Knowledge is Key to Healing: The Ayurvedic Phase of Illness
Two people will come to the health clinic. One of them is an older, 72-year-old man. He is tall, thin, has naturally fair skin, often has cold hands and feet, has thoughts at night and suffers from insomnia. His skin is rather dry, his hair has always been thin and fine and his digestion is very sensitive. Today he came to the doctor with an itchy and red rash.
The second person is a woman shortly in her forties. Her figure could be described as medium or athletic, she has rather oily skin, a great appetite, she is alert and often hungry. She also came to the doctor today with a red and itchy rash.
The difference between “modern” and traditional medicine
In a modern Western medical clinic, a doctor diagnoses eczema in both patients and prescribes the same steroid-based ointment. This is a solution that does not focus on the cause, but causes the rash to subside. At least temporarily. We who live in the West, or in the post-Western modern world in general, know similar stories well. But could there be more to the stories of these patients, and why can their symptoms manifest in this way?
The ancient Indian system of treatment and health, called Ayurveda, would not look at the cases of these two patients with such attention, thoroughness and complexity that the medical thinking we encounter in the Western world does not encounter. Ayurveda focuses intensively on the energetic and constitutional states of patients, which means a deep and orderly understanding of the stages of the disease.
As the imbalance begins, continues, and how and why these processes are uniquely shaped by the constitution of the individual, rather than embarking on a one-size-fits-all approach. Knowledge is key in Ayurveda. This system has served entire human communities and to this day helps people in their efforts to understand and reverse the disease process.
The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit and means “teaching about life”. It is one of the oldest treatment systems in the world, which was established more than 5,000 years ago. This system focuses on maintaining balance in the human body, through the observation of energies that enable the development and maintenance of health. It also provides opportunities to regain this balance and inner bliss when systems are not working properly. Health is achieved through stimulating methods such as diet, exercise, lifestyle, cleansing, medicinal herbs, emotional health and other natural therapies such as massage. To understand the essence of Ayurveda, we will explore the concept of dosha. In this system, all individuals can reveal their dosha or dosha combination: a unique factor of constitution that is determined by a particular combination of the five elements that are naturally present in a person.
The characteristic combination of two adjacent elements forms each of the three main doshas: vata, pitta and kapha
1. Vata – connects air and ether with energies that present themselves as dry, clear, clean, moving and cool.
2. Pitta – combines fire and water and presents their nature as greasy, hot, spilling and liquid.
3. Kapha – connects the earth and water and manifests itself as heavy, slow, dense and firm.
Each person can find out his dosha by different methods, and it can be one of the following doshas, but it is often a combination of two doshas. Don’t know your dosha? Here you will find a free test that will tell you.
These doshas also determine primarily the energy states that exist in nature and in all things. From the Ayurvedic point of view, these three doshas revive the processes of health and well-being, but also diseases and the way in which diseases manifest and develop.
The Six Ayurvedic Stages of the Disease
Theidentification of “symptoms” is fine-tuned in a very subtle and sensitive way. Changes in mood, digestion, changes in diet and lifestyle, etc. are considered factors that can disrupt homeostasis and open a person’s body to the disease process. Ayurveda recognizes six stages of the disease, which, with insufficient attention and care for the initial symptoms, spill over into each other. These phases are:
- Differentiation, i.e. destruction.
Understanding each of them could not only tell us why the older master and the younger patient we mentioned a while ago may experience a completely different disease process, even though they show similar symptoms, but focusing on important details would also give us insight into our healthcare.
Phase 1: Accumulation (Sanchaya)
In the first phase, one of the energies of the dosha ceases to be in balance, and it may or may not be one of the constitutional energies of the individual. Toxins, bacteria, parasites, or other destructive elements begin to accumulate in the body.
All dosa imbalances begin in the digestive tract. Cotton imbalance begins in the large intestine, pitty imbalance in the small intestine, and imbalance of the stomach. At this stage, the symptoms are mild and go away easily.
Cotton wool can have symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, hot flushes, constipation or anxiety and insomnia.
Pitty imbalance can be manifested by excessive amounts of gastric juices, overheating, irritability, bitter taste in the mouth and loose, foul-smelling stools.
With Kapha imbalance, symptoms such as slow digestion, lethargy, paleness and a feeling of heaviness in the limbs or head may occur.
Phase 2: Evocation (Prakopa)
If we ignore the mild symptoms and do not solve them (which many of us do!), The problem grows and then more severe symptoms may appear, although still in the digestive tract. At this point, the symptoms are still relatively easy to deal with.
At this stage, Vata’s symptoms include body tenderness, tingling in the hands or feet, tension in the face, sensitivity to sounds, intolerance to cold foods, and emerging and disappearing muscle pain.
Pitty’s symptoms are now manifested by sour taste in the mouth, increased thirst, anger, burning when urinating, and an appetite for alcohol.
Symptoms of elevated Kapha include: loss of appetite, sticky skin, mental fog, excessive sleep, a white coating on the tongue, and a feeling of heaviness.
When the imbalance process reaches this stage, it is wise to act, because the transition to the third phase will require more effort and possibly expert advice.
Phase 3: Spread (Prasara)
If the symptoms have been ignored or unsuccessfully resolved so far, the disease process may begin to spread. Although it is still possible to redirect the process at this stage, it is already beginning to spread outside the digestive tract. Tastes and reactions to foods may change at this stage.
The symptoms of Vata spread to the skin, bones, ears, airways, thighs and pelvic area.
Symptoms in Pitty can affect the eyes, liver, brain, plasma, blood, heart and spleen.
Symptoms of Kapha may spread to the lungs, joints, cavities, pancreas, and tongue.
Phase 4: Localization (Sthana Smshraya)
As the disease progresses from the third to the fourth stage, all dosha respond to the disease process similarly, or the imbalance finds a weakness in the body and localizes there. This weakness is called khavaigunya, or “defective space”. When the disease localizes, it begins to disrupt cellular functions and create more serious problems. If the cells are healthy enough not to be affected, the condition will reverse and go back to the digestive tract. If cell function is impaired, a localized disease will manifest.
Phase 5: Manifestation (vjakti)
In the manifestation phase, the localized site is swollen and often requires urgent medical attention. In Western medicine, the diagnosis is usually made at this stage, not earlier. The disease is now beginning to affect other organs.
Stage 6: Differentiation or destruction (Bheda)
If the disease has not been effectively treated, it begins to destroy the tissue and causes serious damage. When the disease reaches this stage, it is very difficult to treat it.
Vigilance, sensitivity, well-being
True Ayurvedic doctors can spend a lifetime learning the finest details of diagnosis, treatment and procedures in this complex but intuitive medical system, and this is always recommended when working with a doctor. Merely exploring the concepts of this “doctrine of life,” or knowing our doshas, can give us enough insight into our natural constitution to begin an inner dialogue.
Keeping yourself healthy or regaining it when we’re out of balance for a while can be as simple as realizing what doesn’t seem right to us, or where we’re out of our depths. As in the story of the two patients we imagined at the beginning, each of us is a unique combination of elements and energies. While it is easy to make a universally valid diagnosis of any disease, Ayurveda can provide a different, more individualized approach to living in health and well-being through its sensitive and in-depth study of the disease process.