses is raga or selfishness. Raga consists of six components which are enemies of mind. These are:

-         Kama as lust. Using others to please oneself. (exploiting people)

-         Krodha as wrath, bad temper.

-         Lobha – avarice, greed (violation of natural way of life, desire for that, which is in possession of others)

-         Mada – vanity.

-         Matsarya – envy (the most deeply rooted of all)

-         Bhaya – fear. (that what bounds)

In addition to Raga and it’s manifestations, there are three ways how a person lose health:

-         Pragya aparadha – acting against own nature. Violation of Dharma.

-         Asatmya indriyaartha – improper way of using sense organs. Like watching too much TV or contact with ill-minded people, watching something ugly and etc. Insufficiency of good impressions may too lead to a disease.

-         Kaala parinama – violation of daily regime (or imbalance of circadian rhythms), like staying awake at night or wearing summer dress in winter.

Ayurveda identifies six stages of the disease:

1.    Sanchaya or accumulation of dosha. Digestive force is weaking and dosha starts to accumulate. Usually, body tries to solve the problems itself, by creating disgust towards things which cause aggravation of certain dosha.

2.    Prakopa or worsening. Aggravated doshas become irritated, ama (metabolic waste) starts to accumulate.

3.    Prasara or spread. At this stage ama leaves GI tract and starts to speard all over body. At this stage modern medicine can identify such condition as functional disorder. Ama can choose any “migration way” and it is called roga marga (path of pain). Considered to be easily cured in Ayurveda.

4.    Sthana samshya or growth – ama is spreading and localizing in weakest points of the body (everyone has different weak points), this leads to incorrect function of dhatus (tissues) and its’ structural damage. Body is prone to infections and more serious conditions. Considered to be curable in Ayurveda. Very qualified modern clinician can conclude on diagnosis, but the disease has not yet manifested.

5.    Vyakti or at this stage there are clear symptoms of the disease. Hardly curable in Ayurveda. Classical clinical picture in modern medicine.

6.    Bedha or incurable stage. Chronical disease, only management is possible.

Goal of any Ayurveda practitioner is to catch the disease at first 3 stages and not to allow any irreversible changes.

In general, Ayurveda offers three types of therapy:

-         Mental/psychical

-         Physical

-         Spiritual

There are eight parts of Ayurvedic treatment, which deal with diseases of body:

-         Kaya chikitsa – general therapy

-         Bala chikitsa – pediatric handling

-         Graha chikitsa - psychiatry

-         Urdhvanga chikitsa – otolaryngology and diseases of head

-         Shalya cikitsa – surgery

-         Damshtra cikitsa – toxicology (curing from poisonings and etc)

-         Jara chikica – geriatric handling

-         Vryshia cikitsa – reproductive health

Ayurvedic educational standards are now regulated by AYSH – Ministry of Ayurveda (https://www.ayush.gov.in/). It requires five years to gain first level academic grade diploma. People who usually consult in Ayurveda in the west complete courses. Getting ayurvedic treatment on proper level is quite hard, as here in European part we do not have enough professionals, but what can be done – is preserving health on proper level.

Some myths about Ayurveda:

1)    It is herbal and natural medicine. In fact, Aurveda uses animal products, basmas (powders) – which can be organic (praval basma or pearls) and non-organic nature (mercury, sulphur, gold, etc). Classical Ayurvedic preparations are described in scriptures and 70% of these are prohibited for use in the EU, because they need utmost qualification of physician who prescribes them and some need constant medical follow-up and special diet.

2)    Ayurveda denies modern healthcare. Completely false. It is developing science, using such modern methods of research as x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, blood tests. Ayurvedic doctors may prescribe antibiotics, if necessary. And antibiotics are essential in curing such diseases as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

3)    Ayurveda requires only Indian herbs. In fact, Ayurvedic vaydyas (specialists) are researching other traditional herbs from all over the world and describe them from Ayurvedic point of view. Ayurveda advises to use local food and medicines and, first of all, tries to achieve well-being by normalizing diet and daily regime of the patient.

