Ayurveda: the science of life

Basics Principles of Ayurveda

1: Pancha Mahabhuthas

The concept of Panchamahabhuta (Five elements) is the foundation of Ayurveda to understand its physiology (normal functioning), pathology (disease formation) & pharmacokinetics (movement of drug within the body).

According to Ayurveda all living and non-living things are constituted by 5 elements in different ratios. According to the ratio difference they differ in constitution, character and properties.

Characteristics of the five elements (mahabhuta) & their relationship with sense organs
Element Sense Organs Sensory Faculty Properties Actions Auxiliary Related to
Space Ears Sound *Creates natural void in the body,
* No distinct taste

Produces softness, lightness and porosity Non-resistance Rarefaction
Air Skin Touch *Light, clear and dry.
*Governs inhalation, exhalation, opening and closing of eyelids,
extension and contraction of joints,
locomotion and other motor functions.

*slightly bitter taste

Creates dryness, lightness and emaciation. Vibration Propulsion
Fire Eyes Appearance *Rough & bright,
*Controls temperature and luster of body colour *Pungent taste
Helps in digestion, maturation, improves eye sight Heat & Color Conversion
Water Tongue Taste *Cold, heavy fluid,
*Slimy, fat and sweat by nature
*Sweet & astringent, sour & saline taste
*Imparts glossiness
*Enhances fluid content & purgative *Acts as nutrient, emollient and purgative
Fluidity Degree of Liquidity
Earth Nose Smell *Heavy, immobile, compact & rough.
*Controls organs as teeth, nails, flesh,skin, tendons & muscles
*Sweet taste
*Increases firmness & strength of the body nutrient, emollient and purgative Solidity Density of Particles
Relation of elements (mahabhuta) with universe
Ether (space) WIND Principle of propulsion, movement
Air (motion)
Fire (energy)SUN Principle of conversion, transformation
Water (cohesion)MOON Principle of cooling, cohesion or preservation
Earth (mass)

2: Trigunas

Guna depending on the context means 'string, thread or strand', or 'virtue, merit, excellence', or 'quality, peculiarity, attribute, property'.

Three Fundamental universal energies, which are omnipresent at work behind all material forms in nature,
- Satwa (Consciousness or intellect): Whatever is pure and illuminating. Inferred as pleasure.
- Rajas (Motion or action): Whatever is active, energising & activating. Inferred as pain.
- Tamas (Inertia or resistance): Whatever is passive and offers resistance and restraints. Inferred as delusion.

The three gunas are the three essential components or energies of the mind.

Ayurveda provides a distinct description of people on the basis of their Manasa (psychological) Prakriti (constitution). Genetically determined, these psychological characteristics are dependent on the relative dominance of the three gunas.

While all individuals have mixed amounts of the three, the predominant guna determines an individual's mansa prakriti.In equilibrium, the three gunas preserve the mind (and indirectly the body), maintaining it in a healthy state. Any disturbance in this equilibrium results in various types of mental disorders.

Satva characterised by lightness,consciousness, pleasure and clarity, is pure, free from disease and cannot be disturbed in any way. It activates the senses and is responsible for the perception of knowledge.Rajas ,the most active of the gunas,has motion and stimulation as its characteristics. All desires, wishes, ambitions and fickle-mindedness are a result of the same.While Tamas is characterised by heaviness and resistance. It produces disturbances in the process of perception and activities of the mind. Delusion,false knowledge, laziness, apathy, sleep and drowsiness are due to it.

Rajas and Tamas as with the dosas, can be unbalanced by stress and negative desires as kama (lust), irshya (malice), moha (delusion and hallucination), lobha (greed),cinta (anxiety), bhaya (fear) and krodha(anger). Each of these three properties is also comprised of sub-types and the particular sub-type to which one belongs to determine the qualities of that individual.

Satvika individuals are usually noble and spiritual in character, their nature determined as much by body type as their star constellation, having an element of kapha in their constitution.:-

Satvika Subtype Qualities
Brahma Free from passion, anger, greed, ignorance or jealousy,possessing knowledge and the power of discrimination. star constellation
body type
Arsa Excellent memory, purity,love and self-control,excellent intellectual frame of mind,free from pride, ego, ignorance, greed or anger.Possessing the power of understanding and retention.

