What is Ayurveda?

I always wondered what Ayurveda was, here is what I’ve found:

Ayurveda “the knowledge for long life”; is a Hindu system of traditional medicine native to India and a form of alternative medicine.

Ayurveda stresses a balance of three elemental energies or humors:

Vāyu vāta (air & space – “wind”) is the impulse principle necessary to mobilize the function of the nervous system. It affects the windy humour, flatulence, gout, rheumatism, etc.

Pitta (fire & water – “bile”) is the bilious humour, or that secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen, heart, eyes, and skin; its chief quality is heat.   It is the energy principle which uses bile to direct digestion and hence metabolism into the venous system.

Kapha (water & earth – “phlegm”) is the body fluid principle which relates to mucous, lubrication and the carrier of nutrients into the arterial system.

Schematic showing the three humors in ayurveda (pitta – vata – kapha ) and the “5 great elements” that they are composed from.

These three substances — doṣas  (dosha) are important for health, because when they are unbalanced you too are unbalanced.  These teachings are also known as the Tridosha system.  One theory asserts that each human possesses a unique combination of doṣas that define that person’s temperament and characteristics.

Dosha Quiz:

http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/

In ayurveda, unlike the Sāṅkhya and Nyaya philosophical system, there are 20 fundamental qualities, guṇa  inherent in all substances.  

Ayurvedic theory asserts that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality; while also focusing on exercise, yoga, and meditation.

Ayurveda is sometimes called “the science of eight components” they are:

  1. Internal medicine (Kāya-cikitsā)
  2. Pediatrics (Kaumārabhṛtyam)
  3. Surgery (Śalya-cikitsā)
  4. Eye and ENT (Śālākya tantra)
  5. Psychiatry (Bhūta vidyā)
  6. Toxicology (Agadatantram)
  7. Prevention of diseases and improving immunity and rejuvenation (Rasayana)
  8. Aphrodisiacs and improving health of progeny (Vajikaranam)

The origin of ayurvedic medicine is attributed to Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, in Hindu mythology.

Balance in emphasized in ayurvedic medicine, known in Buddhism as Madhyamaka; suppressing natural urges is seen to be unhealthy, and doing so claimed to lead to illness.  However, people are cautioned to stay within the limits of reasonable balance and measure.

The practice of panchakarma is a therapeutic way of eliminating toxic elements from the body.

The Charaka Samhita recommends a ten step examination (diagnosis) of the patient.

  1. constitution
  2. abnormality
  3. essence
  4. stability
  5. body measurements
  6. diet suitability
  7. psychic strength
  8. digestive capacity
  9. physical fitness
  10. age

In addition, Ananda S. Chopra (Medicine Across Cultures:  History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western … By Helaine Selin, Hugh Shapiro) identifies five influential criteria for diagnosis:

  1. origin of the disease
  2. pronominal (precursory) symptoms
  3. typical symptoms of the fully developed disease
  4. observing the effect of therapeutic procedures
  5. the pathological process’

Ayurvedic practitioners approach diagnosis by using all five senses.  Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.  The study of the lethal or sensitive points or marman marma is of special importance.

Ayurvedic practioners regard physical and mental existence together with personality as a unit, each element having the capacity to influence the others.

Hygiene is a central practice of ayurvedic medicine.   Living hygienically involves regular bathing, cleansing of teeth, skin care, and eye washing.  Daily anointing of the body with oil is also prescribed.

Ensuring the proper functions of channels (srotas) that transport fluids from one point to another is a vital goal of ayurvedic medicine.  Practitioners induce sweating and prescribe the use of steam-based treatments as a means to open up the channels and dilute the doshas that cause the blockages and lead to disease.

Links to Ayurveda:

Ayurverdic Spa Treatments

Ayurdedic Medicine

Dosha Quiz

Dr. Oz

Medicine Across Cultures:  History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western … By Helaine Selin, Hugh Shapiro

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

Ayurvedic Massage

Beauty Pure and Simple: The Ayurvedic Approach to Beautiful Skin by Kristen Ma

Disclaimer

While I’ve attempted to use credible sources for information, this is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. If there is a disparity between the information presented within this blog and the advice given by your medical professional, please follow the medical professional’s advice as he/she will know you and your medical circumstances.

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