What is Ayurveda?

What is Ayurveda?

Karna Purnam therapy | Ayurveda Clinic Bansko

AYURVEDA – THE ANCIENT HEALTH SCIENCE FROM THE EAST

THE ORIGIN OF AYURVEDA

The mystical and exotic Indian system for a healthy, happy and long life – Ayurveda, is becoming more and more popular in the Western world. Many people turn to it in order to maintain their good health, while others embrace it to treat their health disorders. Since it might be unfamiliar and distant for most of us, Ayurveda could cause initial confusion in those who decide to live according to its principles.

We offer you an opportunity to dive into the depths of this Eastern health science,and we will do our best to make it more understandable and familiar to you.

The reason that has given rise to Ayurveda is the desire for longevity humans have. The knowledge, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is derived from the universal consciousness that created the visible world. In Hindu mythology, this superior intellect is called Brahma. Ayurveda is a holistic system that was created to help people achieve their dream of longevity in good health and happiness. It is believed that the great value lying at the core of the quest for extended longevity is for people to achieve all the goals they have set for themselves.

There are four natural tendencies that influence a person’s behaviour during their entire life. Following these inherent inclinations, people can enjoy life in the best way possible as per their own perceptions. Everyone has their own definition of happiness, which differs according to their point of view. From our experience, we know that people are different, have different goals, and rejoice at different achievements.

AYURVEDA AND PURUṢĀRTHAS

Hinduism defines four key goals in human life (Puruṣārthas) that are inherent to everyone but characterize an individual to varying degrees.

They are defined as:

  • Dharma: people who follow the path of righteousness and duty. In India, this is the caste of Kshatriya,which stands for the military units that are responsible for protecting society in time of war, or the government in peace times.
  • Artha: people who deal with finance and strive for economic prosperity. They form the caste of Vaishya,who are businessmen, merchants, landowners; e.g. people engaged in commercial and financial activities.
  • Kama: people who are dedicated to bodily pleasures, love thrills, and emotional experiences. They form the caste of the various service providers.
  • Moksha: people seeking the spiritual aspects of life, as well as those dealing with science. They form the caste of the Brahmin.

AYURVEDA OVER THE CENTURIES

Ayurveda is a unique combination of historical facts and mythology.

The mythological narrative of Ayurveda refers the birthof the doctrine to the creator god Brahma. The Sages in India were overtaken by disease and premature death despite living in the Himalayas. They faced serious difficulty maintaining good health due to the numerous restrictions interfering with their spiritual and physical practices and preventing them from fulfilling their goals in life described as Puruṣārthas.

This made them seek the help of god Indra who is described as The King of Gods. When they found him and asked him for assistance, he turned to god Brahma who, in turn, gave the knowledge about Ayurveda to god Prajapathi who was responsible for the protection of people. Then Prajapathi passed down the knowledge to the Ashwini Kumaras twins who were the healers of the gods. From them the knowledge came to god Indra. He sent the knowledge about Ayurveda to the Atreya Punarvasu Sage who was the leader of the Himalaya wise men. In turn, he passed the knowledge to Agnivesa from whom Ayurveda came down to the rest of the wise men, and thus gradually began its spread throughout India.

Ayurvedic literature sheds light on sutras (sutra is a term for a short law written in several words). These texts are incorporated in a corpus and thus form the main concept of the Eastern science.

Over the centuries Ayurveda has been in existence, a number of Sages wrote their own theories in sutras containing interpretations of the original texts. The most famous are Charaka Saṃhitā, Suśruta-saṃhitā, and Aṣṭāṅga-hṛdayam, written by Vagbhata. These works were written by the Sages who laid the foundations of the Ayurvedic ideology.

THE MAIN DEITY IN AYURVEDA AND THE EIGHT BRANCHES OF THE SCIENCE

The main deity worshipped by Indian Ayurvedic doctors, especially during the Diwali holiday, is Lord Divodas Dhanavantari. He received the knowledge from god Indra and handed it to the SageSushruta, dividing Ayurveda into eight branches (Ashtanga Ayurveda):

