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Ayurveda is a holistic healing science which comprises of two words, Ayus and Veda. Ayus means life and Veda means knowledge or science. So the literal meaning of the word Ayurveda is the science of life. Ayurveda is a science dealing not only with treatment of some diseases but is a complete way of life.
Ayurveda is a science based on ancient Indian philosophy. The Vedas encompass the whole knowledge of the Universe. There are four Vedas, namely, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Amongst these, the Atharvaveda mainly deals with different facets of health.The main body of Ayurveda is found in the fourth Veda – the Artharvaveda. Ayurveda is an offspring of the Atharvaveda and is also considered as the fifth Veda. Ayurveda is recognized as an upa or supplementary Veda in its own right. It contains the description of various diseases and their aetiology, and recommends the correct diet and behaviour regimen to counter those diseases.
Ayurveda is a science based on ancient Indian philosophy. The Vedas encompass the whole knowledge of the Universe. There are four Vedas, namely, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Amongst these, the Atharvaveda mainly deals with different facets of health.
The main body of Ayurveda is found in the fourth Veda – the Artharvaveda. Ayurveda is an offspring of the Atharvaveda and is also considered as the fifth Veda. Ayurveda is recognized as an upa or supplementary Veda in its own right. It contains the description of various diseases and their aetiology, and recommends the correct diet and behaviour regimen to counter those diseases.
Mythology has it that Brahma, the creator, imparted the knowledge of Ayurveda to Prajapati Daksha who, in turn, passed it on to the Ashwinikumara twins who were the physicians to the gods. The Ashwinikumaras then offered this knowledge to Lord Indra. Lord Indra instructed Dhanwantari to spread this invaluable science of longevity on the earth. Sushruta, a renowned surgeon and student of Dhanwantari, wrote his famous compendium on surgery – the Sushruta Samhita.This contains 184 chapters and description of 1,120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources.” The credit for the famous treatise on general medicine, the Charaka Samhita, goes to Charaka who probably lived sometime between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D.. According to Charaka, science is dependent upon yukti, a quality of the intellect. Much of the treatise of Charaka Samhita is in the form of a symposium wherein various topics are discussed by groups of ayurvedic scholars. The samhita mentions about the gradual development of the foetus within the womb in minute detail, that accurately equals the modern medical version. Written in Sanskrit, the samhita contains about 8,400 metrical verses. Charaka samhita focuses on healing the body, mind and soul of a patient in the minimum invasive manner. Laying great emphasis on the diagnostic part of the treatment, Charaka identified eight stages of a disease from its inception to the culmination. Charaka also placed great importance on the timing and manner of collection of medicinal plants.
Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita are the two ancient treatises on which Ayurveda is based.
Ayurvedic philosophy provides a link between the living and non-living matters of the universe and indicates the origin of human and plant life from the five basic elements which are earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Ayurveda combines physical, psychological and spiritual therapies in an approach to health, that has addressed itself to the fundamental principles of good health and longevity. It has developed a tradition of medicine and a system of treatment based on the inherent ability of the human body to rejuvenate, to heal and to restore its natural balance.
Ayurveda is based on a system of Tridosha or Three Humours which classifies all individual constitutions of people, diseases, herbs and other non-herbal remedies and therapies according to whether they are Vata (air or nerve oriented), Kapha (water or mucoid type) or Pitta (fire type) .
Herbs that have pungent, sour and salty flavors stimulate fire; herbs that are astringent (drying) and bitter stimulate vata-air, or the nerve centered humour; herbs that are sweet, salty and sour stimulate or increase Kapha-water, or the mucoid humour. In contrast, herbs that are sweet, sour and salty flavored ameliorate Vata-air, which means that they have a particular affinity for the nervous system. Herbs that are astringent, sweet and bitter ameliorate Pitta-fire, meaning that they are soothing and anti-inflammatory. Finally herbs that are pungent, bitter and astringent ameliorate Kapha-water, which means they tend to increase digestive fire, expel and dry excessive fluid build up in the system, including clearing excessive fat from the body, and the accumulation of cholesterol and other fatty deposits in the veins and arteries of the body.
This Indian system of medicine has laid down principles and methods of treatment for various diseases including chronic illnesses where there is no definite curative treatment, and symptomatic relief is the only existing treatment option.
