Introduction to Ayurveda

If you find that your daily life is a struggle to balance health goals, career demands, relationships, and inner peace, you need look no further than Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine that comes from ancient India; it is based on the idea of balance within all bodily systems. The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (to know), making it the ‘science of life’. Ayurveda employs diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing techniques to restore mental, physical, and spiritual health. Ayurveda is one of the few ancient systems of medicine that is still widely practiced in modern times.

The World’s Oldest Health Science

Ayurvedic texts dating back to at least 3,500 years ago even describe complex surgical procedures!

The origins of Ayurveda can be traced to about 6,000 BCE, at which point they were passed from generation to generation as part of oral tradition. While some concepts of Ayurveda have existed since the times of the Indus Valley Civilization, the first written form of Ayurveda evolved from the vedas – the large body of knowledge texts that are dated to 1500 – 1000 BCE. There are 3 principal early texts on Ayurveda – the Charaka Samhita written by Charaka, the Sushruta Samhita written by Suśruta, and the Bhela Samhita written by Atreya Punarvasu. These texts describe theories on the etiology (manner of causation) and therapeutics for a range of diseases. Surprisingly, some of these texts also include precise surgical instruments as well as surgical procedures!

The Quest for Harmony & Inner Peace

Ayurvedic tenets focus on harmony and balance, not just within one’s body, but also between individuals and their environment

According to Ayurveda, every human being is an interconnected and complex system, encompassing the body, energy, mind, and soul. This is why Ayurveda does not focus on symptoms, but rather aims to diagnose and treat the cause of the imbalance that is responsible for the disease. Symptoms are not problems to be treated, but instead they are warning signs of an imbalance on a much deeper level. Ayurveda emphasizes that suppressing natural urges is unhealthy and can lead to illness. It highlights the need for moderation of diet, sleep, and sexual intercourse. However, when following one’s natural urges, it is important to stay within reasonable limits.

Ayurvedic tenets focus on balance, not just within one’s body, but also between individuals and their environment. Everything (living and non-living) in our universe is connected on a deeper level and it is this balanced connectivity that ensures good health. However, an imbalance causes a lack of harmony, which makes us susceptible to disease. Ayurveda lists methods and measures that people can take to restore this balance and thus improve their health. To understand this fundamental concept of harmony, we would need to take a closer look at the elements that need to be balanced.

Our Place in the Universe: Ayurvedic Elements & their Interactions

All of cosmic creation consists of five elements called the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, which are:

  • Earth (Prithvi)
  • Water (Apas/Jal)
  • Fire (Agni)
  • Air (Vayu)
  • Aether (Aakash)

These elements have various characteristics that account for various faculties of human experience through our sensory organs. For instance, Agni (Fire) is associated with the eye and therefore, it is linked to the sense of sight, while Apas (Water) is associated with the tongue and so is closely linked to the sense of taste. Similarly, Prithvi (Earth) is associated with the nose and is therefore linked to the sense of smell, while Vayu (Air) is associated with the skin and is closely linked to the sense of touch. Akash (Space) is associated with the ear, which is why it is closely linked to hearing.

The human body is made up of these five elements and they combine in the human body to form the doshas, which are intrinsic tendencies or energies that have subtle influences. These doshas have a direct bearing on our physical and mental functions. The three fundamental doshas are:

  • Vata, which comprises Vayu and Akash
  • Pitta, which comprises Agni and Apas
  • Kapha, which comprises Prithvi and Apas

As long as the balance between these doshas is maintained, the individual will experience good health, but if there is any imbalance, it makes the person susceptible to physical and mental illnesses.

The 8 Components of Ayurveda

The Ayurvedic system of medicine can be divided into eight components or branches. This is collectively known as Ashtang Ayurveda – ashtang means eight limbs or parts. Ashtang Ayurveda includes the following:

1. Kaya Chikitsa (General medicine)

Kaya chikitsa is the holistic approach of medicine, which is helpful in the treatment of the whole body. It is generally used to treat illnesses that are linked to metabolic problems in the body. Kaya chikitsa is used to treat general health problems such as a cough or fever.

2. Bala Chikitsa (Pediatrics treatment)

Bala chikitsa relates to the treatment of children, babies, and expectant women. It includes information on common diseases and infections in children, as well as the causes and treatments for inadequate breast milk in new mothers.

3. Graha Chikitsa (Psychiatry)

Graha chikitsa relates to the study of mental afflictions like epilepsy or schizophrenia that were originally believed to be caused by evil spirits. As our understanding of human psychology has evolved, these early ideas have been replaced by a scientific approach that involves the use of herbs with pharmacological actions on hormones and brain chemistry.

4. Shalakya Tantra (ENT specialist)

Shalakya tantra deals with conditions that affect the ears, nose, and throat. The medical texts enumerate various natural remedies for simple problems such as excessive ear wax and mouth ulcers, but they also describe surgeries to deal with more complex problems.

5. Shalya Tantra (Surgery)

Shalya tantra deals with surgical procedures, especially for the removal of foreign bodies or growths. It describes the surgical techniques used to treat cataract, kidney stones, and hemorrhoids.

6. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)

Agada tantra is the branch of Ayurveda that studies the effects and treatments of toxins and poisons. It covers toxins that are present in plants and animals, as well as the toxicity of certain minerals. Agada tantra also provides a list of foods that cannot be consumed together as they can produce toxins when they come in contact with each other.

7. Rasayana Tantra (Gerentorology)

Rasayana tantra deals with the aging process and methods of rejuvenation.  It covers the various problems associated with aging, as well as methods to improve immunity, strengthen memory, and slow down the aging process.

8. Vajjikaran Chikitsa (Sexual dysfunction and virility)

Vajjikaran chikitsa deals with common sexual dysfunctions such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and infertility. It also covers aphrodisiacs and methods to improve the health of the individual’s progeny. Treatments generally include diet and lifestyle modifications, various cleansing techniques, and herbal preparations.

Find Your Balance

Ayurveda views the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of human beings as a single unit that is influenced by the combination of elements in our systems. An imbalance in the elements causes the srotas (the channels in the body that transport fluids and energy) to become blocked, which leads to disease. One of the primary methods of treating and preventing illness is through the cleansing of these srotas, which is typically through swedna (fomentation) and massage therapy. Ayurvedic doctors stress that these treatments will not have a permanent effect if the individual does not follow a balanced lifestyle that consists of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and daily meditation. To find the perfect balance in life, you need to identify and understand your dosha type or prakriti and make changes accordingly. Allayurveda has worked closely with leading Ayurvedic specialists and researchers to create a tool that measures your dosha balance. Visit our Know Your Dosha page to identify your prakriti and get personalized recommendations that will help you find better health and happiness.

References:

  • Bhishagratna, K. L. (1963). An English translation of the Sushruta Samhita: Based on original Sanskrit text (Vol. 1). Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Ser. Office.
  • Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic medicine the principles of traditional practice. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Lad, Vasant. (1984). Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Santa Fe, Lotus Press.

Next: Dosha Types & Subtypes

The balance of doshas in your body is the single most important influence on your physical and mental traits, as well as on your health and wellbeing. Learn more about the different dosha types and their combinations.

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The information on this page has been contributed by Dr. Pratik Bhoite, M.D. (Ayu), M.S. (Couns.&Psy.) and is intended for the sole use of Allayurveda. Information contained within this article may not be reproduced without the explicit permission of Allayurveda.

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