Ayurveda is “The mother of all healing arts” on our planet, because it predates all healing systems and all forms of natural medicine. It was developed in India some 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. Knowledge of Ayurveda has been recorded in two of the vedic texts: the Atharva veda, and the Rig veda, which are more than 5,000 years old. It was many years later that other cultures studied Ayurveda and created their own healing systems, i.e. China, Tibet, Egypt, Africa, and other regions.
Ayurveda specializes in holistic natural remedies and prevention, and focuses on rebuilding the cells and tissues to support longevity. Hence its tools for healing are herbs, yoga exercise, healthy diet and lifestyle, Vedic massages, meditation, use of mantras, steam therapy and sauna, aromatherapy, use of gems, colors, etc.
The philosophy of Ayurveda is to help people heal themselves. A unique quality of Ayurveda is that healing is promoted by balancing the different energies in the body. These are known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha (the “Doshas” or body humors). The Doshas are the three main combinations of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth). These five elements in the body can be balanced through diet and herbs that possess the essence of each element. Vata is air and ether and it is the element that moves the energies and nutrients in the body. Pitta is mainly fire and it is in charge of metabolism and digestion of gross nutrients and energies. Kapha represents water and earth and its main function is to provide strength and development of tissues at all levels in the body.
As Modern medicine with its strong synthetic chemical drugs fails to compact nature, there is rapid & progressive acceptance in the world over this natural medicine. The whole world is desperately looking for new lifestyles that include healthy diet, stress-free careers, happy lasting relationship & for a relaxed mind-body harmony side-lining the laws of nature. “Back to nature” concept lands here only.
Ayurveda literally means “knowledge about life”. The ancient saints of India (2000 – 3000 BC) could perceive this divine “Wisdom of life”. According to Ayurveda human being is part of the NATURE. This life-science could see the physiology of human body in three Humors (Tridosha) & human mind in another set of three Humors (Sathwa-Rejo-Thama). There total equilibrium means POSITIVE HEALTH. As it implies, DISEASE is their imbalanced state. So Ayurvedic treatment is balancing the mind-body harmony – HOLISTIC MEDICINE.
Ayurveda originated in India long back in pre-vedic period. Rigveda and Atharva-veda ( 5000 years B.C.), the earliest documented ancient Indian knowledge have references on health and diseases. Ayurved texts like Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita were documented about 1000 years B.C. The term Ayurveda means ‘Science of Life’. It deals elaborately with measures for healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides, dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness. These principles of positive health and therapeutic measures relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare of human beings. Thus Ayurveda becomes one of the oldest systems of health care dealing with both the preventive and curative aspects of life in a most comprehensive way and presents a close similarity to the WHO’s concept of health propounded in the modern era.
A perusal of its several classical treatises indicate presence of two schools of Physicians and Surgeons and eight specialities. These eight disciplines are generally called “Ashtanga Ayurveda” and are :-
- Internal Medicine (Kaya Chikitsa)
- Paediatrics (Kaumar Bhritya)
- Psychiatry ( Bhoot Vidya)
- Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology (Shalakya)
- Surgery ( Shalya)
- Toxicology( Agad Tantra)
- Geriatrics (Rasayana)
- Eugenics and aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana)
Compendia on these subjects like Charak Samihta, Sushruta Samhita etc. were written by the ancient scholars during B.C. period. These were used for teaching of Ayurveda in the ancient universities of Takshashila and Nalanda.
During its early period, it was perhaps the only system of overall healthcare and medicine which served well the people in such crucial areas as health, sickness, life and death. It enjoyed the unquestioned patronage and support of the people and their rulers. This situation promoted maximally the growth of this system. Practically all the systematic ground work of laying down its basic concepts, principles and medicaments took place during this period of Indian history.
The Medieval Period
Then followed a long period of medieval history marked by unsettled political conditions and several invasions from outside the country when Ayurveda faced utter neglect. Its growth was stunted, its teaching and training were stopped from being spread and its monopoly in practice or utilization was eroded greatly by the officially supported systems. Ayurveda barely survived because of its native roots and also because the official systems of medicine could not reach everywhere particularly in widely scattered and difficult rural areas.
