Ayurveda is an ancient system of healthcare and medicine that developed in the Indian subcontinent. It is sometimes described as a philosophy and science of healing and healthcare. This system is still practiced by millions; it exists both as a scientific discipline and as folk wisdom.
The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit roots: “ayus” meaning “life” and “veda” meaning “knowledge’ or a “system of knowledge”. Thus ayurveda means the “knowledge of life”. Ayurveda incorporates traditions and knowledge that is concerned with healthy living along with therapeutic practices for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Historians suggest that Ayurveda was written 3500 to 5000 years ago though some believe that it could be older.
The Basis of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is based on the premise that everything is made up of five basic elements or panchamahabhutas and should be seen as philosophical concepts rather than elements in the scientific sense of the word. The five elements exhibit the properties of earth (prithvi), water (jala), fire (tejas), wind (vayu) and space (akasha) respectively. According to Ayurveds, these elements always exist in a combination, with one or more element having a dominating presence. The theory of Ayurveda propounds that in the human body the derivatives of the five basic elements are present in the form of doshas (humours), tissues (dhatus) and waste products (malas).
Doshas are the manifestations of the five elements in the human body. They are all different sides of the same all pervasive, subtle energy - the Tridosha - and thus can't be considered separately. The three Doshas are vata (wind and space), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water). Vata regulates movement and is represented by the nervous system. Pitta is the principle of biotransformation and is the cause of all metabolic processes in the body. Kapha is the principle of cohesion and the energy behind the body fluids. Together, these three Doshas determine the physiologic constitution of an individual.
Dhatus: the tissues are classified into seven categories: plasma, blood cells, muscular tissue, adipose tissue, bony tissue, bone marrow and the reproductive tissue.
Malas: three main waste products are urine, faeces and sweat.
Did You Know?
- The aim of Ayurveda is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This is believed to help prevent illness and promote wellness.
- In Ayurvedic philosophy, people, their health, and the universe are all thought to be related. It is believed that health problems can result when these relationships are out of balance.
- In Ayurveda, herbs, metals, massage, and other products and techniques are used with the intent of cleansing the body and restoring balance. Some of these products may be harmful when used on their own or when used with conventional medicines.
- Many Ayurvedic practices were handed down by word of mouth and were used before there were written records. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves more than 2,000 years ago, are thought to be the first texts on Ayurveda -- Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita.
BranchesSome scholars divide the knowledge of Ayurveda into eight branches:
- Internal medicine - Kayachikitsa Tantra
- Surgery - Shalya Tantra
- Ears, eyes, nose and throat - Shalakya Tantra
- Pediatrics - Kaumarabhritya Tantra
- Toxicology - Agada Tantra
- Purification of the genetic organs - Bajikarana (or Vajikarana) Tantra
- Health and Longevity - Rasayana Tantra
- Spiritual Healing/Psychiatry - Bhuta Vidya
Everyone is influenced by all three Doshas all the time but each Dosha has a stronger influence at a certain time (e.g. Pitta in the summer and at noon). Additionally, every person has a bodily constitution from birth (prakruti) and the prevalent disposition (vikruti) resulting from the current lifestyle. According to Ayurveda diseases develop when one Dosha gains a strong influence on the person over a longer period of time and thus aims to balance the Doshas through a proactive lifestyle.
Ayurvedic physicians determine which of these Doshas is dominant in a patient's constitution by means of various symptoms, physical characteristics, nature of the person and a pulse test. The treatment is then determined to achieve a balance of these Doshas and by that means achieve health. Usually this primarily involves a change in diet. Only if a dietary adjustment doesn't take effect, other means of medication are used. First of all various herbs, but Ayurveda regards everything as either medicine or toxin - only depending on the amount taken - and also uses mineral sources and special treatments.
Ailments Treated by Ayurveda
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical science, which specialises in treating chronic diseases. It also aims to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit. A healthy person should follow the right dincharya (daily routine), adapt to seasonal changes and eat a nutritious diet to avoid any disease.
In today’s jet age the common man often faces physical as well as mental stress.If these newly-emerging disorders are not treated at the right time, they progress into chronic diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, cervical and lumber spondylosis, chronic sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis, sciatica, psoriasis, hyperacidity, migraine, cardiac and renal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, piles, hepatitis, and cosmetic problems such as baldness, acne, wrinkles etc.
Ayurveda does not give immediate relief from these problems but it goes down to the root cause thus ensuring there is no relapse of disease. The mainstay of Ayurveda, which makes this possible, is Panchkarma which purifies the body internally as well as externally.
Diseases related to joints and the vertebral column such as paralysis and sciatica, which are known as vata vikara in Ayurveda, are treated by medicated oil massages (snehan) and with herbal treatments through steam, pindasweda or different types of basti, nasyakarma, as a result of which, the person feels healthy.
In skin allergies and respiratory tract diseases such as asthma, the patient is treated by panchkarma therapies such as vaman (scientific emesis), virechan, and raktamokshan.
All these types of treatment can give relief from chronic disease. Ayurvedic medicines (leach therapy) for abdominal diseases are quite effective. In lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and mental diseases such as stress and depression, panchkarma procedures such as shirodhara and shirobasti are employed. The present day scenario of men and women pursuing high-profile careers and late marriages is resulting in increased incidence of impotence and infertility.
Panchkarma treatments such as uttarbasti chikitsa and vajeekaran chikitsa are very helpful in these disorders.
Panchkarma (panch: five; karma: actions) is a collection of purification techniques that Ayurveda prescribes for some diseases and for periodic cleansing. A course of Pancharkarma typically includes a short-term dietary prescription, massage, herbs, and may include purgatives, sweat baths, medicated enemas, and nasal cleansing.
After many centuries of stagnation, Ayurveda entered a phase of renewed vigour around the end of the 19th century. New procedures and teaching methods were introduced. Many companies began making Ayurvedic formulations. In the last 20 to 30 years Ayurveda has also become known outside India, and Ayurvedic massages are now very popular as relaxation and therapeutic techniques.
- Holistic medicine
- Alternative Medicine
- Herbal medicine
- Tibetan Medical System
- Health Tourism
- History of Ayurveda, N.V. Krishnakutty Varier, Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal, India
- Ayurvedic Medicine, Sebastian Pole, Churchill Livingstone, 2006
- What is Ayurvedic Medicine?
- Ayurvedic Remedies
- Tridosha Theory