Life has four characteristics: it exists, evolves, expresses and extinguishes. And for these, it depends on five elements: the earth, water, air, ether and fire. These correspond to the five senses: smell, taste, touch, sound and sight.
Ayurveda is the study of life — Veda means to know and Ayur is life. According to Ayurveda, life or existence is not rigid compartments — it is a harmonious flow. Even the five elements are not tight compartments of defined objects — they flow into one another. Each one of the elements contains the other four. So, the approach of Ayurveda towards life is holistic.
The subtlest element in us is space, which the mind is made up of, and the grossest element is the earth, which our bones, skin and body structure are made up of. To understand the physiology, its characteristics and its reflection on the mind, the human system is divided into three Doshas or imbalances: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
When an illness arises, it manifests first in the thought form, which is the subtlest aspect, and then in the sound form. Thereafter it manifests in the light form, that is, in the aura. It is only then that the illness manifests itself in the body. To begin with, simple symptoms arise in the fluid form, which can be eradicated, and then only they manifest in the grossest form, where they need medication. In aromatherapy, an illness can be cured just through fragrance. It is mostly focussed on the preventive aspect.
The holistic approach of Ayurveda includes exercising, breathing and meditation. Breath is synonymous to life. For all practical purposes, if someone is not breathing, that’s the sign that there is no life there.
It is very interesting to notice the relationship between breath and the three Doshas in the body. These Doshas affect certain parts of the body more than the others. For example, Vata Dosha is predominant in the lower part of the body — stomach, intestine etc. Diseases like gastric problems and joint aches are caused due to this. Kapha Dosha is predominant in the middle part of the body. Cough is mainly a result of Kapha imbalance. Pitta affects the upper part of the body i.e., the head — short temper is a sign of Pitta.
In the breathing techniques, the three-stage pranayama has effect on these three Doshas. Among different breathing techniques, there are specific breathing exercises for lower, middle and upper parts of the body. After the three-stage pranayama, you would feel that the Doshas in your body have altered. Something in the body changes; you no longer feel the same, you feel more balanced. The pranayama brings that balance in the system. Once you get in the rhythm of the pranayama, you will find the balance setting in. Making it a habit is difficult, but not the practice itself. Definite rhythms or breathing patterns correct these Doshas and bring the balance to the connected parts of the body. You can also find the three Doshas in our fingers and the nerve endings. For example, the index finger is Kapha; the middle finger is Vata, and the ring finger, Pitta. You can discern the Doshas running in the body by the shape of someone’s fingers. Practice of Mudra pranayamas, i.e., gently pressing the nerve endings in the fingertips in a subtle way and breathing with the Ujjayi breath, also balances the Doshas in the body.