Chef Zubin on Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of life

The ancient dudes discovered that since all humankind has not really been created equal, there may be some differences between people internally as well. What they believed was that all humans were composed of five elements which are air, fire, earth, water and ether or space. The proportion and balance of these elements differ in each individual which gives rise to our individual constitutions, referred to in Ayurveda as ‘dosha’. There is no right or wrong type of constitution since this framework has been genetically programmed into the body and largely remains unaltered throughout our lifetimes. In all honesty, this seemed rather incredulous to me at first and I thought that my good old Swamiji was having a laugh at my expense. I had seen a similar plot baseline in a movie that was a pretty direct rip-off from the Sigourney Weaver starrer ‘Aliens’. When the old man assured me that he was extremely serious, I decided to simmer down and listen to what he had to say.

Ancient European medical history makes references to the four humours made famous by Hippocrates, the father of modern-day Allopathic medicine. He ruled that that the body was governed by four types of liquids- blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile and a healthy person had these liquids in perfect proportion and harmony in his body while an unbalance could cause illness. It was believed that these humours or liquids gave off vapours that rose and directly affected the workings of the brain. This rationale was quickly picked up by several docs who jumped into the fray a little later and even improvised upon by heavy-weights such as Immanuel Kant and Alfred Adler. Terms such as melancholic, sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic were used to describe the patients who suffered from an excess of the corresponding humour. The Unani stream of medicine which is practiced in India still uses this theory as a foundation for probing several types of illnesses and prescribing medicine. Although several experiments have proved the theory on humours to be lacking in conviction, these guys may have not received the medical newsletters and continue to plod on with their treatments of blood-letting and purgatives.

Not that the theory of humours is totally wrong in its rationale, but to put it delicately, the original theory was lost in translation.

What Hippocrates and Galen actually picked up and improvised on was a theory they believed had originated out of Mesopotamia around two thousand and three hundred years ago. In reality, it is the basic foundation of Ayurvedic prescription and treatment which originated over five thousand years ago. Carried over by Assyrian and Mesopotamian traders and probably a few intellectuals, like a veritable game of ‘Chinese Whispers’, the theory got altered and misinterpreted over the centuries.

Quintessence, the very English word is an amalgamation of two distinct Latin words. ‘Quinta’ means five and ‘Essentia’ referred to element. The ancients believed that celestial beings were composed of a mysterious fifth element which existed in its purest form within them and a milder, polluted form in humans. This element is what ayurvedic texts refer to as ether or space.

As mentioned before, Ayurvedic theory believes that the building blocks or base components of the body are air, fire, earth, water and ether or space. Well, jolly good for them, and how does that affect us?!

To understand this, I may have to begin with the concepts of tri-dosha which in Ayurvedic terms would be referred to as the vata-pita-kapha dosha theory.

The human body has been divided into three broad classifications which are Vata which combines the elements of air and ether or space, Pita which is a fire and water combination and Kapha which is a water and earth combination. Cool! Now that I made all human bodies sound like the sequel to the Transformers movie, I think I will get into details and explain.

Every person has all three doshas or element combinations present in their bodies and there tends to be one particular dosha or a combination of two that may appear to dominate an individual’s personality and appearance. Ayurvedic theory holds that the doshas may affect a person’s appearance, psychology, tastes and preferences and habits. Normally, most people may maintain the dosha that they are born with throughout their life. In certain cases however, it has been noted that changes of domicile, occupation or environment around a person may cause a temporary change in their dosha.

Each dosha is responsible for certain functions within the body and they all have a couple of sections of the body assigned to them. A balance in the doshas ensures the smooth functioning of all the parts of the body. An excess of any particular dosha could manifest as a toxin build-up in the very parts that the dosha is expected to ensure smooth functioning.

The basic idea of ayurvedic living and diet is to enable all three doshas to be maintained at an equilibrium. An imbalance of a dosha in a person could cause a build-up of toxins in the organs or parts of the body that are governed by that particular dosha.

Vata is the principle governed by the properties of ether and air. It is manifested in the process of movement and is considered to enable reflex actions, transitions of body fluids within the system and the operation of the internal organs within the body. Feelings of nervousness, fear, freshness and anxiety are linked to this dosha. The pelvic region, thighs, large intestine, bones, skin and ears are linked to this principle and any excess build up of vata accumulates in these regions.

Pita is formed by the combination of the fire and water elements. Pita is linked in a major way to the metabolism and thought processes in the body. It governs the absorption of nutrition, digestion, clarity of understanding and according to purists- the twinkle in the eyes as well.

The Pita person is prone to anger, hate and jealous rages. Pita excesses manifest themselves in the stomach, sweat glands, blood, small intestine, skin, fat and eyes which are the seats of this particular constitution.

The Kapha constitution is made up of earth and water. It is the element responsible for the lubrication of joints, giving strength to the tissues, moisturises the skin, helps memory and delivers an overall immunity to the body. Kapha resides in the chest, throat, sinuses, mouth, stomach, head and mucus of a person. As my guru clearly put it across – almost any place you would expect a lot of liquid or mucus.

The kapha psychology veers towards attachment and greed and surprisingly a calm and forgiving demeanour.

There are a lot of things that are yet to be discussed on this theory – Please stay tuned on for my next update.

Buy Zubin’s All-India Vegetarian Cookbook: A Subzi Sutra Containing the Secrets of India’s Vegetarian Cuisine at Amazon.