The Six Essential Principles of Ayurveda

By Jonathan Glass - April 30, 2018
The Six Essential Principles of Ayurveda

By Jonathan Glass, MAc

Six essential principles are the core of Ayurveda and capture the essential dynamics that contribute to optimal health. Understanding them helps us to better grasp the causes of health and disease. They also identify the elements of any authentic detox process, leading us to health in body and mind.

Foundational Principles of Ayurveda

Six Essential Principles:

  • Buddhi: universal and individual innate intelligence
  • Prana: universal and individual life energy
  • Agni:  fire of digestion and transformation
  • Ojas: essence of energy and immunity
  • Ama: toxin
  • Prajnaparadha: acting against our knowledge, wisdom, intuition, and love


Buddhi is the innate and universal intelligence within all life. It manifests as the laws of nature that control the perfect rhythms and movements of the tides, planets, sun, and moon. Buddhi controls the interdependent actions of all kingdoms of life—microbes, plants, insects, fish, birds, animals, and humans. This same buddhi, or innate intelligence, acts within each and every living being to control the activities of every cell in the body. Most of what goes on in our bodies happens without our conscious will. For example, we don’t say, “okay, now digest, please,” or “oh, yes, that ankle needs some extra nutrients and healing right now”. Bodily processes occur automatically through the power of buddhi. However, the healing influence of buddhi can be blocked by ama or toxins. When it is, imbalance and ill health begin.


Prana is the intelligent vitalizing life force that energizes and moves through all living things. Prana travels intelligently through channels known as nadis in Ayurveda and meridians in Chinese medicine. Prana is subtle; it connects the body and mind. When it moves smoothly, we feel relaxed, alert, energetic, and enthusiastic, and our body and mind function in harmony. When it becomes deranged, the energy of our body and mind becomes disturbed. Prana manifests in five primary forms or directional flows of life energy within our body: inward, upward, outward, around, and downward. Each flow of prana supports specific functions on every level of existence: physical, physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual.


“When agni is sufficient, there will be no toxic buildup in the body, the mind and the senses will be clear and acute, and we will possess the energy to change our lives in a positive direction. When agni is deranged, we will suffer from dullness, heaviness, stagnation, and cloudiness of emotion and perception.” -Dr. David Frawley

Agni means “fire”, and it relates to our metabolic capacity and digestive power. It is that which consumes, assimilates, and transforms. Without agni, we would not be able to create energy. However, the same agni that creates life also consumes life energy—like the flame of a candle that emits light yet simultaneously burns the candle down. Generally, agni refers to the power of digestion and the capacity to transform food into the body’s seven major tissues: rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), medha (fat), asthi (bone), majja (marrow), and shukra (reproductive tissue). Many people today are having infertility issues. This can be due to having insufficient agni, or the body’s inability to fully transform food and prana into healthy reproductive tissue.

Not only does agni transform food into our tissues, it also transforms our sensory impressions and experiences into useful knowledge and wisdom. Anything we take in through our senses and mind—experiences, relationships, conversations, books, movies, TV, the news, music, nature, websites, social media—has to be assimilated, transformed, and comprehended. Agni is the fire of intelligence, giving us the ability to penetrate deeply into any subject. Ayurveda explains that the primary cause of any mental or emotional imbalance is undigested experiences. Some experiences can be so overwhelming that they are “indigestible”, such as serious trauma, abuse, or unresolved misunderstandings. Undigested experiences store within the nervous system, muscles, organs, and various tissues of the body. In time, this can cause derangements in our prana, leading to discomfort, pain, mental disturbance, and disease.


Ojas nourishes, strengthens, and gives endurance and longevity. It is the essence or substance of our physical being and nourishes our mind and intellect. It is our power source of immunity, resistance to disease, protection from negativity, and ability to recover once we have become ill. Ojas is the condensed form of prana. It is especially concentrated in the ovaries, testes, and heart, and can be seen in the luster of the eyes. Stagnation and toxicity will negatively impact the lymphatic system and interfere with the positive influence of ojas. Cleansing, on many levels, supports health in the lymphatic system, immune system, and ojas.


Ama, the negative influence of toxins, can be externally generated, like pesticide on food, or internally generated, such as improperly digested foods. Toxins cause cellular damage to the blood vessels and stagnation in our lymphatic system due to interfering with our prana, agni, and ojas, within and around the cells.(1) When our cells are deprived of prana, they quickly oxidize, stiffen, and prematurely die. They lose their innate intelligence (buddhi), their healthy DNA coding (agni), and their ability to communicate with other cells and tissues. When cells completely lose intelligence, they become cancer cells—cells that have gone mad! Ama blocks the proper functioning of the body’s innate intelligence. This then causes the derangement of pranic flows. Deranged prana, when it moves into the digestive tract, disturbs digestion and weakens healthy digestive agni. When our digestion does not function properly, internally generated toxins further perpetuate deranged prana, agni, ojas, and buddhi. In this way, toxicity, or ama, is the cause of disease. Clearing toxins, minimizing toxic exposure, and strengthening the channels of detoxification are therefore essential components of any authentic health program.


Prajna is our innate intuitive intelligence combined with the wisdom that comes from experience. Aparadha means to offend or to go against. Ayurveda identifies prajnaparadha—offending, ignoring, or denying our innate wisdom and experience—as the primary cause of disease. Its cause can be due to an external source. For example, young children intuitively know when they have had enough to eat. That wisdom—their prajna—is disturbed when they are routinely forced to finish the food on their plates and eating more than they want. This can create a habit that lasts a lifetime. Prajnaparadha can also be caused by the frequent consumption of junk foods. Nutrient-poor, empty-calorie, high-sugar foods confuse the body and brain. The stomach may be full, but the hunger is not satisfied as few real nutrients have been fed to the body. Regular junk food eating leads to overeating and addictive food cravings.

Prajnaparadha also has deep esoteric meanings. Aparadha means to offend, to go against your true self-interest and away from love. It implies a sense of going against your deepest self-interest, wisdom, knowledge, and love. This is denoted by the word radha within aparadha—Radha is known as the goddess of the full embodiment of love. Ultimately, aparadha is any unkind action against the self that causes harm to us or to others. Imbalance manifests to the degree to which we ignore our innate wisdom. When we continuously make choices from the place of negative habit, imbalance, and lack of awareness, we perpetuate various manifestations of addiction and disease. The practice of cleansing and yoga helps to minimize prajnaparadha. (2)


1, J. Cantin, S. Lacroix, J. Tardif, A. Nigam. 390 Does the Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Influence Baseline and Postprandial Endothelial Function? Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2012; 28 (5): S245 DOI: 10.1016/j.cjca.2012.07.367 Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference 2015. Abstract 0.91. Presented April 10, 2015.

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Jonathan Glass

Jonathan Glass, MAc, is an Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Total Life Cleanse: a 28-Day Program to Detoxify and Nourish the Body, Mind, and Soul.

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