Aindra Devotion to sacred books, study rituals and oblations. Devotion to virtuous acts, far- sightedness and courage. Authoritative behaviour and speech.Able to perform sacred rituals.
Yamya Free from mean and conflicting desires and acts. Having initiative, excellent memory and leadership. Free from emotional binds, hatred, ignorance and envy. The capacity for timely action.
Varuna Free from mean acts. Exhibition of emotion in proper place. Observance of religious rights.
Kubera Courage, patience, and hatred of impure thoughts. Liking for virtuous acts and purity. Pleasure in recreation.
Gandharva Possession of wealth, attendants and luxuries. Expertise in poetry, stories and epics. Fondness for dancing singing and music. Takes pleasure in perfumes, garlands and flowers. Full of passion.

Rajasikas are vulnerable to temptations, are very human in their character and approach to life.:-

Rajasika Subtype Qualities
Asura Indulgence in self-praise, bravery, cruelty,envy and ruthlessness. Terrifying appearance. Vulnerable body type
Raksasa Excessive sleep and indolence.Envious disposition.Constant anger, intolerance,and cruel behaviour.Gluttonous habits.
Paisaca Unclean habits.Cowardly,with a terrifying disposition.Gluttonous habits.Fondness for the opposite sex.Abnormal diet and regimen.
Sarpa Sharp reactions. Excessive indolence.Frequent fearful disposition.Brave or cowardly attitude depending on situations.
Praita Excessive desire for food.Envious character.Excessive greediness and actions without discrimination.
Sakuna Full of passion. Unsteadiness, ruthlessness,and excessive attitude for food.

A dominant Vata ensures that Tamasika individuals are the most down to earth,concerned about fundamental questions of practical existence, specially when confronted by more spiritual and less physical issues.:-

Tamasika Subtype Qualities
Pasava Lack of intelligence, forbidding dispositions, envious nature.Excessive sexual indulgence and sleep.

Life enjoyable body type

Unsteadiness, constant passion, and cowardice. Excessive desire for water intake.
Banaspatya Indolence.Excessive indulgence in food.Deficiency of intellectual faculties.

3: Tridosha

Tridoshas are biological derivatives of the five basic elements (mahabhutas). The term Doshas means the factors which are capable of vitiating the body tissues if they are increased, decreased or vitiated alone or all together. The three doshas are the basic constituents responsible for the structure and proper functioning of the body or its existence as a whole.

There are three biological humors or doshas.
- VATA - the energetic humor controls destruction;
- PITTA - the thermogenic humor organises body activities after transformation;
- KAPHA - the cohesive humor is responsible for maintaining creation.

The relation between Tri-Dosas and Panca-Mahabhutas:
Vata: Vayu and Akash
Pitta: Agni and Jal
Kapha: Jal and Prithvi
Vata PittaKapha
Dry Oily (unctuous) Oily (unctuous)
Light Sharp Cold
Cold Hot Heavy
Rough Light Dull, Slow
Subtle Pungent (foul smelling) Smooth
Mobile Flowing Soft
Clear Fluid Firm
Dispersing - Dense
Erratic - -
Astringent - -
DoshaNormal function
Vata Energy, inspiration, expiration, actions, mechanism of impulse, proper functions of dhathus and of indriyas.
Pitta Digestion, body temperature, hunger, thirst, taste, beauty, intellect, grasping power, courage, body softness.
Kapha Stability, unctuousness, strength of joints.
Seats of Doshas:
Vata: Lower part of the body
Pitta: Middle part of the body.
Kapha: Upper part of the body

Click here to see types of tridosha, seats & their functions...

4: Dhatus

Dhatus are tissues of the body.

Nourishment of these seven body tisuues takes place in sequential manner with original material provided by digested food material.

Rasa provides contentment and saturation and nourishes blood, blood generates clarity in complexion,nourish muscles and sustains life; muscles strengthen the body and nourishes medas( fat), medas gives rise to unctuous materials, sweat and firmness and nourishes asthi (bones), asthi support the body and nourish marrow; marrow provides function, strength, nourishes semen and fills up bones; semen provides valour, discharge, pleasure, physical strength, exhilaration and is meant for reproduction or seed.

The Sapta(seven) Dhatus (tissues) elements form the pillars of the body that form the means of nourishment and growth while providing support to the body as well as the mind.

