By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
In this new world of junk foods, air pollution, bad habits and stressful life, maintaining a good immunity has become very important.
Read – Immunity In Ayurveda: Concept, Diet, Herbs, Medicines, Exercise
Table of Contents
What is immunity?
Immunity is resistance power of an individual. It is in-borne or induced power to resist diseases from afflicting the health. This power differs from person to person. Immunity is also not a permanent asset. It can alter at any time and due to different reasons. Trick is not only having a good immunity but also to maintain it for life.
System of body which helps us in fighting diseases and infections and helps us to be healthy is called immune system.
A compilation of many references and explanation regarding body components like doshas, tissues, excreta, digestive fire, ojas etc, studying their meaning in depth and decoding them helps us in understanding immunology in terms of Ayurvedic language.
Factors for immunity
Different terms and components determining immunity in body according to Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, immunity is called as bala or vyadhi kshamatva.
Below mentioned terms determine and explain immunity according to Ayurveda –
- Balance of doshas
- Balance of tissues
- Proper excretion of excreta and toxins from body
- Balance of digestive fire
- Pleasantness of mind, senses and soul
Components of body determining immunity according to Ayurveda –
- Ojus – essence of all tissues of body
- Prakrita kapha – balanced kapha
Health and immunity
From perspective of ‘definition of swastha i.e. health’
Swasthya means health. Swastha means ‘healthy person’.
Definition of swastha explains – ‘person in whom doshas, tissues and metabolic fire are in a state of balance, proper and timely excretion of excreta and toxins occurs, mind, senses and soul are in a state of pleasantness is called swastha or healthy person’.
Person who has balance of all above mentioned components of the body will not suffer from any disease, will have good power of resistance and can prevent himself from becoming victim of diseases. If balance persists for longer time and is consistent, person will have good immunity.
Here we can see that balance of doshas i.e. vata, pitta and kapha is very essential for a person to be healthy and immune.
Read – Ayurvedic Preventive Healthcare: Swastha Urjaskara Chikitsa
Balance of quantity of muscle tissue, proper alignment of tissues and stability and endurance caused therein and stability of senses reflect good health and immunity of person. These persons will be least afflicted by strongest of diseases.
Here, muscle tissue is a resident of kapha dosha. Balance of kapha is very essential for balance of muscle tissue. Proper alignment of tissues and their integrity is brought about by balanced kapha. Bringing stability and integrity of body components is chief function of balanced kapha. Therefore, balanced kapha contributes towards immunity.
Read – Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features
Dosha balance – immunity
Dosha balance important for determining immunity
Doshas are three main pillars of body. Entire construction of body stands on support and balance of these three doshas. Doshas form body type of an individual.
Rogastu dosha vaishamyam dosha samyam arogata
Balanced doshas help in maintaining the body and health. When same doshas undergo vitiation, they cause many diseases and trouble body. Thus, imbalance of doshas causes diseases and their balance are responsible for healthy status of an individual.
Vitiated vata, pitta and kapha are responsible for all diseases. This can be justified by the presence of dosha symptoms in all diseases, by the cure of the diseases when treatment is given for vitiated doshas and by classical references quoting that the doshas are responsible for causation of all diseases.
All above said references explain that balance of three doshas in body is very essential and mandatory for body to be in a state of optimum health. Balance of doshas prevents causation of diseases. Imbalance of doshas causes diseases. Thus, for an optimum immunity to be beheld in body, doshas should be kept in a state of balance. Thus, a state of balanced doshas determines immunity.
Read – Balanced Doshas And Their Contribution To Comprehensive Health
Doshas are auto-immune components of body
Auto-immunity is when your own body’s protective mechanism becomes offensive and starts destroying and damaging your own body.
Would you ever expect your pet dog suddenly pounce on you and bite when you open main door of your house early in morning? That would be greatest surprise isn’t it?
Auto-immunity is same thing. When you feel everything is going well and have taken your body for granted, it suddenly presents with an illness which has been developing in backdrop without your knowledge. It doesn’t happen in everyone and at all times.
Auto-immune diseases occur when body’s defence mechanism fails in identifying ‘self’ from ‘non-self’. It starts identifying its own tissues as foreign substances and attacks them. When diagnosed earlier, these diseases can be controlled and progression of diseases can be prevented by effective measures but there will always be a chance of relapse if things are not taken care of, especially if discipline in terms of lifestyle, diet and stress are not handled with caution.
