Of Harmony & Balance

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Ayurveda is a holistic, also natural, system of medicine. It originated in India over 3,500 years ago. The word, Ayurveda, is derived from the Sanskrit, ayur [life] and veda [science, or knowledge]. It also corresponds to ‘knowledge of life.’ Its précis is keyed to the fact that ‘dis-ease’ is caused by a certain imbalance, or stress, in the individual’s consciousness. Ayurveda buoys up certain lifestyle alterations and natural therapies to reclaim, or restore, the pristine, harmonious balance between the mind, body and spirit, besides the environment.

Ayurveda advocates that our body has a delicate sense of understanding, or what modern psychologists refer to as ‘body intelligence.’ The great ancient Indian physician and surgeon Suśruta made refined observations on the human form, or anatomy, and life as an extension of not just physiology, but also spirituality. This is the foundational principle of human physiology, or functional essentiality, in Ayurveda. You’d call it the functional macrocosm too, the resident ‘guru’ within our physiology keyed to everything that we ought to understand in the universe: tvat tvam asi [‘thou art that’]. This relates to the good, old astronomical allegory too — we are all the offspring of the stars.

Complex Web

Suśruta also connected his thought process to the limitations of ‘science’ — that it does not begin with a nice question, nor end with a nice answer. You may call it the complex web of our origin which the great sage comprehended within the limitations of existing knowledge at any given point in time — that an absolute understanding of the human body is never ever complete. Just look at the evolution of modern science, or medicine, and it bids fair to this sublime fact — that a plethora of amazing advances and developments have reached their so-called peak, or incredible levels, all right, and yet as the world-renowned neuroscientist Dr V S Ramachandran, PhD, reckons we have still a long, long way to go.

Ayurveda has, for ages, looked at the ever-changing phenomena and insights of human wisdom too, classifying them as illustrative of Saṃsāra. This essentiality epitomises the inevitable law of transformation: that no human being, or object, ever remains wholly ‘fixed.’ In other words, the rationale is simple, also profound — that the absolute deductions of today would become the past glories of tomorrow, thanks to redundancies in our conclusions that get dramatically transformed. To use a simile, this intricate explanation is analogous to the primaeval light of the night sky — it is subject to change every moment. When you think of our physical body, likewise, all our responses, whatever our individual experiences, relate to a minuscule delay, no less, in our nervous mechanism to taking delivery of and processing the sensory material and stimulating a suitable response.

What does this signify? For such an indiscernible element, time interval is nothing but our response conditioned by the past, and not what is essentially happening in the present-moment.

Ayurveda, as the late physiologist Dr Candace B Pert, PhD, the co-discoverer of peptides, underlined is the ‘completest’ of medical sciences. Ayurveda is positioned to help one, especially the physician, to understand the essence of Saṃsāra. This is achieved through certain tenets, or principles, founded on the spiritual traditions as defined in our ancient scriptures, most notably the Vedas, as also by the wise sages, down the centuries. This takes us to a level beyond the perimeter of human awareness. This also suggests, no less, that the pristine principles of Ayurveda are not subject to change and that they are perpetual, eternal truths.

The Tenets

When you contrast the original tenets of Ayurveda with modern medicine, which is based on organised, also regimental observation, research and inquiry, the confines of human insight, including advanced technology, get reflexively directed by the code of Ahaṃkāra. This is self-explanatory — Ahaṃkāra mesmerises the researcher into trusting in the idea of objectivity in their own ‘self’ while perceiving the manoeuvrings of Saṃsāra without their awareness getting the better of logic.

The great pioneers of Ayurveda never believed in the fact that they had deduced the human body, as a cricket writer, or analyst, for example, analyses the flowing merits, or unrefined flaws, of a top-class batsman. Their genius was always focused to unravelling the codes behind our body’s physiological goings-on. There’s also another point that ought to be highlighted in the context. The modern Ayurveda physician may, at times, discount the intricacies of pathological delineations, but none of them would play down the modern, contemporary view of the subtle complexities of ‘dis-ease.’ This again bids fair to an analogous source for focused, bespoke, or personalised treatment — the foundational principle of Ayurveda. 

The Tridosha Concept

Ayurveda contextualises our physiology with three principles, or functional components, or doshasvata, pitta and kapha. To paraphrase the renowned Ayurveda physician, Dr Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc:

Ayurveda categorises three basic forms of energy, or functional principles, that are present in everyone and everything. Since there are no precise words in English that convey the concept, one may use the original Sanskrit words, vata, pitta and kapha. The triad can, in its essence, be also allied to the basic biology of the body.

We all need energy to create movement so that fluids and nutrients get to the cells, while enabling the body to function. Energy is required to metabolise the nutrients in the cells and lubricate and maintain the structure of the cell.

In the physical body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta the energy of digestion and metabolism, and kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure. Vata is the energy of movement; pitta is the energy of digestion, or metabolism; and, kapha is, likewise, the energy of lubrication and structure. All of us represent the essentialities of vata, pitta and kapha, but one is usually primary, the other secondary and the third is the least prominent. The cause of ‘dis-ease’ in Ayurveda is viewed as a lack of proper cellular function owing to an excess, or deficiency, of vata, pitta, or kapha. Yes, ‘dis-ease’ can also be caused by the presence of toxins and pollutants.

Ayurveda also suggests that the mind, body, spirit, or consciousness, work together in maintaining balance. They are viewed as different facets of one’s being. To learn how to balance the body, mind and consciousness requires a clear understanding of how vata, pitta and kapha work together. According to Ayurveda philosophy the entire cosmos is the interplay of the energies of the five great elements —space, air, fire, water and earth. Vata, pitta and kapha are combinations and permutations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation, or manifestation.

To summarise the whole concept –

  • Vata, the subtle energy associated with movement, is composed of space and air. It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. When in a state of balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. When out of sync, it produces fear and anxiety.
  • Pitta, which expresses itself as the body’s metabolic system, is made up of fire and water. It oversees digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. When in balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. When not in sync, it arouses anger, hatred and jealousy.
  • Kapha, the energy that forms the body’s structure, relates to the bones, muscles, tendons — it provides the ‘glue’ that holds the cells together. Kapha delivers water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates the joints, moisturises the skin and maintains immunity. When in balance, kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness. When out of sync, it leads to attachment, greed and envy.
Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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