DAILY HEALTH IN THE INDIAN AYURVEDIC SYSTEM
by Dr. Aja Thomas
The information presented in this book is for educational purposes only.
It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe. If you have a
health problem, you should consult a competent health professional.
BASICS OF THE AYURVEDIC AND TRIDOSHA SYSTEM
HEALTH MAINTENANCE THROUGH DAILY ROUTINE
EXERCISE/MEDITATION AND PRANAYAMA
FOOD IN AYURVEDA
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ayurveda is the ancient Indian system of health and medicine.
Literally, Ayurveda means knowledge (veda) of life (ayuh). It was, and
is, therefore, not just a system of healing, but also daily preventative
health for the body, mind, and soul. Even more than this, it is a
system which can incorporate into it all forms and levels of healing
Ayurveda is an adjunct to the original Vedas or holy scriptures of the
Indian subcontinent, which are the basis for the entire ancient cultural
civilization of that region. They encompassed not only the religion and
philosophy, but their politics, military, science, language, art,
theatre, etc. In one sense, Ayurveda make up all of these sciences
since by the very definition of the word Ayurveda, they are all
"sciences of life".
But Ayurveda in its traditional usage is a system of health; a system
that has many similarities to Naturopathy. In fact it is considered by
some to be the origin of Naturopathy. One branch of Ayurveda is called
Prakrtika Cikitsa which literally means Naturopathy or Nature Cure.
The purpose of this book is to present an overview of the concepts and
workings of Ayurveda with special emphasis on practical measures that
can be taken on a regular basis. So rather than spend extensive time
dealing with the more scientific and intricate aspects of Ayurveda, we
will work on those areas which can be of specific assistance to each
individuals physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. This will
encompass such areas as diet, morning routine, meditation, sleeping -
things that we do, or should do every day.
BASICS OF THE AYURVEDIC AND TRIDOSHA SYSTEM
The mainstay of Ayurveda is built on the tridosha system. Tridosha
means three faults and refers to the three humors known as vata, pitta,
This system, very similar to the Oriental medical system, is based on
the five element theory of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These
five are combined to become the three primary energies of the body: Air
(vata), Bile (pitta), and Mucus (kapha). Vata consists of the air and
ether principles, pitta is the fire and water principles, and kapha is
the earth and water elements. Thus it is considered that all facets of
the anatomy and physiology are governed by one or another of the doshas
and that homeostasis is the balance of these three doshas. Dis-ease
then is their imbalance.
Every living thing can be characterized by these three doshas, or
elements, and they can be distinguished by their attributes. By
noticing what attributes are predominant one can determine the dosha.
The following chart gives the attributes of each of the doshas:
VATA PITA KAPHA
dry oily heavy
light penetrating slow
cold hot cold
rough light oily
subtle mobile slimy
mobile liquid dense
clear sour smell soft
To give a further understanding of the principles and functions of the
three doshas we will consider them briefly one by one:
Vata embodies the principle of movement like the wind. It governs
movement in the body and is catabolic in nature. It governs breathing,
movements in the muscles, tissue, cell plasma and membranes, nerve
cells, blinking, heart contractions, all expansion and contractions. It
also governs the emotional reactions of fear, nervousness, anxiety,
pain, tremors, etc.
Pitta embodies the principle of heat or fire. It is metabolic in nature
and rules over all forms of digestion, metabolism, absorption,
assimilation, nutrition, the body temperature, skin color and bodily
luster, and luster of the eyes, as well as intelligence, understanding,
and comprehension. It governs emotions of anger, hate, and jealousy.
Kapha embodies the principle of water. It is anabolic and cements the
elements. It is lubricating and gives resilience and strength. It
gives moisture to the body, lubricates joints, heals wounds, is
responsible for memory retention, maintains immunity, vigor, and
stability. It is responsible for greed, attachment, and envy, as well
as for understanding, love, compassion, and calmness.
The doshas are also located primarily in specific areas. Vata is
primarily found in the large intestines; pitta in the small intestines;
kapha in the chest (lungs and stomach).
As mentioned earlier, disease is caused by imbalance. When there is an
imbalance of any of the following disease takes place:
1. imbalance of the doshas
2. imbalance of the digestion
3. imbalance of the 3 waste products (feces, urine, sweat)
4. imbalance of the senses
5. imbalance of body, mind and spirit
Because all systems of the mind and body are inter-related, what effects
one effects another. Ultimately the digestion will be effected. In
Ayurveda, the gastrointestinal tract is considered the origin of health
and disease for the body. When the digestion is affected the result is
undigested food substance known as ama. In Naturopathy this is the
equivalent of toxins. This ama is a thick dark matter which accumulates
in the intestines. Eventually this ama enters into the circulatory
system, settling into weakened areas of the body and manifesting as
various symptoms. Thus is caused toxemia and disease.
Ayurveda considers the mind and body closely connected, and since each
dosha governs not only bodily functions, but mental functions, an
imbalance in one will directly affect the other. For example, by
repressing stress, worry, and anxiety, which are vata emotions, vata
diseases can occur such as constipation. Or the reverse, where there is
vata physical disorder, such as constipation, there may also be caused
vata emotions of anxiety, nervousness, etc. So the daily routine is
tied into physical, mental and spiritual equilibrium.
