Ayurveda and The 3 Pillars of Mind-Body Wellness
By John Russell
Ayurveda is an ancient wholistic healing system that dates back more than 5000 years. The term Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means: ‘The Knowledge and Science of Life’. Although Ayurveda stems out of the ancient land of the Vedas, its applications are universal, with healing modalities that can benefit the whole of humanity within our modern era. The approach of Ayurvedic healing is based upon the constitutional model that utilizes the three Doshas (the three primary life-forces) to describe the various psycho-biological conditions that determine our well-being or dis-ease. These three primary life-forces manifest as the three biological humors and are called Tridosha. Each Dosha is termed Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Vata means Air/Wind; Pitta means Fire; and Kapha means Earth/Water. It is understood within Ayurveda that each individual is born with their own particular constitution (Dosha) – this is what’s called the Prakriti (Primordial Nature). The Prakriti will manifest as a combination of each Dosha; generally, there might be a combination of two Doshas that predominate over the remainder and in some cases, one will have all three Doshas in perfect balance as their Prakriti. Dis-ease illness illness is the result when the Doshas are out of balance within the mind, heart and the physical body. This is what Ayurveda calls the Vikriti; the manifest state of health as the unnatural/imbalanced state. The aim of the Ayurvedic practitioner is to assist in the restoration of the Doshas to their proper state of harmony, so as to promote joyous health and longevity. This is achieved through wisely adjusting certain factors in life-style, diet and through various natural healing modalities, which may include herbal remedies, yoga therapy, meditation, mantra therapy, purification, tonification and rejuvenation therapies, etc.
The 3 pillars of Mind-Body Wellness
Ayurveda recognizes that in order for our mind-body make-up to be firmly established in a state of energetic well-being, we need to maintain a well balanced maintenance of the food we eat, the proper regulation of rest with meditation, and a healthy expression and management of our sexual energy. This is what Ayurveda calls the 3 Pillars of Life, as presented within the Charaka Samhita, known as one of the greatest resources of Ayurvedic Wisdom.
Let us examine how these 3 Pillars function and how they offer everything that we need to enjoy a life full of wellness.
It has been established as a well-known fact that “we are what we eat.” The food that we nourish ourselves with is what makes up our physical bodies in all of its layers. It is important for us to understand that food not only comes to us in the form of matter. The impression that we receive through the five senses are also a type of food that we hunger for. Ayurveda goes a litter deeper with this by stating that the food that we partake of also makes up our mental and emotional bodies as well. We can sense how our mind and heart is affected by certain meals that we partake of when we allow ourselves to be present and mindful in the moments of eating. Therefore it is crucial that we become more conscious of what we partake of as food, as Ayurveda has advocated for millennia.
As much as it is important for us to know the nutritional value of food, we must also know the energetic value as well. In Ayurveda, instead of focusing so much on the protein, carbohydrates, vitamin, mineral, fat, constituents of food, we pay more attention to the tastes and the Mahabhutas (The 5 Great Elements) that they represent. This gives us a clue into the energetic potency of the food we partake of. When we are aware of the energetic principle of food, then we can determine how and what will be nourished by a particular food choice. This is further elaborated upon in Ayurveda through the teachings of the 5 Great Elements and 6 Tastes (see below).
The foundation of the proper absorption of nutrients is based on our digestive fire, which in Ayurveda is termed Agni. When our Agni is robust in its action, most foods are easily digested with the proper absorption of nutrients; when our Agni is low, then we experience all of the symptoms of indigestion, and mal-absorption. So in Ayurveda, the Agni is always monitored, maintained and adjusted according to the level of its strength or weakness, so as to insure healthy nourishment.
The 1st Pillar of Mind-Body Wellness consists of consuming proper food, which will lead to proper digestion and vice-versa, in maintaining one’s Agni. With good digestion the body is able to extract the nutrients and energy needed from the food. This includes such things as taking food appropriate to the Dosha, appropriate to the season, manner in which the food is consumed, and food combinations.
There are 5 Great Elements that make up our material universe: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These 5 Great Elements crystallize from their most subtle forms to give us the tangible material world and even our bodies. Each one of these 5 Elements has their own particular tastes. There are 6 fundamental tastes that are recognized in Ayurveda.
Ether has the taste of Sweetness and Bitterness; Air has a pungent taste; Fire is Pungent, Salty and Sour; Water is known for its Sweet and Salty Taste; and Earth is noted for being Sweet, Sour and Astringent.
As we can see, the taste is what gives us the energetic signature in relation to the element that’s in our food. Knowing this, we could get a clear picture on how our day dietary intake is going to influence our Dosha, and also insight into why we might be experiencing imbalance.
Knowing the attributes of the 3 Doshas, and how they are the condensation of the 5 Great Elements, we can better choose the appropriate diet that’s right for us.
