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Ayurveda - The Science of Life

  • 03 May
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Ayurveda is the ancient Indian system of natural and holistic medicine. When translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the science of life” (the Sanskrit root Ayur means “longevity” or “life” and veda means “science”).

While allopathic medicine tends to focus on the management of disease, Ayurveda bestows us with the knowledge of how to prevent disease and how to eliminate its root cause if it does occur.

Principles of Ayurveda

The knowledge of Ayurveda was passed orally through a lineage of sages in India until it was collated into text more than five thousand years ago. The oldest known texts on Ayurveda are the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hrudaya. These texts detail the affect that the five elements found in the cosmic system - earth, water, air, fire, space – have on our individual system, and expound on the importance of keeping these elements balanced for a healthy and happy life.

According to Ayurveda, each person will be influenced by certain elements more than others. This is because of their prakriti, or natural constitution. Ayurveda categorizes the different constitutions into three different doshas:

  • Vata dosha, in which the air and space elements dominate
  • Pitta dosha, in which the fire element dominates
  • Kapha dosha, in which the earth and water elements dominate

The dosha affects not just the shape of one’s body but also bodily tendencies (like food preferences and digestion), and the temperament of one’s mind and emotions. For example, the earth element in people with Kapha dosha is evident in their solid, sturdy body type, their tendency for slower digestion, their strong memory, and their emotional steadiness.

Most people’s prakriti is made up of a combination of two doshas. For example, people who are “Pitta Kapha” will have the tendencies of both Pitta dosha and Kapha dosha, with Pitta dominating.

By understanding the qualities of our natural constitution we are better able to do what is needed to keep ourselves in balance.



Ayurveda recognizes three primary life-forces in the body, or three biological humors called Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which correspond to the elements of air, fire and water. As the active or mobile elements, they determine the life processes of growth and decay.

The Ayurvedic term for humor is dosha, meaning that which darkens, spoils or causes things to decay. When out of balance, the doshas are the causative forces behind the disease process.

VATA is the biological air humor, also translated as wind. It means ‘that which moves things’. Vata dosha is the motivating force behind the other two doshas, which are ‘lame’, incapable of movement without it. It governs sensory and mental balance and orientation, and promotes mental adaptability and comprehension.

PITTA is the biological fire humor, also translated as bile. Its meaning is ‘that which digests things’. Pitta dosha is responsible for all chemical and metabolic transformations in the body. It also governs our mental digestion, our capacity to perceive reality and understand things as they are.

KAPHA is the biological water humor, also translated as phlegm. It means ‘that which holds things together.’ Kapha dosha provides substance and gives support, and makes up the bulk of our bodily tissues. It also provides our emotional support in life, and relates to positive emotional traits like love, compassion, modesty, patience and forgiveness.

Each dosha exists in a second element that serves as the medium for its manifestation, acting as its container.

VATA, air, is contained in ether. It resides in the empty spaces in the body and fills up the subtle channels.

PITTA, fire, exists in the body as water or oil. It exists mainly in an acid form, as fire cannot exist directly in the body without destroying it.

KAPHA, water, exists in the medium of earth, which contains it. Our physical composition is mainly water contained within the boundaries of our skin and mucus membranes (earth).

  • 3 single - Dosha types (Ekadoshaja)
    • Vata
    • Pitta
    • Kapha
  • 6 two - Dosha types (Dwandwaja)

       Vata - Pitta

       Pitta - Vata

       Pitta - Kapha

       Kapha - Pitta

       Kapha - Vata

       Vata - Kapha

  • 1 three - Dosha type (Tridoshaja)
    • Vata - Pitta - Kapha



Taste, called rasa in Sanskrit, is the key to understanding ayurvedic nutrition. It is why certain foods influence some people’s digestion in a positive way while not for others.

