Among the multiple benefits of studying Ayurveda, the thing I appreciate the most, besides being able to support someone’s path to well-being, is the journey of self-discovery.
I love learning about the concepts of Ayurvedic anatomy and physiology, but learning about the mind and human behavior has opened so many doors to my understanding of people and of course, myself.
Because even if we don’t want to, we are forced to look at ourselves. We observe ourselves with the same tools we have to work with people and we end up discovering something new about us, how we function and how inevitably, we come to invite imbalances in our bodies and minds.
In Ayurveda, there are different classifications of diseases, but mainly they could be broadly classified into 3 main causes:
- Improper use of the Senses (Asātmendriyārtha samyoga)
- Transgression of Wisdom (Pragnyāparadha)
- Effect of Time (Kāla)
It may seem an over simplistic and irrelevant classification when we first look at them, but on the long term, their impact on our health and well-being becomes clear.
Improper use of the Senses
We use the sense organs to perceive, analyze and actually build knowledge of the world around us. So the senses are our communication devices with the outside world. If these have been vitiated in anyway, we can lose the ability to "communicate" properly and distort the sensory inputs we receive.
This misuse of the senses can happen in different ways: excessive use (atiyoga), lack of use (hinayoga) and improper use (mithyayoga).
- If we spend too much time in front of the computer or the cell phone, we are overusing our sense of sight.
- If we read in low light, we are using our sense of sight improperly.
- If we are locked in the dark for too long, we are under using the sense of sight.
Having a balanced and appropriate contact of the senses is very beneficial, especially in a society where we are constantly being over stimulated.
For this, the practice of prathyahara is very important. Giving our senses a break, not only helps towards avoiding any of the issues mentioned above, but also giving the proper time for digesting all the sensory information we take in.
Transgression of Wisdom
There are 3 basic functions or aspects of intelligence: Dhi (learning), Dhriti (retaining), Smriti (recalling).
Every action that we perform will inevitably generate an outcome (law of Karma). So, if any of these functions are used improperly, they will eventually result in wrong action. Wrong action will eventually lead to imbalance.
In many ways, transgression of wisdom is considered to be the ultimate cause of any disease. One simple example is basically when we know that something is bad for us and we go and do it anyways. Things like smoking, over consumption of sugars, fats and processed foods. We all know by now that they are not good, but we still do it.
If we want to go deeper, the main cause of Pragnyāparadha is not knowing who we are. Not knowing our real nature, we go out in the world, overindulging in sense pleasures and losing sight of what is transient or permanent.
Effect of Time
This can be seen through different perspectives, but one way or another, they are all time related.
Besides the natural decaying of the body throughout our life, the doshas manifest themselves with more prominence in different times of the day, digestion and age.
Kapha in the beginning, Pitta in the middle and Vata last.
This means the first part of the day and night (6-10 am/pm), first part of digestion (stomach) and first 3rd of our life (childhood), kapha is more prominent. The other doshas follow respectively.
Doshas also move through the seasons in cycles of accumulation (chaya), aggravation (prakopa) and pacification (prashamana).
The stage of diseases is also another important factor, as it will decide the appropriate course of action.
There are two main goals in Ayurveda: to prevent disease and to remove the cause of disease.
Needless to say, it’s much better to invest on the first one, rather than depending on the situation, having to start a healing process that could in many situations be avoided if we only took proper care of ourselves to begin with.
In the process of dealing with an imbalance, the first step is always to stop the cause (Nidana parivarjana). If there is an acute symptom, it has to be dealt with right away but beyond that, it doesn't seem beneficial to continue addressing the manifestation of the imbalance on one side and not working on removing its cause on the other.
Prevention can only happen when we understand how the human body/mind system operates and we learn how to be in tune with the natural changes and fluctuations of nature around us, because, as stated in this tradition, we are simply a reflection, a microcosm of it.
So looking at these three main causes of diseases, I find that there are two main prerequisites for health: knowledge and awareness.
Ayurveda has a vast acquired knowledge of how our body works and how our system interacts with nature around us. It advises for daily routines (dinacharya) and seasonal routines (rtucharya) to ensure that harmony is maintained through the changes of life and the seasons.
But for this knowledge to be of value it has to transition from theory to practice and has to be implemented on a regular basis. We need to realize that the demands of modern life often lead to disharmony and we have to do the right thing as demanded by the situation. Unfortunately, "one size fits all" is not the motto of Ayurveda.
When it comes to well being, our actions can only do two things: they either support it or neglect it, because in awareness or not, we’re doing them day in, day out.
So whatever daily choices you make, make sure it is the most appropriate for you and be aware of the consequences it may bring you in the future, good or otherwise.
Next post we will talk about some Ayurvedic suggestions from the Asthanga Hrdayam (one of the main texts of Ayurveda) on how to keep ourselves healthy.
See you there!!!