Left alone and when not diagnosed, they develop silently in body for months and later strikes suddenly. In those having less immunity, diseases may present in a short duration and also in a fulminate way. In those having good immunity and favourable age disease may not surface early. In these conditions some weak symptoms may be evident here and there with gaps of certain time periods. But they may not give clue for diagnosing a big disease in backdrop because symptoms are feeble and respond to slight medication or rest and proper diet. In these people disease manifests once immunity comes down due to one or other reason.
Doshas, as we know are basic body-governing humors and functional components which we inherit right from point of conception. Three doshas i.e. vata, pitta and kapha form our body types.
All our bodies are made up of all three doshas but any one will be predominant. Most of us have dual personalities like vata-pitta, vata-kapha or kapha-pitta with one dosha dominant and other less dominant. Third dosha will be recessive. Dominant dosha(s) form our constitution. If all three doshas are balanced it is called sama prakriti i.e. ‘constitution in equilibrium’. These people are absolutely healthy and immune; satisfy definition of comprehensive health and hard to find.
Read – Prakriti – Ayurveda Body Types, Importance In Treatment And Remedies
Being functional components, doshas keep doing their job and participate in all life activities when they are in a state of balance.
As long as they stick to their jobs, confined to their territories and assigned duties and do not meddle with other doshas, in fact coordinate with other doshas in conducting functions of body in a smooth and uninterrupted way, body is healthy.
But when doshas get vitiated due to exposure to etiological factors in form of incompatible foods and non-conducive lifestyle and when doshas trespass their territories and meddle with functions of other doshas, they disturb all body functions and make body susceptible to wide array of health disturbances and diseases.
What we need to see importantly is that same doshas which are responsible for our healthy status in a state of balance are causes for diseases when they get disturbed. This concept matches with concept of immunity and autoimmunity.
In language of immunology – ‘Doshas are functional system of body and protect body by rendering their activities in an undisturbed way when in a state of balance. In this context, they are functional, protective and determine immunity of system.
When same doshas get vitiated after exposure to different etiological factors, they attack their own system, same tissues in which they live with a residence-resident relationship and cause diseases. This is because doshas which are made to protect and guard our system have lost their memory and fails to discriminate between self and non-self. In this condition, doshas become pathological and autoimmune’
Isn’t this ‘dosha concept’ earliest explanation of immune system going disarray and attacking its own system? Isn’t ‘dosha concept’ earliest explanation of autoimmunity and autoimmune disorders? Yes, indeed!!
But does dosha balance alone form immune system in body?
No, it may not be correct to tell so. But doshas form bulk of management and balance of immune system. Along with dosha balance, tissue, fire and excreta balance and wellness of mind and senses is needed to complete definition of comprehensive health and immunity in an Ayurvedic language.
But if dosha balance is maintained, all other faculties will be automatically in a state of balance. All functions will run properly. Digestion occurs proper, tissues are properly formed qualitatively and quantitatively from good nutritional juices formed from good digestive fire.
Strong tissues counteract and nullify attack of doshas even if any and protect themselves. They will also be immune to effect of etiological factors. Excreta and toxins are expelled on regular basis and body is protected from their damage. Channels of body will be intact and enables free flow of nutrition and oxygen needed for life activities.
With proper formation of tissues, ojus, essence of all these tissues is formed in good quality and quantity. Ojus determines immune system of the body and its balance is an indicator of immune balance and good health. With all these things being good, mind and senses are in terms of best health and pleasantness. Soul is in a state of bliss. All these put together will constitute comprehensive health and good immunity. So, tridosha balance determines immunity in the body.
Kapha Dosha – immunity
Contribution of kapha towards immunity
Kapha is compared to water body. Just as water occupies major part of external world, kapha too forms bulk of body components. It is nourishing and protective.
Tissues are structural components of body. They are said to adorn and wear human body. Their balance is detrimental in maintenance of health and optimum immunity. Out of 7 tissues, 5 belong to kapha group of tissues.
Rasa i.e. lymph tissue forms nutritional system mainly comprised of nutritional juices needed for formation and maintenance of balance of all tissues in body.
Mamsa dhatu i.e. muscle tissue coats entire body and is responsible for all movements and physical activities. Balance of muscle tissue is said to be one of chief detrimental aspects of determining health and immunity of a person. Organs are also made up of muscle layers.
Fat tissue forms lubrication material and protects all tissues from wear and tear. Each cell has a fat layer. Fat also covers nerves of body. Fat helps in preventing degenerative changes happening in body.