In terms of importance, taste is second only to water — the element without which taste would not exist. (If the tongue is dry, it cannot taste.) Rasa is the immediate taste on the tongue, the one we remember, and the immediate experience of how that particular taste influences the body. Taste is made from the same five elements that comprise the doshas — ether, air, fire, water and earth — and a rasa may be sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent. Its corresponding short-term effect will have a direct influence on vata, pitta and kapha.

Each taste has a direct energetic effect on digestion, creating either a heating or a cooling sensation. This action on the digestive system, called virya, may be felt immediately after tasting a food, or some time later. For example, a sweet mango has a heating virya and tends to enhance digestive function. A medjool date is also sweet, but it has a cooling virya and tends to slow digestive function. You may feel more full five minutes after eating the date than five minutes after eating the same amount of mango, because the date is denser and has a heavier, more cooling effect on the digestive system.

Every taste has a long-term effect on our metabolism after digestion is complete, and all the nutrients have been assimilated in the tissues. This effect is known as vipak and is either sweet, sour, or pungent. The vipak of sweet is deeply nutritive and building; the vipak of sour enhances digestive fire, and the vipak of pungent creates increased elimination.

The six rasas

Sweet (Madhura) decreases vata and pitta, increases kapha

Sweet has a cooling virya, with some exceptions, and a sweet vipak. Of all the six tastes, sweet is the most grounding and nourishing. It’s balancing to vata and pitta and, when eaten in moderation, promotes longevity, strength, and healthy bodily fluids and tissues. It’s the taste to emphasize for someone who is trying to gain weight, as it will quickly increase kapha when taken in excess. Its heavy, oily, moist qualities tend to slow down digestion, so it’s often suggested in ayurveda to eat dessert first. The sweet taste abounds in foods such as wheat, rice, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, dates, licorice root, and slippery elm bark. 

Salty (Lavana) decreases vata, increases pitta and kapha

The salty taste has a heating virya and a sweet vipak. Salt is grounding and moistening, which makes it best for vata. Its warmth and unctuousness helps vata stay grounded and hydrated, but its heat may aggravate pitta. Kapha will be attracted to the warmth of salty flavors, but this flavor tends to promote more weight gain and water retention than kapha really wants. Salt stimulates digestion, helps maintain proper electrolyte balance, softens tissues, and has a mildly laxative effect when taken in moderation. Sea vegetables, salt, tamari, black olives, and processed foods are laden with the salty rasa.

Sour (Amla) decreases vata, increases pitta and kapha

Sour’s heating virya is followed by a warming, sour vipak. The sour taste stimulates appetite and saliva production, and is stabilizing in its light, heating, and oily properties. But it should be eaten in moderation, for its refreshing influence is strong, and a little bit goes a long way. Sour balances vata, but the sour taste tends to unbalance pitta with heat, and can suffocate kapha with its slippery, grounding nature. Sour improves appetite, digestion, and elimination, and includes such foods as lemons, ume plum, amla berry (sour Indian gooseberry), vinegars, and pickled and fermented foods.

Pungent (Katu) increases vata and pitta, decreases kapha

Air and fire give rise to the pungent rasa whose virya is heating and vipak is pungent. The hottest of all the rasas, the pungent taste improves appetite, clears sinuses, stimulates blood circulation, and motivates the senses. The pungent rasa will taste hot and stay hot from start to finish, thereby benefiting kapha more than vata. The pungent taste, with its light and dry qualities, will aggravate pitta quickly. It is sure to balance wet, heavy kapha, but it can be too hot and dry for vata when taken in excess or paired with too many other drying foods. Vata does best when the pungent taste is combined with sour, sweet, or salty foods. Fresh ginger, hot peppers, onions, garlic, mustard, and hot spices all share the quality of pungency.

Bitter (Tikta) increases vata, decreases pitta and kapha

Of the six tastes, bitter is the coolest and lightest, making it best for pitta and least effective for vata, especially when taken without a proper balance of other tastes. Air and ether comprise this rasa, whose virya is cooling and whose vipak is pungent, making it quite cooling in the short term, but warming in the big picture. Kapha benefits from foods like dark leafy greens that abound with the bitter taste while providing calming magnesium and calcium. Dandelion root, turmeric, and fenugreek are also great sources of bitterness with cool and drying qualities.