The doshas also play a crucial aspect in diagnosing the patient for each
individual has a particular constitution given by his or her parents at
the time of conception. Therefore each person is classified as either:
1. kapha type, 2. pitta type, 3. vata type, 4. kapha-pitta type, 5.
kapha-vata type, 6. pitta-vata type, or 7. kapha-pitta-vata type. And
of course there are innumerable subdivisions of these seven.
In the western systems of medicine, each particular disease is treated
the same, generally without thought of the individual's particular
constitution. For any given disease the same medications or treatments
are prescribed for everyone.
Ayurveda follows the advice of Sir William Osler, "it is much more
important to know what sort of patient has a disease than what sort of
disease a patient has." Therefore, it is essential to know one's
individual constitution according to the doshas.
The following series of categories will assist the individual in getting
a better understanding of his own constitution. Each category is broken
into three areas: vata, pitta, and kapha. For each category you need a
total of three. If you are totally vata oriented under a particular
category, then give vata three. If you are mostly vata but partly
kapha, then give vata two and kapha one. If you can't decide between
any of them, give each dosha one. When you have finished, count up all
the vata points, pitta points, and kapha points, and you will have an
idea of what dosha predominates in your physical constitution.
One point - when you judge your characteristics, keep in mind not only
your present tendencies, but tendencies throughout your life, as these
can have a tendency to change somewhat.
1. Body Frame:
V-Thin, very tall or very short
K-Large or stocky build, large bones
P-Medium, proper weight
V-Dry, rough, moles
P-Soft, oily, warm, fair, yellow or red
K-Oily, soft, pale or whitish, cool
V-Dry, brittle, dark, kinky
P-Soft, oily, yellow, red, premature gray,
K-Thick, oily, light or dark
V-Large, crooked, protruding, poor gums
P-Moderate size, soft gums, yellowish
K-Strong and white
V-Small, dull, dry, dark
P-Medium, penetrating, green, gray, yellow
K-Large, attractive, blue, thick eyelashes
V-Dry, brittle, and cracked
P-Thin, flexible, soft
K-Oily, hard, smooth
V-Often constipated, dry, hard
P-Soft and oily
K-Slow but steady
11. Physical Activity:
V-Very active, always moving, jittery
K-Heavy, long and sound
V-Flying, jumping, running, fearful
P-Fire, war, anger, violence, red
K-Water, swimming, romance
V-Anxiety, fearful, unpredictable, worry
P-Anger, aggressive, irritable
K-Greed, possessive, attached, but calm
P-Aggressive, intelligent, determined
K-Very steady, fixed
V-Recent memory good, long memory poor
K-Slow to learn, but long term retention
V-Fast, rough voice
P-Penetrating, sharp, loud
V-Quick, snakelike, 80 to 100 bpm
P-lumpy, froglike, 70 to 80 bpm
K-Smooth, swanlike, 60 to 70 bpm
V-Earns quickly, spends quickly
P-Moderate earner, likes luxuries
K-Saves money, slow to spend, wealthy
Once one is aware of his constitutional type, he or his physician is
better able to determine what dally routine, prescription, or treatment
will be best suited to his needs. Not only can medications be
prescribed by constitution, but also yoga exercises, breathing
exercises, diets, types of massage, color therapy, and even the way one
HEALTH MAINTENANCE THROUGH DAILY ROUTINE
First it must be understood the reasons for dally routines. Routines
are not to be over-disciplined regiments to stifle the individual, but
rather a regular program to encourage balance and equilibrium. Each
individual entity is a microcosm of the universal macrocosm. We are
small particles, qualitatively identical to this universal nature.
Therefore we must maintain a balance with nature to remain in harmony
with her. Nature is changing, from moment to moment, day to day, season
to season. We must similarly change with her if we are to maintain
harmony. Although it is often difficult to initiate a new routine or
lifestyle, once it has been established it will become automatic and
second nature. In the Vedic literature it is stated that those changes
which are for the ultimate good of the individual will appear as poison
in the beginning but nectar in the end. So the primary benefits of
dally routine may be stated as bringing harmony between the individual
and the environment, maintaining health due to harmony between the above
mentioned items (man and universe, body-mind-spirit, the three doshas,
etc.), and enhancement of a calm and peaceful mind, again due to the
above mentioned harmonies.
Before we begin to explain the various aspects of the daily routine, it
is important to understand about time. Although this is far too short
of book to describe the intricate workings of time as explained in the
Vedic literatures, we will give a basic sampling with relation to
Tridosha. All periods of time may be broken down into kapha, pitta, and
vata periods where the predominating qualities of those doshas are
prevalent. During a given 24 hour period you have two time segments for
each dosha as follows:
6:am to 10:00 am - kapha
10:00 am to 2:00 pm - pitta
2:00 pm to 6:00 pm - vata
6:00 pm to 10:00 pm - kapha
10:00 pm to 2:00 am - pitta
2:00 am to 6:00 am - vata
These are not to be considered exact, but fluctuate somewhat according
to season. Through keeping personally aware, one can get an idea of
what dosha is predominant at a given time.