In Ayurvedic medicine, disease is always seen as an imbalance in the dosha system, so the diagnostic process strives to determine which doshas are underactive or overactive in a body.
Diagnosis is often taken over a course of days in order for the Ayurvedic physician to most accurately determine what parts of the body are being affected.
To diagnose problems, Ayurvedic physicians often use long questionnaires and interviews to determine a persons dosha patterns and physical and psychological histories.
Ayurvedic physicians also intricately observe the pulse, tongue, face, lips, eyes, and fingernails for abnormalities or patterns that they believe can indicate deeper problems in the internal systems. Some Ayurvedic physicians also use laboratory tests to assist in diagnosis.
Ayurveda takes into consideration the body, mind and soul of an individual as the unit for diagnosis. Hence, it recognizes negative emotions like anger, fear, insecurity, jealousy and greed as incorrect thinking on the part of an individual. These can directly create an imbalance in the doshas. Sattva, or peaceful equilibrium, rajas, or excessive activity and tamas, or inertia “—”the three tendencies or gunas of mind influence the imbalances in the three doshas. Hence the mind-body imbalance impairs the creative functioning of man.
Vata, which is identified with the cosmic element of vaayu or air and akash or ether, control all types of movements and is responsible for respiration too. This is the kinetic force in all kinds of biological forms, and controls the body`s auto-functions (nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination and heartbeats etc.) therein. In case of an imbalance (vikruti), vata prakriti individuals, who are quick in their mental process and initiation of action, tend to suffer from diseases of the neurological system especially motor functions. The diseases are pronounced during the old age, which is the period of vata (vata kala). The disease mostly affects the lower parts of the body since they are the predominant seats of vata dosha. Also, individuals belonging to this type suffer from angina (hridgraha).
Pitta Prakriti is consists of agni or teja, the element of heat energy. It is responsible for maintenance of body heat and transforming in nature. All types of outside elements an individual takes-in are transformed into inside elements (microcosm) of the body by pitta. It governs the digestion or proper assimilation of physical, mental and emotional elements of a biological entity. Hence, Pitta is responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems, as well as cellular metabolism. The persons of this prakriti are sharp, quick in action and normally possess a very good intellect as well as grasping power. The pitta prakriti persons are prone to diseases of the digestive and metabolic systems. The diseases mostly affect the abdomen i.e. the area between the chest and umbilicus. Also, pitta disorders are pronounced in the middle ages, which is the period of pitta (pitta kala).
Kapha prakriti or dosha consists of prithvi (earth) and jala (water). Jala , is essential for sustenance of life. Prithvi, or earth, is responsible for structure and bulk of the material. Kapha is responsible for body form and structure (fluids, fats, bones and muscles). The kapha prakriti endows the individuals with a good physic and strong perseverance but they are slow in their activities. The cold quality of kapha results in poor appetite as their agni or digestion is poor. In case of an imbalance, individuals tend to suffer from the diseases of the respiratory system especially phlegmatic disorders. The diseases normally affect the upper parts of the body i.e. chest and above. The diseases are pronounced during the early ages (childhood), which is the period of kapha (kapha kala).
Generally people are a combination of two doshas i.e. dwandvaja prakriti. They possess characteristics of both doshas involved depending on the percentage of the combination. In this case, one is a primary and the other is the secondary dosha. Sometimes people are a combination of all the three imbalances of doshas. But, it is extremely rare to find a balanced state of all the three doshas. Not only the humans but also everything (animals, plants, geographical locations, times of day, seasons and activities performed etc.) in the universe is categorized according to these three doshas. An ayurvedic practitioner formulates a diet plan and recommends herbs for a patient after taking into consideration all these aspects. That`s why in ayurveda different people with the same disease sometimes receive different diet and herb plans.
Effect of Seasons
The condition of human body depends on the continuous interaction between internal and external factors. Environmental factors include the nature of the land, water and various atmospheric phenomena such as temperature, humidity, wind, rain and snow shortly, the seasons and climates. Food and proper digestion of it in our systems is considered vital to maintain a reasonable balance of the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha. Food is digested by agni (heat/fire) within us just as it is cooked by agni (heat/fire) outside. According to ayurveda, there is a “stimulus-response” relation between the agni within us and the outside agni,the sun. When the agni outside is strong (i.e. summer) the agni inside us (the digestive energy) is weak and vice-versa. Basing on this principle the Indian food customs (even festival delicacies) and of course, the diet and lifestyle regimen (Dinacharya and Ritucharya) of ayurveda have been adapted to seasonal changes.