Be careful to avoid the bitter taste in excess, as it’s known to create immediate coldness that can bring on bouts of grief and depression. Like sour, a little goes a long way. Make the bitter rasa a regular part of your meals but in small amounts. It will enhance the flavor of other foods and help to gently purify and cleanse the body.

Astringent (Kasaya) increases vata, decreases pitta and kapha

Cool, dry, and light, the astringent rasa has a cooling virya and a pungent vipak. It is less cold than bitter but very dry and firm, which makes it a taste for vata to avoid. Many beans and legumes are astringent in nature, as are broccoli and cauliflower, all of which are known to create gas and thus aggravate the vata dosha.

Pitta will benefit from the astringent taste’s coolness, while its dry, light qualities help balance kapha. The constrictive nature of the astringent taste will also slow down digestion. Green grapes, unripe bananas, cranberries, pomegranates, alfalfa sprouts, green beans, and okra all exhibit the astringent taste. You will know this taste when it makes your mouth pucker and feel dried out.


1. Sweet

The sweet taste (as it is of the same nature as the human body, whose tissues taste sweet), promotes the growth of all bodily tissues and Ojas. Aiding in longevity, it is soothing to the five sense organs and the mind, and gives strength and good complexion. Sweet taste alleviates Pitta, Vata and the effects of poison. It also relieves thirst and burning sensation and it promotes the health and growth of skin and hair; it is good for the voice and energy.

Sweet taste is nourishing, vitalizing, gives contentment, adds bulk to the body, creates firmness. It rebuilds weakness, emaciation, and helps those damaged by disease. It is refreshing to the nose, mouth, throat, lips and tongue, and relieves fits and fainting. The favorite of insects, particularly bees and ants, sweet taste is wet, cooling and heavy.     

Yet when used too much by itself or in excess, sweet taste creates obesity, flaccidity, laziness, excessive sleep, heaviness, loss of appetite, weak digestion, abnormal growth of the muscles of the mouth and throat, difficult breathing, cough, difficult urination, intestinal torpor, fever due to cold, abdominal distention, excessive salivation, loss of feelings, loss of voice, goiter, swelling of the lymph glands, legs and neck, accumulations in the bladder and blood vessels, mucoid accretions in the throat and eyes, and other such Kapha- caused diseases.

Sweet taste in terms of western herbalism is nutritive, tonic and rejuvenative. It increases semen, milk and nerve tissue, and promotes tissue regeneration internally or externally. It is demulcent and emollient, moistening, softening and soothing.

Sweet Herbs: Sweet taste is found in herbs that contain sugars, starches or mucilage. It includes bland, starchy and pleasant tastes, and may be mixed with less agreeable secondary tastes. It is relatively uncommon. Typical sweet herbs include almonds, comfrey root, dates, fennel, flaxseed, licorice, maidenhair fern, marshmallow, psyllium, raisins, sesame seeds, slippery elm, and Solomons seal. Sweet taste in herbs can be increased by processing herbs with various forms of raw sugar, honey, or cooking them in milk.

2. Sour

Sour taste improves the taste of food, enkindles the digestive fire. Adds bulk to the body, invigorates, awakens the mind, gives firmness to the senses, increases strength, dispels intestinal gas and flatus, gives contentment to the heart, promotes salivation, aids swallowing, moistening and digestion of food, gives nourishment. It is light, hot and wet.

Yet when used too much by itself or in excess, sour taste makes the teeth sensitive, causes thirst, blinking of the eyes, goose bumps, liquifies  Kapha, aggravates Pitta and causes looseness of the body, creates edema in those weak, injured or in convalescence. From its heating property it promotes the maturation and suppuration of sores, wounds, burns, fractures and other injuries. It causes a burning sensation in the throat, chest and heart.

