How Disease Manifests from an Ayurvedic Perspective.
‘All disease starts in the gut’ is a common phrase of Ayurveda which has been receiving much affirmation in complimentary medicine and modern scientific research.
We see that the imbalance of the dosha often starts with an imbalance in the digestive fire (agni), which not only leads to an accumulation of the dosha, but also toxins (ama), which can lead to an obstruction in the channels (agni), which can lead to the deficiency of a body system (srota), such as the blood, the muscles or the nervous system etc
However, Ayurveda is system of health which includes mind body emotions and spirit, and all of these are potent forces underlying our overall health or disease.
Ayurveda is similar to yoga in that it sees disturbances first arising in the subtle fields – the mind – and becoming denser into manifestation in the body. That disturbance often arises in the mind as desires, which lead us to a life of grasping and unfulfilment, preferences and aversions . This will branch into feelings of greed, fear, rage, jealousy, hatred etc which then become encoded into our bodily tissues, creating diseases on a level which involves purification not only of the body but the mind and emotions. However, saying this, we are also aware that this is a looped system, and so we when we feel these emotions ( even subconsciously) it will affect our digestive fire (agni) and so manifest in the body through disturbed digestion.
Here is a classic ayurvedic list of causes for disturbance of the doshas
- Crimes against wisdom – is when we do not heed our intuition or past experiencess as guidelines for making healthy choices. Eg drinking too much alcohol caused a hangover the next day , and yet choosing to do this , again and again…. !
- Respecting natural urges – we should not supress our natural urges to sleep, yawn , defeacate, urinate, sneeze, burp or pass gas etc
- Unwholesome attachment of the senses – desiring something too much or too little or when sensual desire overides the higher wisdom. For example, eating a lot of sweet foods that are tempory sensation with unfortunate after effects , and why? often due to greed and attachment to sensory delights.
- Seasonal influences – the environment we live in ( eg hot and moist outdoors and dry and cold A/C inside ) and the changes in the seasons determine the very elements we are living within and thereby have a huge influence upon the individual dosha.
- Inherited – tendencies we may have a predisposition towards, although we may take care not to manifest it.
- Trauma – of body and mind
- Divine – intervention through magic spells etc
- Environmental – availability of adequate food and water have obvious impacts.
- Karmic – disturbances from actions taken in other lifetimes.
Progression of disease.
1. Any of the above casues of disturbance can cause a dosha to accumulate at its associated site
vata in the large intestines with symptoms of gas, constipation, bloating, dryness, cold and anxiety.
pitta in the small intestines with acidity in the stomach, heat, loose stools, yellowing of the urine and stool, and irritability.
kapha will accumulate in the stomach with symptoms of sluggish digestion, heaviness, and lethargy.
2. If the dosha is not treated , it will lead to aggravation, where toxins are starting to increase the severity of the conditions.
3. The dosha will overflow out of the digestive system and into other parts of the body through the first two channels of plasma and blood – the strotas of rasa and rakta. This will show up in the doshas as below
vata -dry skin, cracking and pain in the joints, dry cough, and intestines even more blocked and dry.
pitta – rashes, nausea red eyes and burning diarrhoea
kapha – lung congestion with wet cough, breathing difficulties, mucous in the stool and swelling in the joints.
4. Relocation of the dosha to a set location which usually is a body system that is associated with that dosha.
For vata this would be the skin, bowels, joints, bones, ears, nervous system ;
for pitta, this would be the liver, eyes, glans and small intestines;
for kapha the lungs stomach, joints and mucous membranes.
5. The disease is now manifested as an identifiable issue such as asthma, diabetes or arthritis.
6. characteristics of the disease may now differentiate according to the causative dosha. For example, eczema which is vata is dry, cracked and itchy; pitta type will be red, inflamed, bleed and hot ; and kapha type will be wet with weeping, swollen and itchy.
The overflowing bucket analagy.