Specialized ayurvedic remedies such as panchakarma, marma chikitsa, dhara or following an ayurvedic diet, basically endeavor to restore the harmony of the tridoshas. The purpose of all ayurvedic remedies and herbal medicines is to keep the doshas or the humors in equilibrium, since an imbalance indicates a disease condition. Samsodhana (cleansing process), samsamana (palliative measures) and nidanaparivarjana (treating the causes) are the three main stages through which ayurvedic remedies usually progress.
Of these three remedial phases, samsodhana is considered a prominent process and according to ayurveda, should be administered with full care. Panchakarma is synonymous with this process. In fact, panchakarma is a group of five ayurvedic remedies, all of which are not practiced in all diseases.
Ayurveda recognizes that all living and non-living things are composed of panchamahabhut or five basic elements of the entire creation. One branch of Indian philosophy Sankhya, states that there are 24 elements in all, of which five are the foundation of the gross world: earth, water, fire, air and ether. According to ayurveda these five elements in different combinations constitute the three body types/doshas:vata (air and ether), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth and water). These two theories are the guiding factors of ayurveda as a therapeutic science.
Ayurveda advises undergoing panchakarma at the seasonal changes to both keep the metabolism strong and keep toxins from accumulating in the body as well as the mind. The process finds the way to the root cause of the problem and corrects the essential balance of mind, body, and emotions. It is considered extremely effective to go through the process of panchakarma prior to any rejuvenation treatment (rasayana/herbal medicines), for it cleanses the body, improves the digestion, the metabolic processes of the body and cleanse the thought process as well.
Basically, panchakarma is meant to make an individual most receptive to the curative process of ayurveda by removing accumulated waste in body and mind.
It is a process of therapeutic vomiting (induced), which helps eliminate the toxic or waste matters from the stomach and thoracic cavity. Kapha dominant diseases like severe skin diseases (psoriasis, urticaria); bronchial asthma, mental disorders etc. are selected for this treatment procedure. This process is not suggested for expecting mothers. Normally eight bouts of emesis are followed. The vomiting is stopped when yellow coloration is seen. Then, dhoomapana(inhalation of medicated fumes)is done through a special process. Finally, certain rules have to be followed called paschatkarma that basically implies strict diet regimen.
The entire treatment takes 15 days, and requires good attention as well as skilled assistance.
This eliminates the toxic or waste matters from the intestine. It also cures pitta or pitta-dominated diseases. Poorvakarma or initial process of cleansing like vamana is suggested here. About 20 purges may be seen in this process depending on the patient`s health. A mild form of virechana without the poorvakarma, is an integral part of ayurvedic therapy. It is also used for prevention of diseases.
The process of vasti or therapeutic enema is resorted to eliminate toxins from colon, and strengthens the tissues. Two kinds of vastis are followed in ayurveda. Snehavasti is the vasti where medicated oils are used. This is not advised in patients suffering from diabetes, anemia, diarrhea, and obesity. Poorvakarma is required here.
For kashaya vasti, honey, rock salt, sneham (oils), paste of medicines are required and mixed one by one in the above order. This concoction is taken in an empty stomach. After the process the patient is allowed to take a bath.
Diseases like hemiplegia, and disease due to vata are treated by this process. Medicines are selected as per disease and stage.
Nasya (Nasal Application of Herbal Medicines)
Nasya is instillation of medicine through nose. It is an important procedure of ayurveda for the treatment of sirorogas or diseases affecting head area. Nasya helps cleanse the head and sinuses. The process is contraindicated in various psychological diseases, asthma and cough. Here, the patient is to inhale lightly warmed oil. Warmed oil is massaged in the patient`s neck, shoulder, palm, face and sole before and after the process of nasya. Different timings are indicated for different dosha types. Morning time is prescribed for kapha diseases, noon in pitta diseases and evening in vata diseases.
