What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, literally translated as “the Science of Life,” is a 5,000 year old system of medicine that originated in ancient India. It is a intricate union of philosophy, spirituality and a complete medical science that is relevant still to this day. The Sankhya philosophy is embraced by Ayurveda, as the foundation of its concept of the body and to describe the process of creation; the journey of consciousness as it evolves into matter. As this is a very profound subject to cover, I will just highlight some key topics of this timeless philosophy below.
The objective is of Ayurveda is not to treat disease, but to address the individuals unique constitution (prakruti) and the signs and symptoms they are experiencing (vikruti), to discover the source of disease and act accordingly to ensure a positive long lasting effect by bringing the individual back to their state of balance (prakruti). The aim of Ayurveda is to establish the ability to live every aspect of life to its fullest, in moment to moment awareness. Techniques used aspire to interrupt the disease process and remove the root cause, as well as maintain optimal function of agni (mental/physical digestive fire) These may include everything from unique diet guidelines and recipes based on nutrition, properties and tastes of food, lifestyle guidelines, herbal recommendations, marma, yoga and massage therapy, to various deep cleansing modalities.
The five great elements; ether/space (akasha), air (vayu), fire (tejas), water (apa) and earth (pruthivi) are all present in the structure and physical formation of the human body. All physiological and anatomical framework is ingrained with the properties of its corresponding element. Ayurveda maintains that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm; that we are an intimate reflection of everything in the universe. We are all composed of these five elements and these five elemental energies refine into three essential governing principles known as “doshas.” As the five elements govern the physical structure of the human body, so the three doshas influence its function.
Each of the three doshas has specific qualities, functions and locations to describe its nature and though they have different or even opposite qualities, still they work together harmoniously, in functional integrity. These qualities are termed gunas and describe most phenomena, they are as follows: heavy, light, slow, sharp, cold, hot, oily, dry, slimy, rough, dense, liquid, soft, hard, static, mobile, gross, subtle, sticky, cloudy and clear. Each dosha is derived from a unique permutation and combination of the five elements. All five elements are present in each dosha, but the predominance of space and air creates vata, the principle of movement. With the qualities of, cold, dry, light, subtle, mobile, rough and clear. Vata is present primarily in the colon, pelvic girdle, bones and thighs, ears, nose, cranial cavity and lungs. It rules the functions of the mind such as looking, listening. breathing, thinking and feeling. Vata is the active force in an organism, the prana or vital life force energy. All the dhatus (tissues), pitta and kapha are static, in the sense that vata is responsible for their movements.
The predominance of fire and water constitute pitta, the principle of transformation with the qualities of hot, sharp, light, oily, liquid, penetrating and spreading. Pitta is present principally in the stomach, intestines, gallbladder. liver, the skin, the eyes, the blood, the brain and is primarily responsible for digestion, absorption and assimilation. It governs body temperature, skin complexion and the higher mental functions of comprehension, recognition, discrimination, justification and evaluation.
Finally, the predominance of water and earth precipitate kapha, the principle of substance, plasma. Its qualities include heavy, slow, liquid, cold, oily, static, sticky, slimy/smooth, dense hard, cloudy, soft and gross. It is the constructing, cementing material that gives structure and stability to the body. It maintains growth, nutrition and nourishment, providing the body with strength and energy. The repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of all body parts and tissues are facilitated by Kapha. It provides oleation and lubrication to nourish joints and tissues and is responsible for the retention of psychological and cellular memory. It is exists primarily in the stomach, chest, lungs, lymphatic system, pancreas, kidneys, adipose tissue and bodily fluids. It is present in all connective tissues, where subconscious memories are stored.
The three doshas are an elegant description of biological, physiological and psychological organization and although every human being’s homeostasis is miraculously orchestrated by the communication of all five elements and all three doshas; each person has a unique combination of the qualities and quantities of the doshas that becomes established at the time of conception and is further influenced by time and place of birth. When this organization is disturbed, by various external and internal environmental influences, Ayurvedic physicians focus on restoring doshic balance. When in balance the practitioner can guide you with specialized diet, herbal and lifestyle recommendations to support your immunity and prevent disturbed doshas and disease.
What are marmani and what are their functions?
Marma is the singular form and marmani is the plural form; this Sanskrit word translates as a vital energy point located at the surface of the body. The science of marmani developed in Vedic times and was used by physicians and surgeons for therapeutic purposes and to preserve vitality. Ayurveda holds that a human being is not a solid, stable material structure but an ever changing dynamic collection of energy and intelligence in the larger field of energy and intelligence that is the universe. As the body is alive and pulsating with energy, there can be innumerable “energy points” but Ayurveda texts have described 117 vital marmani. These points are vital because they are infused with life force, prana, and permeated with consciousness; which expresses itself in lively, concentrated form at these points. Thus, the marmani serve as a bridge or doorway between the body, mind and soul. They function diagnostically, therapeutically-to balance the mind and relieve pain and for preventative care and rejuvenation.