Ayurvedic Medicine – A brief introduction
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means “knowledge of life”. Broken down “Ayus” means life and “vedas” means knowledge. Ayurvedic Medicine is a form of Alternative medicine. It is Traditional Indian Medicine that scholars seem to be in a debate about over when it actually began. The general consensus is that it began roughly 4000 to 5000 years ago. Scholars have gone on to say that Ayurvedic Medicine is the oldest form of medicine around and that it was what influenced Greek medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Due to this claim, Ayurvedic Medicine has been labeled the “Mother of all Healing”. It is the art of balance and longevity.
Ayurvedic Medicine in the beginning is not easy to understand due to all the “strange terminologies” but once you get used to it, it does become easier. Ayurveda has its roots in an ancient religion. That religion is Hinduism. To begin with and then for many years the practices of Ayurveda was passed down via word of mouth. When it was first written it was originally written on palm leaves and then it was later recorded into manuscripts. These medical manuals on Ayurveda are called Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. These books are rooted in early Vedic culture. This culture is inherently spiritual, focusing on love, philosophy and “Universal Truths”.
Charaka Samhita is written in early Sanskrit and there seems to be great debate over where it originated from. Some say that it was started by a man named Charaka and added on by others during the course of time. Yet others have said that there is no particular author and more than one author that has contributed to it. Charaka is said to mean “wandering physicians” and Samhita means “collected.” Some have gone so far as to say that it was just written by Charaka and it was what he knew which had been passed down to him by the Hindu god Indra. Charaka writings look at the internal and external causes of illnesses. It is central to the practice of Ayuervic Medicine today.
Sushruta was a surgeon who in his book described over 120 surgical instruments and 300 surgical procedures. He also went on to classify surgery into 8 different categories. Due to Sushruta’s contribution to the science of surgery he is known as the “Father of Surgery”. He is also said to have laid the foundation of plastic surgery as he was apparently the first to conduct cosmetic surgery on the nose. Punishment of adulterers was that their nose would be cut off so surgical measures were needed to repair these disfigured faces. Some of these surgeries were successful as far back as 3000 years ago. His works go further than just surgery, it also discusses, burns, fractures, amputations, biology, midwifery, hygiene and it has included in it a complete discussion on the human anatomy.
In Auyrveda a person is not just seen as a body and mind but rather an entity that is inclusive of a spiritual dimension. To live in harmony with the cosmic law is to live the Ayurvedic way of life. According to Ayurvedic Medicine we are all created by the cosmos as either male energy (Purusha) or female energy (Prakruti). Purusha is passive awareness and Prakuti is an active consciousness. It is rather holistic in its concept as a balance between the body, mind and spirit is tried to be maintained. This is done through having the right thoughts, diet and lifestyle. The body is said to be composed of five basic elements which is called Panchamahabhootas, this is divided into space (Akasha), air (Vayu), water (Apa), fire (Tejas) and earth (Prithvi).
These five elements are encoded (in different combinations) into three biological forces which govern all life processes. These are the tridoshas (energetic forces) and they are what explain the functionality of the body. The tridoshas are what are responsible for all movement, transformations and sensory functions in the body. These Tridoshas are divided into three doshas which are called “Vata”, Pitta, and Kapha. Space and air constitute Vata, it comes from a Sanskrit word which means “that which moves things”. Thus we see that it is what moves things in the body and mind. It controls the flow of blood, respiration, and the heartbeat plus it eliminates all waste. It also controls muscle movement and relays all sensory input from various organs to the brain and back again. It is said to be the most powerful of the doshas as it is the moving force between the other two. Without Vata, Pitta and Kapha might as well not exist. If it is out of balance then it can lead the other two doshas to follow suit. Fire and water make up Pitta, the Sanskrit word for Pitta is said to mean “to shine.” It is what controls heat and the bodies metabolism. Through this we are able to digest our food and turn it into whatever it is needed for. It maintains the body’s temperature and is what drives our appetite for food and water. It is also said to be what helps us determine what is right and what is wrong and gives us the courage we may need to handle a situation. Water and earth make up Kapha, the Sanskrit word means “that which holds things together”. It governs all structure and lubrication in the body. Cerebral Spinal fluid for example is what protects the brain and spinal column. It is a type of Kapha dosha that you get. Kapha also controls weight, growth and lubrication of the joints. It is what gives you your physical strength and provides your mass and body structure. It is also said to be what governs your ability to produce children.
