Ayurveda has a special definition of “healthy”. The Sanskrit word for healthy is “swasthya”, a word with a beautiful meaning. It emerges from two base words – swa + stha. Swa means self and stha means stable. Therefore, a being stable in his existence is truly healthy, whether it is on the physical, emotional, or spiritual level.
The initial definition of perfect health in modern medicine is an absence of diseases. But WHO revised this definition to include emotional well-being.
However, mental well-being has always been an integral part of Ayurveda.
Besides, Ayurveda goes beyond emotional health. It talks about the spiritual health and evolution of an individual. The ancient Vedic people believed that the true development of a living being is spiritual. Mental and physical development follow spiritual evolution. So, if you are a highly evolved being on spiritual dimensions, your mind and body will ooze the spiritual shine.
“Swasthya” (synonym for healthy) in Sanskrit means a person stable in his physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This Ayurvedic definition of healthy brings out an advanced approach to healthcare – an approach founded based on the mind-body connection.
Definition of Perfect Health
The following shloka from the ancient text on Ayurvedic surgery, Sushrut Samhita gives the most comprehensive definition of a perfect state of health.
Prassnnatmendriya mana swasthyamitiabhidiyate
Sushrut Samhita, Sutrasthan, 10/15
Only the one with a balanced dosha (physiological systems), agni (digestive fire), dhatu (body tissues), mal (excretion).
with joyful senses, soul, the mind is (perfectly) healthy.
This verse talks about all the factors responsible for perfect physiological and psychological balance. And when such health is well preserved, it may be hard to find sick people! That is why, in ancient times, sickness was blamed on Providence. With flawless health preservation, only destiny can make one sick!
This definition addresses the three dimensions of health – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Under physiological health, the definition talks about the balance in metabolic biorhythms (dosha), a strong digestive fire (agni), robust tissue systems (dhatu), and flawless excretory processes. On the psychological plane, the definition enumerates the health of atma (soul), endriya (senses), and man (mind).
In terms of healthcare, most of us believe that more is better. So, we run after more nutrition, more health supplements, and so on. But neither more nor less is good. Everything in balance, in an appropriate amount, is good. Even elixir turns to poison in excess.
The word “sama” means balance. Balance is the crucial factor in Ayurveda. When we focus on balance, we do not have to worry about either less or more. Besides, balance is overall. Balance in one part of the body naturally brings balance to other parts or systems in the body.
So, balance is the key, not more! Let us look at an elaborate exploration of this definition to bring the priceless pearls of Ayurveda wisdom.
The classical definition of Ayurveda talks about a perfect balance in metabolic factors like the natural bio-rhythm, tissues, digestion, excretion, and balanced state of soul, mind, and senses.
The Physiological Aspect
Ayurveda believes that each person has a distinct body type. There are three primary metabolic patterns in Ayurveda – vata, pitta, and kapha. These patterns have multiple subcategories.
Each metabolic pattern has distinct characteristics. For example, vata dominant people love warmth, whereas pitta dominant people are more comfortable with cooling food and lifestyle.
For perfect health, a person should maintain a balance in dosha or metabolic patterns. And dosha or the biorhythms are the most crucial factors for health preservation. All other metabolic functions are dependent on the biorhythms.
The word dosha means “something that corrupts or maligns.” So, doshas are the essential factors for disorders. An imbalance in dosha creates a loophole for the pathogenic factors to seep in. If you have balanced dosha in your body, there will be no space for diseases to thrive.
According to Ayurveda, digestion is the core of metabolism. It is the door to both nutrition and diseases. For example, if you have balanced digestion, this digestion will effortlessly extract nutrients from the ingested food and burn down the pathogens.
But if the agni is imbalanced, then you will have a contrasting effect. The digestive system will not be able to break down the food. But instead, it might produce toxins from the under-digested food. These metabolic toxins or ama form an incubation center for disorders.
