Ayurveda and The Three Pillars of Life: The Bedrock of Health

Optimal health, according to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, can only be achieved when there is a proper balance of the “Three Pillars of Life.” These three “pillars” form a part of the bedrock upon which Ayurveda is built. They are so important that the Caraka Samhita, the most revered of all classical Ayurvedic texts, states that “one who manages these three pillars properly is guaranteed a full life span that will not be cut short by disease.” All Ayurvedic treatment programs begin with bringing these three areas into balance.

The Three Pillars of Life are proper digestion, proper sleep, and proper management of sexual activities.  Eating, sleeping and procreating are essential to life, and when these three areas are in a healthful state of balance, the body and mind will reach its full potential of health and wellness.

Proper Management of Digestion

Proper digestion and elimination is paramount to our well-being. Through proper digestion, our bodies are able to extract from the food all the nutrients present as well as the life force energy (prana) of the food. Proper digestion, according to Ayurveda, has multiple levels. The end result of proper digestion is ojas, a subtle energy that protects the body and mind from disease. Proper digestion requires the intake of the ideal foods for a person’s constitution. It also requires that food be consumed properly with due regard for how the foods taken are combined. When the choice of food is not appropriate for the constitution of the person or the food is taken improperly, the result is a disturbance of one or more of the body’s three doshas (vata, pitta or kapha – bodily humours which determine our physical and mental constitution). Improper digestion eventually results in disease. Normal digestion for all doshic types should be symptom-free.

Proper Management of Sleep

Proper rest is essential for the well-being of any person. The body utilizes sleep as an opportunity to use its energy for healing and repairing damage to the body that accumulated during the waking hours. If the body does not receive enough sleep, the body cannot repair the damage caused by stress and strain. This leads to the body breaking down. Too much or too little sleep brings on consequences. Too little sleep upsets vata dosha, while too much disturbs kapha dosha. Disturbance of vata dosha results in weaker tissues that are more susceptible to injury. Disturbance of kapha dosha results in tissues that become excessive, stagnant, lethargic and immobile. In general, it is best to align our sleeping patterns with the cycles of day and night, and retire by 10 pm and rise with the sun.

Proper Management of Sexual Energy 

Ayurveda recognizes the value of the practice of healthy daily routines. Sattvic (health-promoting) practices bring purity and lightness to one on all levels of body, mind and consciousness. Our body is brought into balance with healthful foods, sufficient sleep, exercise, and other practices. Mental stresses are reduced by bringing calming, consistent routines into our daily life. And our consciousness is free to expand when our body and mind are in harmonious balance.  Excessive sexual indulgence can become an area of imbalance when engaged in excessively and/or inappropriately. Excessive sexual activity can be depleting to vital reserves and is contraindicated for those suffering from disease. Sexual energy, called shukra, is needed to build ojas, the energy that provides stability to the body and mind and underlies the strength of the immune system. When shukra is depleted, ojas is depleted as well. If ojas is not sufficient, the body and mind are more susceptible to disease and disharmony.

Hence, the person who wisely manages the Three Pillars of Life is benefited with a long and healthy life!

By Dr. Marisa Jackson-Kinman, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda 

Reference: “Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine” by Dr. Marc Halpern, Founder and Director of the California College of Ayurveda.