The Present Era
The political situation of the country was destined to change in favor of freedom from foreign rule. With the awakening of nationalism and movement for freedom the Indian cultural values and way of life (including health care and sickness cure systems) surfaced again. The patriotic zeal of the people, their leaders and benevolence of the rulers of princely States initiated the revival of Ayurvedic system of medicine even before the country got its freedom. In 1916, the Members of Imperial Legislative Councils pressed the Government to accept this ancient and indigenous system of Ayurveda for developing it on scientific basis and for increasing its usefulness. In 1920, the Indian National Congress demanded Government patronage for Ayurveda and Provincial Governments began to grant assistance. The State and Central Governments appointed several committees to suggest ways and means of rehabilitating this time tested system in the service of the people and promote its further growth following modern scientific parameters and methods. As a result, several States started schools and colleges for training of competent Ayurvedic practitioners with working knowledge of modern medicine.
After, the country became free in 1947, the movement for revival gained additional momentum. The first Health Ministers’ Conference resolved that Ayurveda should be developed and put to use for providing Medicare to the people. In due course of time this system got official recognition and became a part of the National Health network of the country. In several ways, the official health policies, national plans and programmes accorded to it the same status as enjoyed by the dominant Allopathic system. At present the system is well set to re-orient itself to modern scientific parameters. Simultaneously, it is well poised for much greater, effective utilization so as to enable the country to reach its goals of Health for all and regulate population growth. In the present situation, Medical Scientists are researching Ayurveda remedies for lifestyle related diseases, degenerative and psychosomatic disorders.
The classical works on Ayurveda describe it as under :
It is that knowledge of life which deals elaborately and at length with conditions beneficial or otherwise to the humanity, and, to factors conducive to the happiness, or responsible for misery or sorrow besides indicating measures for healthful living for full span of life .
Ayurveda is also considered as ‘Science of life’. This probably makes it the earliest medical science having a positive concept of health to be achieved through a blending of physical, mental, social moral and spiritual welfare.
According to the ancient books of knowledge, health is considered as a prerequisite for achieving the supreme ends of life consisting of righteousness, wealth, artistic values and spiritual freedom. Preventive and curative aspects of diseases are considered as important components of the concept of positive health.
Ayurveda deals elaborately with measures of healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness. These principles of positive health and therapeutic measures related to physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare of human beings. Thus Ayurveda became one of the oldest system of medicine dealing with both the preventive and curative aspects of life in a most comprehensive way
Concepts and Principles
Life in Ayurveda is conceived as the union of body, senses, mind and soul. The living man is a conglomeration of three humours (Vata, Pitta & Kapha), seven basic tissues (Rasa, Rakta, Mansa, Meda, Asthi, Majja & Shukra) and the waste products of the body such as faeces, urine and sweat. Thus the total body matrix comprises of the humours, the tissues and the waste products of the body. The growth and decay of this body matrix and its constituents revolve around food which gets processed into humours, tissues and wastes. Ingestion, digestion, absorption, assimilation and metabolism of food have an interplay in health and disease which are significantly affected by psychological mechanisms as well as by bio-fire (Agni).
According to Ayurveda all objects in the universe including human body are composed of five basic elements (Panchamahabhutas) namely, earth, water, fire, air and vacuum(ether). There is a balanced condensation of these elements in different proportions to suit the needs and requirements of different structures and functions of the body matrix and its parts. The growth and development of the body matrix depends on its nutrition, i.e. on food. The food, in turn, is composed of the above five elements, which replenish or nourish the like elements of the body after the action of bio-fire (Agni). The tissues of the body are the structural whereas humours are physiological entities, derived from different combinations and permutations of Panchamahabhutas.
Health and Sickness
Health or sickness depends on the presence or absence of a balanced state of the total body matrix including the balance between its different constituents. Both the intrinsic and extrinsic factors can cause disturbance in the natural equilibrium giving rise to disease. This loss of equilibrium can happen by dietary indiscrimination, undesirable habits and non-observance of rules of healthy living. Seasonal abnormalities, improper exercise or erratic application of sense organs and incompatible actions of the body and mind can also result in creating disturbance of the existing normal balance. The treatment consists of restoring the balance of disturbed body-mind matrix through regulating diet, correcting life-routine and behavior, administration of drugs and resorting to preventive Panchakarma and Rasayana therapy.
In Ayurveda diagnosis is always done of the patient as a whole. The physician takes a careful note of the patient’s internal physiological characteristics and mental disposition. He also studies such other factors as the affected bodily tissues, humours, the site at which the disease is located, patient’s resistance and vitality, his daily routine, dietary habits, the gravity of clinical conditions, condition of digestion and details of personal, social, economic and environmental situation of the patient. The diagnosis also involves the following examinations:
- General physical examination
- Pulse examination
- Urine examination
- Examination of the faeces
- Examination of tongue and eyes
- Examination of skin and ear including tactile and auditory functions.
