Indigestion is the Root of All Evil
Those who are new to Ayurveda typically want to know their Dosha mind-body type. While that has its place, it can be a distraction if you’re trying to improve your health. Ayurveda points to balance as the key element: balanced Doshas, balanced tissues, balanced digestive fire, and balanced elimination of metabolic waste products.
The process of digestion, our eating habits and our food choices have an outsized impact on health and well-being. Nutrition is important, but good digestion is critical. If we don’t digest our food well, how can we make healthy tissues?
Western medicine tends to view indigestion as a minor annoyance. Drug companies would just as soon you take their products and continue to eat the food that is talking back to you. In contrast, Ayurveda finds that most disease begins in the gut. When food is not properly digested, it turns to poison in the body. These toxic products known as Ama, clog the channels of the body, blocking normal flow or attracting factors that create disease.
So, the first steps in applying Ayurveda should be to assess your digestion and make sure you don’t have an accumulation of Ama. You’ll find guidance on improving digestion and eliminating Ama elsewhere on my website.
Healthy Habits Make for Happiness
Ayurveda reminds us that the most important aspect of our being is consciousness. Our body is a machine for creating consciousness from food. The qualities of the food we consume, influence our mind. If you think coffee, chocolate, mushrooms and alcohol are helpful, learn about the Three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
It turns out that the force of evolution and purity known as Sattva is intimately associated with Ojas, the finest product of digestion and source of strength and immunity. The formula for maximizing Ojas is to favor Sattva in all things. Sattva and Ojas together also influence our mental clarity and contentment. A famous Ayurvedic aphorism advises: Those who wish to protect the heart, should take substances promoting Ojas and avoid mental stress. Freshly prepared, lacto-vegetarian food taken in moderation promotes Ojas.
Moreover, you’re likely familiar with the biblical notion that there is an optimal time and place for all activities. Ayurveda explains that this is the responsibility of the laws of nature, which further inform the basic Ayurvedic recommendations for an ideal daily routine to maintain balance. So, the second key step in applying Ayurveda to improve your life is to assess your health habits against the ideal. In setting priorities for improvement, consider my Top 10 Tips for Health, Vitality and Longevity.
What Dosha Needs Attention?
Ayurveda offers a framework for understanding individual differences and how to harmonize with them to maintain balance in the face of change in order to enjoy a long, vital life. These differences are captured by the Sanskrit word Prakriti, which means manifest Nature. Individual Prakriti can be described in terms of the relative dominance among Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha,
which respectively reflect movement, metabolism and structure in mind and body. The Doshas act as a buffer to help insulate us from changes induced by the cycles of nature. Knowing Prakriti is less important than knowing which Dosha(s) need attention.
A Stich in Time Saves Nine
Diseases are many. Imbalances are few. Disease is merely the tip of the iceberg of imbalance. Six stages of Dosha imbalance can be assessed from the radial pulse, signs and symptoms.
This is the power of Ayurveda: to identify and correct imbalances when they are easy to treat—before they lead to irreversible changes. A Dosha first accumulates in its proper place. This stage is often accompanied by a natural desire for those things that will restore balance according to the Principle of Similars and Opposites. For example, if we are feeling cold, it would be natural to desire warm food and drink.
If the Dosha continues to accumulate, then it will become aggravated. At this stage, spontaneous desires can become perverse. We can crave more of whatever is throwing us out of balance—for example, feeling hot, yet continuing to eat hot, spicy food and drink alcoholic beverages—
creating a vicious cycle. At some point, an aggravated Dosha will spill out of its place. Where does it go? Into the places of the other Doshas. This disturbs their function and often gives rise to more significant “pre-clinical” symptoms.
Now, if the progression is not corrected, the aggravated Dosha will get stuck in places of weakness, particularly where the fine channels of the body (Shrotas) are blocked by Ama. Localization is the final prelude to manifestation of disease. The stage is commonly accompanied by prodromal symptoms of disease as recognized by western medicine. Once a diagnosable disease finally erupts, there still may be opportunity to reverse the process before it becomes severe or chronic. In general, western medicine does a good job of handling life-threatening disease, even if it fails to correct the imbalances that gave rise to it.
Patterns of Disease
By the time disease erupts, often more than one Dosha is involved. Nevertheless, the qualities of the Doshas can be compared to the qualities that characterize the disease and used as a guide to identify which Dosha is the chief culprit. Diseases involving a single Dosha are generally curable. Those involving two Doshas can usually be treated, even if the treatment is difficult. When all three Doshas are involved, palliation may be possible, but because of the inter-relationships among them, the treatment of any one will tend to aggravate one or more of the others. That’s a situation we would all want to avoid.
Dosha imbalance often manifests initially as indigestion. Because healthy digestion is essential for making healthy tissues, we always give priority to fixing indigestion. The digestion questionnaire will help you identify which Dosha might be causing problems there. If a Dosha is disturbing digestion, then it will likely be contributing to problems elsewhere.
Kapha is inherently stable, so it is difficult to throw it out of balance. When Kapha does get aggravated, it most likely manifests as a problem with weak digestion and Ama. Other symptoms related to disturbances of the functions of Kapha most often result from Vata or Pitta moving into its place. So, when in doubt, if Ama is not prominent, assume the problem is related to Vata or Pitta. If Ama is a problem, treat it first before getting overly concerned about what Doshas might be disturbed.
Look at the Qualities of the Symptoms
Vata Dosha, having qualities of Space and Air, is the most ethereal of the Doshas. For this reason, it is the one that is most likely to go out of balance.
Vata causes twice as many diseases as Pitta. In turn, Pitta causes twice as many diseases as Kapha.
Pitta imbalance is typically characterized by redness, burning sensations, heat or inflammation. Vata imbalance will typically manifest as irregularity, pain, dryness or weakness. Think of stress. Stress is one of the major causes of disease. Stress hits hard on that aspect of Vata involved with the mind. It also depletes Ojas, the source of strength, vitality and immunity. Meditation such as TM provides an antidote. This is one mechanism accounting for its effectiveness in promoting health in a holistic way. Beyond this, the best long-term strategy is to recognize and deal with imbalances of the Doshas before they lead to problems.
A pulse reading is the most accurate method to assess for imbalance,
but you can start with my Dosha Imbalance questionnaire. It catalogues common results of imbalances in Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Once you have an idea what needs attention, you can begin to learn what to do to re-balance your Doshas.