stages of disease

If you’re like me, maybe you first started yoga as a way to stay fit. Over time, I realized getting on the mat wasn’t just about keeping myself in good shape. My yoga practice created a balance between my mind, body, and spirit, which ultimately, has helped me and so many of my students stay healthy.

The physical perks of yoga are obvious: a strong physique, improved circulation, and breath awareness to manage stress are just a few. The calming effect of yoga can reduce anxiety and promote better sleep. Who doesn’t want that?!

But in order to truly stay healthy, it’s important to understand how yoga, when paired with its sister science Ayurveda, can actually help prevent disease.

Ayurveda is an ancient form of holistic medicine that has been practiced for centuries. In Ayurveda, prevention is key. By finding balance in the physical form, you can manage signs and symptoms before they become worse. 

Understanding the Ayurvedic stages of disease, the specific symptoms, and how your unique energy type – your dosha – needs to be balanced to prevent disease and cure symptoms is a powerful tool for your overall health.

To get started, we’ll learn about the three areas that are involved in the stages of disease.

3 Areas of the Body Involved with the Disease Process

From a yogic perspective, there are three areas involved in the disease process. These are the digestive system, circulatory system and relocation site.

According to Ayurveda, doshas are special energies that control different things in your body. They help you move and do things like digesting food so you can use it for energy. They also take away waste so you don’t get sick.

There are three doshas: Vata (Air), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth). Vata helps control physical functions, like movements. Think of Pitta as the fire in your belly—it helps you digest food so you can use it for energy. Finally, Kapha takes away the waste from your body so you don’t get sick.

the 3 doshas

I have good news and bad news. The good news? When the doshas are in balance, you’ll experience good health. The not-so-great news: When the doshas are out of balance, disease begins. 

So, how do the doshas get out of balance? If too much Pitta energy starts to accumulate, it can then aggravate and spread, manifesting into disease. The same goes for Vata and Kapha too. Where does your body store this extra energy? There are three systems where dosha imbalance is likely to show up.

The Digestive System

From your stomach to your intestines to your colon, the digestive system helps to break down food so that you can soak in all the yummy nutrients. However, your digestive tract is often where disease first starts. When this happens, the body’s ability to properly digest weakens, allowing digestive toxins, called ama, to start to build up. Ama is the result of imbalanced digestion, and is often described as a sticky substance which can easily clog the channels of the body. If food is not digested properly, the build-up of ama can cause problems in the body.

The digestive system also gets rid of waste products, like ama (undigested metabolic waste), from the body so they don’t build up and cause problems. If you can’t properly eliminate toxins, ama can build up and become a breeding ground for disease development.

The Circulatory System

In order to stay healthy, you need a healthy heart and circulation. The circulatory system pumps fresh, oxygen-rich blood to your major organs. All the circulatory channels, from small to large, need to freely flow, with no blockages. If you start to accumulate ama, this sticky mixture of toxins can start blocking the healthy flow in the circulatory system, leading to chronic disease.

The Relocation Site

Finally, the relocation site is where disease manifests. It can be anywhere in the body, wherever the imbalanced energy localizes. If you have a pre-existing issue or weakness in a certain area, then the relocation site usually ends up in that area. For instance, your lungs might be the relocation site where disease manifests into bronchitis. Or your bad knee might be the relocation site for arthritis to take hold. Basically, it’s where the disease chooses to “live” in your body, after “relocating” from the digestive and/or circulatory system.

Let’s take a look at how these three systems work together in the stages of disease.

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    Six Stages of the Disease Process

    Before we delve deep into each of the stages, I want to remind you why understanding this process is so important. Having this knowledge can help you identify imbalances and symptoms before they manifest as diseases. That’s right—you can avoid a scary diagnosis by identifying disease in the first stage, before it becomes a potentially chronic condition in the last stage.

    So, how do symptoms start and how does disease progress? Let me show you…

    1. Accumulation (SAṂCAYA)

    The first stage of disease is the most important because it’s the root cause of all disease. During the first stage, awareness and lifestyle changes can prevent the disease from progressing further, into a later stage.

