Ayurveda’s Definition of Health
Modern medicine simply defines health as a lack of disease, injury, or pain, but it’s much more than that.
One of the reasons that Ayurveda still inspires me to this day is its broad definition of health, which is:
“Samadosha Samagnischa Samadhatumala kriyaha Prasanna atmenindriya manaha Swasthya ityabhidheeyate”
That Sanskrit phrase is quoted from one of Ayurveda’s ancient texts, Sushruta Samhita, which was written by India’s first surgeon in 600 B.C.
It defines a healthy person as someone whose doshas (bio-psychic forces) are all in equilibrium, the digestive fire (agni) is in a balanced state (calledsama), in addition to the body’s tissues (dhatus) and waste products (mala) being in balance. The quote also states that the mind (mana), sense organs (indriyas), and the person’s soul (atma) must be also in a pleasant state (prasanna). When a person is balanced in all of those areas, he or she is considered healthy by Ayurvedic standards.
In addition to broadly defining health, Ayurveda has volumes upon volumes of texts with recipes for healing from the inside out via food, lifestyle, herbs, seasonal regimens, and procedures that are still applicable today. Pretty phenomenal, given that many of these texts were written some 10,000 years ago.
Health in the Gut, Heath in the Mind
The root of health, according to Ayurveda, lies in digestion, or agni, as it governs how food gets processed and converted into the body’s tissues and wastes, as well as the health of tissue byproducts like tears, sweat, hair, and nails.
Food also affects the state of mind. Eating predominantly rich, heavy, processed, greasy food leads to a heavy, lethargic state called tamas in Ayurveda psychology. A tamasic state is one of depression, sadness, and lack of motivation. (But, on the flip side, without tamas, we wouldn’t fall asleep each night, so there’s a delicate balance.)
Primarily consuming foods like garlic, onions, chilies, caffeine, and alcohol leads to rajas, a state of mind governed by constant action, doing, thinking, and in extreme cases, anger and violence.
Sattva is that calm and clear mind state, which often comes after meditation or a yoga class. Eating a diet of seasonal, fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and organic dairy can lead to a sattvic state of mind.
It’s important to note that to go from a state of tamas to sattva, you must first move, so rajas is necessary, energetically speaking. Actually, all of these states are important, but staying in rajas and tamas will, in many cases, lead to disease. So the goal is to move towards a clear and calm sattvic state through diet, lifestyle, and in everything we consume.
Among the most important lessons that Ayurveda has taught me is that there isn’t a magic pill to heal a disease or to bring about health. True health comes about from a lifestyle that is focused around healthy practices for mind, body, and soul.