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.
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:
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.
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…”
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. 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.
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:
- Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
- Shalya Tantra (General Surgery)
- Shalakya (Otorhinolaryngology)
- Kaumarabhrtya (Pediatrics and Obstetrics / Gynecology)
- Bhutavidya (Psychiatry)
- Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
- Rasayana Tantra (Nutrition, Detoxification and Rejuvenation)
- 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.