Let’s say that we’re working with a Vikriti Dosha that’s Vata predominant. The attributes of Vata is well known for its etheric and airy characteristics. This could manifest as excessive worry and anxiety with feelings of being ungrounded. We see that foods that are sweet, bitter and pungent in taste would tend to aggravate Vata Dosha if taken in excess. So in Ayurveda, the method would be to pacify Vata Dosha by taking foods that are opposite in taste.
Good Rest and Meditation
The 2nd Pillar of Mind-Body Wellness is that of proper rest. This implies observing the natural rhythms of our nightly sleep cycles and refraining from the extremities of too much sleep and being over active.
Generally we take for granted the energy we have after a night’s rest, not taking into account what it takes to have regenerated and sustained energy to perform our daily tasks. Naturally we assume that energy is something that just comes with life, and it does, yet at a cost.
From every little thing that we do with our physical bodies, from blinking our eyes to scratching an itch, we are constantly using a tremendous amount of energy. Some people who aren’t involved in any daily activities that require strenuous physical output will still find that at the end of the day, they are in need of a good night’s sleep. Even our mental and emotional energy get taxed on a daily basis.
With all of this energy output going on daily, it is vital that we observe good and well-balanced cycles of rest, so that we don’t burn out (which most of us are doing). It has been proven through extensive studies that good rest serves as a foundation for building up resistance to so many illnesses and imbalances. When are a well rested and rejuvenated, we are more likely to have a robust immune system that serves as, in Chinese Medicine this is called the Jade Screen.
In Ayurveda, Meditation practice is also considered a type of rest. Studies have been conducted to observe the benefits of meditation where they have discovered in long-time practitioners a totally different brain- wave and bio-rhythmic pattern. It has been noted that during sitting practice, and in post-meditation (off-the-cushion), meditation masters are able to maintain a more restful and calm state of being, even in “stressful” circumstances.
In meditation practice, the physical, emotional and mental bodies are brought to a state of conscious relaxation, so that all that’s experienced by the meditator is serenity and tranquility. With daily practice, these states deepen and begin to permeate throughout every aspect of life.
Ayurvedic Wisdom teaches us that when proper rest and relaxation are allowed, then detoxification, the rest-oration of lost vitality and rejuvenation can take place more effectively.
Healthy Sexual Energy
Our Sexual Energy is the foundation of who we are; it is our very Essence. Everything that we partake of, our food, air and impressions are all coagulated into the Shukra Dhatu, which is the reproductive tissue of the sperm and ovum and the hormones they produce. It is stated in Ayurveda that when we maintain healthy reproductive tissue, then our over-all state of well-being is duly affected in a positive way. In fact, out of the Shukra Dhatu, comes the very protective ‘life-sap’, called Ojas that is the refined essence of the reproductive tissue.
For the nourishment and cultivation of healthy Shukra Dhatu, we have The Science of Aphrodisiacs, which is one of the 7 Branches of Ayurvedic Medicine. It is commonly understood that aphrodisiacs are supposed to enhance the sex drive as in the famous ‘Spanish-fly’, and they do indeed, yet when we refer to aphrodisiacs in Ayurveda, we are speaking of certain herbs ( like Ashwagandha and Shatavari) that can be combined into formulas to nourish the Shukra Dhatu. There are also yogic techniques that can be employed to achieve the same means.
By employing the proper regulatory methods of maintaining our sexual energy, we are granted with an overall increase of vitality, enhanced consciousness and intelligence, better memory, good health and longevity. It is well known in many the fields that require physical stamina and endurance that when the vital fluids are released from the body, the physical body becomes weak and unstable. Ayurveda has known this for ages and has long advised Scientific Chastity (Brahmacharya) in order to maintain vitality on not only a physical level, but spiritually as well.
The 3rd Pillar of Mind-Body Wellness advises that while enjoying sex, we should avoid the extremes being overly sexually active or under-active, and to maintain a moderate and healthy approach that nourishes our vitality energy. The Wisdom of Ayurveda states that the transmuted sexual energy can be used as fuel for our spiritual practices, which ultimately leads to the Self-Realization of the Being.
As we could now see and understand, instead of turning to, and relying on medications, tabloid diets, and strenuous exercise routines, we could observe the 3 Pillars of Ayurveda to discover that our own bodies are capable of using energy for rejuvenation and revitalization, in order to reach our full potential of health on every level.
This is the benefit of observing the 3 Pillars of Mind-Body Wellness. May all beings be happy and free of the causes of suffering!
[John Russell is a Certified Ayurvedic Life-Style Counselor and Pancha-Karma Technician; (Pancha-Karma is The Science of Purification and Rejuvenation). John has practiced herbal therapy alongside other healing modalities of the wholistic healing arts for well over a decade. He is also co-visionary of Sacred Tea-Chings: ~The Taste of Timelessness~ and ~Mind-Body Wellness~. He and his family currently abide within the Pacific Northwest. You can contact John at: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.sacredtea-chings.com ]