Ayurveda (आयुर्वेद Sanskrit: ayu—life; veda—knowledge of) or ayurvedic medicine is a more than 2,000 year old comprehensive system of medicine based on a holistic approach rooted in Vedic culture. Its conspicuous use of the word veda, or knowledge, reveals its role in early Hinduism and describes its hallowed place in India. Ayurveda also had a tradition of surgery. Two early texts of Ayurveda are the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita.
The Charaka and Sushruta Samhitās are compendiums of two traditions rather than texts authored by single authors. A third tradition is that of the Kāshyapas. The scholarly traditions of ayurveda date back to the time of the Buddha, who died (mahaparinirvana) in approximately 400 BCE. Some plant remedies of ayurveda are mentioned in the earlier Vedic literature 2nd millennium BC, but the formal doctrines of the three humours and other key ayurvedic ideas are first mentioned in the Buddhist Canonical literature. Both the Sushruta and Charaka Samhitās are the product of several editorial hands, having been revised and supplemented over a period of several hundred years.
The scholar Vāgbhata, who lived in Sind at the beginning of the 7th century AD, produced a grand synthesis of earlier ayurvedic materials in a verse work called Ashtānga Samhita. Another work associated with the same author, the Asthanga Samgraha, contains much the same material in a more diffuse form, written in a mixture of prose and verse. The relationship between these two works, and a third intermediate compilation, is still a topic of active research. The works of Caraka, Sushruta, and Vagbhata are considered canonical and reverentially called the Vriddha Trayi, "the triad of ancients"; or Brhat Trayi, "the greater triad." In the early eighth century, Mādhav wrote his Nidāna, a work on etiology, which soon assumed a position of authority. In the 79 chapters of this book, he lists diseases along with their causes, symptoms, and complications.
The vast majority of Ayurvedic therapies are herbal compounds. Some alchemical preparations start to enter the ayurvedic pharmacopieia towards the end of the 1st millennium AD in works such as those of Ugraditya (8th century AD )and Sarngadhara (14th century AD ). It also provides therapies for the treatment of various vegetable and animal toxins like scorpion, spider and snake venom. It has a whole science of toxicology called agada-tantra as one of the eight branches of traditional Ayurveda.
The Ayurvedic idea is that the organism adapts to the environment and its food, climate etc. This principle of adaptation is called satyma. Through introducing small amounts of a food or medicine, the organism can adapt to it and learn to resist it.
Ayurveda became increasingly symptom-based, treating the symptoms of a disease rather than the root cause. However, it is important to note that Ayurveda was originally a consciousness based system of health care. Its philosophy, expressed in modern terms, is to strengthen the immune system.
It could be said that the simple essence of ayurveda is knowledge and awareness of the qualities of nature – called gurvadi gunah. By understanding the qualities inherent in the environment, in foodstuffs, in activities, etc., one gains an appreciation of their effects on the individual constitution through the principle of similarities; i.e., that similarities cause increase while dissimilarities cause decrease. Thus hot qualities in the environment or diet will increase hot qualities in the body.
The gurvadi gunah are listed in Vagbhata's Ashtanga Hrdayam as:
- Guru (heavy) – laghu (light)
- Manda (slow) – tikshna (quick, sharp)
- Hima (cold) – ushna (hot)
- Snigdha (unctuous) – ruksha (dry)
- Slakshna (smooth) – khara (rough)
- Sandra (solid) – drava (liquid)
- Mrdu (soft) – kathina (hard)
- Sthira (stable) – cala (mobile)
- Sukshma (subtle) – sthula (gross)
- Vishada (non-slimy) – picchila (slimy)
Since everything in the material world possesses combinations of the 20 qualities, ayurveda postulates that every material process or object can either harm or heal a person by influencing that person's unique original constitution (called prakrti). An ayurvedic practitioner will assess the qualities of a disorder, the patient's unique prakrti, and his/her influencing factors to arrive at a treatment plan. The treatment plan will consist of using herbs, therapies, diet, etc., with opposite qualities so as to assist the patient in re-establishing their prakrti.
The Five Elements
According to the ancient Sankhya theory of cosmology, on which ayurveda is based, the five elements – pancamahabhuta – combine in different proportions to form the material world. Each element possesses different amounts of the above-mentioned gunas; thus each element has its unique qualitative nature. The elements are:
- Akasha – ether or space
- Vayu – air
- Tejas or agni – fire
- Apa or jala – water
- Prthvi – earth
Some authorities state that the early European concept of five elements evolved as a result of contact with ayurveda.
