If you’re into yoga, you’ve probably been looking for ways to bring your practice off the mat.
Truth? Yoga was always meant to be understood in the context of its sister science, Ayurveda. Translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda literally means “life knowledge.”
That’s right. There’s a whole system for approaching life rooted in yogic wisdom!
Leveraging the ancient principles of Ayurveda enables you to not only improve your experience on the mat, but to improve your entire life and well-being.
The Basic Principles of Ayurveda
Starting thousands of years ago in India, Ayurveda evolved into a holistic system of healing therapies. At its core, Ayurveda is about creating balance in the body and spirit with a focus on your individual mind-body constitution.
Let’s walk through the core principles of Ayurveda so you can understand the foundation as you deepen your Ayurvedic practice…
The 5 Basic Elements (PanchaMahabhutas)
Let’s start at the beginning with the powerful, ancient concept that all of Ayurveda is rooted in. According to Ayurveda, there are five basic elements that are believed to be the building blocks of all matter in the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth.
While each element has its own distinct characteristics and qualities, they also hold a deep interconnectedness with one another, as well as all life forms on Earth.
Pretty cool, right?!
From an individual perspective, understanding these elements can bring about a better sense of balance and harmony between your body, mind and spirit. This ultimately results in more peace and fulfillment within our lives—which is what we all want, at the end of the day!
By learning to recognize these five elements within yourself, you have access to greater levels of awareness, which ultimately leads to deeper personal growth. Win-win! Since the PanchaMahabhutas are the core elements all of Ayurveda is based upon, it’s important for you to know about each one:
1. Space (Akasha)
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, this element is seen as the bridge between all the other elements—a powerful, interconnecting force that binds everything together.
Space (Akasha) is needed to find balance and harmony within yourself. This element can guide you to have a greater awareness of your inner thoughts and feelings. Connecting with this element helps you gain insight into how to use your personal energy in a more efficient way, leading to better decision making in any situation you might face. Akasha also serves to open up your mind to possibilities, boosting your creativity, self-expression, and true connection with the people around you.
2. Air (Vayu)
As a subtle form of energy, Air (Vayu) provides the breath of life for all living things, including you! Air is famous for its ability to maneuver through all the other elements. It can be seen as a purifying force that cleanses away stagnant energies and allows for greater insight into yourself.
In your life, Air helps bring about a circulation of energy within your body and mind, which leads to better mental clarity and even emotional health. Connecting with the element of air can help you become more inspired and fill you with new ideas, instead of just choosing your habitual reaction.
3. Fire (Agni/Tejas)
Fire (Agni/Tejas) is the element of transformation and purification—a force that helps you not only through life’s transitions, but also, to move through obstacles that may be blocking your physical, emotional, or spiritual growth.
Bringing clarity and focus to the mind, fire can enable you to make decisions that are more aligned with your true purpose. By connecting with this element, you can harness your inner power and vitality, facilitating change from within. Plus, fire fuels you to take bold actions so you can move forward with confidence.
4. Water (Jala)
Water (Jala) is closely linked with cleansing, healing and transformation. It can take any shape or form in order to move through barriers that block your progress. It also has a soothing, cooling effect—like a balm for your nervous system.
Water invites you to surrender to the flow of life while cultivating feelings of trust and acceptance. By taking time to go within, you can learn to be gentle with yourself while finding peace with whatever happens, no matter the outcome. Plus, the energy of water can help provide emotional stability when facing difficult challenges by softly soothing your fears and anxieties.
5. Earth (Prithivi)
Earth embodies stillness, stability and security. It helps ground you and provide a foundation on which you can build your life. Additionally, its energy encourages you to be mindful of your physical body, nourishing and taking care of yourself in the physical as a way to connect with your soul.
This element connects us with the here-and-now, allowing us to live in the present moment without getting attached to past experiences or worrying about the future. From this place, we can make decisions with wisdom, instead of fear. Earth creates balance between body, mind and spirit. This element ultimately stands for true stability and invites us to appreciate life’s simple pleasures.
The Fundamental Universal Energies (TriGunas)
Along with the five core elements, Ayurveda has three fundamental universal energies, also known as TriGunas. All of these energies can be found in nature, within each living being, and in all aspects of life.
Every person has their own balance of these cosmic forces within them. However, depending on what happens in your life, you can be more influenced by one energy than another. In Ayurveda, keeping a healthy equilibrium between all three is essential for a healthy lifestyle.