  1. Kaya Chikitsa: Kaya means physical body. This branch has to do with all kinds of diseases related to the physical body or its processes. Its analogous fields in contemporary allopathic medicine are internal diseases, or general medicineas a whole. Kaya Chikitsa is best described in Charaka Samhita.
  2. Bala Chikitsa: relates to pediatrics, which is the part of Ayurveda focused on treating children and youngsters up to the age of 16. It is also known as Kaumarabhritya. Children’s physical needs are different from those of adults, which requires different dosage of the Ayurvedic herbal products and even herbal recipes specially prepared for children. Interpretations of the ancient texts related to Bala Chikitsa can be found in Kasyapa Samhita.
  3. Graha Chikitsa: psychiatry. Illnesses of the physical body are often caused by feelings of unhappiness. The brain plays an important part in healthy life. There are many uncertain factors in life that may affect health by triggering changes in the way we think thus altering our mental state. Graha Chikitsa is related to studying and influencing changes in the mental state that can cause disease alterations in particular body functions.
  4. Urdhvanga Chikitsa: diseases that affect the zones over the neck. It is also known as Shalakya Tantra. The tool commonly used for treatment in this area is called a probe. In Sanskrit, this probe is known as Shalaka. Diseases of the eyes, nose, ears, and throat fall within this area of Ayurvedic medicine.
  5. Shalya Chikitsa: surgery. The surgery methods related to removing something that causes the development, or is in the root of a disease process, are described in detail by this Ayurvedic branch.  Suśruta-saṃhitā is the best interpretation of the Ayurvedic sutras related to surgery.
  6. Damshrta Chikitsa: toxicology. Poisoning is one of the main reasons for the sudden and premature death of humans. Poison of different origin and form can also cause a number of health disorders. It might come from food or through bites by poisonous insects or reptiles, animals, etc. Damshrta Chikitsa is the central Ayurvedic doctrine dedicated to removing poisonous toxins from the body.
  7. Jara Chikitsa: geriatrics. The desire for a long life is normal for every person. Over time, degenerative changes occur and manifest themselves in the body. To slow this process down, Ayurveda offers treatments such as kayakalpa and herbal products such as chavanprasham or brahma rasayanam.
  8. Vrushya Chikitsa: reproductive medicine. This branch of Ayurveda is also known as Vajeekarana. Every human being has a deep, genetically programmed desire for reproduction. This subdivision of the science describes different methods for improving the quality of the sperm or ovum, which are the human reproductive cells. The main goal of Vrushya Chikitsa is to help create a generation with good physical and mental health.

As you can see from the text above, the word Ayurveda is a collective term. Its meaning is sustained in its name as Ayu stands for life and Veda is translated as knowledge, science, awareness.  According to the ancient Hindu studies, the existence of every human being has one main purpose – to reach the highest sense of existence, or Moksha; in other words, a complete freedom from the limitations of earthly life.

Usually life is with a limited duration, which is not enough to achieve Moksha, especially in the presence of a disease. That is why Ayurveda is the science that contributes to achieving the higher purpose through its two aspects:

  1. Prophylactics and prevention of health, which is subject to constant optimization;
  2. Treatment of the diseases of the physical body.

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AYURVEDA AXIOMS

Just like any other serious science, Ayurveda has its fundamental and timeless axioms. Without those, its philosophy cannot be understood.

  1. The doctrine of Panchamahabuta, or the Five Elements.
  2. The teaching based on the three doshas: Vata – Pitta – Kapha

According to the Eastern philosophy of life, the Universe and all things visible are made of the five eternal elements (Panchamahabuta).

These are described as:

  • Space (Akash): related to an empty free space with nothing existing there;
  • Air (Vayu): connected with the characteristics of movement and activity;
  • Fire (Tejas): its main quality is the transformation from one shape into another;
  • Water (Jala): defined by means of connectedness, moisture, a liquid nature, penetration, and softness;
  • Earth (Prithvi): its primary characteristics are solidity, density, and form-taking.

These five elements cannot be regarded as analogous to the human perceptions expressed through the respective words, but as characteristics of the visible world made up from them.

AS AN EXAMPLE, HERE IS HOW THE CREATION OF THE HUMAN BODY USING THE PRINCIPLE OF THE FIVE ELEMENTS OCCURS ACCORDING TO AYURVEDA:

  1. There must be enough free space in the uterus of the future mother, and the paths for the fertilization of the ovum should also be free from obstacles.
  2. There must be movement (the element air) of the sperm to the ovum to make fertilization possible.
  3. When the sperm connects with the ovum, the two cells merge into one (element fire) bringing together the male and female information and giving rise to the subsequent division of the new cells.
  4. During the division process, the new cells must remain connected as a pair rather than fall apart (element water).
  5. Thus bound together, the form of the cells starts taking shape that at some point we will call an embryo, and later – a human fetus (element earth).

When these elements come together in the human body, they form three distinct types of energies:

  • Vata (space and air): dry, cold, light, and dynamic energy responsible for all motor actions and movements of the body.
  • Pitta (fire and a bit of water): warm and passive energy responsible for the processes of transformation in the different organs and tissues.
  • Kapha: (water and earth): moist, cold, and completely passive energy related to density and the formation of the tissues and organs of the body.

Every human being combines these three energies representing the five eternal elements. They could be manifested in various degrees as some of them are more prominent during the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm. It is possible that one or two of the three energies could be manifested in a lesser degree, but all three will definitely be present. This state is genetically encoded and accompanies a person during their whole life. It also determines the differences in the body shape or skin type, the specifics and colour of the eyes and hair, the physiological processes and emotional state, and it could even be the root cause for predisposition to particular diseases.