Because of the above time frames, the first item of the daily routine,
rising, should be done shortly before sunrise in the vata period. Vata,
again, is the principle of movement, so to arise in this period ensures
that vata dosha will be functioning to help in the elimination of urine
and feces. It is also the quietest time of day known in the Vedic
literature as Brahma Muhurta (time of spiritual awakening). For this
reason it is also the best period for prayer and meditation. This will
be more carefully examined later in the book.
The doshas also have their aspect on the seasons. Fall is the vata
period of wind, drying, and cracking. Winter is the period of kapha
with cold and heaviness. Spring is kapha and pitta of warming. Just
like when the sun melts the snows in spring, the coming warmth of spring
and summer melt the built up kapha, often giving rise to spring colds.
And summer is pitta with extreme heat. In regards to metabolism too,
this may be seen. Winter and spring are a time of building up
(anabolism); Summer is a time of maintenance (metabolism); and fall is
the time for dwindling (catabolism).
The periods of man's life are also governed by the doshas. In childhood
is kapha, anabolism, as the child grows and builds. Children are
especially susceptible to mucus diseases. In adulthood the fire of
pitta predominates and man is driven to work, maintain, and the passions
that bring progeny. A too typical example of a pitta disorder in this
period of life is the ulcer. And finally in old age is the vata period
of dwindling catabolism. Drying up, shrinking and coolness are
prevalent in this stage. Such vata diseases which manifest during this
time are arthritis, constipation, sciatica, rheumatism, etc.
In fact, classical Ayurvedic texts have classified diseases according to
There are 80 vata or air diseases as follows: Cracking of nails, boils
on legs, pain in the legs, fractures in legs, anesthesia in legs,
paralysis of legs, pain in the ankle, pain in the soles, sciatica, pain
in the knee, fracture of the knee, paraplegia, carbuncle, lameness,
prolapsus ani, piles, pruritis scrotal, phymosis, intussusception, pain
in the thighs, paralysis of the feet, dwarfishness, pain in lower spine,
bubo, pain in the sides, gas in the stomach, heart palpitation,
contraction of the chest, pain in the chest, drying of the arms, lock-
jaw, wry-neck, pain in the shoulder, pain in the lips, pain in the eyes,
pain in the teeth, looseness of teeth, dumbness, nasal voice, indistinct
voice, speechlessness, astringent taste in mouth, dryness of mouth,
otitts, hardness of hearing, capacity to hear loud words only,
obstruction of passages, contraction of passages, cataract, pain in the
head, facial paralysis, paralysis of one side, general paralysis,
convulsion, general lassitude, giddiness, shivering, yawning, hiccup,
moroseness, delirium, tired feeling, roughness, discoloring of the
limbs, sleeplessness, epilepsy, ocular diseases, diseases of the
eyebrows, pain in the forehead, cracks on the head, pain on lower
forehead, headache, unmindfulness, forgetfulness, fissure on lips, pain
in the rectum, piercing in chest, hernia, crookedness of penis,
There are 40 pitta or fire diseases: Feeling of heat on sides, a little
internal burning, burning sensation over body, burning of the eyes,
putrefied gastric gas, eructation of acid food, semi-digestion, internal
combustion, burning in a particular limb, excess of heat, excess of
perspiration, foul smell from body, fissures of the body, dirty matter
in blood, dirty matter on flesh, burning of skin, fissures of the
dermis, fissures of the skin, urticaria, red boils, pits on the skin,
hematemesis, jaundice, yellowishness, black pimples on skin, painful
boils, chlorosis, bitter taste, taste of blood, putrefied taste,
excessive thirst, feeling of everlasting hunger, ulcer in the mouth,
ulcer in the throat, ulcer in the eyes, ulcer in the rectum, ulcer of
the penis, hemorrhage, dusky sight, yellow urine/eyes/and stool.
The kapha (water) diseases are twenty in number: Unliking for food,
drowsiness, excess sleep, numbness, heaviness, dullness, salivation,
sweet taste, coughing out phlegm, loss of strength, indigestion,
heaviness of chest, inflammation of veins, goltre, excess of fat,
coldness of limbs, urticaria, whiteness of eyes, whiteness of urine,
whiteness of stool.
This should give the reader some indication of how disease is classified
in Ayurveda, and the part time plays in health. For our purposes,
however, he should mostly be aware of the doshas during the day to
understand balance and routine.
The first order of business in the morning is rising. As already
mentioned, one should rise before sunrise. Why should one rise before
sunrise? This is the most harmonious time as it is the most physically,
mentally and spiritually balancing period of the day. About ninety
minutes before dawn, and again one half hour before dawn, there is a
surge of energy which takes place. It is at this second surge that the
balance of the body is established and the blood chemistry is set up for
the day. By being awake, cleansed and aware it will augment this
balancing and lead to a happier day with more stamina and equilibrium.
Immediately upon awakening, before rising, one should take a moment to
center oneself with a positive frame of mind, offering prayer and
respects to ones chosen object of worship. This will help to eliminate
that "getting up on the wrong side of bed" syndrome. Starting your day
from the very beginning in a conscious frame of mind will do much to
keep the rest of the day running smooth.
