In ayurveda, there are three primary causes of disease. Before we get into these, it may be helpful to define disease:
Disease: a disharmony (or imbalance of energy flow) among mind, body, and spirit.
- Taking in too much or too little of the appropriate energies for our constitution (prakruti). This one is pretty self explanatory. We are constantly taking in energy (as the three doshas) from our environment–through our 5 senses, our interactions with others and our environment, our food, etc. If someone is a spicy food lover, has a hot-tempered spouse, a bright colored house, and lives in the desert–you can see how they may be predisposed to pitta imbalance. In short, our environment is a very important determinant of our health.
- Not listening to our ‘inner voice’. One thing that holds true for every patient (both formal and friends/family) that I have treated is that they know what they should be doing. They will come in and tell me that they need more sleep, to eat less, to work less, not be around certain people, or whatever the case may be. We know when we are doing things that are harmful to our body because our ‘inner voice’ kicks in. When we don’t listen to it, we are essentially ignoring our spirit. Our spirit is saying one thing, but our mind is rationalizing and justifying something else and our body is acting with the decision of the mind. Thus, the spirit is in disharmony with the mind and body. Think about eating that third piece of cheesecake–it’s tasty but then we start to feel guilty because we ignored that little voice that said to stop (mental distress) and get a stomachache (physical distress). This is a microexample of a pervasive concept. Staying in a relationship or job that you don’t like are other examples.
- Time/Motion. We all have a biological clock, so to speak. There was a point when the opposite sex became “ooooh” instead of ‘eeewww’, and even when our maternal/paternal instincts kick in. Even on a daily basis, our cortisol levels rise and fall according to our internal clock. According to ayurveda, this clock is sensitive to motion. Think of the international businessperson that is traveling all the time, and compare that to a farmer. The businessperson will look older than a farmer of the same age because their biological clock has been sped up by all the motion they are experiencing, and they are aging faster. The real ‘kicker’ here is that our internal clocks are not only sensitive to our physical experience of movement; our clocks actually pace themselves to our mental sense of time/motion! So if your mind is running in 100 directions at 100 mph (as most of us multitaskers), your clock is going to sense that and you will age (decay) faster. This underscores the importance of slowing down and single-mindedness in maintaining our health. Basically, in Western medicine, this concept is termed ‘ stress’ (which research attributes 80% of all illness to)!
All three of these causes can be distilled down to one: forgetting our true nature as spirit. If we were to be in tune with our nature as spirit, we wouldn’t overindulge in unhealthy energy (cause 1), ignore our spirit (cause 2), or get caught up in the grind and get stressed (cause 3).