Ayurveda is a traditional holistic health care system, older than any other system of medicine which has been practiced in India for more than 5,000 years. Ayurveda otherwise also known as the “medicine of the gods” is derived from its ancient Sanskrit roots - ‘ayur' (life) and ‘ved' (knowledge) – and it offers a rich, comprehensive outlook to a healthy life, especially in this modern age where sickness and diseases are widespread.
Ayurveda, which is recognized as an alternative medicine now, represents the science of healthy life and longevity originating from the Vedic traditions of India . Based on the principle of eternal life, this holistic health care system has a vast body of knowledge covering eight branches. Its major premise involves the symbiosis of mind, body and spirit. Any imbalance in this synthesis could result in physical ailments. This ancient Indian medicine seeks to re-establish the harmony between the body and its habitat by creating the optimum health environment.
From India , the art of Ayurveda had spread around in the 6th century BC to Tibet , China , Mongolia , Korea and Sri Lanka , carried over by Buddhist monks traveling to those lands. Although not much of it survived in its original form, its effects can be seen in the various new age concepts that have originated from there.
Over the centuries Ayurveda has had a nurturing influence on ancient Chinese systems of medicine, Unani medicine, and the humoral medicine practiced by Hippocrates in Greece . The current knowledge about this ancient Indian medicine is primarily drawn from the Charaka Samhita (though there are earlier versions, Charaka Samhita in its present form is estimated to date from 1st century AD), Vagbhatta's Astanga Hridaya (approximately 500 AD), and the Susruta Samhita (the Susruta Samhita is believed to have originated in the last centuries BC, but the date of its present version is fixed by researchers at 7th century AD).
These three classic texts describe the basic principles and theories from which this alternative medicine has evolved. They reflect an overwhelming wealth of clinical as well as surgical information, enriched further by later research, on the management of a multitude of diseases and ailments.
Concepts of the body
In Ayurveda, the body is seen as a microcosmic universe in which the five great primordial elements (panchamahabhutas) - ether (akasha), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (jala) and earth (prithvi) - combine to form three humours (doshas), known as wind (vata), choler (pitta) and phlegm (kapha).
Each dosha has its own qualities and functions in relation to the body. The balance between these doshas determines individual constitution (prakriti) and predisposition to disease. Constitution is also affected by the strength of a person's 'digestive fire' (agni) and bowel function (kostha).
Seven tissues (dhatus) and their waste products (malas) make up the physical body and a network of channels circulate fluids and essences around the body. Three interdependent universal constituents, the three gunas - purity (sattva), activity (rajas) and solidity (tamas) - also influence health and determine mental qualities. Disease occurs if lifestyle, mental or external factors cause an imbalance in one or more of these components.
Ayurveda operates on the precept that various materials of herbal and mineral origin have some medicinal value. The medicinal properties of these materials have been documented by the practitioners and have been used for centuries to cure illness and help to achieve good health. Ayurvedic medicaments are made from herbs or mixtures of herbs, either alone or in combination with minerals, metals and other combined ingredients. The metals and minerals are purified by individual processes before being used for medicinal purposes.
Today, Ayurveda is gaining popularity in Western countries, but most Ayurvedic research has been carried out in India . Studies have shown it to be effective for many disorders including digestive, skin and gynecological problems. Ayurvedic techniques are said to be particularly effective for nasal congestion, sluggish digestion and stress.
Patients are classified by body types, or prakriti, which are determined by proportions of the three doshas. Illnesses and diseases are considered to be a matter of imbalance in the doshas. Treatment is aimed at restoring harmony or balance to the mind-body system.