After rising one should first take a glass of room temperature water
with optional juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon added to it. This daily regiment
will help to cleanse the system in three ways. First of all, by
drinking the water it stimulates the gastrointestinal tract to help in
the elimination of feces. Secondly the lemon is antiseptic and
antibacterial and works to cleanse the entire gastrointestinal tract,
especially the stomach, where we tend to accumulate excess mucus and
kapha. And thirdly, the water also assists the kidneys and bladder in
their functions of removing toxins from the system. All this will be
helpful in the next duty of elimination.
Generally no one has any trouble eliminating urine in the morning, but
few people will have a good bowel movement. Our lemon water drink will
be very effective for this and will be especially effective with the
addition of a simple exercise. Bend your knees and place your hands on
your thighs with the fingers pointing in. What you are doing is half
supporting your upper torso on your thighs. Now blow out all of the air
from your lungs, and while holding the air out, suck in your abdomen,
pulling it in and up. Then push it out again and suck it in, doing this
about 10 times, all while you are holding your breath out. What this
does is to swish the water around in your stomach, helping to cleanse
it, and stimulates the small and large intestines to move. It is also
extremely beneficial for all of the organs of the abdomen, as it
stimulates blood flow into these areas.
The best method for naturally stimulating the bowel is to squat. Our
modern toilet bowls are completely unnatural and unsuitable for healthy
elimination of feces, and are part of the reason we have such a high
rate of constipation, hemorrhoids, and other colon problems. It is best
to squat actually on the toilet rim which puts one in the natural
position for a bowel movement. At first it may take some time, but as
the body becomes accustomed to this practice, one will easily and fully
eliminate feces each morning. This practice insures a wholesome clean
condition first thing, free from fear of reabsorbing toxins sitting
overlong in the bowel. And assuming that one has risen just prior to
dawn, the movement of vata, along with drinking the water will help in
the effective elimination process.
After one has evacuated it is time to clean the mouth and teeth. Of
course in the west we generally use toothbrushes of which the soft
variety are best. However, in other countries, or here if one prefers,
a stick may be used. Generally a twig from a bitter or medicinal tree
such as Eucalyptus should be used. It should be about half the diameter
of the little finger and approximately 6 inches long. The end farthest
from the tree should be chewed until soft and the soft, chewed end used
in a manner similar to a toothbrush to clean the teeth and massage the
gums and spaces between teeth.
In general sweet types of toothpastes, as we have in the west, should be
avoided, but rather an astringent tooth powder should be used, or you
can make your own. The best tooth cleansers should include ingredients
which are pungent, bitter, astringent, cleansing and course.
Ingredients might include black pepper (pungent), cinnamon (astringent
and pungent), salt (course), peppermint (cleansing), witch hazel
(bitter), goldenseal (astringent) and mustard or sesame oil to hold it
together. Oil may also be used to massage the gums with or without some
of the above items.
Next one should scrape the tongue. Standardly, a manufactured tongue
scraper is used. This is a thin flat piece of metal about 1/2 inch wide
and about 10 inches long shaped into a "U". The tongue is extended from
the mouth and scraped starting slightly inside the mouth outwards or
towards the front. In lieu of a tongue scraper a silver or stainless
steel spoon may be used. This process cleans the toxins from the tongue
which have accumulated over night and also helps to stimulate the
digestive and other organs through reflex action. Generally the
toothbrush is not suitable for scraping or brushing the tongue.
At this time it is a good idea to examine the face and tongue, Ayurvedic
methods of diagnosis. By examining the lines and wrinkles of the face
one may determine if disease or disorder is present. Examples here
would include vertical lines on the forehead between the eyebrows. A
line on the right indicates repressed emotions or toxins in the liver
while a line on the left indicates the same for the spleen.
Puffiness of the lower eyelids indicates problems in the kidneys while a
butterfly like discoloration on the cheeks below the kidney region, or
on the nose, indicates malabsorption of iron or folic acid.
In examining the lips, if they are (dry, rough and cracked this is an
indication of vata derangement and dehydration, and a need for more
liquids, especially water. Pale lips are a sign of anemia, while yellow
or blue lips can indicate jaundice or heart disorders respectively.
Colors of the tongue are also indicative of various disorders: pale-
anemia; yellow-excessive bile or liver disorder; blue-heart disorder.
If there is a heavy, whitish coating on the tongue it indicates
undigested toxins in the digestive tract. If the coating is present
towards the middle, toxins are present in the stomach and small
intestines; and towards the back, in the colon.
A vertical line down the center of the tongue indicates that emotions
are being held in the spine. If there is a curve in the line it may
indicate a curvature in the spine. If the curve is at the tip, it would
indicate cervical vertebrae; towards the middle or back, thoracic or
Impressions of the teeth along the front and forward sides of the tongue
indicate unabsorbed nutrients while teeth impressions along the side of
the tongue suggest delicate lungs. Dry, cracked tongue is indicative of
chronic vata derangement in the colon. Small white patches on either
side of the rear of the tongue suggest kidney disorder.
After the examination of the face, and prior to the bath one should
massage the body with oil. This may be done dally, or at least two or
three times weekly. Massage helps to balance the doshas and enhances
the movement of energy within the body. It also acts to stimulate the
lymphatic circulation, which is essential to the defense system of our
body. Different oils should be used according to the constitution of
the individual. Mustard seed oil is the all around best type of oil.