    Disease starts with the accumulation of excess energy—one or more doshas is out of balance. This energy then accumulates inside you. A dosha typically likes to accumulate in its natural “seat” – the area or “home” the dosha is linked to. Depending on the dosha, different symptoms might prevent themselves in this stage. Here are common symptoms of accumulation (the first stage of disease) in each dosha:

    • Kapha energy tends to accumulate in the digestive tract, as well as in the chest and fluids within the circulatory system, like joint fluid. An accumulation of Kapha might show up as sluggishness, lack of motivation, bloating, slow digestion, and stools with mucus. It can also cause congestion in the chest.
    • Pitta energy tends to accumulate in the digestive system, skin, or eyes. An accumulation of Pitta might show up as anxiety, a burning sensation in the stomach or throat (yes, heartburn counts!), loose stools, diarrhea, and a urinary tract infection.
    • Vata energy tends to accumulate in the colon (part of the digestive system) and the nerves (part of the circulatory system). An accumulation of Vata might show up as overwhelm, insomnia, indigestion, constipation, bloating, and excess gas.

    If you recognize the symptoms as a dosha imbalance, you can take steps to re-balance your energy during this stage.

    For instance, if you have too much Vata or Pitta energy, you can focus on bringing in more Kapha energy to ground you. If you have too much Kapha energy, more Pitta energy will help.

    I share specific tips and balancing yoga sequences with Uplifted members, if you’d like support with this—it’s the most important stage for preventing disease!

    2. Aggravation (PRAKOPA)

    During the second stage, you’ll notice symptoms getting worse. The accumulated excess dosha energy is now becoming aggravated. Symptoms continue to develop and worsen. For each person it might look different, but in this stage, the imbalance is getting ready to spread to other systems.

    For example, if the imbalance is in the digestive tract resulting in constipation or diarrhea, it might start spreading to the circulatory system next.

    3. Dissemination (PRASARA)

    At this stage, the energetic imbalance starts to move away from its original “seat” and into the rest of the body. Often, it moves from the digestive system into the circulatory system.

    In the third stage, a person might start to experience non specific symptoms, like a general feeling of tiredness, malaise, or random aches and pains. Of all the prior stages of disease, this is when you’ll really notice that you don’t feel well. This might look different for each dosha:

    • For Kaphas, this looks like water retention and lethargy. You might experience respiratory issues, a cough with mucus, and increased sweat and urination.
    • For Pittas will experience more inflammation. This might look like flushed skin, rashes, and burning urination. Overall, the body’s warmth increases.
    • For Vatas, dryness and coldness are common. You might experience poor circulation, feeling cold all the time, dry skin, and less sweating and urination.

    4. Localization (STHĀNA SAṂŚRAYA)

    During stage four, the excess dosha energy disrupts healthy bodily functioning by localizing in a specific organ or tissue. Essentially, the toxins – a.k.a. ama – gets “stuck” in one place, becoming a breeding ground for a particular disease to occur.

    For example, the ama from a Kapha imbalance might settle in the head and neck, causing a sore throat, stuffy nose, and congestion in the sinuses. Once the dosha energy is localized in this stage, disease is set up to manifest in the next stage.

    5. Manifestation (VYAKTA)

    This stage is when diseases manifest in their full form. The functioning of an area of the body is disrupted by the imbalanced dosha and accompanying ama. Often, during this stage, a diagnosis is given.

    For example, after Kapha energy is localized in the head and neck, it might now be diagnosed as an upper respiratory infection, the common cold or an allergy attack.

    6. Disruption (BHEDA)

    In the final stage, the disease will occur and become chronic and very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. The disease has become so embedded in the tissues that the body is not able to repair itself. The body’s natural, healthy systems are disrupted and it’s nearly impossible to go back to a prior stage.

    For example, with too much Kapha, this might become chronic bronchitis or sinusitis.

    How are the Stages of Disease Incorporated Into Our Lives

    What does each stage mean for you? How can you prevent a diagnosis? By understanding how diseases progress, you can take note of any specific symptoms or changes you notice in your body, and work to balance your doshas, preventing diseases.

    Having knowledge of the three areas of the body that are part of the disease process—the digestive system, circulatory system, and relocation site—helps you notice any shifts in your own body.

    Identifying your dominant dosha is a great first step to understanding what dosha energy might become out of balance in your body. You can take my dosha quiz (above!) to get started in understanding your unique energetic makeup today, and take my Personalize Your Practice course inside the Uplifted Membership to use your yoga practice to bring your doshas into balance.

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