The term, “Ayurveda” has a whole different level of popularity. So, what is Ayurveda? The most common answer to this question will be Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. But if you dig more, you will find out that Ayurveda is actually an integrated approach to healthcare that focuses completely on achieving balance and harmony between the body, mind, and spirit to promote optimal health and well-being.
Ayurveda, also known as Ayurvedic medicine, is a traditional system of Indian medicine. This is an example of a well-organized system of traditional health care, which is preventive and curative at the same time and is widely practiced in parts of Asia.
Ayurveda emphasizes on the use of natural remedies, like herbs, oils, and minerals, as well as the lifestyle practices such as yoga, meditation, and dietary changes, to prevent and treat any illness.
Origin of the name Ayurveda
“Ayurveda”- this name is derived from two words in Sanskrit, “ayuh” meaning “life” or “longevity” and “Veda” meaning “science” or “sacred knowledge.” The definition of Ayurveda thereby refers to “the science of longevity” or “the sacred knowledge of life.”
History of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is credited to Dhanvantari, the physician to the gods in Hindu mythology. The earliest concepts and information about Ayurveda were laid out in the portion of the Vedas known as the Atharvaveda (c. 2nd millennium BCE).
This period of Vedic medicine lasted until about 800 BCE. The Vedas are known for their richness in magical practices for the treatment of diseases and in charms for the expulsion of the demons traditionally assumed to cause diseases.
The chief conditions mentioned are fever (takman), cough, consumption, diarrhea, dropsy (generalized edema), abscesses, seizures, tumors, and skin diseases (including leprosy). The herbs that are recommended for the treatment of the same are numerous.
The period from 800 BCE until about 1000 CE is the golden age of Indian medicine. This period was marked especially by the production of the prestigious medical works known as the Caraka-samhita and Susruta-Samhita, credited respectively to Caraka, a physician, and Susruta, a surgeon.
The Sushruta-Samhita is assumed to have originated in the last centuries BCE. Apart from these works, the other works of comparatively lesser importance are attributed to Vagbhata. The writings that came, later on, were based on these prestigious works, which analyse the human body in terms of five elements like earth, water, fire, air, and ether as well as the three bodily senses of humor (vata, pitta, and Kapha).
Ayurveda states that each individual has a unique constitution, or “dosha,” that determines their physical and mental characteristics, as well as their vulnerability to certain illnesses. The three doshas recognized by Ayurveda are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, and Ayurvedic practitioners use this knowledge to customize unique treatments and lifestyle recommendations for each patient.
Ayurveda has gained popularity in recent years as an alternative therapy to Western medicine, but it is important to not begin any treatment plan without consulting with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. Ayurveda is effective in promoting overall health and wellness, but in no means, it should be used as an alternative to professional medical advice and treatment.
The practice of Ayurveda
The Indian government established the Indian Medical Council in 1971 to maintain the standards for undergraduate and postgraduate education. The Medical Council has established suitable qualifications in Indian medicine and recognizes various forms of traditional medical practices like Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha. Several projects have been undertaken to fuse the Indian and Western forms of medicine.
Most of the known Ayurvedic practitioners today work in rural areas, providing healthcare to the vast rural population in India alone. It is for this reason that they represent a major force for primary health care.
The Five Elements
Ayurveda recognizes five elements as the fundamental building blocks of nature namely:
- Ether (Space)
Ayurveda can help human life in the following ways:
- Sync up with their truest inner nature
- Honour and develop their strengths
- Hone in on their challenge areas
- Redirect detrimental tendencies
- Maintain balance in the face of adversity
According to Ayurveda, every substance on this earth contains all five of these elements. In a given substance, one or two elements of these five are typically dominant over the others. These five elements referred to as Pancha Mahabhoota, form the three basic humors of the human body in a varied range of combinations.
The Twenty Qualities
Apart from the five elements, Ayurveda also identifies twenty qualities (also known as gunas) that can be used to describe every substance or experience. These qualities are organized in the form of pairs of opposites. The qualities are mentioned below:
Slow (Dull) Sharp (Penetrating)
The three humors of the human body are; Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, and Kapha dosha which are collectively called “Tridoshas”. These doshas along with the five sub-doshas for each of the principal doshas control the basic physiological functions of the body.