These energies (TriGunas) can act both individually or mix together to create something completely new. If Stability or Activity become too strong, we lose our sense of balance, making us more prone to disease and uncomfortable feelings, like unhappiness and emptiness.
It’s important for you to recognize these universal energies (TriGunas) within yourself, so you know when they may need to be balanced.
This universal energy is not only an essential part of Ayurveda, it’s an essential part of life. On a physical level, Stability (Tamas) encourages you to create boundaries with how much energy you use and how much stress you take on. Managing your energy helps us stay healthy and prevent illness. On an emotional level, it encourages you to find your inner space of stillness and peace that gives you the strength to stay balanced amidst the chaos of life.
Even though life can be hectic, taking a step back and creating stability can lead to transformation—both within yourself and in your external environment. By resonating with this Ayurvedic energy, you can become more empowered and better able to steer your life towards happiness and fulfillment.
You know when you wake up ready to take on the day? That’s when you’re tapping into the energy of Activity (Rajas). This universal energy is what keeps you motivated and energized. On a physical level, it encourages you to take daily action towards your goals. On an emotional level, it reminds you to be courageous enough to confront your fears and step out of your comfort zone.
If you’re looking to meet new people or express your love for the ones already in your life, then this is the energy that will assist you. By resonating with this Ayurvedic energy, you can make things happen in your life and achieve not only the tasks on your To Do list, but also, your dreams.
Ultimately, the energy that’s most important in Ayurveda is consciousness (Sattva). This is the energy of wisdom—and making choices that are beneficial for your life. On a physical level, it encourages you to align with your own inner truth, as this will prevent disease. On an emotional level, it reminds you to stay mindful so you can move towards higher levels of consciousness and create greater harmony within.
Although life can be chaotic at times, taking a step back to become aware and conscious can lead to healing both within yourself and your relationships. By resonating with this Ayurvedic energy, you can become more aware, less reactive, and operate from the wisdom of your highest self.
The 3 Body Types (TriDosas)
Now that we know the five elements and the three universal energies, how do you identify which ones are within you?
This is where Ayurveda has developed three body types called TriDosas. These three types are based on a mixture of the elements, with three being dominant: Air, Fire, and Earth.
According to Ayurveda, each person contains a mixture of these three elements, called doshas.
These Ayurvedic constitutions control the basic physiological functions of the body, along with the body tissues we’ll go deeper into below.
Understanding your individual needs through these three Ayurvedic body types helps you live your healthiest life possible by tuning into your true nature. So, what are the three body types? Let me introduce you to Vata, Pitta, and Kapha…
People with a Vata body type tend to have an energy that is light, mobile and dynamic. This body type is ruled by the element of Air.
Vata individuals are often creative, spontaneous people who enjoy being around others and have a natural appreciation for art and nature. They crave freedom in life, free from restrictions that can sometimes come with structure. At their best, Vata individuals are outgoing and adventurous but when out of balance they may suffer from anxiety or insomnia.
People with a Pitta body type tend to have an energy that is sharp, intense and focused. This body type is ruled by the element of Fire. They can be highly productive and driven in their work, but also prone to feeling excessive heat in their bodies more easily than other body types.
Pitta individuals are naturally ambitious people who enjoy challenging themselves both mentally and physically. At their best, Pittas are passionate and confident. However, when out of balance, they may suffer from anger or irritability.
People with a Kapha body type tend to have an energy that is slow, stable and grounded. This body type is ruled by the element of Earth.
Kapha individuals are usually affectionate people who enjoy creating close relationships with others and seek stability above all else. They crave attention from those around them and value relaxation over activity. At their best, Kaphas are patient and understanding. However, when out of balance, they may suffer from lethargy or depression.
The 7 Body Tissues (SaptaDhatus)
To take this one step deeper, we’re going to get into how Ayurveda classifies the body’s functions. Hold everything you learned in Anatomy class and open your mind to reclassifying your bodily functions in a whole new (empowering) way!
Ayurveda believes that the body consists of seven tissues (SaptaDhatas) that provide a framework to understand physical functioning. These tissues are: Body Fluid (Rasa), Blood (Rakta), Muscle (Mamsa), Fat (Meda), Bone (Asthi), Nervous System (Majja) and Reproductive Tissue (Shukra).
When all seven of these tissues are balanced and healthy, you experience vibrant physical health as well as mental clarity and emotional balance.