Bone marrow tissue helps in making blood, fills up interior of bones and guards nervous system.
Semen tissue helps in reproduction and sexual bliss.
Read – Shukrajanana Gana: Herbs To Improve Semen, Sperm: Review, Formulations
Ojus, essence of all tissues, which includes pitta group tissue i.e. blood and vata group tissue i.e. bone, which is benchmark component of body which determines immunity, strength and endurance of body is also said to be of kapha group. Majority of tissues whose essence involves in formation of ojus belong to kapha group. Ojus is compared by modern day Ayurveda specialists to immune system.
Out of three major excreta of body, two belong to kapha group. They are urine and feces. Their proper elimination contributes to comprehensive health and immunity. When they are left over in body without being expelled on regular basis, they form toxins and damage tissues and organs and lowers the immunity.
Read – Dhatu Mala: Tissue Waste Products: Ayurveda perspective
Sthiratva and Kshamatva, important functions of kapha
Sthiratva i.e. providing stability to the body and
kshamatva i.e. providing resistance power to the body which determines immunity
are the most important among functions of balanced kapha.
Prakrita shleshma i.e. balanced kapha is also called as bala. Bala is a term used to explain immunity. Thus, balanced kapha determines immunity.
Read – Understand Kapha Dosha By Its Functions
Pitta – immunity
Contribution of pitta and balance of body fire towards immunity
Fire is said to be present in human body in the form of pitta. It is also said that there is no other fire in the body other than pitta. There are 13 types of agni i.e. fire and most important one is called kayagni or jatharagni.
This big fire which balances other fires is located in stomach. This is same fire which digests food and produces nutritive juices. Other fires are 7 tissue fires and 5 elemental fires.
Read – Understanding Agni: Concept, Definition, Functions, Types
Each tissue takes part of nutrition which is essential for their maintenance and related tissue fire metabolizes nutrients in a form convenient and compatible to that tissue. Elemental fires also pick part of food which are made up of similar elements and metabolize them.
Example, fire in earth element takes part of nutrients rich in earth element, digests and converts them into a form which supports and nurtures elements and tissues of body predominantly formed by earth element. Chief fire in belly is also called pachaka pitta i.e. digestive pitta.
Read – Panchamahabhuta: Application, Areas of Utility in Ayurveda treatment
Agni – immunity
Importance of Kayagni / Jataragni / Pachaka pitta
Digestive fire in its state of normalcy is said to bestow following benefits –
- Bala – Strength and immunity
- Arogya / Swasthya – state of good health
- Ayu – prolonged life span
- Prana – supports life, prana and other subtypes of vata
- Varna – colour and complexion
- Utsaha – enthusiasm
- Upachaya – nourishment
- Prabha – grace
- Oja – essence of nutrition / Immune complexes
- Teja – warmth and heat, metabolism
All above said virtues bestowed by core fire will support life activities. Since pitta is a form of fire, above said virtues can also be contributed to pitta. Pitta is hot in nature and contributes to heat of our body. Warmth of our body is a sign of life.
Below mentioned references related to digestive fire and also pitta will establish relationship of pitta with immunity of an individual.
Digestive fire in form of digestive pitta is said to be root of our being. It is also root source of our life, body, mind and senses.
When this fire diminishes or gets destroyed in totality, life comes to an end with inevitable death. This is reflected by the fact that we generally keep warmth as long as we live and body gets cooled when the person dies. Body keeping warm is a sign of life and body getting cold is a sign of death. Of various reasons, death is associated with low immunity and pitta contributes to the immunity of body by keeping heat and metabolic processes of body intact.
Read – Understand Pitta Dosha By Its Functions
When pitta and fire embedded in it is in a state of balance, it supports life unconditionally. With a normally functioning fire and pitta one can enjoy an extended life span devoid of disease.
When this fire gets pathologically increased or decreased, it causes many diseases.
At same time, increase and decrease of doshas also depends on fire. If fire is balanced, doshas are balanced. If it gets disturbed, doshas get disturbed. Disturbed doshas once again contaminate fire. Gut fire is balanced by synchronization of pachaka pitta, samana vata and kledaka kapha.
Disturbance of their balance also disturbs fire. When fire and doshas mutually disturb each other, they impart severe damage on body; destroy tissues, strength and immunity. This will give route for manifestation of many psycho-somatic illnesses in the body, some eventually leading to death.