The 3 main doshas (medical humours) are Vata (resembles the classical element air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water).
All bodily processes are believed to be governed by a balance of the 3 doshas. Whichever dosha appears to dominate a person's behavior and physique is called his constitution type. Each constitution type has particular strengths and susceptibilities.
Vata, composed of air, governs all movement in the mind and body and must be kept in good balance. Too much vata leads to "worries, insomnia, cramps and constipation.... Vata controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind." Vata activates the nervous system, hearing and speech; and expresses as enthusiasm and creativity. Vata also controls the other two principles, Pitta and Kapha, and is usually the first cause of disease. Another word for Vata is Vayu - it is the more traditional Sanskrit word for air.
Pitta is said to be composed of fire and water; it governs "all heat, metabolism and transformation in the mind and body. It controls how we digest food, how we metabolize our sensory perceptions, and how we discriminate between right and wrong." Pitta must be kept in balance, too. "Too much Pitta can lead to anger, criticism, ulcers, rashes and thinning hair.". A balanced Pitta mind makes one a good leader with a warm personality.
- Kapha is the watery humour. "Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure. This dosha maintains body resistance....Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs and maintains immunity...Kapha is responsible for emotions of attachment, greed and long-standing envy; it is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness and love." Too much Kapha leads to lethargy and weight gain, as well as congestion and allergies.
Often a person is a dual dosha (e.g. Vata/Pitta) or even Tridosha (all three doshas).
In sum, Ayurveda represents a system that considers both the states of mind and body in its diagnosis and treatment. Ayurveda took into consideration the fact that many illnesses are caused by foreign agents and small organisms that may require aggressive intervention.
Ayurvedic physicians were traditionally supported by their patients and the communities they worked in, with a minority gaining royal patronage. Under the centralised governments systems established by the Mughals and subsequent British rule in India, many Ayurvedic physicians were paid small stipends by the state. But when the British government in India began to establish hospitals and organised state-wide healthcare institutions, leading eventually to the Indian Medical Service, Ayurveda was not included. In the early 20th century, Ayurvedic physicians began to organise into professional associations and to promote the case for national recognition and funding. This began to become a reality after Indian independence in 1947.
Today, Ayurveda is gaining lots of interest in the Western countries. Ayurvedic treatments in the West are primarily massage, and dietary and herbal advice, due to the strongly regulations surrounding medical practice in Europe and America. Patients are classified by body types, or prakriti, which are determined by proportions of the three doshas. Illness and disease are considered to be a matter of imbalance in the doshas. Treatment is aimed at restoring harmony or balance to the mind-body system.
Ayurvedic medicine is gaining in popularity around the world. There are a number of medical schools that teach Ayurveda.
See History of medicine
Former NFL player Ricky Williams is currently studying Ayurveda at the California College of Ayurveda.
The Roots of Ayurveda, Dominik Wujastyk, Penguin, London, New York etc., ISBN 0-140-44824-1
Ayurveda: Science of Self Healing, Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-00-4
Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, Dr. David Frawley, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-97-7
Ayurveda: Nature's Medicine, Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Subhash Ranade, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-95-0
Ayurveda Encyclopedia, Swami Sadashiva Tirtha, D.Sc., Ayurveda Holistic Center Press, Bayville, New York ISBN 0-9658042-2-4
Indian National Website on Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy
Ayurveda colleges in India
National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine
Oriental Music therapy- Indian classical music as therapy
Ayurveda For You - Comprehensive site on Ayurveda. Learn Ayurveda through ebooks and email courses
Ayurveda in Ancient India
Ayurveda Academy of Yoga in Daily Life in Vienna, Austria
Ayurveda Hospital and Research Centre in Wagholi, India
Online Resources from ayurveda.com
Chapter about Ayurveda from The River of Heaven by David Frawley
Articles about Ayurveda
Articles about Ayurveda, Ayurvedic Recipes
History of Traditional Indian Medicine
The flip side of Ayurveda
Ayurveda Portal: read/write articles, news, blogs; read/ad resources, practitioner directory, dosha test, e-newsletter, research journal, forum, RSS newsfeed
International Vedic Institute School of Ayurveda: online certification & continuing education courses. Web classroom
Chapter 1 of the Ayurveda Encyclopedia by Swami Sadashiva Tirtha
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:14:28
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13