Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term, made up of the words "ayus" and "veda." "Ayus" means life and "Veda" means knowledge or science. The term "ayurveda" thus means 'the knowledge of life' or 'the science of life'. According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Charaka, "ayu" comprises the mind, body, senses and the soul. Ayurveda can be defined as a system, which uses the inherent principles of nature, to help maintain health in a person by keeping the individual's body, mind and spirit in perfect equilibrium with nature.

Description

Widely regarded as the oldest form of healthcare in the world, Ayurveda is an intricate medical system that originated in India thousands of years ago. The fundamentals of Ayurveda can be found in Hindu scriptures called the Vedas — the ancient Indian books of wisdom. The Rigveda, contains a series of prescriptions that can help humans overcome various ailments.

The aim of this system is to prevent illness, heal the sick and preserve life. This can be summed up as follows:

  • Swasthyas swasthya rakshanam - to protect health and prolong life
  • Aturasya vikar prashamanamcha - to eliminate diseases and dysfunctions of the body

And both these are aimed towards the promotion of health on three levels:

  • Mentally
  • Physically
  • Spiritually

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.

Basic Principles of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is based on the premise that the universe is made up of five elements: air, fire, water, earth and ether. These elements are represented in humans by three "doshas", or energies: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When any of the doshas accumulate in the body beyond the desirable limit, the body loses its balance. Every individual has a distinct balance, and our health and well-being depend on getting a right balance of the three doshas ("tridoshas"). Ayurveda suggests specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to help individuals reduce the excess dosha.

A healthy person, as defined in Sushrut Samhita, one of the primary works on Ayurveda, is

"he whose doshas are in balance, appetite is good, all tissues of the body and all natural urges are functioning properly, and whose mind, body and spirit are cheerful…"

  1. It focuses on establishing and maintaining balance of the life energies within us, rather than focusing on individual symptoms.
  2. It recognizes the unique constitutional differences of all individuals and therefore recommends different regimens for different types of people. Although two people may appear to have the same outward symptoms, their energetic constitutions may be very different and therefore call for very different remedies.
  3. Ayurveda is a complete medical system which recognizes that ultimately all intelligence and wisdom flows from one Absolute source (Paramatman). Health manifests by the grace of the Absolute acting through the laws of Nature (Prakriti). Ayurveda assists Nature by promoting harmony between the individual and Nature by living a life of balance according to her laws.
  4. Ayurveda describes three fundamental universal energies which regulate all natural processes on both the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. That is, the same energies which produce effects in the various galaxies and star systems are operating at the level of the human physiology—in your own physiology. These three universal energies are known as the Tridosha.
  5. Finally, the ancient Ayurvedic physicians realized the need for preserving the alliance of the mind and body and offers mankind tools for remembering and nurturing the subtler aspects of our humanity. Ayurveda seeks to heal the fragmentation and disorder of the mind-body complex and restore wholeness and harmony to all people.

Eight Branches of Ayurveda

Classically, Ayurvedic Medicine was conceptualized and practiced as eight major clinical subspecialties of medicine in addition to numerous adjunctive specialties. The eight major subspecialties continue to be taught today and they include:

  1. Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  2. Shalya Tantra (General Surgery)
  3. Shalakya (Otorhinolaryngology)
  4. Kaumarabhrtya (Pediatrics and Obstetric/Gynecology)
  5. Bhutavidya (Psychiatry)
  6. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
  7. Rasayana Tantra (Nutrition, Detoxification and Rejuvenation)
  8. Vajikarana (Fertility and Virility)

For every disease, there is information about: definition, etiology, prodrome, clinical symptoms, pathophysiology, prognosis, principles of treatment, medicines, diet, lifestyle recommendations, and even etymology. This approach is strikingly similar to that of modern medicine and even more comprehensive.

Tridosha

the Concept of Bio-Energies

The Tridosha (three bio-energies) found in our body are:

  • Vata pertains to air and ether elements. This energy is generally seen as the force, which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination.
  • Kapha pertains to water and earth elements. Kapha is responsible for growth and protection. The mucousal lining of the stomach, and the cerebral-spinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal column are examples of kapha.
  • Pitta pertains to fire and water elements. This dosha governs metabolism, e.g., the transformation of foods into nutrients. Pitta is also responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems.

All Ayurvedic physicians believe that these ancient ideas, based in the spiritual knowledge discovered by the Rishis and Munis, exist in harmony with physical reality. These Ayurvedic concepts allow physicians to examine the homeostasis of the whole system. People may be of a predominant dosha or constitution, but all doshas have the basic elements within them.

Panchakarma

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.

the Fivefold Purification Therapy

If toxins in the body are abundant, then a cleansing process known as panchakarma is recommended to purge these unwanted toxins. This fivefold purification therapy is a classical form of treatment in ayurveda. These specialized procedures consist of the following:

  • Vaman (Therapeutic vomiting or emesis)
  • Virechan (Purgation)
  • Basti (Enema)
  • Nasya (Elimination of toxins through the nose)
  • Rakta moksha (Bloodletting or detoxification of the blood)

Vamana (Emesis)

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.

Virechana (Purgation)

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.

Basti (Enema)

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.
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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.

Raktamoksha (Blood-Letting)

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.

Ayurvedic Tastes

Ayurveda holds that the tastes of foods or herbs have specific physiological effects. Those tastes that transform after digestion (Vipaka) are more powerful.

  • Madhura — Sweet; sweet foods nourish, cool, moisten, oil, and increase weight
  • Amla - Sour; sour foods warm, oil, and increase weight
  • Lavan - Salty; salty foods warm, dissolve, stimulate, soften, oil, and increase weight
  • Katu - Pungent; pungent foods warm, dry, stimulate, and decrease weight
  • Tikta - Bitter; bitter foods cool, dry, purify and decrease weight
  • Kasaya - Astringent; astringent foods cool, dry, reduce stickiness.

Diet

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.

Yoga

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.

Marma Chikitsa

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.

Dhara (Oil)

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

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.

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