These doshas are said to exist in every cell, tissue and organ of the body. People are a mixture of dosha yet some dosha will be more prevelant in one person than in another. We are all a unique mixture of dosha as the quality, quantity and action differs in the physiology of one person to the next. Generally we are a combination of two doshas, in some instances we are dominated by one dosha while in rare cases there are those that are a good mixture of all three doshas. These doshas predetermine our constitution and our susceptibility to disease. Then you get Manasika Dosha which focuses more on the qualities of the mind. The focus through all of this is on bringing about a balance of these life energies within us. Not just on a physical level but on a emotional and mental level too. This is due to the strong connection that exists between the mind and the body. The body not only controls ones thoughts but it governs the things that we take for granted. Respiration and blood circulation is one of the things we are not consciously aware of. In Ayuervedic Medicine it becomes imperative that one understands what brings about the balance and what puts the balance into total disarray. Physically, mentally, socially and spiritually we have to be in harmony. An increase or decrease of the qualities that make up these doshas are what brings about the imbalance. A natural imbalance is due to time and age which do not cause too many problems, at least problems that can be easily rectified. In the case of an unnatural imbalance the problems may be more serious and so more attention will need to be applied. These imbalances may be due to inappropriate diet, lifestyle, a traumatic experience or viruses and parasites.
Ayurveda consists of many different components which are to bring these doshas back into balance. Some of which include meditation, herbal preperation, diet, pulse diagnosis and yoga. Ayurvedic Medicine is made from herbs or a mixture of herbs. The mixture is a combination of one or more of the following; herbs, minerals, metals, animals. These go through a purification process before used for medicinal purposes. When it is used it is done so in precise measures for the best results.
In Ayuervedic Medicine the diet it is dependant on many different things. The taste of the food (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Pungent, Bitter and Astringent) for example and how it will affect the body is taken into consideration. Cooling the body, heating the body and post digestive affects are all things that are needed to be considered when choosing the correct diet. Certain raw foods have cleansing and energizing affects. Some of the food eaten raw aids in digestion and destroys toxins. Certain cooked foods provide long term tissue building energy and certain Ayurvedic cooking uses herbs and spices to help stimulate the body into producing its own digestive enzymes and enzymes for best absorption. Even the mood and feelings you have need to be happy and blissful as it affects the outcome of what the person takes in when eating the meal. The food that is best for your body is what will provide for you not just the best in nourishment but it will provide the best for you in spiritual and mental spheres to.
Even though Ayurvedic Medicine is under a lot of skeptism, when practiced in the West, it is also been said to be rather successful when dealing with digestive disorders, skin problems, gynecological problems and in alleviating congested sinuses and stress.
All this being said success in Ayurvedic Medicine depends on four factors. 1) The physician. He needs to have a clear grasp of the Ayurvedic theory, a wide range of experience, skills and cleanliness. 2) Medicine or diet. It needs to be of good quality, in abundance and applicable in its treatment. 3) The nurse. The first nursing schools seemed to be started in ancient India due to Ayurvedic medicine. The nurses were originally men that were of good behavior and were skilled of every service that the patient may require. Cleanliness and efficiency were required attributes. Those services that were needed ranged from bathing the patient, cooking food (which is considered a sacred act), cleaning the beds, massaging the limbs and generally willing and able to do whatever was asked of him. And last but not least, the patient. The patient needs to be of good memory, be able to describe in detail their symptoms and be obedient in following the instructions of the doctor.