However, as it can irritate some peoples skin, you may want to test it
on yourself first. For vata types, sesame oil is recommend with strokes
going against the direction of body hair growth. This helps the oil to
penetrate into the skin as the vata type constitution generally has very
dry skin. Stroke should be very light.
For the pitta type constitution a cooling oil such as sunflower or
sandalwood should be used. Again, massage strokes should be light.
For the kapha person, they may use corn oil, calamus root oil, or no oil
at all. Mustard oil would be especially good for the kapha type person
due to its heat. Massage for the kapha type should be deeper.
Finally one may take his bath, or in the west preferably a shower.
Although seven types of bath are mentioned in the Vedic literatures,
including bath of the mind, bath by mantra or prayer, rain/sun baths,
etc. we will restrict ourselves to the more common water bath. It is
suggested that amongst water baths, a pond is good, a lake is better,
and a river is best. Translated into western civilization, a shower is
better for general cleansing than a tub bath, as it has the advantages
of washing away dirts and oils, as well as excessive psycho-electrical
energies, massaging and stimulating the body.
The bath temperature should be cool or slightly warm ending with cool,
unless the bather is old, infirm, or diseased in which case warm water
may be used. In no case should excessively hot water be used for
general bathing and especially never on the head. Bathing with, or
ending with cool water is extremely beneficial, as it stimulates the
circulation,and nervous systems, and this one practice can do more
towards making a personal feel vital and alive than almost any other
Bath should be taken at least each morning, while for some it is
suggested taking twice or three times dally.
Following the bath one should perform daily exercise. In Ayurveda it is
felt that super strenuous exercises as are prevalent in the west can
actually be detrimental to the body. They may result in physical
strength but they can also lead to an imbalance of the doshas.
Ayurveda recommends yoga exercises for its bodily benefits as well as
mental and spiritual effects. Yoga is supreme for balancing the doshas
within the body and can be used simultaneously for any of the purposes
that more vigorous exercises are used. For instance, for losing weight
the shoulder stand is excellent as it brings blood and stimulation to
the thyroid gland in the neck, one of the primary organs responsible for
weight balance and metabolism, especially in women. This one exercise
is also beneficial for hyperthyroidism, constipation, hemorrhoids,
varicose veins, liver disorders, excessive anger, sexual debility, sore
throat, asthma, emphysema, and a host of other ailments.
In addition to its effect of balancing the doshas and strengthening the
body, yoga also has the result of calming the mind, for yoga postures
are performed in a slow, peaceful manner, with a centered mind. This
has both an immediate calming effect and long term result of a calm and
A final result of daily yoga postures is their benefit in opening the
various energy and spiritual channels of the body, most notably those
purported to reside in the spine. According to Ayurvedic and yogic
anatomy, there resides within the spinal column three subtle channels
called the pingala, ida, and sushumna. Through the practice of yoga
asanas or postures, meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises) the
most subtle energies of prana and ojas are directed up the spine to the
seven energy centers known as chakras (literally wheel). The
practitioner of yoga experiences various levels of spiritual realization
and consciousness as he is able to direct the energies to each higher
On a more practical and mundane level there are many health benefits to
the daily practice of both meditation and pranayama. First we will
consider briefly pranayama.
Pranayama (literally control of breath or prana) is performed prior to
meditation. It has innumerable forms all based on the concept of prana
which is both oxygen and a more subtle energy simultaneously tapped
through pranayama practice. In addition to its more spiritual aspects,
specific pranayama practices can be chosen for their benefit to
particular diseases. For instance the cooling breath known as sheetali
is performed by inspiring air through the curled tongue. Its cooling
results help to alleviate pitta or heat disorders. The breath of fire,
is as the name suggests, warming to the body and is recommended for
those kapha disorders or overweight individuals.
The practice of pranayama also is used in preparation for meditation, as
it has the effect of quieting and clearing the mind, and awakening the
subtle and spiritual energies. Of course, few if any of these claims
can be scientifically proven other than through the personal endeavors
and experiences of the practitioner. As the adage states, "the proof of
the pudding is in the eating".
One of the most common and beneficial pranayama practices is the
alternating breath. This is especially beneficial before meditation to
calm the mind, or when having trouble failing asleep at night. It works
on the principle that the right and left nostrils correspond to the
right and left hemispheres of the brain, as well as to the channels of
the spine (ida, pingala, and shushumna) mentioned earlier. There is a
whole system known as swar yoga, which is based on this principle, and
allows people to perform all daily functions at the time of maximum
potential, depending on which nostril (and therefore brain hemisphere)
The method for alternating breath is as follows. First, with your right
hand you should place your thumb on the right side of your nose, and
either the index or middle finger on the left side of the nose. Close
the left nostril with whichever finger you are using and inhale through
the right nostril. Hold the inhaled breath by plugging the right
nostril, and then open the left nostril and exhale through it. Now
reverse the process and inhale through the already opened left nostril,
plug and hold, and open the right nostril and exhale through it. This
is considered one "round", and you should do ten rounds at one sitting.
