What is Ayurveda and How Does Ayurveda Define Health
What is Ayurveda
The word “ayurveda” is a combination of 2 Sanskrit root words – “ayus” which means “ long life” and “veda” which means “knowledge or sacred writing” – therefore the science or knowledge of long life. Ayurveda covers the entire Knowledge and Science of Life (including mineral, plant and animal life). Ayurveda’s philosophy of well-being in steeped in the prevention of disease and promotion of the health through diet, lifestyle and harmonious living. The curative and maintenance aspect of disease is also discussed in-depth but preventive medicine is seen as the ultimate key to healthy living.
ayurveda Definition of Health
So how does ayurveda work? In order to understand this, we need to understand the ayurveda definition of health which states:
“Sama dosha sama agnischa sama dhatu mala kriya
prasanna atma indriya mana swastha iti abideyate”
Susrutha Samhita 15:41
sama means balance, equilibrium or homeostasis
dosha does not have any English translation. however, I will explain the functions of dosha below which will give you an understanding of them. To put it simply dosha is a principle that has both action and qualities. For example, ginger has the action of improving digestion and has the quality of “heat”. The dosha-s are functional principles that govern the body. These functional principles are vata, pitta and kapha
agni means fire but in the context of ayurveda, agni means principle of change and transformation. For example when we eat any food, it has to be converted into minute particles that the body can understand and use.
dhatu means that which supports the body or that which holds the body together. The raw material principle that holds the body together. The English word “body tissue” does not give proper translation because tissue refers to an assemble of similar cells. Whereas in ayurveda majja dhatu includes everything that fills the bones ie marrow, spinal cords, brain.
mala kriya – the action of removing by-products that are produced by the body during digestion and dhatu transformation. The English term “waste” for mala is not accurate as mala-s are needed for the body.
This first part of the definition covers the physical aspect of the body while the second part covers the subtle non-physical aspect ie. the happy or equilibrium state of atma (True Self ), the sense organs and organs of actions (indriya) and the mind (manas). ayurveda’s healthcare system therefore covers both the tangible, seen, gross as well as the intangible unseen subtle aspect of life itself. ayurveda clearly states that if and only if there is a balance in the physical (gross body) and mental (subtle body which is the mind and inner self) can a person be truly healthy.
Body is referred to as “sharira” meaning “that which is constantly degenerating”. From the time we are born, there is the constant changes happening within the body including the cell renewal, maintenance and destruction. ayurveda sees the body as a continuum and a dynamic entity and not as a static entity. This is an important factor to take into consideration for diet and lifestyle (and treatment) because when the sharira is constantly changing, we cannot have a static solution. We need customised solution be it diet, lifestyle or treatment.
This continuous flow is known as life and one must balance the flow in order to maintain their health by understanding one’s own individual constitution (prakriti) and how to customise diet and lifestyle changes to bring about and maintain this balance.
Ayurveda classifies 3 types of dosha known as vata, pitta and kapha.
Both the body and mind are coexisting and influence one another even though they operate differently. For example glass is hard and stable while water is unstable and liquid. When I pour hot water into a cold glass, the glass becomes hot. Likewise when an empty glass is hot, and I pour cold water into the hot glass, the water heats up. They each influence the other even though they are separate substances. Likewise the body and mind will influence each other and health of both is mandatory for wellbeing.
In the next article I will focus on the Pachamahabuta which forms the foundation of Vata, Pitta and Kapha dosha.
Vasanthi Pillay is the President and Founder of the Ayurveda Association of Singapore (AAOS) and the Director of Innergy Ayurveda and Yoga Pte Ltd. She conducts several onsite and online Trainings and Workshops in Singapore and Asia to help people understand the fundamental principles of ayurveda so that they can apply these universal principles as a preventive medicine for their families and themselves. Vasanthi works with 2 large conventional hospitals in Taiwan in assisting them with training and integrating ayurveda and yoga into the healthcare system. She is also working with several educational institutes in Asia, educating the parents and teachers in incorporating a holistic diet and lifestyle program for parent-child education. Born in Singapore, Vasanthi who has worked in a highly stressful corporate world, developed a keen interest in mind-body relationship. This prompted her to take up her yoga Instructor Course in svyasa Bangalore India in 1995 and since then has continued her lifelong learning by taking up several ayurveda Courses in India, USA and Singapore from 2000. She completed her Diet and Lifestyle Counsellor program with the Kerala ayurveda Academy in 2020 and is currently studying the ashtanga hridaya in a classical manner. Vasanthi also holds a Bachelor of Arts (NUS) majoring in Philosophy, Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (SIM, Singapore) and Post Graduate Diploma in Banking and Finance (UNSW, Australia). Vasanthi collaborates with M S Ramaiah Indic Centre for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (Bangalore) to offer certificate programs on ayurveda and yoga.