A Glimpse Of Ayurveda – The Forgotten History and Principles
The origin of Ayurveda in India is thousands of years old and is considered the oldest medicinal healing science in the world. Derived from two Sanskrit words Ayu meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge, Ayurveda literally means the knowledge of life or science of life.
Rooted in the fundamental belief of natural healing, Ayurveda believes that all living beings are connected to their environment and that the changing seasons or ritus play a vital role in health and wellbeing. Adapting dietary and lifestyle choices suitable to the ritus is the key to total wellness which doesn’t just mean physical health but a harmonious balance between the mind, body and soul!
Although a treasure trove of Ayurvedic medical knowledge already exists, there are plenty of avenues yet to be explored in this priceless traditional healing system.
History of Ayurveda
Scholars believe that the Ayurvedic medical knowledge came straight from the God of creation Brahma who passed it on to Lord Indra and who in turn gave the knowledge to learned sages Atri and Dhanvantari. These sages then further passed it to their disciples in the form of shlokas or poems that were learned via writings as well as oral narration.
The origin of Ayurveda can be traced back to the Vedic era, based on Hinduisms four most sacred compilations of knowledge – Yajur Veda, Rig Veda, Sam Veda, and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda actually have thousands of shlokas that describe medically useful information including medical herbs and plants.
The compilations in the Rig Veda (the oldest existing text in any Indo-European language believed to have originated over 5000 years ago) and Atharva Veda are said to be written by the great sage Punarvasu Atreya (disciple of Atri). Agnivesha, the pupil of sage Atreya further complied the Ayurvedic medical knowledge which was later edited by Acharya Charak (well known as the father of Ayurveda) and what came to be known as the Charak Samhita, the text that describes the entire aspects of Ayurvedic medicine.
Sushrut Samhita, another codified text of Ayurvedic knowledge is said to have been passed down from the sage Dhanvantari and details the science of surgery. Both these texts – the Charak Samhita and Sushrut Samhita – are till date considered the foundational texts that have survived from the ancient traditional Ayurvedic medicine system.
Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita & Ashtanga Hrudaya Samhita are known as the Brihat Trayi or the three great encyclopedias of Ayurvedic medical knowledge.
Ayurveda is based on the principle that the universe is made up of five core elements or the Panchmahabhutas – earth (prithvi), water (jal), fire (agni), wind (vayu) & space (akash) and that these elements are present in all living beings and are primarily responsible for the formation of the tridoshas (or energies) – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Ayurveda states that every person is born with a specific Prakruti which is the result of interplay between the tridoshas. These three energies or tridoshas – Vata dosha, Pitta dosha and Kapha dosha -control the basic bodily functions along with five sub doshas of each principle dosha and the Sapta dhatus (seven tissues) – Rasa (tissue fluids), Meda (fat), Rakta (blood), Asthi (bones), Majja (bone marrow), Mamsa (muscle), Shukra (semen) and three Malas (waste products of the body – Purisha (feces ), Mutra (urine) and Sweda (sweat).
- Vata dosha which is made up of elements vayu (air/wind) and akash (space), is the most important of all tridoshas as it controls all the movement (microscopic cellular + macroscopic level) across our nervous system, blood circulation, respiration etc.
- Kapha dosha is the combination of Jal (water) and Prithvi (earth) elements. It is mainly centered around the chest area and is responsible for giving strength, stability, structure to the body as well as for developing various tissues.
- Pitta dosha contains the 2 elements Agni (fire) and Jal (water) and controls the all-important digestive fire or agni as well as body temperature, vision, color & skin complexion, sensory perception, emotions and intellect.
For all-round good health, it is important that the tridoshas are in balance. Any imbalance causes disease and infections.
As per Ayurveda, along with the tridoshas, the digestive fire or agni is responsible for all the metabolic activity in the body. It is the catalyst that converts food into energy and the force responsible for good health, strength, teja, oja and prana or life energy.
The agni plays a vital role in maintaining proper digestion, regulating good bacteria in the gut, nutrient absorption, and energy distribution to the body. There are thirteen categories of Agni in the body known as Trayo dosa agni. The most important is the one responsible for digestive fire, called Jatharagni which controls basic digestion and 12 other agnis. Any weakening or disturbance in the digestive fire can cause problems in the gastrointestinal tract such as ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
In addition to tridoshas, digestive fire or agni and the Sapta dhatus, Ayurveda also believes that the removal of waste/malas from the body is an important aspect of maintaining good health. Tri malas or three types of waste matter mutra (urine), purisa (feces ), sveda (sweat) are formed as a result of metabolic and digestive functions of the body. If the waste disposal is not done effectively, it can lead to health complications.
Ayurveda has eight fields of treatment known as ‘Ashtanga Ayurveda’ including
- Kayachikitsa (internal medicine treatment)
- Bhuta Vidya (treatment of psychological disorders)
- KaumarBhritya (pediatric treatment)
- Rasayana (study of geriatrics)
- Vajikarana (treatment through aphrodisiacs and eugenics)
- Shalya (surgical treatment)
- Shalakya (otorhinolaryngological and ophthalmological treatment)
- Agada Tantra (toxicological studies)
Ayurvedic healthcare is centered on correcting the imbalance of the Panchamahabhutas and the tridoshas, strengthening the digestive fire or agni and effectively eliminating malas (waste) and ama (toxins). Some of the known therapies in Ayurveda include
- Shaman Chikitsa or healing therapy that helps balance the aggravated doshas by removing impurities
- Rejuvenating Therapies such as Amapachan & shoshan (digestion & removal of toxins), langhan (fasting under the supervision of an expert Ayurvedic Vaidya), Ruksha Udwartan (dry medicated powder massage)
- Samshodhan Chikitsa or detoxification therapies such as purvakarma (snehan and swedan send the toxins to the bowels for flushing), panchakarma (includes Viman, Virechan, Anuvasan basti, Niruha basti, Nasya and rakta mokshana), deepan (strengthens the digestive fire or agni) + pachan (helps remove toxins)
Ayurvedic health care concentrates on the natural way of prevention and treatment that considers the complete well-being of the person goes beyond the body and also focuses on their mental and emotional health.
With a lot of modern health problems being acquired diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension/high blood pressure, stress, etc.) the Ayurvedic doctrine of medicine is more applicable in these present times.
Following the tried and tested Ayurvedic principles of daily living such as eating as per your dosha and the ritus/seasons, having a regularized and healthy sleeping schedule, a well-set physical activity regimen, yoga and meditation daily can help everyone revitalize themselves and lead healthy, happy and long lives.
Book an ayurvedic consultation with an experienced Ayurvedic Vaidya for a customized Ayurvedic diet & lifestyle plan to enjoy good health all year round.Disclaimer: Any dietary/lifestyle changes in your routine should be incorporated only after thorough consultation with your Ayurvedic Vaidya or medical doctor.