Ayurveda believes and relies on the fact that the human body consists of Sapta Dhatus (seven tissues), Meda (fat and connective tissue), Rasa (tissue fluids), Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle), Asthi (bones), Majja (marrow) and Shukra (semen) and three Malas (waste products) of the body. The Malasare is again divided into Purisha (feces), Mutra (urine), and Sweda (sweat).
- Vata dosha is known to maintain cellular transport, electrolyte balance, and elimination of waste products. The effect of Vara dosha is increased by dryness.
- Pitta dosha is known to regulate body temperature, optic nerve coordination, and hunger and thirst management. Heat conditions of the body provoke Pitta.
- Kapha dosha increases due to sweet and fatty food and it provides lubrication to the joints for proper functioning.
Ayurveda believes that the catabolism of the body is governed by Vata, metabolism by Pitta, and anabolism by Kapha. Therefore to maintain a healthy state of health, there should be a balance between the three doshas and other factors. Any slight imbalance or irregularity between the three can cause a state of illness or disease.
Apart from the beliefs of Doshas and the Dhatus, the other most important factors considered in the beliefs of Ayurveda are the Tri Malas and Trayo Dosa Agni. The three types of waste products formed in the body due to metabolic and digestive functions of the body are referred to as the Tri Malas. Trimalas comprise – the Mutra (urine), Purisa (feces), and Sveda (sweat).
Ayurveda explains that if a proper balance between the Tridosha is not maintained and the waste products of the body are not effectively eliminated, then these might lead to further complications like diarrhea, constipation, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and other complications.
Ayurveda has further explained how the irregularity in the removal of Mutra Mala (urine) from the body can lead to urinary tract infections, cystitis and gastric pain. Similarly, if the Sveda Mala is not properly cleared from the body, it can lead to skin irritation problems and improper fluid balance.
As per the basic principles of Ayurveda, the biological fire of the body for all the metabolic functions is known as “Agni”. There are thirteen different types of Agni in the human body and the most important one is the one responsible for digestive fire, called Jatharagni. Jatharagni has a close relationship with Pitta and ultimately with the Vatta of the body.
If the digestive fire of the body is increased in the body by an increase in the levels of acidity conditions, the elevation in Pitta levels and its relative symptoms are observed. Ayurveda believes that the Digestive fire of the body is important in controlling the normal microflora, proper digestive functions, and provision of energy to the entire body. Any disturbances in its balance create discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract and result in pathological complications like ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
One of the key principles of Ayurveda is that food is medicine. According to Ayurvedic principles, each food has its own unique properties and can be used to balance the doshas. For example, sweet, sour, and salty foods can balance Vata, while bitter, astringent, and pungent foods can balance Kapha.
Ayurveda customizes preventative wellness and unique lifestyle recommendations to every individual. In addition to this, the ancient Ayurvedic doctors have produced detailed descriptions of acute and chronic conditions ( with complete causes, signs, and symptoms), and developed extensive treatment protocols.
The preventative care and treatment of every disease fall under the eight branches of Ayurveda, which include:
- Kayachikitsa – Internal Medicine
- Bala Chikitsa – Pediatrics
- Bhuta Vidya – Psychiatry
- Shalakya Tantra – Ear, Nose, and Throat Treatment
- Shalya Tantra – Surgery (not practiced in the United States today)
- Vishagra Virodh Tantra – Toxicology
- Jarachikitsa/Rasayana – Geriatrics and Rejuvenation
- Vajikarana — Aphrodisiac Therapy, Fertility, and Conception
Apart from the above-mentioned branches, Ayurveda also offers one of the world’s most comprehensive cleansing protocols, known as panchakarma. This ancient practice of Panchakarma uses five primary therapies to release and exit the accumulated toxins from deep within the tissues, and return the doshas to their proper positions in the body.
In conclusion, Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that offers a holistic approach to health and wellness. By balancing the doshas, promoting relaxation, and using food as medicine, Ayurveda can help promote overall health and prevent disease. If you are interested in exploring Ayurveda as a complementary form of medicine, be sure to consult with a qualified practitioner.