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Introduction to Ayurveda


by Dr. Mary Jo Cravatta

As we progress further and further into the Modern Era, many of us find ourselves looking back into the Wisdom of the Ages for answers to our deepest questions. Self inquiry leads us to ask “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” Not satisfied with a fragmented approach to life, many are attracted to the inclusive views of Ayurveda which acknowledge the individual as body, mind, emotions and spirit.

This natural system of healing was first shared as an oral tradition approximately 5,000 years ago. The name Ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit words: ayus meaning life and veda meaning knowledge. The wisdom of the vedic sages is at the foundation of this Science of Life. It is said that the principles of Ayurveda were first cognized by the Himalayan Rishis in deep meditation. They were set down as guidelines to live a conscious, healthy life to prepare one for the journey towards a more and more refined existence. It is based on a comprehensive view of the vast Laws of Nature and the energectics of the world around us. The reliability of the knowledge has been substantiated by the generations that have benefited from its use.

It is built upon the understanding of the five elemental theory (space, air, fire, water, and earth) and from this the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha). These five elements are symbolic of basic concepts of the laws of nature. The element air denotes the movement concept in the universe. Fire is energy. Water is cohesion and fluidity. Earth is structure and solidity. Space is a type of potential space which allows the other elements to unfold out of Consciousness or Samhita (wholeness value). When these elements combine they create three governing principles, or doshas, which must be kept in proper balance in order for us to remain healthy. Vata dosha, composed of space and air, governs movement , circulation, the nervous system and elimination within our bodies. Pitta, from fire and water, governs digestion and metabolism. Kapha, from water and earth, governs structure, tissues and biological strength.


These three doshas combine in differing proportions to make up an individualʼs constitutional, psychophysiological body type. This includes all factors– physically, mentally and emotionally– that express an individualʼs uniqueness. The diversity within the human race is taken into account with the notion of body type. This is why we all respond differently to diet, exercise, lifestyle and the changing world around us. Even within families we see a wide variety of likes and dislikes, food preferences, hair color, skin type, emotions, endurance and perspectives of our everyday life.

The differing proportions of these three doshas account for these individual differences. Perhaps your spouse falls asleep deeply while you may be awakened by subtle noises. Or you may be bothered by hot, spicy foods but your brother can comfortably eat large quantities of chile peppers. Your mother may very easily gain weight, yet her sister has always been able to eat whatever she pleases and stay thin.
There are ten basic body types that are determined by a wide range of mental, physical and behavioral characteristics. Of course, there are many variations of these body types which account for the vast array of qualities in individuals, but certain distinguishable aspects pertain to each main doshic body type. While everyone has all three doshas, the relative dominance varies. This gives rise to ten basic types of bodies. Some of us have constitutions mainly dominated by one of the three doshas–vata, pitta or kapha. Others have a mixture of two–vata pitta or pitta vata, vata kapha or kapha vata, pitta kapha or kapha pitta which is called bidoshic. Finally some people have all three in nearly equal proportions or tridoshic. Each of the ten types has specific mental and physical characteristics.
Another word for the psychophysiological constitutional body type is a Sanskrit word called Prakriti. Prakriti means nature, and it means our inner nature. When we understand who we really are, it is like having a road map. It tells us exactly where weʼre going and where weʼve been in our lives. In planning an extensive trip, road maps are always consulted to help guide the way. The same is true once you understand what your Prakriti or body type is. This gives us an understanding of exactly what we need to lead a balanced life.

There is another Sanskrit word Vikriti, and this means non-nature, or it means the imbalance within us. In other words, it is a cloak which we have acquired that conceals our true nature. If we have not been following that true road map of who we really are, perhaps we have become imbalanced. Then we have this Vikriti, or non-balance within us. In order to become balanced, we need to address the reasons we had strayed from our true nature or Prakriti.


The foundation in understanding the three doshas and the body types is in knowing the qualities of each particular dosha. Vata dosha, which is a combination of the elements space and air, is moving, quick, light, cold, rough, dry, irregular, and unstable. It arrives at its qualities because it is a combination of space and air. It is not necessary to memorize all of the qualities of each dosha. A key in the understanding will be in remembering the concepts which embody each element that comprise the dosha. Since vata dosha is a combination of space and air, if we think of movement the other qualities will follow. Pretend that you are standing on a very windy hill. There will be quickness in the environment. It is light. It can be very irregular. The wind can come and pick up a leaf or it can throw dirt in your face, and as you can see if you stand out in the wind long enough, youʼll become very dry and cold. Knowing that itʼs made up of those two elements (space & air) allows you to understand the qualities of vata dosha.

Pitta dosha is a combination of mostly fire with a little bit of water, the qualities of pitta dosha are hot, sharp, light, acidic, moist, and slightly oily. Remembering that Pitta dosha is composed of mostly fire will help you to recall the main qualities. Picture yourself in Florida on a very hot, humid day.
Kapha dosha is a combination of the elements of water and earth. Its qualities are heavy, oily, slow, cold, steady, sweet, sticky, and soft. Envision a cold, wet, rainy, muddy day in the spring time. This will help you to know kapha dosha.

Kapha dosha is the exact opposite of vata dosha, except they are both cold. Therefore, if you remember vata dosha, itʼs very easy to remember kapha dosha. Vata is very quick, that means that kapha is slow, and vata is dry, then kapha is moist and oily. If we remember the very basic qualities of vata dosha, itʼs almost as if we have all the rest of the doshas at our fingertips. It makes it very easy to remember the qualities.

Everything may be categorized according to its proportion of the Doshas. This would include: seasons of the year, times of the day, emotions, dreams, food, animals, colors, textures, sounds, aromas, herbs – if it exists, it can be determined if it is vata, pitta, or kapha.

Viewing the world in an Ayurvedic perspective, you may use this information to assist you in living a healthier and more fulfilling life. Once you know what your Prakriti (Body type) is and where you are not balanced (Vikriti) then you can plan a routine that works for you. And you do not have to jump head first into it. One may choose to incorporate as much or as little of the ayurvedic principles into their day as is comfortable. After all, the word does mean “Knowledge of Life” — itʼs all about you.

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