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What is Ayurveda?

Updated on March 24, 2013
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Edie has been using Ayurveda, yoga and natural healing since 2001 and has a passion for health and healing naturally.


Ayurveda literally means "science of life" and is a medical science that comes out of India. Ayurveda looks at the disease process and how the person got to their current state of health rather than looking only at what condition they are diagnosed with. If you want to know why and how you got to your current place of health then Ayurveda can give you those answers.

The 5 elements

According the science of Ayurveda we are all made out of 5 basic elements of: ether, air, fire, water, earth. These elements dominate our physical body and are necessary for our basic actions in everyday life. We all have all 5 of these elements within us, but to varying percentages. That is what makes us unique and why our health should be tailored for each individual. Let's look at these elements a little more.

Ether: Ether is the element from which everything was born. There was space before anything else existed. In our physical body, from the ether our thoughts are born that will eventually become a creation or a reality. There must be the element of space that exists within us in order for us to be the creative beings that we are.

Air: Air is an element that is better felt then seen. Air is what governs our movement. We move our limbs because of the element air and we can move our thoughts from thinking to doing because of air. Air also moves our food through the digestive tract which is why if our air element is in excess or going in a different direction we experience digestive problems.

Fire: Fire is hot and is what governs our digestion. Not just the digestion of food, but also the digestion of thoughts and actions. If there is very little fire in us then we tend to not be very productive or action orientated. Fire gets things done and helps us to break down the foods we eat in order for it to become our body and mind.

Water: Water is the fluid in us that include the synovial fluid and phlegm or mucus. It's what keeps things moist and functioning properly. If you don't have enough water then you will experience cracking joints, memory loss and dry skin in addition to many other ailments. Sometimes it isn't enough to drink water. You may need to be adding a little oil to your meals to aid the body in retaining the moisture it needs.

Earth: Earth is our solid structure. It is all those bits we can see which includes skin, bones and tissue. The quality of the earth in your body will determine your state of health. Generally speaking, if your earth is depleted you could suffer from a low immune system and/or infertility. It is important that you tissue is strong and healthy and an easy way of making sure it is strong is by caring about what goes into your body in terms of the foods you eat and what you put on your skin.

What is a Dosha?

So now that you know the elements and how they generally function in the body we can have a look at what Ayurveda calls a dosha. Dosha is a sanskrit word that means "fault" or something that changes. If you can imagine a fault as the crack in the earth that is the center of earthquakes then you would understand that a dosha isn't something that ever stays the same, but always moves and fluctuates depending on what we eat, do, what climate we live in and what daily habits we have. Let's look closer at the dosha's and more specifically their qualities.

The 3 Dosha's

Vata: Is the combination of Ether and Air. Both of these elements are light, dry, mobile and cold. A person dominated by Vata will tend to naturally hold these qualities. Their body will tend to be dry through dry skin and constipation, they will be fast talkers and fast movers. They will tend to be cold especially in their extremities. And they will either be petite (short) or long and thin. You can balance vata by bringing in foods and lifestyle habits that are opposite in quality to ether and air. So foods that are heavy, moist, warm and solid are good choices for a vata individual.

Pitta: Is the combination of Fire and Water. The qualities of fire are hot, light, mobile and dry. The qualities of water are cold, heavy, moist and mobile. Pitta's are generally warm, mobile and can hold a little weight. It is important to know that some pitta individuals may be a dry and some may be more moist. Generally speaking when pitta is out of balance an individual will have a fiery temper, skin that is sensitive to the sun and be an over achiever. Pitta's are intense people who crave the intensity in what they do be it job or sport. They are also more likely to be a bit of a loner type. You can balance your pitta body by bringing in the opposite qualities of warm, mobile and moist/dry by eating foods that are cool, solid and a little moist if you are a dry pitta and dry if you are a moist pitta.

Kapha: Is the combination of Water and Earth. The qualities of water and earth are heavy, moist, stable, and cold. Kapha individuals often have heavy solid bodies and have most likely had weight issues all their life. They easily get congested and may have water retention or swelling in their body. To balance your Kapha body you need to eat foods that are warm, light, dry and make sure there is plenty of movement in your life. Accumulation of water and earth is easy if you don't move every single day.

Those are the 3 Dosha's, but it is important to know that we all have a different combination of these doshas and it is most likely that you have two dosha's dominate. It is rare to be a pure dosha type and it is also rare to be all three.


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