Sour taste in terms of western herbalism is stimulant, promotes digestion, increases appetite and is carminative (help dispel flatus). It is nourishing to all tissue-elements except reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu). It promotes metabolism, circulation, along with sensory and brain functioning.

Sour Herbs: sour taste occurs largely from the presence of various acids in plants, like acid fruit. Sour taste is rarer than sweet. Typical sour herbs include hawthorn berries, lemon, lime, raspberries and rose hips. Sour taste in herbs can be increased by preparing herbs in fermentation as herbal wines or as tinctures in alcohol (whose taste is sour). 

3. Salty

Salty taste promotes digestion, is moistening, enkindles digestive fire; it is cutting, biting, sharp, fluid. It works as a sedative, laxative, deobstruent. Salty taste alleviates Vata, relieves stiffness, contractions, softens accumulations, and nullifies all other tastes. It promotes salivation, liquifies Kapha, cleanses the vessels, softens all the organs of the body, gives taste to food. It is heavy, oily and hot.

Yet when used too much by itself or in excess it aggravates Pitta, causes stagnation of blood, creates thirst, fainting and the sensation of burning, erosion and wasting of muscles. It aggravates infectious skin conditions, causes symptoms of poisoning, causes tumors to break open, makes the teeth fall, decreases virility, obstructs the functioning of the senses, causes wrinkling of the skin, greying and falling of the hair. Salty taste promotes bleeding diseases, hyperacidity of digestion, inflammatory skin diseases, gout and other mainly Pitta diseases.

Salty taste in small doses promotes digestion and increases appetite; in moderate doses functions as a laxative or purgative; and in large doses is an emetic, promotes, vomiting. It is demulcent, softening bodily tissues and it is calming, mildly sedative. It aids in tissue growth throughout the body and promotes water retention.

Salty Herbs: Salty taste is really not a plant but a mineral taste, so it Epsom salt, Irish moss, kelp, rock salt, sea salt and seaweed. Salty taste in herbs can be increased by adding salt to herbal preparations.

4. Pungent

The pungent taste is cleansing to the mouth, enkindles digestive fire, purifies food, promotes nasal secretions, causes tears and gives clarity to the senses. It helps cure diseases of intestinal torpor, obesity, abdominal swelling and excessive liquid in the body. It helps discharge oily, sweaty and sticky waste products. It gives taste to food, stops itching, helps the resolution of skin growths, kills worms, is germicidal, corrodes the muscle tissues, moves blood clots and blood stagnation, breaks up obstructions, opens the vessels, alleviates Kapha. It is light, hot and dry.

Yet when used too much by itself or in excess causes a weakening of virility by its post-digestive effect. By its taste and hot potency, it causes delusion, weariness, languor, emaciation. Pungent taste causes fainting, prostration, loss of consciousness and dizziness. It burns the throat, generates a burning sensation in the body, diminishes strength and causes thirst. By its predominance of fire and air, pungent taste creates various burning sensations, tremors, and piercing and stabbing pains throughout the body.

Pungent taste is stimulating, promotes digestion, increases appetite, is diaphoretic (causes sweating) and expectorant (removes phlegm) and is vermicidal (kills parasites). It promotes circulation and generally increases all bodily functions, while reducing all foreign accretions in the body. 

Pungent Herbs: Pungent taste arises mainly from various aromatic oils. It is more common than sweet but not abundant. Still, many herbs belong to this category and they are very useful and often become spices and condiments. Pungent taste includes acrid, spicy and aromatic.

Typical pungent herbs include angelica, asafoetida, basil, bayberry, bay leaves, black pepper, camphor, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ephedra, eucalyptus, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, onions, oregano, peppermint, prickly ash, rosemary, sage, sassafras, spearmint, thyme, and valerian.

