Ayurveda is a core component of the science of life, along with Yoga and Tantra. Together they define health as the soundness and harmony of the body, mind and the self (soul). Each must be nurtured to create good health.
According to this ancient healing system of India, a disease is caused by the disruption of the equilibrium or balance within ourselves and/or with our environment (nature).
The World Health Organisation defines health as a 'state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. While the Oxford Medical dictionary defines medicine 'as the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease'. We can see that the origins of ideas of health are present and the same in both Western and Eastern cultures.
Ayurveda traces its roots to the Vedic period of ancient India. It's based on the philosophy of the Rig Veda and is one of the best-preserved systems of traditional medicine still practised today. Here health is defined as the harmony of the body (gross), mind and spirit (subtle) triad. The disease occurs when there is an imbalance of the three. Each component of the triad has a different aspect and different requirements.
Therefore the science of life has three components: Ayurveda, Yoga and Tantra: Ayurveda concentrates and deals with the physical body, Tantra with the mind, and Yoga with the spirit.
Ayurveda sees life as harmony
Ayurveda looks at life from an energy perspective. Health is the harmony between the energy components of body, mind and spirit. Disease, therefore, is the disruption of one or all of these components.
The Ayurvedic approach to disturbances in the mental and spiritual aspects of an individual aim first to harmonise the physical body and then to expand that harmony to the mind and the spirit.
The Yogic approach involves working with the spirit to induce the body and the mind to become harmonised.
The Yogic diet aims to take predominantly Sattvic food, living in a Sattvic environment, associating with Sattvic people and having a generally Sattvic life-style. Sattvic food is vegetarian, fresh, organic and prepared with love. A Sattvic environment is natural, pure, quiet and harmonious. Sattvic people are possessed of love, faith, devotion, honesty and truthfulness.
In order to harmonise the body, we have to realise that everything we perceive in the external world is composed of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These elements make up the body and are present in every cell.
These individual cells are not able to live independently of the whole body. Similarly, we are all cells in the Universal Organism and are not able to live independently of the whole.
Ether is the field in which all the activities take place, from which everything is manifested and into which everything returns. Ether does not have a physical existence but is the space which separates matter.
Air is the gaseous state of matter whose characteristic is mobility. It is responsible for all movements. It has no form.
Fire has the ability to transform solids to liquids to gas and vice versa. It is the power in the body. It is without substance.
Water is the liquid state of matter which has a flowing, dissolving, carrying and cleansing quality. It is a substance without stability.
Earth is a solid state of matter whose characteristics are stability, fixity and rigidity. It creates a feeling of groundedness and security in the individual. It is a stable substance.
The five elements condense to give rise to the three primary life forces in the body or the three biological humours or Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata is composed of ether and air. It is the most prevalent of the three Doshas as it governs and provides the motivating force for the other two Doshas. It is the kinetic energy in the body and is the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination. It governs all bodily movements.
Pitta is biological fire. It is composed of the elements of fire and water (liquefied fire). It digests and cooks things in the body. It is responsible for all the metabolic and chemical transformations in the body. It is responsible for digestion of food, eyesight, body temperature, intellect and skin colouration.
Kapha is a combination of water and fire. It holds things together, providing cohesiveness. It is responsible for growth, support, lubrication and makes up the bulk of the body tissues.
When the Doshas are out of balance, they are the causative force in the disease process.
The Doshas should be seen then as inter-related and not as separate entities.
The body-mind-spirit complex is an energy continuum, rather like Einstein's theory of space-time continuum. This helps in the understanding of how a state of mind can influence a disease process in the body and to a lesser extent vice versa.
It also helps to understand how the recovery of health can be attained by following treatment in the context of Ayurveda.