Ayurveda explains all aspects of good health as well as the reasons for diseases using the doctrines of the five elements and the three doshas.

WHAT IS HEALTH AND DISEASE ACCORDING TO AYURVEDA?

When the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha energies are balanced, one enjoys a sense of lightness, happiness and vigour, which is defined as health. When one, two or all three energies are out of balance, Ayurveda considers this state as disease.

When disease symptoms or any health disorders exist, it is recommended that the person should visit an Ayurvedic doctor who could establish the energy imbalance.

The following methods are used:

ROGI PARIKSHA (takes place in three directions):

  • Darshana: the doctor observes the patient and notes their age, body type, and general appearance.
  • Sparshana: the doctor palpates, auscultates, and examines the patient through touch.
  • Prashna: the doctor asks specific questions in order to find out about the patient’s symptoms.

DASAVIDHA PARIKSHA (tracking 10 health-related indicators):

  • Dooshyam: structural and physiological disorders;
  • Desham: climate peculiarities of the place where the patient lives;
  • Balam: physical strength;
  • Kalam: seasonal and climate changes;
  • Analam: state of the patient’s digestive system;
  • Prakriti: the dominant dosha;
  • Vayas: age of the patient;
  • Satvam: mental endurance;
  • Sathmyam: the patient’s way of life according to the habits and rules he or she follows;
  • Aharam: type and quality of food the patient consumes.

ASHTAVIDHA PARIKSHA (eight health-related factors that the doctor tracks):

  • Nadi: pulse diagnostics;
  • Moothram: urine test;
  • Malam: type of faeces;
  • Jihwa: tongue reading – shape, colour, coatings;
  • Sabdam: power of the voice and speech of the patient;
  • Sparsham: skin and tactile sensitivity;
  • Drik: eyes and sight;
  • Akrithi: body shape.

After the doctor runs his check-up, he directs the patient to changes in his lifestyle related to:

  • Water and liquid intake
  • Diet
  • Physical activity

The ayurvedic doctor also recommends a prescription with ayurvedic herbal products from different types:

  • Arishta and Asava – fermented extracts with spirit ingredient and water extracts;
  • Bhasma – calcined powder of minerals or metals;
  • Churnam – different kinds of herbal powders;
  • Ghritham – clarified cow butter Ghee with herbs;
  • Kashayam – herbal decoction;
  • Kashayam tablets – herbal decoction in tablet form;
  • Leham – mixture of herbs and spices with basis of honey or unrefined sugar;
  • Tailam – herbal oils;
  • Gulika – herbal tablets.

The Ayurvedic doctor also recommends a prescription with Ayurvedic herbal products, and gives specific recommendations according to the individual specificities of the patient.

Ayurveda also offers a wide range of therapeutic effects that are applied under the doctor’s prescription. The most famous are the Purvakarma and Panchakarma systems.

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1. PURVAKARMA: a set of preparatory therapies applied to move the toxins from the periphery to the central part of the body and thus accumulate them in the digestive system.

Purvakarma is applied in two varieties:

  • Snehana: oleation of the body;
  • Svedana: sweating treatment.

Snehana itself can be done in two varieties: Bahya (external body oiling with healing herbal oils) or Abhyantar (internal oiling of the body through drinking, gargling, or applying herbal oil or Ghee in the nose or ears).

2. PANCHAKARMA: comprises five therapies that take the accumulated toxins out of the body.

  • Vamana: induced vomiting that aims to balance the Kapha energy and take toxins out of the upper part of the body.
  • Virechana: induced laxative action that aims to balance the Pitta energy and take toxins out of the digestive system.
  • Vasti: healing enema aiming to balance the Vata energy and take out the accumulated toxins thus improving the function of the colon.
  • Nasya or Sirovirechana: applying herbal oil in the nose to clear out toxins from the head.
  • Raktamokshan: blood release methods.

After applying the Panchakarma therapies in a specific sequence, the doctor prescribes a way of life called Paschatkarma, along with a specific diet known as Samsarjana – Krama.

Although it has long since emerged from the limited perceptions of mysticism, Ayurveda still remains veiled in misunderstanding and prejudice in the Western world.

For modern people whose health culture is based on classical medical theory, it is difficult to understand the mechanism of these methods as well as their effect on all levels of the human being, from the roughest to the finest.

Ayurveda is a thousand-year-old scientific system for health prevention and treatment. Following its recommendations and prescriptions can significantly slow down aging and ensure a better life with physical and mental longevity. Ayurveda is a full-blooded health system that can provide an all-encompassing alternative to Western medicine, mainly in the field of prevention or treatment of chronic disease.

The majority of people willing to get acquainted with Ayurveda, and even some of those who are convinced of its efficacy, might associate it with wellness or SPA. This is entirely wrong and darkens the beauty of the deep knowledge which lies at the root of Ayurveda’s existence.

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