5. Bitter

Bitter taste, though it does not taste good in itself, restores the sense of taste. It is detoxifying, antibacterial, germicidal, and kills worms. It relieves fainting, burning sensation, itch, inflammatory skin conditions and thirst. Bitter taste creates tightness of the skin and muscles. It is antipyretic, febrifuge; it enkindles digestive fire, promotes digestion of toxins, purifies lactation, helps scrape away fat and remove toxic accumulations in fat, marrow, lymph, sweat, urine, excrement, Pitta and Kapha. It is dry, cold and light.

Yet when used by itself or in excess, owing to its natural properties of dryness, roughness and clearness, it causes a wasting away of all the tissue elements of the body. Bitter taste produces roughness in the vessels, takes away strength, causes emaciation, weariness, delusion, dizziness, dryness of the mouth and other diseases of Vata.

Bitter taste reduces fevers, is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, detoxifying and germicidal. It is cleansing to the blood and all tissues are general and helps reduce tumors. It has a reducing, depleting and sedating effect upon the body, although in small amounts it is stimulating, particularly to digestion.

Bitter Herbs: Bitter is a very common taste in herbs and plants. It arises from various bitter principles like berberine. Bitters may be simple, like gentian. They may be aromatic (pungent secondarily) like golden seal.

Typical bitter herbs include aloe, barberry, blessed thistle, blue flag, chapparal, chrysanthemum, dandelion, Echinacea, gentian, golden seal, pao darco, Peruvian bark, rhubarb, rue, tansy, white poplar, yarrow and yellow dock.

6. Astringent

Astringent taste is a sedative, stops diarrhoea, aids in healing of joints, promotes the closing and healing of sores and wounds. It is drying, firming, contracting. It alleviates Kapha, Pitta and stops bleeding. Astringent taste promotes absorption of bodily fluids; it is dry, cooling and light.

Yet when used too much by itself or in excess, it causes drying of the mouth, produces pain in the heart, causes constipation, weakens the voice, obstructs channels of circulation, makes the skin dark, weakens vitality, causes premature aging. Astringent taste causes the retention of gas, urine and feces, creates emaciation, weariness, thirst and stiffness. Owing to its natural properties of roughness, dryness and clearness, it causes Vata-disease like paralysis, spasm and convulsions.

Astringent taste is haemostatic (stop bleeding), stops sweating, stops diarrhoea, as it promotes absorption of fluids and inhibits their elimination. It is anti-inflammatory, vulnerary (closes wounds and promotes healing by knitting the membranes back together). It constricts the muscles and helps raise prolapsed organs.

Astringent Herbs: Astringent taste is also very common in herbs, but it is not of such therapeutic importance, as astringent action is used mainly symptomatically. Astringency derives mainly from the presence of various tannins.

Typical astringent herbs include cranesbill, lotus seeds, mullein, plantain, pomegranate, raspberry leaves, sumach, uva ursi, white pond lily, white oak bark and witch hazel.

Combined Tastes

Tastes of herbs are seldom single, though one usually predominates. 

1. Sweet and pungent tastes sometimes combine, as with cinnamon, fennel, ginger and onion. Such herbs are particularly good for Vata.

2. Sweet and astringent often combine, as with comfrey, lotus, slippery elm and white pond lily. Such herbs are particularly good for Pitta but may be hard to digest.

3. Sweet and bitter sometimes combine, as with licorice. These herbs are also particularly good for Pitta.

4. Sweet and sour combine in various fruit like hawthorn and oranges. They are very good for Vata

5. Pungent and bitter sometimes combine as with mother word, mugwort, wormwood and yarrow. Such herbs have a strong effect on Kapha.

6. Pungent and astringent combine occasionally, as with bayberry, cinnamon or sage. They also work on Kapha.

7. Bitter and astringent often combine. As in many diuretics. Such herbs include golden seal, plantain and uva ursi. They work mainly on Pitta. 

8. Some herbs possess three or more tastes. For herbs of multiple tastes the energy and post-digestive effect become important for determining their effect. Herbs of multiple tastes often possess powerful or broad spectrum healing action like garlic.