Mutual contamination is so true especially for pitta and fire as their balance is inter-dependent. And they are not separate entities. Therefore if strength and immunity needs to be balanced at optimum levels, digestive fire embedded in pitta should always be taken care of.
It is also said that all diseases have their origin in disturbed Agni. This happens because pathological decrease or increase of fire embedded in pitta causes lowering of immunity.
Contribution of vata towards immunity
Vata is master of body orchestra. No activity in body happens without motivation of vata.
Even activities of pitta and kapha and timely expulsion of excreta from body, integrity and functions of all tissues depend on balance of vata. If vata is disturbed every activity is disturbed and balance of each and every component of body is put into disarray.
Read – Understand Vata Dosha By Its Functions
Vitiated vata disturbs body rhythm, displaces other doshas, imbalances digestive fire and metabolism, causes block of channels of transportation and withholds excreta and toxins in the body, damages tissues, lessens strength, endurance and immunity of the body and makes it susceptible to the wide array of disorders. In this way, immunity and balance of immune system is under control of vata.
Among many functions of normal and balanced vata explained by Charaka (Cha.Su.12/7), below mentioned functions indicate contribution of vata towards maintenance of immunity in the body.
Read – Vata Dosha – Mastermind Behind All Body And Mind Activities
- Vata forms key to operate this machine called human body and also runs all its mechanism.
- It is initiator of all psychosomatic activities in body. Thus it balances body-mind health and immunity.
- It organizes all tissues of body. Essence of all tissues is ojus which is compared to immune element. Balance of ojus is the key for optimum immunity. Structural and functional balance of all tissues from which ojus is formed as essence is under control of vata.
- It is chief coordinator of different parts of the body. Thus it integrates various parts of body and aligns their functions. Due to activity of vata, entire body works as a single unit and all functions take place normally in a synchronized way. When vata gets imbalanced, integrity and synchronization of body elements is lost. When there is no coordination between body tissues and organs all functions are put into disarray and body loses its strength and endurance. All these consequentially lead to lessening of immunity.
- It is responsible for elimination of excretory products at right time and right proportions. Thus it helps keeping body clean, sterile and healthy. If vata is imbalanced, excretory products and toxins are held back in body. They get converted into toxins over a period of time and damage tissues. There is imbalance in formation and maintenance of tissues. Consequentially, ojus is not formed to optimum levels. This lowers immunity of person and makes him or her susceptible to diseases.
Similarly some excerpts from Charaka’s reference quoting functions of imbalanced vata also point towards involvement of vitiated vata in causation of auto-immune disorders.
Read – Symptoms Of Vata Dosha Increase And Imbalance – Vata Vruddhi Lakshana
- Imbalanced vata causes many types of diseases. This reflects decrease in immunity due to hyperactivity of vata.
- It destroys strength, color and pleasure, shortens longevity. Bala means strength. Imbalance of vata causes loss of bala. Bala is one of terms used to determine immunity in Ayurveda.
- It causes fear, grief, delusion, hallucination, confusion, ignorance, depression, delirium and destroys life. All these symptoms are seen in low immunity disorders and autoimmune disorders.
Dosha, Ojas, Immunity
Dosha relationship with Ojus and immunity
Ojus is essence of all tissues. Ayurveda has explained a chronology in which tissues of body are formed. From nutritional juices formed after digestion of food in stomach lymph which happens to be first tissue is formed. From lymph blood is formed. Blood forms muscles, muscles form fat tissue, fat forms bone and bone forms bone marrow tissue.
Semen or reproductive tissue is last tissue formed in chronology from bone marrow. After formation of semen, ojus is said to be formed as an essence of all tissues. Thus, ojus has in it essence of all tissues. Therefore it is vital component of body. Ojas is often correlated to immune complexes in the body. Bala is synonym of ojas.
Read – Understanding Digestion Process From An Ayurveda View
Since ojas is formed at end of chronology of formation of tissues, especially at end of formation of semen tissue, it is also considered as sub-tissue of semen.
Most important part of ojus called para ojus is said to be located in heart. Being put into circulation from heart, ojus is responsible for existence of body in a healthy status. This type of ojus is of only 8 drops in quantity but is very vital for existence of body and sustenance of life.
As long as this ojus exists in body, body exists. If this ojus is destroyed, body is destroyed eventually leading to death. Vigour, vitality, charm and intelligence of an individual is also dependent on balance of ojas.