There is some controversy amongst teachers as to the length of time you
should inhale, hold and then exhale. Ultimately it should be in a 1:4:2
ratio. In other words, you would inhale for 8 counts, hold for 32
counts, and exhale for 16 counts. However this can be dangerous if done
incorrectly, and should best be learned under the direction of a
competent yoga teacher. You might want to try something more
comfortable like inhaling for 8, holding for 8, and exhaling for 8, and
gradually increasing the count as you feel comfortable with it.
The next item on our daily agenda is our meditation. When I speak of
meditation I use the term in a very general sense. For some meditation
might mean prayer, for others repetition of mantras (holy words or names
of God), for still others recitation and study of scriptures, or for
some the silent contemplation of themselves, nature or God. But
basically it is a period to take time out of the day to acknowledge and
contemplate a Higher Being or Cause. No matter what type of meditation
one prefers, I definitely advise spending at least some time in quiet
meditation with eyes closed, as most of us have so much visual, mental,
and auditory commotion going on all day long that it is a great relief
to the system to stop as much of it as possible, even for a few minutes.
The actual health benefits of meditation may be arguable, but it is my
contention that such practice helps to foster emotions and attributes of
a higher nature including humility, compassion, sensitivity, and love.
There are probably as many methods of meditation as there are
practitioners. However, we will briefly outline the basics of several
methods for the benefit of those who would like to start. It is worth
noting, though, that in nearly any city there are qualified yoga and
meditation teachers that can give you the benefit of personal
A very common type of meditation which is easy for anyone, is meditation
on the breath. In nearly all meditation techniques it is best to sit up
straight, with head erect and spine in alignment. Don't make it so
steel-pole rigid that it is uncomfortable, but definitely don't slump,
either. If you can sit on the floor in one of the meditation postures
(i.e. lotus, half lotus, or cross-legged), that is great. If not,
sitting in straight backed chair is also fine. Generally it is not a
good idea to lie down, as there is too much of a tendency to fall
asleep. Sleeping and meditating don't go very well together, at least
not at the same time.
Now sit with your hands comfortably in your lap, preferably palms up,
and close your eyes. Take a long slow inhalation, hold for a moment,
and then let it forcibly come out. Do this three times to help you
release any tensions. Now as you start to breath in and out, mark your
breaths. This can be done by simply saying in your mind "one" on the in
breaths and "two" on the out breaths..."one ... two ... one ... two..."
and so on.
Spiritual words or mantras can also be used, if one is inclined, which
help by their spiritual sound vibrations. (Man means mind and tra means
to deliver, thus mantra means to deliver the mind.) For instance, ham
(pronounced hong like song) and sah (pronounced like saw). Ham is
mentally chanted on the inhalation and sah on the exhalation. Besides
their intrinsic benefit through their particular sound vibration, ham
and sah also have meanings. Ham means "I" and sah means "He" or "that",
the translation being that "I am He", or "I am That", allowing us to
recognize our union with the spiritual nature. Another meaning of the
words combined, hamsa, is swan. In the Vedic literature, the swan is a
symbol of spiritual life, as it is seen peacefully swimming on placid
lakes. The swan is also said to be able to separate milk from water,
drinking the milk and leaving the water behind. This is meant to be
analogous to living in the world enjoying the higher material and
spiritual things of life, while leaving the lower material elements
Another meditation method using spiritual words is a more passive
meditation technique. The others are more contemplative, requiring
concentration. This type involves picking your mantra such as om
(rhymes with home), hari (huhree), or even Jesus, Allah, or Krishna. In
this method you don't really concentrate on the word, but let it just
appear naturally and innocently in your mind. Don't force it, but let
it just be, and you be with it.
In any of these methods, if your mind is carried away by other thoughts,
don't chastise yourself mentally, but gently bring your attention back
to the mantra or breathing, and continue. At first you will probably
find your mind wandering consistently, but as you practice, gradually
you will find your mind settling down and a peaceful feeling coming over
you. Eventually this will carry over more and more into your non-
meditation time, and you, and others, will start to notice a difference.
One meditative practice which is claimed to have a more physiological
benefit is known as tratak. This is the practice of staring at a flame.
The flame is prepared by placing a cotton wick in a small lamp of ghee
(clarified butter), or vegetable oil. The lamp is lit and placed
approximately eleven inches before the seated practitioner at eye level.
The practitioner stares at the flame with both eyes wide open and
unblinking until tears come to both eyes. At this point the eyes are
closed and focused upwards between the eyebrows, and concentrating on
the after image of the flame until it disappears. The flame is not
looked at again for at least 20 minutes.
Theoretically this practice works toward the decalcification of the
pineal gland, considered by some to be the master gland of the body.
The pineal gland ossifies around the age of puberty to 16 years of age,
after which many modern scientists and biologists consider it a
secondary gland. However in yoga science, this gland is said to rule
all the others and that it is also related to the awakening of very high
spiritual understanding in the individual. Since it is considered to be
sensitive to light, the practice of flame watching acts to decalcify the
pineal, allowing it to function properly for both its material and more
Quiet meditation has also been shown to have a very beneficial
physiological effect. A number of studies performed by leading
institutes have demonstrated that during meditation there is a marked
decrease in metabolic rate, oxygen consumption, and cardiac output, with
an increase in alpha brain wave activity. (Alpha waves are associated
with less linear thought patterns, more abstract and meditative
processes.) It was concluded to be beneficial for patients of high blood
pressure, hypertension, insomnia and many others. All from an ancient
FOOD IN AYURVEDA
To those interested in natural health, there is no question as to the
importance of food - "you are what you eat". Even the western medical
system appears to have a concern for proper nutrition, although
advocates of a natural organic diet would scarcely agree with the
western orthodox view of nutrition.
