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What is Ayurveda?

Jul 19, 2017
What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda – Nature’s Gift to the World

Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine from India that aims to:

Protect health and thus prolong life, and
Eliminate diseases and dysfunctions of the body

The word ayurveda is an amalgamation of two words ayus (long life) and veda (knowledge). Unlike other systems of medicine that are designed to fight and treat diseases, ayurveda primarily focuses on employing knowledge to ward off ill health and thus attain long life. It is also employed by trained physicians to treat specific diseases.

Ayurveda is not something that was handed over orally over generations making it susceptible to distortions. In fact ayurveda is based on the three scientific texts Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridaya (collectively known as Brhattrayi) that dates back to about 800 BCE. Based on this scientific knowledge, the first surgeries in human history were conducted thousands of years ago by ayurvedic physicians in India.

Long before modern medicine conceptualized the branching of different forms of medicine into specialities, ayurveda had mastered it. Ayurveda was divided into eight specialities as given below: • Kaya-Chikitsa or Internal medicine – deals with diseases caused by imbalances in the body,
• Salakya Chikitsa – deals with ophthalmology, ear, nose and throat problems
• Bala Chikitsa/ Kaumarbhritya – deals with paediatrics
• Shalya Chikitsa – deals with surgery
• Bhuta-vidya – deals with psychology and psychiatry
• Agadha-tantra – deals with antidotes to poisons
• Rasayana tantra – deals with rejuvenation and aging in geriatrics
• Vajikarna tantra – deals with aphrodisiacs and sexual health

Basic Principles

The basic principle of ayurveda is that the universe is made up of five primary elements: air, fire, water, earth and ether. These five elements combine to make up three doshas (tridoshas or life forces) that are manifest in the human body. An ideal balance among the tridoshas namely vata, pitta and kapha is the secret of good health.

Vata concerns itself with air and ether and is responsible for nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination.

Kapha concerns water and earth and is responsible for growth and protection.

Pitta concerns fire and water and is responsible for all metabolic activities in the human body.

Every human being in this universe is unique with the body’s constitution (or prakriti) based on which among the tridoshas is dominant over the other two. Ill health is caused by an imbalance among the doshas and a successful treatment aims at restoring this balance. This treatment may involve medicines, specially formulated diets, massages, and panchakarma.

Ayurvedic medicines

Ayurvedic medicines are traditionally made up of herbs, minerals, metals, animal products or a combination of these. Traditional and scientific procedures were employed in the production of these medicines rendering them free from toxicity and side-effects. The medicines were in the form of pills, oral liquids, suspensions, medicated oils for external use, medicated ghee (clarified butter for internal use) and balms. Tablets and capsules became part of the repertoire in recent years. Harvesting of plant parts like fruits, flowers, leaves, barks, nuts, roots etc were done at specified times during specific seasons ensuring that the vitality of the parts used were not lost. Toxic metals like arsenic, mercury etc were made safe for use by using scientific methods that were time consuming and labor intensive.

Specially formulated diets

Ayurveda places a proper diet on a pedestal at par with medicines. The ancient texts say that if proper diet is followed, medication is not required and if diet is neglected, the medicines would not be effective. Diets were not only recommended for specific diseases but also for specific seasons like autumn, pre-autumn, winter, summer, rainy and post rainy seasons. Specific diseases were treated by diets formulated with certain ingredients that could work towards balancing the doshas. Certain foods are never to be taken together as this upsets the tridoshas, an example being milk taken together with fish.

Apart from formulating the diet, ayurveda places importance on the timing of the meals, posture maintained while eating, the order in which food items are to be eaten etc.

Ayurvedic Massages

Ayurvedic massages are a potent tool not only to treat specific conditions of the body but also to rejuvenate and relax the human body. Masters of Kalaripayattu (the oldest martial art in the world that originated in Kerala, a state in southern India) used to treat patients using these massage techniques only. Sadly, colonial rule outlawed Kalaripayattu for a period close to 150 years and the most of the secrets of that branch of ayurveda were lost with the passage of time.

A trained physician or masseur/masseuse can relieve the built up mental and physical tension in the body by employing ayurvedic massage. Medicated oils, herbs and other natural materials are employed over a period of time ranging from 15 minutes to a month to relax the body and relieve it of disease. These are specially employed in the treatment of muscular and skeletal diseases. These massages also at times serve as the precursor to panchakarma treatments. When done prior to such treatments, it is known as purvakarma or pre-treatment procedures. It helps increase blood circulation besides strengthening and stimulating the lymphatic system. The bonus benefits of such massages is that it nourishes the skin and retards the aging process.


The imbalance among the tridoshas can be brought about by toxins. The process of cleaning toxins that create imbalance among the doshas is known as panchakarma (or five procedures). The procedures include: Vamana – elimination of toxins through controlled vomiting
Virechana – elimination of toxins through controlled purgation
Vasti – elimination of toxins using medicated enemas
Nasya – elimination of toxins through nose
Rakthamoksha – detoxification of blood through bloodletting

These procedures are carried out by physicians and healthcare workers specially trained in panchakarma and requires specialized equipment.

Today ayurveda may offer solutions to a population beleaguered by disease and lifestyle problems. Alzheimer’s disease, liver cirrhosis, hormonal imbalances, arthritis, oligospermia are examples where modern medicine has failed to deliver substantial results. Ayurveda offers a ray of hope in these conditions and other such diseases. Ayurveda is preventive, protecting and curative without the ills of other forms of medicines and employs natural ingredients free from side effects.


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