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Ayurveda: an introduction to the ancient Indian medical system and why it matters

The 5000-year-old tradition of Ayurveda is said to be the oldest alternative medical science in the history of medicine. With a unique combination of medical science and philosophy, Ayurveda, meaning the art of living, and the science of life can be found in the name, with Ayu meaning life and Veda meaning science. The system has one fundamental ethos; to ensure it protects the health of a healthy individual and cures the disease of a sick individual.

Ayurveda has a divine origin, as it’s believed that the creator, Lord Brahma himself taught the Ayurvedic principles to a few of the Gods, who later passed them on to humans. They believed this would help protect them from diseases.

The branches of Ayurveda include General Medicine (Kaya Chikitsa), Pediatrics (Bala Chikitsa), Psychiatry (Graha Chikitsa), ENT & Ophthalmology(Urdwanga Chikitsa), Surgery(Salya Chikitsa), Toxicology(Vishachikitsa), Geriatrics(Jarachikitsa) and Science of Aphrodisiacs(Vrisha Chikitsa).

The scientific basis of Ayurveda also stems from the Tridosha concept which includes the three vital forces of life ‘Vata’ (Ether and Air), ‘Pitta’ (Fire and Water) and ‘Kapha’ (Water and Earth). While Vata is the factor which controls the nervous system, Pitta controls the metabolic system and Kapha is the factor which controls the lubricating functions in the body. The secret to perfect health is a perfect balance of the three doshas, something that is hard to achieve.

Another aspect that governs health in Ayurveda is prakritia concept which describes the physical and mental nature of a person. Prakriti is formed during conception and impacts the long-term health of an individual. To assess a person, diagnose his or her health and potential issues, it is essential to assess his or her Prakriti.

Ayurveda, is indigenous to India and is believed to be the oldest medical science in the history of medicine. Gita Ramesh, Author and Co Managing Director of the Kairali Ayurvedic Group in New Delhi explains, “The aim of Ayurveda is to protect the health of a healthy person and cure the disease of a sick person. By going to the root cause of the disease through a unique combination of medical science and philosophy, Ayurveda seeks to create a balance of the doshas ‘Vata, Pitta & Kapha’ in the human body, by managing the daily routine ‘dinacharya’ of an individual. That means that it begins from the time one gets up to the time when one finally goes back to sleep. These are done through exercises (Yoga), a balanced diet, administration of purely herb based medicines, and Ayurvedic Therapeutic massages infused with herbal oils working on the flow of your blood. Overall improving the body’s power to heal itself”

Most people have a combination of Vata Pitta and Kapha that forms their prakriti and hence determines their individual treatment plan in Ayurveda. The crux of any Ayurvedic treatment is usually always based on prakriti and the choice of herbal oils and medicines to be used is different based on the same.

A person following Ayurveda for life in a disciplined manner not only manages to live a healthy life but also is able to better understand oneself physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally. “One also learns to take the benefits from the various plant-based herbs that their immediate nature has provided.  One also learns to live a healthy life and manage most of the lifestyle-oriented diseases on their own without dependence on outside interferences.  Since it is the only science that believes in going to the root cause of the problem Ayurveda starts from one’s childhood itself and goes on to be with an individual to keep him/her healthy during old age. The benefits that an individual can get is that being healthy one is full of energy and vibrant. The skin is always glowing with radiance and the person’s mental wellbeing is very strong. Also, the person hardly gets effected with any diseases,” says Ramesh.

Being rooted in nature and its principles, Ayurveda is something that anyone can adopt. As it uses medicines that are derived from nature, it is often used as an alternative treatment for addressing health issues. In chronic health conditions, Ayurveda is often used as a secondary line of treatment. The benefits of Ayurveda are multifold including treating the root cause and not just the symptoms. Additionally, it has no side effects as the medications are free from chemicals and it is really about a lifestyle that you adopt. For example, sleeping early, having your dinner before 7.00 p.m., adding a 30-minute fitness regimen daily are some ways in which you can adopt the Ayurvedic philosophy. It works on the energy in the body to ensure that it flows well so that an individual can live well.

There are three kinds of treatments with the spectra of Ayurveda including Swastha Chikitsa, Shamana Chikitsa and Shodana Chikitsa. Swastha Chikitsa are a set of treatments done for a healthy person more with the intent to prevent health issues and to improve vigor and vitality. Shamana Chikitsa is a type of treatment that is given to suppress the diseases, which are mild and can be treated. Shodana Chikitsa is considered as the complete treatment as per the Ayurvedic tenets where the disease and its causative factors are eliminated by its root and the chance of recurrence is negligible. One of the examples of this is Panchakarma treatment that includes aspects like Vamanam (emesis), Virechanam (purgation), Vasti (enema), Nasayam (nasal medication) and Rakta Moksham (bloodletting). This is akin to a cleansing treatment and is usually recommended for 7, 14, 21 or 28 days depending on individual condition.

The best part about Ayurveda is that it is a natural and age-old science that is acknowledged as an alternative science to allopathy. It includes treatment for all issues including skincare, haircare, cognitive health, respiratory health, digestive health, immunity, children health, heart health and overall wellness. Ayurveda teaches you all about holistic wellness and gives you the power to take charge of your health in your hands. And post the pandemic, it is something we all value more than ever before.

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  • Bindu Gopal Rao

    Bindu Gopal Rao is a Bangalore-based writer and photographer. She is passionate about the environment, birding and looking for unusual and local story angles in different destinations.

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