Ayurveda is the original science of life, passed down from teacher to student for untold generations and eventually documented in Sanskrit in the Charaka Samhita. It contains over 8,400 verses (mantra), in the form of meter and rhyme, and was compiled around 400 BCE. Like the other Vedic wisdom, these mantra are memorized as an ongoing tradition in self mastery and transformation. In modern terms it can be viewed as the seed of organic chemistry, cellular biology and quantum physics.
Here are some basics:
2 primary rules listed in the Sutrasthana (summary) of this ancient text:
1) like increases like / opposites balance
2) all things are made of the 5 mahabhatus (great elements / types of atoms): prthvi (earth), ap or soma (water), agni (fire), vayu (air), akasha (space)
Listing them from most subtle to most substantial, Space, Air, Fire, Water & Earth, everyone and everything is made up of this star-stuff in varying forms and quantities. From the tiniest atom in the nucleus of the cell in the marrow of the bone in the tip of your left toe to whatever you’re reading this on, it’s all elemental.
To categorize the qualities of the elements we inherited in this lifetime, we use the term Dosha.
Dosha translates literally as ‘fault’ and is that which sustains our physiology. The qualities of our Dosha (Prakruti) are constantly changing (Vikruti) and can lead us to good health, cause us to feel a bit off balance and lead us to disease. Understanding your personal dosha and your unique qualities / attributes (gunas), allows you to apply rule #1 for long term health physically, mentally and spiritually.
3 Dosha and their attributes (guna):
Vata is Space & Air, whose qualities are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. It’s the electricity that keeps us in motion, it’s also known as Vayu.
Pitta is Fire & Water, with the qualities of oily, sharp (penetrating) hot, light, mobile, liquid (porous). This is your internal fire – digestive, metabolic and endocrine system.
Kapha is Water & Earth, who is heavy, slow, cold, oily, smooth, dense, soft, steady (static), cloudy, hard. We thank Kapha for our connective tissue, immune system and the solid and gooey stuff that makes up our human body.
The last four elements are obvious and observable to the naked eye; Wind blows, Fire burns, Water quenches, and Earth sustains, but Space is the tricky one. Space is the space between and all around, Space is the home of the other 4 elements and that’s hard to wrap your head around…or is it?
Space, also known as Ether is a mystical word, called akasha in Sanskrit, and is considered all-encompasing, all-pervading, omnipresent and is the common home for all things in the universe. It’s empty, expansive and has no resistance. It’s the underlying layer for sound and is said that you cannot perceive it directly, because it is dimensionless, colorless and formless. And since everything in the universe is also pure energy, you can think of Space as manifest nuclear energy.
The Karmas (translates as ‘actions’) of Space are expansion, vibration, freedom, non-resistance, love, and the transmission of intelligence. It’s tanmatra (the most subtle energy / object of perception) is sound and it’s associated with the sense of hearing.
We need Space to live, move, grow, and communicate with one another. In our body, Space is associated with our mouth, nose, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, thorax and abdomen. Space governs love, compassion, as well as feelings of emptiness, separation, isolation, feelings of being ungrounded, insecurity, nervousness, fear, and anxiety. Whoa – Space ain’t messing around…
NASA tells us that people can expand up to 3% taller in microgravity; if you begin your 6-month International Space Station adventure 6 feet tall, you’d come home about 2 inches taller. Of course Earth’s gravity would eventually squish you back down again – ouch. Our spines have the capability to expand and relax when not being affected by the push and pull of gravity.
I recently returned from the Himalayan Institute in Khajuraho, India. I went through 3 planes, and 2 layovers over 3 days to get home. Flying at 38,000 feet at 555mph for hours on end is a whip and causes our dosha to react – physiologically, it’s hugely unnatural. The customs agents are probably still laughing – I was scattered, chatty, a bit spaced out and exhausted - its taking days and ayurvedic treatments to reduce the excess air and space gained while in flight.
We all contain space, we are it and we are in it - the cold, clear darkness that holds the others - the subtlest of the 5 elements.
To reduce the imbalacing impacts of Space, find grounding with a warm sesame oil bath / massage, ojas producing foods like warm spiced milk with ghee soaked dates, ghee soaked saffron rice, Yoga Nidra, using a heavy quilt, and using your sandbags during Restorative Yoga. It's important to keep your agni strong by using fresh ginger in your meals and drinking soothing, spiced herbal tea. Certain herbs can also be reccommended, see your Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor for more information.
Utilizing Ayurveda helps us attain our yoga goal of self-mastery and contentment. When we know ourselves and our make up, we can more easily find our groove in the natural order of the universe. We can choose the lifestyle that supports our unique constitution, and guides health, happiness and mental well-being. Ayurveda gives us the key that unlocks the mysteries of our body, mind and spirit.
**If you’re a globetrotter and want to travel and recover with Ayurveda wellbeing – I’ve blogged about it here.
This blog is dedicated to Mr. Bill – Lake Highlands High School. I first learned about space in his Earth Sciences, sophomore year. A super star teacher in the 80’s - he did the Chevy Chase sandwich dance to keep us awake and entertained my passion for the power of Mother Nature.