Ayurveda (Sanskrit Āyurveda आयुर्वेद, “life-knowledge”; or ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and a form of alternative medicine. The oldest known ayurvedic texts are the Suśruta Saṃhitā and the Charaka Saṃhitā. These Classical Sanskrit encyclopedias of medicine are among the foundational and formally compiled works of ayurveda. The term “Ayurveda” combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda means “the science of life.”.
Ayurvedic medicine continues to be practiced in India, where nearly 80 percent of the population uses it exclusively or combined with conventional (Western) medicine. Most major cities in India have an Ayurvedic college and hospital. It is also practiced in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan.
In classical Sanskrit literature, Ayurveda was called “the science of eight components” (Sanskrit अष्टांग), a classification that became canonical for ayurveda. Ayurvedic medicine has several key foundations that pertain to health and disease. These concepts have to do with universal interconnectedness, the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (doshas), which include:
- Internal medicine
- Treatment of head and neck disease
- Gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics
- Care of the elderly and rejuvenation
- Sexual vitality.
Ayurvedic medicine aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit; thus, some view it as “holistic.” This balance is believed to lead to happiness and health, and to help prevent illness. Ayurvedic medicine also treats specific physical and mental health problems. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, thus helping to re-establish harmony and balance.
Interconnectedness. Ideas about the relationships among people, their health, and the universe form the basis for how Ayurvedic practitioners think about problems that affect health. Ayurvedic medicine holds that:
- All things in the universe (both living and nonliving) are joined together.
- Every human being contains elements that can be found in the universe.
- Health will be good if one’s mind and body are in harmony, and one’s interaction with the universe is natural and wholesome.
- Disease arises when a person is out of harmony with the universe. Disruptions can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination of these.
Ayurveda, is firmly embedded in Indian philosophy and its theory of evolution, according to which the universe is composed of five basic elements, namely: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These are present in all things, and in the living body they manifest as doshas.
The three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) are the primary and essential bio-energetic forces of the human body. Each has its characteristic site and unique function in the body. They are interrelated and, in their normal state, maintain the integrity of the living organism, conferring strength and assuring normal physiological functioning as well as longevity. The three doshas need to be in a state of equilibrium for the body to remain healthy. Any imbalance of these bio-energetic forces results in ill-health.
The vata dosha combines the elements ether and air. It is considered the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing, discharge of waste, and the mind. Vata can be aggravated by, for example, fear, grief, staying up late at night, eating dry fruit, or eating before the previous meal is digested. People with vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin and neurological conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, and insomnia.
The pitta dosha represents the elements fire and water. Pitta controls hormones and the digestive system. A person with a pitta imbalance may experience negative emotions such as anger and may have physical symptoms such as heartburn within 2 or 3 hours of eating. Pitta is upset by, for example, eating spicy or sour food, fatigue, or spending too much time in the sun. People with a predominantly pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases, and digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
The kapha dosha combines the elements water and earth. Kapha helps to maintain strength and immunity and to control growth. An imbalance of the kapha dosha may cause nausea immediately after eating. Kapha is aggravated by, for example, greed, sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet foods, eating after one is full, and eating and drinking foods and beverages with too much salt and water (especially in the springtime). Those with a predominant kapha dosha are thought to be vulnerable to diabetes, cancer, obesity, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Use of plants.
Ayurvedic treatments rely heavily on herbs and other plants—including oils and common spices. Currently, more than 600 herbal formulas and 250 single plant drugs are included in the “pharmacy” of Ayurvedic treatments. Historically, Ayurvedic medicine has grouped plant compounds into categories according to their effects (for example, healing, promoting vitality, or relieving pain). The compounds are described in texts issued by national medical agencies in India. Sometimes, botanicals are mixed with metals or other naturally occurring substances to make formulas prepared according to specific Ayurvedic text procedures; such preparations involve several herbs and herbal extracts and precise heat treatment.
Ayurvedic Wisdom in everyday life
Treatment practices. Ayurvedic treatment goals include eliminating impurities, reducing symptoms, increasing resistance to disease, and reducing worry and increasing harmony in the patient’s life. Panchakarma, a very effective Ayurvedic treatment, aims at deep body cleansing and the restoration of a healthy metabolism. It includes elaborate preparatory procedures, emetic and purgative processes and also enema treatments. After panchakarma, various rejuvenating and immuno-modulating therapies are used to increase strength, resistance and overall vitality on physical, mental and emotional levels, so that patients can experience and enjoy health, well-being and longevity.
The practitioner uses a variety of methods to achieve these goals:
- Eliminating impurities. A process called panchakarma is intended to cleanse the body by eliminating ama. Ama is described as an undigested food that sticks to tissues, interferes with normal functioning of the body, and leads to disease. Panchakarma focuses on eliminating ama through the digestive tract and the respiratory system. Enemas, massage, medical oils administered in a nasal spray, and other methods may be used.
- Reducing symptoms. The practitioner may suggest various options, including physical exercises, stretching, breathing exercises, meditation, massage, lying in the sun, and changing the diet. The patient may take certain herbs—often with honey, to make them easier to digest. Sometimes diets are restricted to certain foods. Very small amounts of metal and mineral preparations, such as gold or iron, also may be given.
- Increasing resistance to disease. The practitioner may combine several herbs, proteins, minerals, and vitamins in tonics to improve digestion and increase appetite and immunity. These tonics are based on formulas from ancient texts.
- Reducing worry and increasing harmony. Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes mental nurturing and spiritual healing. Practitioners may recommend avoiding situations that cause worry and using techniques that promote release of negative emotions.
Ayurveda is at the very heart of Pukka. It is an ancient Indian philosophy guiding and inspiring us in the ‘art of living wisely.’ In simple terms, ayurveda is a holistic system which guides us so that we can live a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. It recognises that we are all unique and focuses on food, lifestyle, massage, yoga and herbal remedies to suit our individual make-up.
The wisdom of ayurveda encourages us to take responsibility for our own health according to the different stages of our lives, the seasons, and the environment we live, work and play in. These factors all have a big impact on our health and it makes sense to adapt our lifestyle accordingly so we can continue to live in harmony with our body and stay in optimum health.
Ayurveda is all about living life to the full and keeping yourself on top form – whatever life throws at you!