Each of these tissues has specific characteristics that govern its function in the body. For example, body fluid (Rasa Dhatu) is responsible for nourishing the cells with vital nutrients while blood (Rakta Dhatu) carries oxygen to all parts of the body.
By understanding how each of these tissues works together to create strong foundations for your overall health, you can learn how to apply ancient Ayurvedic principles to your own life. Through mindful eating habits, daily self-care rituals and regular exercise (ahem…yoga!), you can find balance in your body.
So, let’s go look at how these seven tissues work together…
Rasa Dhatu (fluid)
Have you ever heard that stat about how our bodies are made up of mostly water? Well, it’s true. The foundation of everything is in the fluid in your body. Rasa Dhatu, also known as plasma tissue or body fluid, is the first integral step in the formation of the other seven body tissues (SaptaDhatus). This watery substance creates a base for the other tissues to build upon and serves as a critical source of nourishment for all other cells in the body.
Rasa Dhatu provides nutrients to the body and is responsible for proper digestion and absorption. When this fluid tissue is out of balance, you’ll feel sluggish, weak and notice issues with skin hydration.
The balance of body fluid directly impacts the health of all seven tissues as it forms the foundation for their development. Taking time each day to practice yoga or meditate can help bring balance to this important tissue layer and promote healthy functioning throughout the body.
Rakta Dhatu (blood)
The key to balancing this tissue is getting your heart pumpin’! Rakta Dhatu (blood) pumps oxygen throughout the body and serves to nourish and strengthen all of your cells. It also helps to maintain your energy levels and mental clarity. When this tissue is out of balance, you might experience fatigue, low immunity, and general feelings of malaise.
The balance of Rakta Dhatu plays an important role in supporting the health of all the seven tissues as it transports vital nutrients needed for their development. Keeping this tissue in balance can help reduce inflammation while promoting cardiovascular health. One way to bring balance to this important tissue layer is by engaging in soothing activities, such as taking a walk or gardening. Or blast some Beyonce and dance in your home, do a challenging Ashtanga flow, or throw on your running shoes and go for a run.
Mamsa Dhatu (muscle)
You don’t need to be totally ripped, but having some muscle tone is important for your overall health. Mamsa Dhatu (muscle) provides strength and stability, helping your body maintain symmetry and proper posture. It also supports muscular energy and helps to protect your internal organs from physical blows. When this muscle layer is out of balance, you will feel a lack of vitality and may experience stiffness in your joints and surrounding muscles.
The balance of Mamsa Dhatu influences the health of all seven tissues as it supports movement and strength. Practicing a mix of vibrant and gentle yoga postures, like a Vinyasa flow into an elongated savasana, can help bring balance to this important tissue layer.
Meda Dhatu (body fat)
Did you know your body needs to have some fat to be healthy? Meda Dhatu (body fat) provides insulation, warmth, and energy for the body. This fat layer also helps to store vitamins and mineral deposits for future use. When Meda Dhatu is out of balance, you will feel a general lack of energy and may experience weakened immunity.
The balance of Meda Dhatu plays an important role in promoting the health of all seven tissues as it affects your metabolism and overall nutrition. Engaging in light exercise, such as swimming or biking, can help bring balance to this important tissue layer.
Asthi Dhatu (bones)
This vital tissue is the strongest tissue of all—it’s your bones (Asthi Dhatu). This bone layer offers structure and stability to your physical body, as well as protects your internal organs from external harm. When Asthi Dhatu is out of balance, you will feel a lack of stability and strength in your bodies, as well as poor posture and overall poor physical health. And probably some pain! Ever had a bone break? It hurts.
The balance of Asthi Dhatu influences the health of all seven tissues as it provides structural support. It holds everything together! Eating healthy, nutrient-packed meals designed to promote healthy bone metabolism can help bring balance to this important tissue layer. Think bone broth and foods loaded with calcium like almonds, yogurt and cheese.
Majja Dhatu (nervous system)
This system governs all the others. Majja Dhatu, your nervous system, is the sixth layer of the seven tissues and provides energy for the body. Literally, it stimulates electrical impulses within you. This tissue layer helps to maintain your motor and sensory systems, as well as your emotional health. Ever heard the expression “my nerves are fried”? When Majja Dhatu is out of balance, you might feel a lack of energy, mental foggy-ness or confusion, and sometimes, anxiety and insomnia.
