From an Ayurvedic perspective, there are 3 fundamental causes of disease, which are:
- The misuse of the 5 senses
- The failure of the intellect
To simplify this, we can say that the causes of disease are:
- Feeding our senses of taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell in ways that are inappropriate for our specific mind-body constitution, or in ways that are excessive or generally harmful.
- Knowing what we need to do to be healthy and balanced, but not doing it.
- The more rapidly our body and mind moves, the more quickly our body deteriorates.
In this post I’d like to discuss the first cause of disease – the misuse of the 5 senses – and talk about how treating ourselves through the 5 senses is one of the most important ways to heal our body, mind and spirit.
Thus far, we’ve learned that each person has a very specific mind-body constitution. To simplify, most people tend to be predominant in one or more of the 3 doshas:
- Vata types – air/ether
- Pitta types – fire (mostly)/water (small amount)
- Kapha types – water/earth
The basic principle of treatment in Ayurveda is that “like increases like, and opposites balance.” If someone is a Vata, or air type, we can know that air is cold, light, dry and mobile. Therefore, those qualities of cold, light, dry and mobile are predominant in their system, so for treatment we give them the opposite qualities, which are warm, heavy, moist and stable. But how do we actually give a person the opposite qualities? This is where the 5 senses come in, which is one of the most critical aspects of Ayurvedic treatment.
We give the opposite qualities to the body and mind through feeding those opposite qualities through the 5 senses of taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell. As everything in the world is composed of the 5 elements (or 3 doshas), the Ayurvedic practitioner has been trained to understand the nature of the world around us in terms of its qualities and elemental make-up. For instance, there are warm, heavy, moist and stable foods, herbs, colors, sounds, smells, and forms of touch, so the Ayurvedic Practitioner would create a treatment program for the Vata type person that incorporates all of those and more. Therefore, a practitioner is creating a treatment plan for you that provides you with a comprehensive method of healing through all of your senses. Some tools used in Ayurveda to do this are:
- Taste: A dosha-specific food program; mindful eating habits; herbal formulas
- Touch: Massage and body therapies; self-massage; healing physical contact with supportive friends, family or partners
- Smell: Aromatherapy; being in nature
- Sound: Soothing music; silence; limiting exposure to loud or irritating forms of music or noise; mantra
- Sight: Color therapy, such as wearing clothing in colors that are supportive for your constitution, or decorating your home with supportive colors; limiting exposure to TV, internet, and/or disturbing and overly dramatic media.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of 5 sense therapies in healing. Ayurveda is one of few current forms of medicine practiced in the U.S. that concerns itself with the full picture of what the patient does on a day-to-day basis outside of the treatment office. We know that if we eat an improper diet we will not experience good health, so why would that also not apply to the rest of the senses as well?
Just to give an analogy, imagine that your body is a car and there are specific roads that the car should be driven on in order to avoid damage and to maintain itself properly. What happens when you take that car off-roading every time you get it back from the shop? No matter how often it gets “fixed,” if you regularly drive it on a road that it’s ill-equipped for, you’ll continue to wear it down. But when you drive it on the right path, it will function well and the less you’ll need to bring it into the shop. The difference is that as humans we can’t simply sell “the car” or trade it in when too much damage has been done!
The most supportive “road” for each person is a lifestyle that allows us to envelope ourselves with the stimuli and practices that are most balancing for our mind/body type. The more you invest in feeding your body, mind and spirit with the food, herbs, sights, sounds, colors, smells, body therapies, etc. that balance your constitution, and likewise, the less you expose yourself to stimuli that are harmful or inappropriate for your mind/body constitution, the more your body will be supported to heal itself. Remember that the the body is always moving in the direction of healing, but when we regularly feed our five senses with non-supportive forms of stimuli, we create obstacles to that innate healing potential. When we feed our body, mind and spirit with the best forms of stimuli, we remove those obstacles and our body is able to do the healing it inherently wants to do.
Take a moment to consider how you might be feeding your senses by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I know what kinds of foods are supportive for my specific mind/body constitution?
- Am I eating mindfully, away from my computer, TV, or phone?
- When was the last time I received a massage or body therapies?
- Do I value silence?
- How often do I detach from phone, TV, computer for at least several hours per day, particularly leading up to bedtime?
- Is my home decorated in a way that supports me emotionally?
- How often to do I spend time in nature?
These are just a few ways to identify how we’re feeding our senses on a daily basis.
The Ayurvedic treatment program, which is a process that is carried out over time, is a comprehensive “map” guiding you back to that road that is ideal for your constitution. Through regular consultations, the Ayurvedic Practitioner guides you through 5 Sense Therapies, as well as other practices, until you have all the tools you need to carrying out these practices on your own. In this way, Ayurveda is a way to fully empower you to know your constitution and feed it accordingly, giving you the ability to nurture your own healing on a daily basis.