Ayurvedic procedures:

Some people view ayurvedic procedures, especially shirodhara (pouring of warm oil on forehead) and abhyanga (application of oil) as a sort of SPA procedures. In fact, these are therapeutical procedures, which require preparation (purva karma), which includes special diet (deepana-pachana), then intake of oil and ghee and sweating procedures (these depend on prakriti or body type and state of health). Then, if required, panchakarma (elimination of excess doshas) takes place, then the specialists decide on treatment way and length.

Ayurveda also recommends everyone to stick to daily regime, which includes special procedures in the morning, balanced and matching diet, proper balancing of work and rest.


Basic Ayurvedic concept is understanding Dosha. As I have already mentioned, initial elements of the creation are: Akash (Ether), Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Water (Jala) and Prithvi (Earth). These are not elements as we are used to see in Mindeleev’s periodical table of elements, but these Panchamahabhutas (Five Great Elements) are principles the matter exists. Akash represents space. It is what gives possibility for other things to manifest. Vayu is for movement, Agni is for transformation, Jala is for nourishment and Prithvi is for support. According to Ayurvedic tradition, combinations of elements form Dosha. There are three dosha: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is formed by Akash and Vayu (Ether and Air), Pitta – by Agni and Jala (Fire and Water) and Kapha – by Jala and Prithvi (Water and Earth).

Each dosha has five subdoshas or ways how it manifests in the body. Doshas and subdoshas are active in certain time of day and while certain activity is being performed. When body is healthy, dosha go out of balance when required and return to their normal state, when there are some health issues, doshas tend to accumulate in certain places and even migrate from “home” into “home” of the other dosha.

People may have different type of prakriti (or constitution/ body type) which is defined by mixture of Mahabhutas in that certain body.

Prakriti type may be:

Tridosha – the most balanced one, when all the three doshas are represented more or less equally

Single-dosha – one dominant dosha. Among these Vata is considered to be the weakes and Kapha – the best

Dual-dosha – two doshas are dominant, one – least presented.

Moreover, two persons of Vata prakriti would not be the same, as every dosha has own qualities, some are similar, some – vary, but, for example light, dry and cold vata may manifest in three different ways in three different persons. Pitta also is light, but lightness of Pitta is not the same as lightness of Vata.

To sum up, there are 64 prakriti types, which depend bot only on dosha, but also on Mahabhutas (One vata may have more Air, other – more Ether)

Same picture is with the diseases. They may be caused by imbalance of one, two or three doshas, they may be aggravated at the same time, or one can be significantly aggravated, other – less aggravated, third – depleted.

Each dosha, as I have already mentioned, has 7 qualities, in Ayurveda these are called lakshanas or gunas.

Besides three Maha (Maha means great) gunas of material nature, such as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, there are 20 gunas which are characteristics of the doshas. Dosha is more like energy, which works inside the body, and we can only see results of it’s actions, not dosha itself.

Main qualities of Vata dosha are: Dry, Cold, Light (Rooksha, Sheeta, Laghu), of Pitta dosha: Hot, Slightly oily, Light (Ushna, Sasneha, Laghu), of Kapha dosha: Cold, Wet, Heavy (Sheeta, Snighdha, Guru).

As it can be seen, there are similarities in manifestation of dosha, so one must research own body in order to understand symptoms.

Besides dosha, very important aspect is Agni. Agni is power of metabolism – ability of the body (and mind!!!) to digest food, information and emotions. There are 4 types of Agni and 3 types of guts:

Modern Ayurveda uses modern methods of research, like blood, urine, faces analysis, x-ray and etc, but it also includes such types of communication as Darshana (See the patient), Sparshana (palpation), Prashana (talking to patient). These three aspects are very important, that’s why the more you tell the consultant – the better.