It is the first tissue formed in body in intrauterine life. It has following qualities –
- Has moon like qualities
- Abode of life
- Has best qualities
- Has color of ghee, taste of honey and smell of corn flakes
Most of the properties of ojas resemble qualities of kapha. Apart from this, most of the tissues contributing towards formation of ojus belong to kapha group. Due to these reasons, ojus is included in ‘kapha group of body components’.
While enlisting functions of ojus, Sushruta quotes ojus as “bala”.
Important functions of bala or ojus are –
- Ojus provides strong and sturdy muscles. Strong muscles in turn reflect a healthy status.
- Great efficiency in conducting all life activities
- Provides pleasant voice and attractive colour
- Improves efficiency of perception by sense organs
- Enables all organs to function with optimum capacity
These are also functions of balanced kapha.
‘Prakritastu balam shleshma….’ Normal and balanced kapha is called bala.
Another type of ojus has been mentioned apart from para ojus. It is called apara ojus. It is of half handful quantity. Destruction of this ojus doesn’t cause death but causes many diseases like prameha etc. This ojus too resembles kapha in consistency, functions and way in which it produces diseases.
Read – Feeling tired all the time? 10 Reasons and solutions From Ayurveda
Imbalance of ojus
Impairment of ojus takes place in three forms
- Ojo visramsa – displacement of ojus
- Ojo vyapath – complications of ojus
- Ojo kshaya – deficiency of ojus
Each condition presents with different set of symptoms.
Ojo visramsa presents with loss of integrity of body parts, discharge of doshas, dysfuncitons of organs, tiredness and inefficiency and deficit coherence in different functions of body. All these symptoms look like those of vata increase.
Vata increases when kapha decreases. Thus, this aspect of immune problems resembles symptoms of vata increase and kapha decrease.
Ojo Vyapath presents with heaviness of body, rigidity of joints and muscles, exhaustion, decrease in color, drowsiness and excessive sleep. All these symptoms resemble those of kapha increase.
Ojo kshaya presents with fainting, wasting of muscles, delusion, delirium and mental deficits. All these symptoms point towards symptoms of kapha decrease and vata increase.
All above said references explain relationship between ojus and doshas and their combined relationship with immunity.
Read – How To Differentiate Laziness, Tiredness And Fatigue? – From Ayurveda Lens
Dosha relationship with Bala and immunity
Bala is another word used to explain immunity. Bala also means strength and endurance. Charaka advocates to examine bala of an individual in terms of vyayama shakti i.e. capacity to tolerate physical exercises. Those having low immunity and endurance will not tolerate exercise of even a small quantity and feel exhausted. On other hand, if immunity of a person is good, exercise tolerance is also good.
There are three types of bala. They are –
Sahaja bala – this is natural resistance one acquires right from birth. Healthy condition of sperm and ovum of parents, proper intake of balanced food by anticipating mother during pregnancy contribute in providing child this natural resistance.
Kalaja bala – is resistance power or immunity acquired in accordance to season and age.
Yukti krita bala – is resistance power acquired by constant intake of healthy foods, rasayanas i.e. rejuvenating medicines and food substances and vajikarana medicines i.e. aphrodisiac medicines. This type of bala can also be got through regular exercising. Artificial immunity obtained by vaccinations and inoculations are included in this type of strength or immunity.
This bala is a sum total of many components and activities of body. They are –
- Normal and balanced kapha (prakritastu balam shleshma)
- Pitta, digestive fire and vata in a state of balance – term bala is associated with these entities as explained above
- Balance of doshas in body
- Semen tissue in a state of balance (shukrayattam balam pumsam – bala of person is located in semen), a kapha element
- Oja is bala, bala is used as a synonym of ojas, a kapha group element
- Qualitative and quantitative balance of tissues, reflects formation of optimum ojus which is a kapha group element
- Balance of blood tissue, bala is said to be a function of blood, a pitta group tissue
- Balanced muscle tissue, a kapha group tissue
- Good sleep provides immunity and strength, balanced kapha is responsible for good quality and quantity of sleep
- Proper excretion of excreta and toxins, function of vata
- Pleasantness of mind, senses and soul, function of balanced vata
- Tolerance to exercise and changes in seasons and climate
Term bala has been mentioned in context of all above mentioned entities. Each of above said and all together constitutes balance of and properly functioning immune system.
We also have reference from explanation of body types which explain –
- Kapha body type persons have good bala
- Pitta body type persons have moderate bala
- Vata body type persons have less bala