Three pillars of health according to Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, we can only enjoy an optimal health state of health or ‘Svastha,’ when the ‘Three Pillars of Health’ are in proper balance. In Sanskrit, the word for pillar is ‘Sthambha’. The three Sthambhas are the three doshas – Vata(ether and air), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth).
Beneath these Shthambha, keeping them stable and strong, are three supporting pillars called ‘Upasthambhas.’ The three Upasthambhas are proper food (Ahara), proper sleep (Nidra), and proper management of sexual energy (Bhramacharya).
Why do the three pillars of health matter?
Ahara: Proper management of diet—
Ayurveda holds food and the process of eating in the highest respect, as what we eat provides nourishment not only to the physical body but the mental and spiritual one also. Honor your Ayurvedic dosha, the season, the doshic imbalances, the agni, the level of ama, the Ayurvedic clock, the strength of your mind-body, the environment, the company, your mood, and much more.
The end result of proper digestion is ojas, the refined substance produced after digestion. It’s a subtle energy that builds immunity and protects the body and mind from disease. Undigested food can become ama or toxins. Improper digestion is often the root cause of many diseases according to Ayurveda. Revered and experienced Ayurvedic physician Dr. Vasant Lad once said, “eating the right food at the appropriate time, in the proper environment, and with great love and respect will not only nourish the body, but also the mind and soul.”
Nidra: Proper management of sleep—
We all know that sleep is necessary to rest, replenish, and rejuvenate our mind-body. Sleep also heals the body, increases focus, promotes clarity of mind, and strengthens the physical body (Think immune system, weight loss, heart health and much more). It’s not just the quantity of sleep but the quality of sleep that matters in Ayurveda. Both excessive and insufficient sleep are considered unhealthy.
Too little sleep will vitiate Vata Dosha while excessive sleep can aggravate Kapha Dosha. Aligning your sleep pattern with the cycles of nature/circadian rhythm can help. Meaning, get into bed before 10pm and wake up before 6am. Cultivating a strong evening routine prior to sleep can help establish good sleep hygiene and help manage insomnia. Just 10-15 minutes is enough—be it meditation or reading or foot massage! Mindfulness is another practice that can help enhance the quality of sleep. For example, putting your phone away an hour before you go to bed. Making sure there are no gadgets in your sleep area.
Brahmacharya: Regulated sexual conduct—
This one is tricky as a large majority of people misinterpret this pillar of health and assume it’s suggesting celibacy. Not at all. Brahmacharya is the proper management of our creative energy as well as our choices around sex. Ayurveda states that when sexual activity is conducted appropriately, it helps boost youthfulness, memory, strength, and hormonal balance in the body.
Excessive sexual activity or inappropriate consummation deplete shukra, which is sexual energy. Shukra Dhatu (tissue) is needed to build ojas, which is the essence of all the dhatus and is formed after shukra. When shukra dhatu becomes depleted (cause is mainly sexual activity), so does ojas. Lack of ojas makes the mind and body susceptible to disease and disharmony. This pillar is about understanding and practicing an awareness of your desires, where they come from, and how you can manage them in a healthy way.
One of the most revered texts in Ayurveda—Charaka Samhita—tells us that “one who manages these three pillars properly is guaranteed a full life span that will not be cut short by disease.” A person who manages these three pillars of health wisely enjoys a long and balanced life. They feel healthy, happy, and content.