The 6 Rasas:
In Moderation Balances
In Excess Aggravates
earth & water
Heavy, moist, cool
Earth & fire
Warm, moist, heavy
Pitta & Kapha
Water & fire
Heavy, moist, warm
Pitta & Kapha
Fire & air
Hot, light, dry
Pitta & Vata
Air & ether
Cold, light, dry
Kapha & Pitta
Air & earth
Cool, light,, dry
Pitta & Kapha
Foods also have an effect on our digestive systems.  When we eat a food, we will feel the effects of this food inside our bodies.  For example, some foods will have a heating effect on the body, and we will feel warm after eating them.  These warm foods are easier to digest than the foods that cool our bodies down.  Our digestive system needs internal fire to digest our food properly. 
It is best to avoid eating prior to going to bed, as our digestive systems slow down during sleep and the food tends to sit in our digestive system and ama, toxins, build up.  We may wake-up feeling heavy, sluggish and have excess mucous and even constipation.  If you must have a snack before going to bed, choose from foods with a warming virya, sour, salty and pungent.  However, also know that these foods can be stimulating to the system, and may keep you awake.  It is best to have your supper 3 hours before bedtime.  This gives your body time to digest.
This is the post-digestive effect of food on the body, once it has made its way through your digestive system and has been absorbed and assimilated into the body.  Ayurveda typically describes 3 vipaks: sweet, sour and pungent.  The most common vipak is sweet.  Sweet has a calming and building effect on the body, giving us strength and a feeling of being grounded.  It keeps tissues healthy.  Rice is an example of a food that has a sweet vipak.  The sweet and salty tastes usually have a sweet vipak. 
Sour tasting foods will have a sour vipak.  Buttermilk and sour cream are examples of sour foods.  They are heating to the system and are not good for people who have ulcers or excess Pitta dosha. 
Foods that have a pungent, biter or astringent taste will usually have a pungent vipak.  These foods are heating and drying to the body, especially the colon.  They are to be avoided by vata, as they are too drying for the already dry vata constitution.  Hard cheeses and pickles are examples of foods with a pungent vipak.  Kaphas can handle these foods as their systems tend to be cool and moist.
The following table provides a summary of the rasas, viryas and vipaks.
Digestive Effect
Post-Digestive Effect


Dhatus Clip Image002

Dhatus are structural blocks of the body. They constitute the body -termed as S?areera. The most important difference between the Doshas and the Dhatus is that the latter perform functions under the influence of the Doshas

The word Dhatu means ?support?, in Sanskrit. Tissues therefore form the infrastructure of the body. There are Seven types of such structural elements that, constitute human body. 

Rasa :- It represents the primary constitution of human body. Water is a major constituent of human body. Such water is present in human body, both as extra cellular and intracellular fluid content. Rasa dhatu-the first of seven structural elements refers to both extra cellular and intracellular portions of fluid in the body.

Rakta :- The word Rakta refers to Blood. Thus, Rakta dhatu represents the blood, which includes its cellular components. Blood is perceived as a special type of tissue, in modern concepts of physiology also. 

Mamsa :- The muscular tissue, which constitutes many internal organs as well as the muscles, is referred to as Mamsa.

Medas :- Medo-dhatu is referred to as adipose tissue. Commonly, adipose tissue comprises of all deposits of fat-distributed in the body. 

Asthi :- All the bones in human body are composed of a tissue termed as osseous tissue. All such tissue is termed as Asthi dhatu in Ayurveda. Asthi dhatu also include all cartilaginous structure in the body. 

Majja :- Majja is bone marrow. A special type tissue called myeloid tissue forms bone marrow. 

Sukra :- Sukra represents the reproductive elements. This includes the sperm in males and ovum in females. Apart from these elements, Sukra also refers to cellular reproductive elements.


Last modified onTuesday, 17 December 2013 08:00
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