Rasa (CHYLE) Derived from the digested food Nourishes each and every tissue and cell of the body,
Analogous to the plasma
Rakta (BLOOD) Blood Oxygenation, Circulating blood cells,
Nourishes the body tissues,
Physical strength and colour to the body
Mamsa (MUSCLE) Muscular tissue Movement, Physical strength
Medas (FAT) Lubricating fat deposits Lubrication
Asthi (BONE) Supporting and accommodating bony structures Support
Majja(BONE MARROW) Tissues inside the bone Support
Shukra (REPRODUCTIVE) Reproductive system Reproduction, Strengthen the body

Since the dhatus support and derive energy from each other, affecting one can influence others. For instance, interference in the manufacture of the plasma affects the quality of the blood, which in turn effects the muscle. Each tissue type has its own agni, which determines metabolic changes in the tissues and forms by-products, which are either used in the body or excreted. Menstural periods for example are a by-product of rasa. The tissues are also governed by the three dosas, and any imbalance in them also causes imbalances in dhatus. Heavy periods therefore can also be caused by the effects of the excess of Kapha on plasma.

5: Malas

Malas are the various waste products of food and the dhatus produced during the normal digestive and metabolical process.

The three primary malas being Purisa(faeces), Mutra (urine) and Sveda (sweat).

Ayurveda clearly states that only a balanced condition of dosas, dhatus and malas is arogya (good health or disease free condition) and their imbalance is the cause of ill health or disease.

Purisa is the waste left back after nutrients of digested food have been absorbed in the small intestine. While water and salt are absorbed in the large intestine, the residue now converted into solid faeces, leaves the body. The consistency of the faeces depends both on gastrointestinal mobility and nature of diet.

The tridosas must be in balance to ensure normal evacuation. Pitta and kapha help digestion and vata governs the mobility throughout the process. Any discrepancy or imbalance between these can lead to various symptoms of abdominal heaviness or pain, flatulence, constipation or diarrohea. It may also give rise to diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, low-back pain, asthma, bronchitis as well as stomach ulcers and irritable bowels.

Mutra is derived during the course of biological processes within the human body. The first stage of urine formation begins in the large intestine where fluids are absorbed into the system. The entire urinary system (kidneys, uterus, bladder and urethra) takes part in the formation and elimination of urine, regulating the fluid balance in our body and also maintaining blood pressure. Any imbalance of increased or decreased urine, may result in disorders such as kidney stones urinary infections, cystitis, abdominal pain and bladder disorders.

Sveda is the third primary mala, and it occurs as a waste product during the synthesis of meda dhatu (fatty tissue). Eliminated through skin pores, it controls body temperature and helps to regulate the electrolytic balance. The channels responsible for bringing the sweat to skin surface are known as sveda vaha srotas. It is essential that normal formation and flow of sweat takes place as otherwise it may lead to skin infections, itching/burning sensation over the body, loss of fluid balance and reduced body temperature.

Dooshikadimala is excreta from eye, ear, nose, etc. Their main functions protect from foreign body & lubricating.

6: Agni

The biological fire that governs metabolism, agni encompasses all the changes in the body and mind from the dense to the more subtle. Such changes include the digestion and absorption of food, cellular transformations, assimilation of sensory perceptions and mental and emotional experiences. Agni therefore covers whole sequences of chemical interactions and changes in the body and mind. Digestive abilities being related to the strength of agni.

Agni and pitta are closely connected. While both are hot and light, agni is subtle and dry. The heat energy to help digestion contained by pitta is agni. Pitta is therefore the container and agni the content.Agni is acidic in nature and stimulates digestion. It is subtly related to the movement of vata. In every tissue and cell agni is present and is necessary for maintaining the nutrition and auto-immune mechanism. By destroying micro-organisms, foreign bacteria and toxins in the stomach and the intestines.

A balanced agni therefore is vital for health. The strength of the body to resist disease and also its physical strength are directly related to its heat energy determining the metabolic processes of the body. Disturbances of Agni are usually the chief causes of disease.

Your health depends on how well you can digest and utilize the food you take. The digestive power is specific for every body type.

Body Type           Digestive Power
    Vata                       Changeable.
    Pitta                       Strong
    Kapha                     Slow

The objective is to maintain or restore the digestive power you are endowed with and utilizing it in the best possible way. Agni holds an important place in the principles of Ayurveda .Good health is indicated if your digestion is ignited well which is shown if your food is being digested efficiently, meets the requirements of the body cells and elimination of the waste products formed in the body without being a trace of toxin left.


The Agni present in the body is classified into following thirteen types–

1. Jaathragni or Pachak Agni (Digestive fire)- Pachak pitta present in the small intestine contains this Agni. It is responsible for digestion and also strengthen and nurture other types of Agni present in the body in its natural or balanced state.

