The name Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit ayus, meaning "long life," and veda, meaning science or "complete knowledge." Ayurveda, then, means the knowledge or science of life, which promotes authentic health by informing us how to best live in a body while cultivating the realization of our true identity. Ayurveda is a vast and ancient system, based on the principles of Vedic science. The sage Veda Vyasa first wrote down the knowledge and practices of Ayurveda in the Atharva Veda, one of the four primary Vedic scriptures, around five thousand years ago. However, the wisdom of Ayurveda predates the invention of writing; its origins are rooted in oral history.
Ayurvedic medicine paved the way for modern natural and allopathic medicines practiced today, as it includes— general medicine, surgery, ear, nose and throat (ENT) and eye disease, toxicology, yoga, psychology, psychiatry, pediatrics, gynecology, sexology and virility. Ayurveda is considered to be a divine system of medicine that is practical, effective, steeped in wisdom, and based on scientific laws of nature. The original intent of Ayurveda is to: skillfully and harmlessly support optimal health and well-being in body, mind, and soul—protect health, prevent disease, restore lost health, and increase awareness. These intentions are pursued within the context of fulfilling our dharma, or essential life purpose.
THE FOLLOWING PRINCIPLES are the core of AYURVEDA and capture the essential dynamics of cleansing and health. Grasping them helps us understand the causes of health and disease. They identify the elements of any authentic cleanse process, leading toward health in body and mind.
The Six Essential Principles Ayurveda
- Buddhi: Universal and individual innate intelligence
- Prana: Universal and individual life energy
- Agni: Fire of digestion and transformation
- Ojas: Essence of energy and immunity
- Ama: Toxins
- Prajnaparadha: Acting against our knowledge, wisdom, intuition, and love
Buddhi is the innate and universal intelligence within all life. Buddhi manifests as the laws of nature that control the perfect rhythms and movements of the tides, planets, sun, and moon. Buddhi controls the interdependent actions of all kingdoms of life—microbes, plants, insects, fish, birds, animals, and humans. This same buddhi, or innate intelligence, acts within each and every living being to control the activities of every cell in the body. Most of what goes on in our bodies happens without our conscious will. For example, we don't say, "Okay, now digest, please," or "Oh, yes, that ankle needs some extra nutrients and healing right now." Bodily processes occur automatically through the power of buddhi. However, the healing influence of buddhi can be blocked by ama or toxins. When it is, imbalance and ill health begin.
Prana is the intelligent vitalizing life force that energizes and moves through all living things. Prana travels intelligently through channels known as nadis in ayurveda and meridians in Chinese medicine. Prana is subtle; it connects the body and mind. When it moves smoothly, we feel relaxed, alert, energetic, and enthusiastic, and our body and mind function in harmony. When it becomes deranged, the energy of our body and mind becomes disturbed. Prana manifests in five primary forms or directional flows of life energy within our body: inward, upward, outward, around, and downward. Each flow of prana supports specific functions on every level of existence: physical, physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
When agni is sufficient, there will be no toxic buildup in the body, the mind and the senses will be clear and acute, and we will possess the energy to change our lives in a positive direction. When agni is deranged, we will suffer from dullness, heaviness, stagnation, and cloudiness of emotion and perception. (Dr. David Frawley)
Agni means "fire," and it relates to our metabolic capacity and digestive power. It is that which consumes, assimilates, and transforms. Without agni, we would not be able to create energy. However, the same agni that creates life also consumes life energy—like the flame of a candle that emits light yet simultaneously burns the candle down. Generally, agni refers to the power of digestion and the capacity to transform food into the body's seven major tissues: rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), medha (fat), asthi (bone), majja (marrow), and shukra (reproductive tissue). Many people today are having infertility issues. This can be due to having insufficient agni, or the body's inability to fully transform food and prana into healthy reproductive tissue.
Not only does agni transform food into our tissues, it also transforms our sensory impressions and experiences into useful knowledge and wisdom. Anything we take in through our senses and mind—experiences, relationships, conversations, books, movies, TV, the news, music, nature, websites, social media— has to be assimilated, transformed, and comprehended. Agni is the fire of intelligence, giving us the ability to penetrate deeply into any subject. Ayurveda explains that the primary cause of any mental or emotional imbalance is undigested experiences. Some experiences can be so overwhelming that they are "indigestible," such as serious trauma, abuse, or unresolved misunderstandings. Undigested experiences store within the nervous system, muscles, organs, and various tissues of the body. In time, this can cause derangements in our prana, leading to discomfort, pain, mental disturbance, and disease.
