What is pain?
You know it, you’ve felt it, you’ve had it. But, what is it? If you have ever had the experience of going to an emergency room with pain, the nurse or doctor asked you to rate your pain using a number scale. Is it a 0 meaning no pain, or is 10 being the most pain you ever had? Describe it’s location, what does it feel like? Does it move? Radiate? You probably thought to yourself, it hurts!
Like a slippery thing, pain is hard to grasp.
In Ayurveda, where there is pain, there is vayu. Vayu can be translated loosely as wind, and vayu is a general term for the combination of two elements: air and space. When air and space combine, they create vayu, usually referred to as vata. According to the Charak Samhita, vayu is “life, strength, and sustainer of creatures.” If vayu moves unimpeded, a person lives a healthy life and without problems. It is responsible for movement, and it has qualities of being mobile, light, cold, rough, clear, subtle, and dry. The best analogy is wind. You can feel it, but you can’t see it – you can only see the results of its action.
This vayu in the body is of five types and has different movements such as upward, downward, circular, and inward. If you are a yoga teacher, you have heard of these vayus: prana vayu, udana vayu, samana vayu, apana vayu, and vyana vayu. When vayu is disturbed, it can create many problems, eighty different health problems as mentioned in Chapter 20 in the Sutrasthana. Therefore, it’s important to keep one’s winds or vayus in balance. Depending on where vata or vayu (used as synonyms) is imbalanced, it manifests as different health conditions: stiffness in joints, limping, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, numbness, neuropathy, piercing pain, convulsions, exhaustion, constipation, and many other problems. All of these conditions listed here will cause a person pain: physical and mental pain.
Things that can disturb vata include injury, improper foods, excessive movements, fear, fasting, rough, cold, little food, light food, and improper detoxification (juice fasting, colonics, etc. if they don’t agree with your body type).
To balance a vitiated (disturbed) dosha (constitution), or to remedy an overabundance of wind in the body, Ayurveda suggests that oily, heavy, unctuous substances are used. Herbs and oils with specific properties and energies balance the wind. Think of a windbreaker keeping you protected from the wind.
So, it you have any ailments listed above, it’s possible that your vayus are out of balance. Herbs, diet and nutrition, massage, meditation, relaxation, warmth, light yoga, and breathing exercises have been known to balance vata. (Meditation, breathing exercises, etc. done improperly can also imbalance vata).
Ashwagandha is one of the best herbs for balancing vata, and it is a root powder which helps the nervous system and stress. (Roots in general help to balance vata).
Warming and pungent herbs such as ginger, black pepper, pippali (long pepper), also called trikatu, and a full daily body massage with sesame oil help to “ground” the air and space elements. Other vata balancing herbs are great for insomnia, depression, and other mental worries and stress. Oil enemas are one of the best ways to pacify or reduce an overabundance of vata. If you have knee pain or back pain, janu basti or kati basti using medicated oils can bring your vayu under control alleviating the source of the pain.
Massage and touch and oil helps to balance vata. Try giving yourself a self-massage everyday to relieve stress and anxiety.
It’s best to have a consultation with a qualified or experienced practitioner before trying any therapies. Trikatu, for example, can balance vata, but also irritate a person with a pitta constitution, so solving one problem and creating another can happen if you use a remedy which is not for your body and mind.
Quote taken from the Charak Samhita p. 461, 2nd volume: Chikitsasthanam. PV Sharma translation
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