Besides, it is important to note that everybody type in Ayurveda has a different digestive system. For example, the pitta dominant body type has the strongest digestive system, whereas vata has a random digestive capacity. Kapha dominant body type has sluggish digestion. Since each body type has a different digestive system, their balancing point of digestion is also different. For example,
- Generally, you can balance a pitta dominant digestion with cooling herbs like licorice, rose, fennel, etc.
- Naturally cold, dry and light vata body type requires warm, heavy, and oily food/herbs to keep the digestion in balance.
- Cool, oily, and heavy kapha body type requires warm, dry, and light food and herbs.
So, each one of us has a personalized point of balance.
According to Ayurveda, there are seven basic dhatus – rasa (digested juice/chyle), rakta (blood), mansa (muscles), meda(adipose tissue), asthi (bones), majja (marrows), and shukra (reproductive secretions). These dhatus form from each other in the above-mentioned sequence. For example, blood forms from chyle.
However, there can imbalanced tissue system in the body. For example, if the body cells do not stay in the muscular tissue long enough, but transform into fat tissue; then no matter what you do, you might not be able to gain muscles or eliminate the excess fat from the body.
But, with balanced tissue systems, you will have an appropriate amount of all tissues, whether it is the fat tissue or the muscular tissue.
There is one thing more important than food – excretion. Excretion is the fundamental cleaning process that preserves the state of homeostasis. Without proper excretion, a lot of metabolic toxins accumulate in the body. These toxins hinder normal physiology and create a loophole for the pathogenic factors.
Our bodies have a very efficient excretory system with multiple channels of waste removal. The major waste removal is through fecal matter and urine. But sweat, sebum, tears, dead skin, hair, excess mucus, etc. are all parts of a wide-ranging cleansing process.
Again, more excretion is not good. Balance is the key! For example, less excretion may lead to constipation, bloating, etc; whereas excess excretion may lead to loose motions. Less excretion is better than more because waste matter also creates warmth in the body through fermentation. It contributes to the temperature management system of the body!
According to the verse sequence, balance in dosha naturally promotes a balance in agni. A balanced agni incidentally leads to balance in the tissue system. And balanced tissue systems face minimal wear and tear. Therefore, they balance the waster excretion as well.
In Ayurveda, balance is the key to a perfect metabolism. A balance in metabolic patterns (dosha), digestion, body tissues, and excretion naturally leads to a perfect physiological balance.
The Psychological Aspect
Ayurveda includes spiritual health as the foundation of psychological health. This verse mentions happiness of atma (soul), or a feeling of bliss first. Because the happiness of the senses and mind is short-lived.
Meditation, the pursuit of wisdom, good deeds all lead to the state of bliss. Besides, when you have a blissful soul, you may not need to do anything extra for sensual or mental pleasures. They incidentally emerge from the blissful state of the soul.
Sensual happiness is the second most important. They are simpler and easy to fulfill. However, there are two ways to please the senses, the right one and the wrong one. For example, eating fruits may be a pleasing experience for the taste buds, but so is eating pizzas. Therefore, when we start with the contentment of the soul, we land on the right way to please our senses and make the right choices. When the soul is content, you will be happier with the fruits than with junk food!
The mind governs the senses. Therefore, Master Charak should have mentioned the mind before the senses. But mental pleasures are more complicated than bliss, or sensual pleasures. They also can be the right ones or the wrong ones.
However, they produce a more complex impact. For example, imbalanced sensual pleasure may lead to a compulsive eating disorder. But the root of sensual disorders lies in mental stress. We can focus on peace of mind and mental pleasure. However, real peace of mind descends through a blissful soul. And mental pleasures are short-lived.
Blissful soul, senses, and mind together with make a perfect psychological balance. A blissful soul naturally leads to pristine sensual and mental pleasure.
Ayurveda presents a flawless and comprehensive definition of health – swasthya (the one who is stable physiologically and psychologically. The psychosomatic aspect of Ayurveda is unique. It doesn’t end at emotional balance. It also counts sensual happiness and soul bliss as an integral part of perfect psychological health.
This is a basic introduction to the concept of health in Ayurveda. I hope that this information encourages everyone to explore the depth of Ayurvedic wisdom.