The Ayurvedic system of diet, however, is somewhat unique in its
approach. Though it does, for the most part, suggest more natural
wholesome food, unlike many other natural health systems, it does not
advocate the same healthy foods for everyone, especially when ill.
Rather it is divided by constitution. For instance someone suffering
from kapha disorders would be advised against taking fresh sweet fruits
as this would increase kapha. Or one with vata disorders is not advised
to take raw vegetables but rather cooked vegetables only, as vata is
cool by nature and often vata disorders are accompanied by an inability
to digest raw foods.
Following is a listing showing some of the approved and discouraged
foods according to each constitution.
This list should not be considered a strict dietary regimen, but rather
as a guideline for increasing balance and harmony. The principles of
diet in Ayurveda are fairly complex and are based not only on
constitution but taste, aftertaste, energies, etc.
Vata individuals should take wheat, brown rice, and basmati rice and
should avoid oats, barley, millet, corn, rye, and buckwheat. Kidney
beans and tofu should be the only beans taken. All nuts are okay if
taken in small quantity. All seeds are also fine. Dairy products are
good for vata people (taken warm - no ice cream or cold milks). Sweet
fruits are good, but dry fruits, apples and melons are best avoided.
Vegetables should be cooked, not raw. Good vegetables include beets,
carrots, asparagus, sweet potato, radish, okra, onion, and hot peppers.
Vegetables to avoid include potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, mushroom,
peas and leafy greens. All oils are good for vata people, as are all
sweeteners and spices (except white sugar). For non-vegetarians,
chicken, turkey (white meat only), seafood and fried or scrambled eggs
are good. Beef, rabbit and venison should be avoided.
Pitta individuals should take wheat, basmati rice, oats, and barley, and
avoid millet, brown rice, corn, rye, and buckwheat. All beans should be
avoided except kidney beans and tofu. No nuts or seeds except coconut
and sunflower seeds. In dairy, milk, ghee (clarified butter), and
unsalted cheese are okay, while yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and
salted cheese should be avoided. Sweet fruits are good while sour
fruits are not. Fruits to be taken include mango, orange, pears, plums
and sweet pineapple. Fruits which are best to avoid include grapefruit,
olives, papaya, peach, persimmon, banana, and sour pineapple. Sweet and
bitter vegetables are best and include asparagus, cabbage, cucumber,
potato, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom and leafy
vegetables. Pungent vegetables should be avoided including hot peppers,
radish, tomato, carrots, beets, onion, and garlic. Olive, sunflower and
soy oils may be taken by pitta individuals, but almond, sesame, and corn
should not. For pitta, all sweeteners are okay except molasses and
honey. No spices except coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel,
turmeric, and very small amounts of black pepper. For non-vegetarians,
chicken or turkey (white meat only), egg whites, rabbit and venison may
be taken, while beef, seafood, and egg yolk should not.
Kapha people should eat rye, corn, millet, barley, buckwheat, and
basmati rice, and should avoid white and brown rice, wheat, and oats.
All beans may be taken by kapha people except kidney beans and tofu and
they should take no nuts or seeds except sunflower. The only dairy to
be taken is ghee and goat's milk. Dry fruits should be taken including
apple, pomegranate, pears, persimmons, and cranberry. Sweet fruits
should be avoided including banana, melons, coconut, dates, figs,
papaya, orange, plums, and pineapple. Pungent and bitter vegetables are
best including hot peppers, radish, asparagus, beets, broccoli, potato,
eggplant, squash, mushroom and leafy greens, while kapha types should
avoid sweet and juicy vegetables including cucumber, okra, sweet
potatoes, tomato, and cauliflower. Kapha people should avoid all oils
except almond, corn, and raw honey. All spices are good except salt.
And for non-vegetarians, chicken or turkey (dark meat), rabbit, venison,
and eggs (not fried or scrambled) may be taken, and seafood and beef
Although in Ayurveda there is concession made for those who wish to
partake of a non-vegetarian diet, still it is recommended that for
maximum physical, as well as spiritual health, the strictly vegetarian
diet is considered supreme.
Another aspect of the Ayurvedic diet is when to eat. First is the time
of day. As we mentioned earlier, the period between 10:00 am and 2:00
pm is the pitta period, when the sun is highest and the fire of
digestion strongest. This is considered the best time to eat and to eat
the largest meal. Smaller meals may be taken in the morning and/or the
evening, but one should not eat until the previous meal has been
digested, or approximately three hours for a light meal and six hours
for a heavier meal. Also one should not eat for at least three hours
before going to bed, nor before sunrise or after sunset.