Ojas nourishes, strengthens, and gives endurance and longevity. It is the essence or substance of our physical being and nourishes our mind and intellect. It is our power source of immunity, resistance to disease, protection from negativity, and ability to recover once we have become ill. Ojas is the condensed form of prana. It's especially concentrated in the ovaries, testes, and heart and can be seen in the luster of the eyes. Stagnation and toxicity will negatively impact the lymphatic system and interfere with the positive influence of ojas. Cleansing, on many levels, supports health in the lymphatic system, immune system, and ojas.
Ama, the negative influence of toxins, can be externally generated, like pesticide on food, or internally generated, such as improperly digested foods. Toxins cause cellular damage to the blood vessels and stagnation in our lymphatic system due to interfering with our prana, agni, and ojas, within and around the cells.1 When our cells are deprived of prana, they quickly oxidize, stiffen, and prematurely die. They lose their innate intelligence (buddhi), their healthy DNA coding (agni), and their ability to communicate with other cells and tissues. When cells completely lose intelligence, they become cancer cells—cells that have gone mad! Ama blocks the proper functioning of the body¡¦s innate intelligence. This then causes the derangement of pranic flows. Deranged prana, when it moves into the digestive tract, disturbs digestion and weakens healthy digestive agni. When our digestion does not function properly, internally generated toxins further perpetuate deranged prana, agni, ojas, and buddhi. In this way, toxicity, or ama, is the cause of disease. Clearing toxins, minimizing toxic exposure, and strengthening the channels of detoxification are therefore essential components of any authentic health program.
Prajna is our innate intuitive intelligence combined with the wisdom that comes from experience. Aparadha means to offend or to go against. Ayurveda identifies prajnaparadha—offending, ignoring, or denying our innate wisdom and experience—as the primary cause of disease. Its cause can be due to an external source. For example, young children intuitively know when they have had enough to eat. That wisdom—their prajna—is disturbed when they are routinely forced to finish the food on their plates and eating more than they want. This can create a habit that lasts a lifetime. Prajnaparadha can also be caused by the frequent consumption of junk foods. Nutrient-poor, empty-calorie, high-sugar foods confuse the body and brain. The stomach may be full, but the hunger is not satisfied as few real nutrients have been fed to the body. Regular junk food eating leads to overeating and addictive food cravings.
Prajnaparadha also has deep esoteric meanings. Aparadha means to offend, to go against your true self-interest and away from love. It implies a sense of going against your deepest self-interest, wisdom, knowledge, and love. This is denoted by the word radha within aparadha—Radha is known as the goddess of the full embodiment of love. Ultimately, aparadha is any unkind action against the self that causes harm to our self or to others. Imbalance manifests to the degree to which we ignore our innate wisdom. When we continuously make choices from the place of negative habit, imbalance, and lack of awareness, we perpetuate various manifestations of addiction and disease. The practice of cleansing and yoga helps to minimize prajnaparadha.2
- J. Cantin, S. Lacroix, J. Tardif, A. Nigam. 390 Does the Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Influence Baseline and Postprandial Endothelial Function? Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2012; 28 (5): S245 DOI: 10.1016/j.cjca.2012.07.367.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference 2015. Abstract 0.91. Presented April 10, 2015.
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Jonathan Glass, MAc, CAT
Jonathan Glass, MAc, CAT, is a Master Acupuncturist, Certified Ayurvedic Therapist, and herbalist who has served on the faculty of the New England School of Acupuncture and The Dharma Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda. An advocate of group-supported cleansing and co-creator of the Total Life Cleanse, he has facilitated thousands of students through his transformational cleanse program. Jonathan has been in private practice since 1987 and co-founded the Healing Essence Center with his wife Katherine, located in Concord, Massachusetts. Jonathan lives with Katherine and his two boys in Maynard, Ma.
Website: Healing Essence Center