2. Sapta Dhatwagni - Agni which is present in all the seven tissues that form the body is called Dhatwagni. It is named after the tissue it resides in. It is responsible for all the metabolic functions being carried out at the respective tissue level.
Rasa Dhatu Agni
Rakta Dhatu Agni
Maans Dhatu Agni
Med Dhatu Agni
Asthi Dhatu Agni
Majja Dhatu Agni
Shukra Dhatu Agni

3. Pancha Mahabhoota Agni - These are five in number one for each Mahabhuta. It is responsible to convert Asharir (Non body) Mahabhoota to Sharir (bodily) Mahabhoota. Every thing in the universe is made up of Pancha Mahabhuta. Food as well as our body both are formed of Panchamahabhuta. The Agni converts the Asharir Mahabhoota (external Mahabhuta) to Sharir Mahabhuta. For instance when we drink water Jal Mahabhuta (water) is predominant. The water is converted to the Sharir Jal (body fluids)by Jal Mahabhuta Agni The following are the Panchamahabhuta Agni:
Akasha Mahabhuta Agni
Vayu Mahabhuta Agni
Agni Mahabhuta Agni
Jal Mahabhuta Agni
Prithvi Mahabhuta Agni

Ayurveda believes that all the pathology occurs due to the impairment of Agni (Kaya). Hence the rectification or treatment of Kaya i.e. Agni is known as Kaya Chikitsa.

Imbalance of Agni (the digestive fire) leads to the follwoing:
Loss of appetite.
Acidity or heart burn.
Loose motions or constipation.
Increased weight or loss of weight.
Gastrointestinal tract ( Digestive tract) disorders.

7: Kosta

This is the character of bowel movements, which are of four types.

Kruram (Constipative): Vatha predominant

Madhyam (Medium): Pitta predominant

Mridhu (Loose): Kapha predominant

Samam (Naturally formed): Vatha-Pitta-Kapha balanced

Each of these three divisions have further subdivisions not mentioned here.

8: Prakriti

Prakriti is the natural tridosha constitution of the body which results from the predominance of Doshas right from the moment of conception of a person. Based on the permutations and combinations of the three Doshas, seven types of constitutions can be formed.

      - Vatha
      - Pitta
      - Kapha
      - Vatha-Pitta
      - Vatha-Kapha
      - Pitta-Kapha
      - Sannipatha or balanced constitution (Sama Prakriti).

Doshic constitution takes shape right from the moment of conception. The types are classified by their predominance. A purely single Dosha constitution is seldom found and a balanced constitution, though extremely good, is also rare.

Constitution Chart
Physical Features Vata Pitta Kapha
Body frameLean & thin. Moderate.Large & thick.
Body weightLow.Moderate. Overweight.
Skin Dry, rough, cool, black, brown. Soft, oily, warm, fair, yellowish, red. Thick, oily, cool, pale, white, glistening.
HairDry, rough, brittle, blackish, brown. Soft, oily, early grey, baldness, yellow, red. Thick, oily, wavy, dark, glistening, white.
TeethIrregular, protruded, crooked, thin gums, tendency towards tooth decay. Regular, moderate, soft, gums, yellowish.Regular, strong, white, healthy.
EyesSmall, dull, attractive, brown, black iris. Medium, sharp, penetrating, green, grey, yellowish iris.Big, blue iris, thick eyelashes.
JointsBony markings seen.Just visible.Not seen.
MusculatureSlender but hard.Loose.Firm, stout.
Functional Factors Vata Pitta Kapha
AppetiteVariable, scanty.Good, excessive. Low, but steady.
ThirstVariable.Excessive. Less.
Sleep Scanty, interrupted.Moderate, 4-6 hours, slightly disturbed. More than 6 hours, sound.
Taste they likeSweet, sour, salty. Sweet, bitter astringent.Pungent, bitter, astringent
Elimination Irregular, dry, hard, constipated.Regular, soft, oily, loose.Regular, oily.
Physical ActivityFast & very active.Medium.Lethargic and slow.
Sexual VitalityLess.Moderate.Good.
PulseThready and weak.Jumping .Broad & slow.
Psychological factors Vata Pitta Kapha
Emotional temperament Unpredictable, anxious, insecure.Irritable, aggressive, greedy, jealous. Calm, quiet.
MindRestless, active.Aggressive, intelligent. Calm.
MemoryRecent - good;
remote - poor.
Sharp.Slow but prolonged.
InterestsRecreation, dance, drama, cultural activities. Dress and ornaments.Philosophical topics.