To explain it another way if a dosha accumulates in the digestive system and is not treated it will cause an aggravation. If left untreated the dosha will likely overflow to another area of the body. Just as a bucket being filled with a dripping tap of a certain dosha, that will overflow onto the floor, through the floorboards ( relocate) and even damage the ceiling of the room below ( manifest as a definative disease ) etc. So it is with the doshas overflowing in the body, they will find a place to collect and store, and thus manifest disease in the body.
The beauty of ayurveda is that, through self awareness and observation of the doshas, we are able to prevent this overflow from even happening. Even if we catch it at the overflow stage, we can recognise and reverse it before it even relocates and way before it actually manifests as disease. The western system only tends to acknowledge and recognise there is a problem ,only when an actual disease has manifested, when it is 3 stages more developed and therefore more complicated to unwind. If we can catch treat an imbalance in the accumulation or overflow stage it is relatively simple to reverse.
An example of how we observe this can be the awareness that there has been vata agni or vata in the digestive fire. We are able to observe this by a lack of appetite and inibilty to digest foods when eating even without hunger showing as gas and bloating in the digestive system. This may continue for a while, and if left untreated, the vata may cause constipation. This could further its overflow and relocate into the skin drying it out, and then the joints which when dry will start to crack with movement. This may then continue to progress into severe joint deterioration leading to arthritis.
Of course we have to know the principles of ayurveda to
- firstly know what the characteristics and effects of the doshas are;
- secondly, the likely channels that a particular dosha will tend take ( vata has an affinity with the large intestines, joints, bones and nervous system);
- and lastly what its effect is in the relocated site of aggravation.
The Dhatus are the structural support systems of the body, and are nourished by the foods we eat. They are also susceptible to the doshas bringing imbalance into these tissues
- Plasma – rasa – is also our lymph and interstitial fluids. it is the element of water. Relates to breast milk and menstrual fluids. It requires liquid, unctuos sweet sour and salty foods. Energetically, rasa is our sap or life force – and gives us a taste for life, or an apathy when deficient.
- Blood – rakta – as in our red portion of the blood and includes the blood vessels and the tendons. It has the elements of water and fire. Rakta requires iron, vit A, red/orange foods, sweet and sour herbs such as amalaki . Energetically, rakta gives us vitality and colour or paleness when deficient.
- Muscle – mamsa – is also the deeper layers of the skin and the ligaments. It has the element of earth. It requires heavy, hard and solid foods and substances such as ashwagandha. Energetically, mamsa gives us endurance and strength in face of adversity, but fatigue and avoidance when deficient.
- Fat – medas – is our lipid tissue and its protective quality of lubrication especially of the joints, as well as insulates us from the cold. It is the element of water. It requires oily foods such as seeds and nuts. Energetically, medas is the quality of loving affection and a deficiency will make people hard and distant.
- Bone – ashti – also relates to teeth, nails and hair. It is the element of earth and air. It requires resinous herbs such as frankincense and seseame seeds. Energetically asthi is reflected in confidence, flexibilty and hard working nature, and the opposite when deficient.
- Nerve –majja – also relates to bone marrow and tears. It has the element of water. It requires nourishing nutrient dense foods such as walnuts and ashwagandha. Energetically, majja gives us the qualitiy of being grounded, clear, relaxed and focused, but when deficient one becomes ungrounded, unfulfilled and vata aggravated.
- Reproductive – sukra – and all that causes pregnancy. Its element is water. It requires sweet cooling oily foods such as seeds, nuts, milk and ghee as well as deep nourishing herbs such as shatavarie, and ashwagandha. Energetically, sukra creates a lustre of refined juiceness of contentment we call ojas.
The Srotas are the channels through which ayurveda sees our life processes occur. These channels may have excess, deficiency, blockage or overflow.
Vata will likely cause constriction and tightness.
Pitta will likely cause inflamation and swelling
Kapha will likely cause wastes to build up and cause obstruction
These include the above 7 dhatu channels, and in addition there are the channels of breath, food, water balance, faeces, sweat, milk, menstration, and the mind.
Toxins – Ama – is another cause of disease.
It is a by product of improper digestion