Moreover, such types of patient examination are still used and widely practiced. This is called AshtaVidyaPariksha (Eight – fold examination):

-         Nadi – pulse examination

-         Mala – examination of fecal matter, this is to understand how GI tract works and if food is properly digested

-         Mutra – examination of urine

-         Jihva – tongue

-         Sparsha – skin

-         Shabda – voice, speech examination

-         Drig - eyes

-         Akruti – overall complection

Ama – metabolic waste, which appears in the body if Agni is out of balance. Ama – something immovable – a substance, which cannot be nor digested, neither evacuated. Accumulation of ama causes diseases. Ama is not toxin, as toxin means poison and such modern term as “detoxication” as well as biggest part of detoxifying diets, have nothing to do with elimination of ama, moreover, some modern diets, like veganism (in long-run), keto, paleo can lead to significant Agni malfunction and cause big problems. Frequent eating is also far from being best choice, as body needs time to properly digest food. Enormous protein intake will also lead to problems with Agni and cause accumulation of ama.

Ojas – is life force or immunity power. It is a result of proper functioning of all systems of our body (dhatus). Ojas is that what preserves our health and keeps us alive, along with Prana and Tejas.

Doshas in detail

According to Ayurveda, there are seven dhatus in the body:

-         Rasa – may be associated with blood plasm, intercellular substance, lymph. This is the first tissue which receives absorbs nutriments from GI tract.

-         Rakta – red blood cells. Together with Rasa often referred to as blood.

-         Mamsa – muscles.

-         Medas – fat.

-         Asthi – bones.

-         Majja – bone marrow

-         Shukra – reproductive cells (for women – Artava), but most commonly referred to as Shukra. Ojas is essence of Shukra.

All the dhatus are linked together, one dhatu nourishes those, which follow it, so malfunction of some dhatu may cause problems in other tissues. For instance, if Rasa cannot absorb nutritive elements from GI tract, Rakta does not receive enough iron, so anemia may manifest.

It is very important to remember, that we must pay attention not only to that, what we eat, but also to that, how it is digested. We can’t use electricity to fuel a diesel car – it will not work. Same is with food.

Some general rules:

-         Try to eat suitable products. What is beneficial for one person may not be as beneficial for you.

-         Avoid junk food and carbonated drinks.

-         Never mix dairy products with sour fruits, vegetables and berries

-         Never consume dairy in less than 3 hours before going to sleep. Best time for dairy is midday.

-         Dairy is best consumed with honey and spices.

-         Milk is very beneficial product, provided that person has proper digestion. Milk must be consumed HOT, in most of the cases with spices and honey. Never drink cold milk. Never drink milk if you are ill.

-         Meat must be consumed in the midday (best time 12:00 -14:00), the heaviest meal of the day should be taken when it is Pitta time.

-         Never work until you are exhausted. Take rest! Recharge!

-         Don’t overload yourself with negative information. This doesn’t mean you should avoid “all the bad things”, but there are some things like empty gossip, celebrity problems, unnecessary quarrels that must be thrown out once and for all. When we discuss some people’s bad qualities, we take their karma, so don’t take other people’s karma, as you have your own to deal with.

-         Listen to your body, but remember of self-discipline.

-         Avoid sitting for a long time periods. Take a 5 minute break every hour to move a bit. It is good to develop a habit to walk 250 steps each hour. It is also very good to take 5000-6000 steps daily. Walking is the best activity according to Ayurveda. The only safe pose to sit for a long time is padmasana (lotus pose), but it is hard to master for westerners, who are prone to stress.

-         Go to bed not later than at 22:00, avoid using smartphones or watching TV. Try some calming activity – slow walk, meditation, breathing exercises.

-         Try to finish doing business at 18:00.

-         Find time to be on your own. There is no need to be afraid of yourself. Get to know yourself and get rid of unnecessary people, who you communicate with just to pass the time.

-         Live happy and joyful life!