The basic therapeutic approach is, ‘that alone is the right treatment which makes for health and he alone is the best doctor who frees one from disease’. This sums up the principal objectives of Ayurveda, i.e. maintenance and promotion of health, prevention of disease and cure of sickness.
Treatment of the disease consists in avoiding causative factors responsible for disequilibrium of the body matrix or of any of its constituent parts through the use of Panchakarma procedures, medicines, suitable diet, activity and regimen for restoring the balance and strengthening the body mechanisms to prevent or minimize future occurrence of the disease.
Normally treatment measures involve use of medicines, specific diet and prescribed activity routine. Use of these three measures is done in two ways. In one approach of treatment the three measures antagonize the disease by counteracting the etiological factors and various manifestations of the disease. In the second approach the same three measures of medicine, diet and activity are targeted to exert effects similar to the etiological factors and manifestations of the disease process. These two types of therapeutic approaches are respectively known as Vipreeta and Vipreetarthkari treatments.
For successful administration of a treatment four things are essential. These are
- The physician
- The medicaments
- The nursing personnel
- The patient
The physician comes first in order of importance. He must possess technical skill, scientific knowledge, purity and human understanding. The physician should use his knowledge with humility, wisdom and in the service of humanity. Next in importance comes food and drugs. These are supposed to be of high quality, wide application, grown and prepared following approved procedures and should be available adequately. The third component of every successful treatment is the role of nursing personnel who should have good knowledge of nursing, must know the skills of their art and be affectionate, sympathetic, intelligent, neat & clean and resourceful. The fourth component is the patient himself who should be cooperative and obedient to follow instructions of the physician, able to describe ailments and ready to provide all that may be needed for treatment.
Preventive Treatment & the concepts of Aetio-Pathogenesis
Ayurveda has developed a very vivid analytical description of the stages and events that take place since the causative factors commence to operate till the final manifestation of disease. This gives this system an additional advantage of knowing that possible onset of disease much before the latent symptoms become apparent. This very much enhances the preventive role of this system of medicine by making it possible to take proper and effective steps in advance, to arrest further progress in pathogenesis or to take suitable therapeutic measures to curb the disease in its earliest stage of onset.
Types of Treatment
The treatment of disease can be classified as
- Shodhana therapy (Purification Treatment)
- Shamana therapy (Palliative Treatment)
- Pathya Vyavastha (Prescription of diet and activity)
- Nidan Parivarjan (Avoidance of disease causing and aggravating factors)
- Satvavajaya (Psychotherapy)
- Rasayana therapy(use of immunomodulators and rejuvenation medicines)
(a) Shodhana treatment aims at removal of the causative factors of somatic and psychosomatic diseases. The process involves internal and external purification. The usual practices involved are Panchakarma (medically induced Emesis, Purgation, Oil Enema, Decoction enema and Nasal administration of medicines), Pre-Panchakarma procedures (external and internal oleation and induced sweating). Panchakarma treatment focuses on metabolic management. It provides needed purificatory effect, besides conferring therapeutic benefits. This treatment is especially helpful in neurological disorders, musculo-skeletal disease conditions, certain vascular or neuro-vascular states, respiratory diseases, metabolic and degenerative disorders.
(b) Shamana therapy involves suppression of vitiated humours (doshas). The process by which disturbed humour subsides or returns to normal without creating imbalance of other humours is known as shamana. This treatment is achieved by use of appetisers, digestives, exercise and exposure to sun, fresh air etc. In this form of treatment, palliatives and sedatives are used.
(c) Pathya Vyavastha comprises indications and contraindications in respect of diet, activity, habits and emotional status. This is done with a view to enhance the effects of therapeutic measures and to impede the pathogenetic processes. Emphasis on do’s and don’ts of diet etc is laid with the aim to stimulate Agni and optimize digestion and assimilation of food in order to ensure strength of tissues.
(d) Nidan Parivarjan is to avoid the known disease causing factors in diet and lifestyle of the patient. It also encompasses the idea to refrain from precipitating or aggravating factors of the disease.
(e) Satvavajaya concerns mainly with the area of mental disturbances. This includes restraining the mind from desires for unwholesome objects and cultivation of courage, memory and concentration. The study of psychology and psychiatry have been developed extensively in Ayurveda and have wide range of approaches in the treatment of mental disorders.
(f) Rasayana therapy deals with promotion of strength and vitality. The integrity of body matrix, promotion of memory, intelligence, immunity against the disease, the preservation of youth, luster and complexion and maintenance of optimum strength of the body and senses are some of the positive benefits credited to this treatment. Prevention of premature bear and tear of body tissues and promotion of total health content of an individual are the roles that Rasayana therapy plays.