According to Ayurveda, health is understood as an outcome of a healthy lifestyle and habits. Already being a simple word, the word 'dis-ease' makes us realise that illness is not a phenomenon which appears on its own accord but is a result of us not being at ease with ourselves or our long-lasting personal habits. It can also stem from inappropriate reactions, ignorance and many other external factors that influence our well being.
How do diseases develop?
When we are ill we usually get diagnosed with a virus, bacteria or dysfunction, yet diseases actually begin much earlier on when there is a slight and temporary dis-balance in our dosha. Very often these aggravations and dis-balances are stimulated by the changing seasons, food habits, exercise, age, mental and emotional factors, stress, the misuse of our senses, and relationships. There are 6 different stages in the formation of a disease before its final manifestation becomes apparent:
When dis-balanced, doshas begin to accumulate in their respective doshas: Kapha in the stomach (feeling of heaviness, loss of appetite), Vata in the colon (constipation, gas) and Pitta in the intestines (heat around the stomach, craving sugar). If we are consciously aware at this stage then we will notice that our body is craving the opposite of what it actually needs. It is thus very important to tune in with our body and listen to our true needs.
During this second stage, the organs connected with the doshas fill up and the dis-balance moves to the next organ, where the actual effects of the initial dis-balance can be felt. In case of Kapha in the lungs (a cough, congestion in the lungs), Vata in the flanks (mid-back pain, breathlessness), and Pitta in the stomach and gallbladder (acid indigestion, nausea). During this stage, we can still heal ourselves using the opposite qualities and balancing herbs.
At this stage, the dosha moves into the bloodstream and circulates the body. This signals that we have been ignoring the dis-balance for too long and eliminating causal factors may no longer bring results. The problem can still possibly be resolved by visiting an Ayurveda practitioner and undergoing a Panchakarma programme (a five procedure to cleanse the body), this is done under the control of a qualified doctor.
If we still do not act, aggravation in the blood will then enter an organ, tissues, or a system that is already weak or defective from past traumas, repressed emotions, or genetic problems. If it enters an organ it will alter its entire structure and functioning. However, on the outside, we may still feel good, with only the occasional complaint or pain.
The symptoms of an actual disease appear where there has been an excessive accumulation of a certain dosha. This is the stage when most people first decide to visit a doctor, who then prescribes medicine to relieve the complaint but not cure the problem, meaning it may reappear or worsen.
- Cellular deformity resulting in structural distortion
Due to structural changes that appear in a certain organ (ie. aggravation of Pitta invades the stomach lining, manifesting in ulcers, leading to haemorrhaging, and finally resulting in tumours), tissues, or system, the disease becomes even more difficult to treat and surgery or intense treatments are necessary.
How to prevent diseases?
From the above mentioned it becomes clear that the key to health and happiness lies in our own hands. The earlier we act, the healthier we become, this is why Ayurveda stresses the importance of prevention rather than cure. There are many ways in which we can help our body, mind and soul to remain healthy and balanced. The worst action from the viewpoint of Ayurveda is inaction!
Here are some suggestions for prevention:
- Dinacharya – daily routine
Having a healthy daily routine not only makes you feel safe but also synchronises you with natures cycles and rhythms. Developing regular sleeping, waking, eating and eliminating patterns brings discipline to your life and helps you maintain the integrity of your doshas. To read more about how to create your own routine, click here.
- Seasonal routines and foods
You do not have the power to change what happens around you, however, you can learn how to adjust to your changing environment and seasons by choosing the right foods, exercise and clothes. To read more about which food to eat during each season refer to the Ayurvedic Seasonal Recipes. To read more about seasonal routines, click here.
- Dietary principles
Not only is the quality of your food important but it is also important that you consume and combine the foods that best suit your type in each season. This supports your metabolism, enabling it to work at its peak and keep your inner fire (Agni) vital and strong. To read more about which foods nurture your dosha refer to the article Ayurvedic Food.
- Movement, breath and meditation
Although movement improves your health, it is important to know which practice is best to stimulate your health and keep your doshas balanced. Your breathing also reflects your thought patterns. Being able to keep your breathing relaxed and natural is vital to maintaining the balance of your body, mind and soul. To read about which practice best suits your type, click here.
Meditation is a result of your continuous effort to live in accordance with Ayurvedic principles and happens when there is effortless harmony in your body, mind and consciousness. To learn more about movement, breath and meditation refer to the section on Conscious Living.
The use of Ayurvedic remedies
The purpose of Ayurvedic remedies is to eradicate the underlying cause of diseases rather than just removing the symptoms. This is why Ayurvedic treatment takes a long time to heal any dis-balances in your cells. No matter whether you decide to visit an Ayurvedic doctor or only use prescribed herbal formulas, it is important to keep in mind that no changes will occur until you adopt new, healthy habits and continue living in that way. Otherwise, no matter how strong the remedy, it will only have a short-term effect before you once again slip back into your old state of being.
You hold the key!
In conclusion, according to Ayurveda, remaining healthy is a choice you make. The more you connect and tune in with yourself, the more you will notice how using certain foods and practices affects you. The more you experiment with the guidelines of Ayurveda and experience the changes they have on your body, the more you will know what makes you feel good and balanced and also what makes you feel unbalanced. There is not a single magical remedy to cure all dis-balances but there are as many different ways to heal as there are unique individuals. Thus, the key to balance and health lies in your own hands and awareness!
Increased awareness brings an increase in self-esteem and self-respect, which is crucial for the proper functioning of your body, mind, and immune system. Healthy self-esteem heals and strengthens your cells, and strong and firm self-love brings lasting happiness, vitality and well-being.
Inspired by: Lad, Vasant (1998). The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press: New York.