Through proper rest and relaxation techniques, such as restorative yoga or deep pranayama breathing exercises, you can reduce tension in the body and allow your nervous system to regulate. Additionally, doing something creative, like painting or writing, can help calm your nerves and bring balance to this important tissue layer.
Sukra Dhatu (reproductive tissue)
Last but not least, Sukra Dhatu, your Reproductive Tissue, is the seventh layer and works to promote fertility. This tissue helps to regulate hormones, reproductive cycles, and your overall health. When Sukra Dhatu is out of balance, you may experience hormonal imbalances, such as premenstrual syndrome or a lack of libido.
The balance of Sukra Dhatu influences the health of all seven tissues as it plays a role in healthy cellular development and your metabolism. Through mindful practices, such as meditation, you can support your Sukra Dhatu health. Also, consuming nutrient-rich foods that contain antioxidants can help bring balance and promote healthy functioning throughout the body.
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The 3 Body Wastes (TriMalas)
Now that we’ve covered the body’s Ayurvedic makeup, there’s one more piece to the bodily functions. What goes into the body must come out—and your body produces waste in order to expel toxins and cleanse your blood and organs.
The three Body Wastes (TriMalas) of Ayurveda refer to the three primary forms of waste created in the body – purisa (feces), mutra (urine), and sveda (sweat). These wastes act as filters for toxins, ensuring that they don’t remain in the body for too long. When these wastes become imbalanced, you can experience a number of health issues, such as fatigue, bloating and even skin problems.
Balancing the TriMalas is essential for healthy digestion, a high-functioning metabolism, and to maintain proper energy levels. This is where Ayurveda can help you identify foods that are easy to digest according to your body type. Also, hydrating regularly, sweating and meditation can be beneficial in balancing the TriMalas while also promoting emotional wellbeing.
Let’s look at the three types of body waste so you can gain a deeper understanding…
This type of waste helps to detoxify the body by eliminating excess toxins. It’s essential for the human body to regularly eliminate toxins and promote overall health. Additionally, disturbances in the balance of purisa can indicate a variety of health issues, such as digestive problems, nutrient deficiencies or even hormonal imbalances. Regular elimination helps to clear away these potential health issues. Depending on your dosha, herbal remedies can help promote elimination in the body.
If your body’s foundation is fluid, then having proper fluid elimination – urine (mutra) – is essential. Urine is like a filter for your blood and bodily fluid, eliminating all the things the body no longer needs, including toxins. Disturbances in the balance of mutra can lead to dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Regular elimination helps to clear away these potential health issues, keeping your hydrated, detoxified, and healthy.
Managing the level of heat in the body is an essential part of Ayurvedic medicine. Your sweat (sveda) helps to cool the body by releasing heat. Sweat needs to be regularly released to reduce inflammation and prevent a buildup of toxins. Any imbalance of sveda can lead to fever, dehydration or exhaustion. A great excuse to sweat it out!
Okay, quick review: Ayurveda has five main elements and three universal energies. These show up in the three body types (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), which work along with the seven tissues and three body wastes to keep your Ayurvedic mind-body constitution in balance. There’s one last thing you need to know about…
The Digestive Fires (TrayodosaAgni)
The last piece of the puzzle is your digestive fire—the food you eat and how your body processes your food. The digestive fires (TrayodosaAgni) is a core concept within Ayurveda and relates to the energy within the body that’s responsible for breaking down food into usable nutrients.
The three primary fires of digestion are: jatharagni, which governs food intake and metabolism in the stomach; pachakagni, which aids in further digestion of food and manages waste elimination; and bhrajakagni, which helps to maintain overall health by providing nourishment to other organs and systems.
When these digestive fires get out of balance, it can show up in the body as indigestion, abdominal discomfort, or even more serious health issues. Through Ayurvedic medicine, proper nutrition, and conscious eating habits, you can keep your digestive fires balanced to maintain good health.
How This Is Incorporated Into Our Lives
So, now you can see what an intricate, beautifully nuanced system Ayurvedic medicine is. This practice looks at the entire human being, drawing from an ancient system to apply therapeutic principles. Through a mix of western medicine and integrative medicine, you can harness the power Ayurveda employs to practice self healing.
Understanding your unique combination of elements and how your body functions, from your body temperature to the common signs of imbalance, allow you the opportunity to adjust your diet, treat any symptoms with herbs, and see how the five elements are playing out in your day-to-day life. From weight gain to regulating your nervous system, Ayurveda is the oldest healing science that can help you live your best, most vibrant life.
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