How to eat is probably more important than when and what you eat. Food
is not merely a combination of chemicals, vitamins, minerals or enzymes;
it contains many more subtle energies as well. Food should be looked on
as spiritual nourishment in addition to material sustenance. it is
stated in the Vedic literature that those who are peaceful or
spiritually inclined, eat only that food which has first been sanctified
by spiritual love, and that those who merely cook and eat for their own
sense gratification are eating only sin. In other words, every act
connected to the intake of food must be performed in an attitude of
love, both for the source of the food (be it God or Nature), and for the
eater of the food (be it oneself or others). Negative emotions of
anger, hate, guilt, etc. while preparing food can very deeply affect the
nature of that food, just as those same emotions can wreak havoc on the
digestion and assimilation by the eater. On a subtle level, emotions
and thought patterns are considered to have a very real and quasi-
physical nature of their own, which can influence other objects and
individuals. Through understanding of this principle, one can observe
his own emotions in relation to various activities and endeavor to
maintain a more loving and spiritual attitude, for his own and others
Before ending there are several other more mechanical aspects of eating
that should be brought up. First, how much should one eat? Two formulas
are recommended, although they are basically the same in principle.
They are that one should fill the stomach with: 1.) 1/2 food, 1/4
liquid, and 1/4 air; and 2.) 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and 1/3 air.
Secondly, how do you tell when you're done eating if you shouldn't eat
until stuffed? Here, it is considered that the first eructation is the
body's signal that eating should cease.
Lastly, what do you do for poor digestion? Ayurveda has many ways to
approach this, however there are several simple remedies that we may
mention. A number of spices are beneficial to the digestion including
anise, black or red pepper, cumin, cardamom, licorice, and most notably,
ginger. In fact ginger is the foremost of all herbs to use to enkindle
the digestive fires. An excellent pre-meal appetizer is to eat thin
slices of fresh ginger root which have soaked in lemon juice, another
beneficial product for the digestion. If this seems to be too great of
an endeavor, than simply chewing and swallowing a small piece of fresh
ginger root will do nicely.
Now that we have gotten up, exercised, meditated, and eaten, a few words
should be said about sleeping. Sleeping with the head towards the east
and south are considered superior, as they are in balance with the
magnetic fields of the earth. Kapha and vata people should sleep on
their left side while pitta people should sleep on the right. The
reason for this is that the left and right nostrils are governed by the
lunar and solar influences respectively. Therefore by sleeping on the
left side, the right nostril will open bringing more heat to the body;
and sleeping on the right will open up the left or lunar nostril,
bringing a cooling effect.
To a certain extent, the amount of sleep needed will be according to the
individuals needs and health, however, there are some guidelines
according to age, which adjusts every seven years. A child of one to
seven years requires 10 to 12 hours of sleep. For the next 7 years, 8
to 10 hours. In the third seven years (14 to 21) 6 to 8 hours. A man
in his fourth seven years (21 to 28) requires 5 to six hours. A person
of 28 to 35 (fifth seven years) requires 4 to 5 hours. A man in his
sixth seven years needs 3 to 4 hours, and anyone beyond that should
require very little sleep. These figures reflect the time for those in
Ayurveda is a science which merits research. We cannot consider it a
perfect science as many of the original texts were, and still are, lost
for many centuries, thus leaving us with many holes in what was once a
very thorough philosophy. But there has been a recent resurge in
interest in Ayurveda with the growing discontent in modern allopathic
medicine, both amongst the people of India and those of the West. Some
research and experimentation has already been done, but how many more
could be benefited if the whole range of Ayurvedic arts was studied and
delineated to the advantage of all. It is our request to the sincere
students of natural health that they take an open minded look at the art
and science of Ayurveda and adopt that which they feel appropriate, for
themselves and humankind.
Completed on the Purnima (full moon) of the month of Sridhara
Appearance day of Sri Rohininandana Baladevaji August 11, 1984
OM TAT SAT
Charaka Samhita, by R.K. Sharma and Bhagwan Dash. Chowkamba Sanskrit
The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda, by Robert Svoboda. Trishula Publications
The Science of Tridosha, by B. Bhattacharyya. Health Research
Dhanwantari, By Harish Johari. Rams Head, Inc.
Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing, by Dr. Vasant Lad. Lotus Press
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Aja Thomas works to blend East and West toward healing all levels.
He utilizes the Ancient Ayurvedic techniques with Western modalities
including iridology, Herbalism, and Nature Cure.
Dr. Thomas feels that a 'band-aid' approach to healing, no matter what
type of therapy, is insufficient to remove disease. Total health is an
incorporation of body, mind, and spirit, and therefore must be
approached on all levels if there is to be true healing. It is a
journey directed toward total healing from within.
Dr. Thomas received his Doctor of Naturopathy Degree from the
International University in Australia. His training in Ayurveda came
through Dr. Vasant Lad's Charaka Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, and
by studying the works of Drs. Dash, Thakkur, Svoboda, Lad, and others.
He has studied iridology with Dr. Bernard Jensen, and is a Certified
Iridologist. In 1975 in Vrndavana, India, he received Brahmana Gayatri
Diksha initiation, authorizing him to teach the Vedic Sciences.
Presently teaching and counseling in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Thomas would
be pleased to hear from you. Write c/o:
Portland, Oregon 97206