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Understand some basic principles we use in Ayurveda that have no equivalent in English, so we use the traditional words. Becoming familiar with these special terms also opens us to understanding our bodies and health in another way.

The tremendous healing powers of the human body have for long been documented by the ancient practice of Ayurveda, which itself enables the body to unleash these powers and heal itself.

Ayurveda the ancient Indian art of healing is based on the philosophy that every substance in nature is composed of five basic elements – the “Pancha- maha- bhoota”. These are Earth-Prithvi, Water-Jal , Fire-Agni , Air-Vayu and Ether- Akash. The human body is a microcosm of nature and thus all these five elements are present in a material as well as a subtle sense within each individual. A balance of these five elements is responsible for the very life force of each human being or any living being for that matter.

Look at it this way – Water which is so essential to life, keeps our body hydrated and is the main component of the cytoplasm which is present in every cell of our body. Earth signifies all the solidity of the body, the fire element regulates the metabolism within our body, Akash or space signifies the spaces within our organs in the body and Air constitutes the very breath of life.

The Three Doshas

Ayurveda believes that there are five elements which are at the essence of the entire universe, both animated, as in you and I, and non-animated, such as the planet we live on. These elements are; space, air; fire, water and earth, and within our bodies they combine to create what we call the three doshas, qualities or energies that influence all our bodily functions; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Understanding the essence of the three doshas, and the other terms you see below is necessary for making sense of all that is written in this book.


Vata is composed of space and air, and is the subtle energy in the body which is associated with movement and change. It governs, for example, breathing, the beating of the heart, all muscle movements and the fine actions that take place at the cellular level. When this dosha is in balance it leads to creativity and flexibility; when out of balance it leads to anxiety, fear, dysfunction, pain and stiffness.


Pitta is composed of fire and water, and is at the essence of the metabolic system, the workings of our bodies such as digestion, absorption, assimilation and the governing of body temperature. In balance, Pitta promotes understanding and intelligence, and out of balance it creates excessive anger, frustration and irritation, skin problems, acidity, and inflammatory disorders in the body.


Kapha is mainly composed of earth and water, and as such is the energy which forms the structure of the body. Kapha is the source of lubrication for the body, and keeps the joints flexible and the skin moisturised, as well as maintaining our immune system. In balance, this dosha promotes love, forgiveness and stillness; out of balance it leads to greed, attachment and possessiveness. Too much Kapha causes excess mucous and, for example, heart diseases which are associated with congestion in the arteries.


Agni is the metabolic fire, the body energy that at a physical level is entirely responsible for transforming things from one form to another, in all the steps from food to tissue. Every transformation is supported by Agni, which is therefore vital for health, because every function of our body is founded on change—from food to cells, from air to energy and so on—and if Agni is diminished, then so are all our functions.


Srotas are physical channels within the body, from large such as the digestive tract, to the microscopic, at the cellular level. Srotas carry blood, sweat, pancreatic fluid, semen, faeces, and are the means by which nutrients reach our cells, and the means by which we excrete waste. To keep these channels open and flexible is naturally an essence of good health.


Ama is the name Ayurveda gives to the toxins in the body which are associated with undigested food, ingested pollutants, or experiences that are not assimilated within our minds. Excess Ama leads to our bodily systems being clogged or blocked, because it is not excreted by our natural systems. It leads to fermentation and subsequent imbalance in all three doshas. Ama, toxic material, is fertile ground for the development of disease. It has no useful function within the body, only destructive, so is best avoided and removed.


Agni digests whatever we eat and coverts it into nutritional plasma and faeces. The lymph and the blood stream absorb the nutritional plasma and transform them into various tissues with the aid of Dhatu Agni (metabolic fire). Normally the transformation process occurs in the following sequence:

  • Food eaten nourishes the Rasa (plasma) and, with the aid of Agni, it is transformed into Rakta (blood). The process continues with Agni acting on the tissue at the stage of conversion.
  • Ojas is generated at the end of the conversion process, which is the residual pure energy vital for maintaining the immune power of the body.
  • Healthy Dhatus and Ojas promote positive emotions, immunity, vitality, strength, health, enthusiasm and tranquility of mind.
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    Know Your Constitution

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    Traits of the body, mind and soul Vata Pitta Kapha
    Can be quite intolerant and impatient; might pick fights easily
    Moderately patient, occasionally hot tempered and adamant
    Extremely tolerant and patient
    Quick, often restless and wavering, and insatiable
    Mostly firm but can be weak sometimes, with a low degree of insatiability
    Slow, but stable, unwavering and not easily affected
    Not very analytical, but quick and extremely creative and imaginative
    Extremely sharp,can be good with things like mathematics and mechanics
    Moderately sharp, very measured, slow but methodical
    Can be exasperatingly absent-minded
    Brilliant memory, can remember small details
    Might not remember immediate or trivial details, but has a very good long-term memory
    Fulfilling commitments
    Finds it difficult to maintain commitments
    Honest, generally fulfills commitments
    Fulfills commitments at all costs
    Stamina for work
    Flighty, gets exhausted quickly
    Does not tire easily and works with a rigor
    Works slowly, but tirelessly; can work for over 12 to 14 hours
    Trust/confidence in others
    Does not trust easily
    Trusts instantly, trust does not break easily
    Takes time to trust people, but trust is permanent
    Talkative, beats around the bush, but can be funny and entertaining
    Talks less, but to the point, can sometimes sound curt
    Speaks smoothly and to the point
    Physical appearance
    slender, lean body. does not gain weight at all
    Moderate, delicate body, hands and feet
    Large and strong build; puts on weight easily
    Thin dry skin, nerves can be seen clearly
    Soft, warm, thin, pinkish skin on which boils erupt. suffers from pimples
    soft, cold skin
    Dry, thin but firm hair
    Hair is thin. baldness occurs at a very young age
    Hair is thick and strong
    Hunger, appetite
    Irregular eating habits, has a large appetite and does not maintain specific eating times
    Maintains a regular eating time. needs to eat at those times
    does not feel hungry too often but enjoys eating and munching
    Sometimes food is digested well, but sometimes gas forms
    Digests food well. sometimes has burning sensation in the stomach
    On eating even a little, the stomach becomes heavy. digestion is slow
    A light sleeper, dreams. Wakes up on hearing any noise
    Requires minimum of eight hours of sleep. dreams less and does not wake up easily
    Eight to ten hours of sleep are essential. sleeps deeply and is not disturbed by any noise

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