Susruta gave stress to Raktamoksha (blood-letting) as one of the panchakarma, taking two of the vastis as a single karma (here, procedure). The process of letting out the vitiated blood is termed raktamoksha. In this procedure localized impurity or poison from the blood is removed through various methods. Often leech is used to suck out the impure blood from the affected area. Blood-letting is also done to eliminate toxins from the blood stream causing various chronic skin disorders like urticaria, eczema, scabies and leucoderma etc. The method was also effectively used to cure enlarged liver and spleen.
There are steps to be followed before doing panchakarma called poorvakarma. One is snehana or oleation where medicated oils are applied internally and externally. Another process called swedana or sudation is actually classified into four types to induce sweating. The purpose of poorvakarma is to liquefy and guide the provoked doshas to the mainstream to facilitate the sodhana or cleansing.
Following a strict ayurvedic diet also forms part of the ayurvedic treatment method. Ayurveda emphasizes that the diet we take has a close influence on our mind and body. According to ayurveda, the mind has three possible states (tri gunas) that are related to the three states of our physical constitution or the three-dosha types. Sattva, or peaceful equilibrium, rajas, or excessive activity and tamas, or inertia,the three tendencies or gunas of mind influence the imbalances in the three doshas. Specific dietary adjustments serves to maintain the balance of specific doshas and thus entail perfect health. Appropriate diet can be used to remove or neutralize toxins in the body, also.
Ayurveda suggests eating food until one`s appetite is satisfied. When ill, one should eat only light food, and then normal food in small quantities, until half the appetite is fulfilled. One important rule in ayurveda is never to combine contradictory foods in terms of their qualities. Some of the commonly followed rules on food habits according to ayurveda are as below: Keeping high-protein or high-fat food items in separate meals from lighter foods such as starches and vegetables.
Not mixing milk with yogurt.
Not eating cooked foods and raw foods at the same meal since they require different types of digestion.
Avoiding drinking milk while eating radishes, tomatoes, meat, fish, eggs, citrus fruits.
Eating fresh fruit separately from other meals (except the cooked fruits). Some specific vegetables and grains are forbidden in some specific days of a month.
Diet is to be compatible with changing seasons.
Practice of yoga is an integral method in ayurveda, which is applied to keep both the body and mind healthy and relaxed.It is recommended for cure as well as for prevention of various ailments.Different yogasanas are prescribed for different dosha based ailments.The lifestyle regimens mentioned in yoga are integral to ayurvedic treatment.Meditation is often recommended to maintain balance or peace in the thinking process.Meditation removes any disturbances in the balance of the three mental states of sattva, rajas and tamas.
Recommendation of gems to avoid any imminent problem is associated with Jyotish Shastra (astrology). Ayurveda applies Jyotish Shastra (astrology) to ascertain the imminent diseases an individual is going to suffer as well as to ascertain what type of gems would be beneficial for him. Ayurveda prescribes nine precious gemstones to be used externally and internally as well. Apart from recommending wearing gems, the rasayana branch of ayurveda, also, recommends calxes of various gemstones (bhasma) as internal medicine.
Marma Chikitsa(Vital Points)
Marma Chikitsa is a significant aspect of the ayurvedic treatment. Marmas are specific points on the body where the application of pressure or insertion of needles (bhedana) induces the flow of vital energy (prana) along a complex system of subtle channels called (nadis). Basing on the knowledge enumerated in Dhanur Veda (deals in martial art), ayurveda recognizes about 350 therapeutic marma points and over 100 lethal marma points within our body. The injury to some of these lethal marma points can lead to instant death. Massage is widely applied in the treatment of marmas.
Oil is an integral ingredient in ayurvedic treatment. Sesame oil and ghee (Butter oil) is commonly used. Oil can be administered internally as nasal-drops (nasya) or can be used for mouth gurgling. The external oiling is in the form of a massage. Specific oils are used for individuals having specific dosha types of vata, pitta and kapha.
Kaya kalpa literally means renewal of the body. This is a unique method of treating both the gross and the subtle body to prolong the youthfulness and vigor in younger people, and revive the vitality in old. The treatment method of kaya kalpa is considered to be the culmination of ayurvedic knowledge as a complete medical science. The two significant branches of ayurveda,kayachikitsa and rasayana deal with this method.