Ayurveda means “the science (or knowledge) of longevity (or life.” It is a system of medicine that has been practiced in India for over 5000 years. Ayurveda is based upon five basic elemental principles that comprise our physical universe: earth (solid matter), water (liquid matter), fire (that which transforms solid, liquid and gas), air (gaseous matter) and space (the container for the other four elements). These elements combine in different ways to produce three energetic forces called doṣa-s: Vāta, Pitta and Kapha (VPK).
Vāta is the mover. Since motion causes dryness, excess Vāta can cause dry skin, cracking joints and psoriasis. Pitta is the transformer. It changes matter from one state to another via digestion, heat production, chemical reactions, etc. Excess pitta can manifest as ulcers, skin rashes and inflammation (-itis diseases). Kapha is responsible for stability, structure and endurance. Skeletal strength, memory retention and fat storage are under its domain. Example of excess kapha are obesity, congestion and sluggishness.
Each of us is born with out own genetically unique combination of VPK, called “prakṛti.” Growing up, we digest not only food but ideas, sights, sounds, etc. When our combination of VPK strays from our prakṛti and becomes off balance, called “vikṛti”, we experience symptoms or dis-ease. Usually our primary doṣa is the culprit. For example, if our prakṛti, in terms of VPK, is 1-3-2, we are primarily pitta and secondarily kapha. Our pitta will most easily become aggravated and will produce hot symptoms like rashes, fever, burning sensations and acne. Generally this would be treated with pitta reducing food, herbs and lifestyle. Treatment is based upon the principle of opposites. If too hot, experience cool things. If too heavy, experience light things. I use the word “things” because everything we come into contact with has an energetic and affects our body and mind, including food, sensory perceptions, thoughts, etc. Ayurveda prescribes not only appropriate diet but a beneficial lifestyle as well, always based upon the attributes of each unique individual. Thus it may treat the (seemingly) same condition differently for different people.
Ayurveda is about understanding your body, mind and spirit in order to PREVENT disease and love a long, healthy, happy life. Self-observation, discipline and moderation are the keys to success. When we begin a diet and lifestyle program to reduce the excess doṣa, keep in mind that you are allowed to indulge once in a while if that will keep you on the program over time. Be disciplined about your diet and lifestyle, not rigid. The closer you follow the recommendations, the faster your health will improve.