Basic concepts of Ayurveda
Ayurveda encompasses many concepts. It would require extensive study to discuss and understand them all. However, three concepts are so essential that you need to know them in order to be able to really comprehend Ayurveda:
– Guna – Dravya – Dosha
Gunas are qualities, dravya stands for the 5 elements and dosha represents movement. Together, they form the basis of three constitutions.
You will encounter the terms which are used for these constitutions – kapha, pitta and vata – everywhere in Ayurveda. Everything in Ayurveda is named based on these three terms: physical constitution, body functions, diseases, the parts of the day, the parts of the year and even the parts of a human life. Kapha, Vata and Pitta are, as it were, the basis of the language used by Ayurveda. Nutrition is also explained with the help of these terms.
What are Gunas in Ayurveda?
These are the qualities we can observe using our 5 senses: hearing (ears), touch (fingers), sight (eyes), taste (tongue) and smell (nose). This is about our first observations, without any interpretation being involved.
For instance, take a bunch of chervil. You see that it is nice and green, you feel it and it feels soft, with your nose you smell the aroma and with your tongue you taste its strong flavour. When you shake it, you hear the rustling. These are the qualities of chervil.
These qualities may change according to the circumstances. If you put the chervil in the freezer, the leaves will no longer be soft, but hard. If you throw the bunch into boiling water, you will notice how the colour, smell and taste change.
Observing qualities is essential to be able to make a diagnosis. This is done based on 10 qualities: weight, temperature, moisture, solidity, intensity, mobility, elasticity, clearness, texture and structure.
Weight, temperature and moisture are the most important ones.
How does this work in practice? When you see someone with a lot of wrinkles, dry skin and stiff muscles… then this means dryness. Moisture reduces dryness, so food with a moist, lubricating quality helps. Someone who suffers from infections, is critical and gets angry easily will benefit from a cooling diet.
Dravyas or the elements in Ayurveda
Dravya stands for matter, that which is tangible. In this, it differs from the Gunas. Gunas are about perception and are never material. A Guna is experienced but cannot be touched. For instance, you can grab a bunch of chervil, but not its colour, lightness or smell.
Matter, or Dravya, is composed of 5 basic elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These 5 elements can best be distinguished by their qualities. Ether has a ‘light’ quality, earth has a ‘heavy’ quality. Ether, air, water and earth are cold, whereas fire is hot.
Doshas in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda Dosha stands for movement or activity. Three forms are distinguished: an actual movement, non-movement and a movement which brings about a change.
With an actual movement, something is moved within a space. The opposite of movement is standstill. We can observe standstill for instance in the mountains, which have been in the same place for centuries. Standstill also has a purpose in nature. The last form of movement, movement which brings about a change, is the movement of transformation. Examples are a child that grows into an adult, a plant that blooms in spring…
- Kapha is standstill or non-movement
- Pitta is the transforming movement
- Vata is the moving or actual movement
These three movements steer life, they are the three pillars of our existence. For instance: the change of the seasons, the course of a day, your state of mind…
If we look at all these concepts in the context of nutrition, we can draw up a personal diet for your ‘self’. Every person has his own constitution and nature.
Energy in Ayurveda (Prana)
In addition to certain qualities and a taste, food also provides a certain amount of energy. This energy is independent from the taste. For instance, food that tastes sweet, bitter or astringent en hence has a cooling effect can still have a hot energy. An example of this is dill. Dill seeds are sweet and astringent, but they have a heating energy. Coconut, peppermint and rose petals are all cooling. Heating spices are ginger, pepper and mustard seed.
What is good to know is that you can adjust the energy of food through its preparation and herbs and spices. This is important if you want to bring your body back into balance. For example, if your digestive system works too slowly, it is good to eat hot food. Hot food, such as a spicy soup, digests quickly. When you have eaten something like this, you will notice that you are hungry again faster, and you will probably also have increased bowel movements. If your digestive system works too fast, on the other hand, it is good to eat something cooling, such as a piece of cake or a bowl of plain cooked rice. You will notice that you will feel full for longer and that your bowel movements will be slower, oilier or even completely dry. In conclusion, you can adjust the energy of heating or cooling foods. It is possible that even with a slow digestion you want to eat food with a cold energy, such as a raw apple. If you eat it without adding anything or processing it, it will cool your digestion. The adjustment of the energy of food is also the main reason why in Ayurveda a lot of herbs and spices are used.
When classifying food, not only its qualities, taste and energy are taken into account, but also the way in which it works. For instance, there are certain foods which are good for the blood, others which are good for the skin, the longs, etc.
In Ayurveda we generally opt for pure food; this is also the reason why we eat no meat. We also look at where the food comes from. Respect for nature and the environment also means respect for the circumstances and intentions with which vegetables are grown. And this is continued in the respect with which food is prepared. The intention with which you cook colours the energy of the food. Food needs to be prepared with love and attention, with positive feelings towards the people who will be eating your meal.
Source: The Ayurveda cookbook from Lies Ameeuw
Ayurveda Kookboek (Ayurveda cookbook) and Ayurveda vanuit het hart (Ayurveda from the heart) by Lies Ameeuw.