Ayurvedic health is a comprehensive and holistic way to look at the human body and its interactions with food, medicine, and herbs. While the Western approach to nutrition and health is almost entirely chemical in its understanding, Ayurvedic health recognizes the conscious influence of food and medicine in addition to its chemical components. Ayurveda touches on many aspects of human health that are only just beginning to be understood in the West.
Basics of Ayurvedic Health
Instead of viewing food as simply the sum of its parts - nutrients, antioxidants, fibers, etc. - as we do in the West, Ayurveda considers food to be a complex interplay of various factors. Some of the foundational aspects of Ayurvedic health are the five elements and the gunas.
The Five Elements Food - and, indeed, everything that we see manifest in this universe - is said to be a combination of the five basic elements. Each of these elements contributes various qualities to the food that we eat.
- Earth. Earth is a grounding element, and earthy food generally promotes slow, heavy, dense, cool, and hard qualities.
- Air. Air is a quick-moving, spacious element. Airy food is generally quick, cool, unstable, dry, subtle, and sharp.
- Water. Water is a slow-moving, fluid element. Watery food is generally cool, fluid, dense, moist, and heavy.
- Fire. Fire is a quick-moving, hot element. Firey food is generally hot, expansive, light, and dry.
- Ether. In Ayurveda, ether is a non-substantial element - that is, it provides the space in which the other elements fill. Ether's qualities are generally measured by the absence of other qualities - for example, it is cold because it lacks the heat of fire.
The Gunas Food, medicine, and other substances are further divided into their gunas, or qualities. There are three main gunas:
- Sattva. Sattva is the guna of peace, clarity, and devotion. Many people dedicate themselves to developing a sattvic diet to promote good health and peace of mind. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains are all sattvic.
- Rajas. Rajas is the guna of passion - it is hot, firey, and unstable. Rajasic foods like chili peppers and garlic can make people more firey and energetic, but can also make their emotions less stable.
- Tamas. Tamas is the guna of ignorance, lethargy, and slowness. Foods like red meat and processed foods all promote tamas and should be avoided.
Promoting Prana through Ayurveda
One of the most important foundations of Ayurvedic health is improving the rate at which our body can absorb and process prana, or life force. We acquire prana from three sources: the food that we eat, the sun, and the air that we breathe. No matter how we absorb our prana, it is processed by the body's agni, our digestive fire. By balancing the elements that contribute to our dosha (constitution) and eating a diet that promotes good health, sattva, and enhances agni, we can maximize the amount of life force that we can absorb from various source. Thus, following a solid Ayurvedic diet can extend our longevity and improve our overall health by enhancing the amount of vital life force that we can actually absorb.
Written by Nigel Ford