Beneath an ancient sun, over 3500 years ago, as the hymns of a thousand disciples resonated in the air, the first compendium of a comprehensive science of healing was organized and embedded within the consciousness of a young civilization. From the words for 'life' and 'knowledge', the term 'Ayurveda' was constructed, as the title for a discipline that elevated and healed the body, the psyche, and the soul. The Sutrasthana of Charaka Samhita, one of the primary texts for Ayurveda states that, "The three - body, psyche, and soul - act as a tripod. The world stands upon them, and within them, the world abides."
Ayurveda was developed as a holistic science of longevity, first mentioned in one of the four sacred texts of India's history, the Atharvaveda. Over the following centuries, it grew as a science via continuous additions by various learned sages such as the venerable Charaka, and the brilliant Susruta. Their teachings were transported across the world, from ancient China to the Abbasid Caliphate of the Middle East.
At its most basic level, Ayurveda is based upon the five great elements or the Panchamahabhuta: earth, water, fire, air, and space. These combine to form the three great humors or doshas: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. Let us take a look at them.
- The Vatta Dosha is responsible for movement, respiration, and circulation. It controls the nervous impulses of the body, neurological imbalances, and the illnesses related to this Dosha usually affect elderly people. It is comprised of the elements of air and space.
- The Pitta Dosha, comprised of the element of fire, and is responsible for metabolic activities. It also governs digestion. Illnesses related to this Dosha affect the abdomen and the chest and are usually metabolic imbalances. These illnesses are more pronounced in middle aged people.
- The Kapha Dosha is responsible for sustenance and structure. Imbalances in this leads to respiratory and phlegmatic disorders. These diseases are more pronounced in young individuals. This Dosha is comprised of the elements of Earth and Water.
Every individual is uniquely comprised of these three humors in different forms, and the art of Ayurveda focuses upon the manner of specifically addressing the health challenges that arise from them.
Let us take a brief look at the benefits of this ancient science.
- Ayurveda looks at illnesses via a psychosomatic perspective. It aims to create a completely holistic view of the individual, so as to understand the root cause of the illness, and eradicate it. It does not just deal with the symptoms or signs of disease, but with the core reason. In order to do this, it builds up a diagnosis of the symptoms by studying the individual and his or her habits, dietary lifestyle, and daily routines. The treatment is customized to every individual, instead of utilizing a standard method of healing. By diagnosing diseases in such a comprehensive manner, it is able to uproot the illness fully.
- With a tradition that goes back thousands of years, the Ayurvedic school of medicine is a very real, and a very tested tradition of health care. Treatments range from herbal remedies to lifestyle alterations, diet, as well as massages and meditation. It has influenced other alternate medical systems such as Unani and the ancient Chinese medical practice of Zhong Yi.
- The Ayurvedic school emphasizes the role of plant based cures, which in turn cause fewer side effects as compared to modern synthetic medicine. These cures are sourced from commonly known raw materials found in the environment and usually free of toxins. As a result, they are less likely to cause allergies or adverse side effects. According to several Ayurvedic practitioners, chronic use of synthetic remedies often masks the symptoms of the disease, and alters the body's metabolism. As a result, treatment becomes more challenging.
- Ayurveda is more than just a physical science. It does not merely focus upon healing the physical body, but aims to cleanse the consciousness of the individual, spiritually. It attempts to provide a means to achieve a form of self realization that comes via a comprehensively holistic look at bodily illnesses, thus leading to total well being and harmony.
- Ayurveda is as varied as modern medicine, and thus capable of dealing with a smorgasbord of illnesses. The eight branches of Ayurveda are:
- Kaya Chikitsa/General Medicine
- Kaumara Bhritya/Pediatrics
- Bhuta Vidya/Psychiatry
- Shalakya Tantra/ENT & Opthalmology
- Salya Tantra/Surgery
- Agada Tantra/Toxicology
- Vajikarana/Aphrodisiac Treatment
- Jara Chikitsa/Geriatrics
Like every other school of healing, Ayurveda has its fair share of cons.
- Ayurvedic practices are not well regulated outside the subcontinent. As a result, it has raised many ethical and legal issues arising from malpractice and untrained practitioners.
- Treatment may take longer as compared to allopathic medicine, as Ayurvedic cures focus on the core illness rather than the symptoms of the disease.
- There have been quite a few safety concerns about Ayurvedic medicines, related to their toxic content. A recent study was conducted which detected that about 20% of these medicines contained toxic levels of metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which could prove harmful to patients. However, Ayurvedic practitioners claim that there are certain purification processes in Ayurveda that reduce to an extent, the toxicity of these cures.
- Due to the comparatively decentralized nature of Ayurvedic practice, there is a lack of total quality control in the production of Ayurvedic remedies. There haven't been many scientific studies and clinical trials to confirm the efficacy of these cures. However, research and studies are being conducted to do so.
At once, a spiritual philosophy as well as a science, Ayurveda definitely has a lot to offer. Its' focus on holistic healing and natural plant based remedies provides an alternative to synthetic medicine. With a storied tradition ranging back over 3500 years, it can be considered to have been tested by time as well as use. Even today, it is estimated that over 75% of India's population uses some form of Ayurveda to heal themselves. Why Ayurveda? Because it works.