Ayurveda: The Ancient System of Medicine
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda simply means the “science or knowledge of life”.
It is an old system of medicine that originated in India more than 5000 years ago. The roots are found in the Vedic culture.
The tradition is carried on by its masters and disciples alike for thousands of years. Also, there are many natural systems of medicine used today in western and eastern culture with their roots in Ayurveda.
The best examples of such systems would be homeopathy or polarity therapy. Ayurveda is many a time considered as an alternative medicine to allopathy, the western medical science.
Ayurveda is about taking the natural route and holistic approach to the overall physical and mental health. It is one of the world’s oldest systems and to date remains India’s traditional health care system for many. Ayurveda relies on plants, metals, and minerals for its treatments. They may be combined to be taken as a medicine or a diet as preventive medicine.
It also offers one of the most comprehensive cleansing systems, known as Panchkarma which we will talk about later. It is a method of getting rid of the toxins and doshas from your body. Before we move on to that, let’s take a look at the history of Ayurveda.
History of Ayurveda
It is said that Ayurveda is an eternal science and has existed even before the creation of the universe. It is believed that the Ayurveda resided in the creator himself, Brahma.
The origins of Ayurveda goes back to 3300 to 1300 BC, where the bronze age arrived in the Indus valley. Many plants and foods that we associate today with Ayurveda were cultivated here. The center of civilization later moved to the Ganges and coincided with the creation of Vedas in 500 to 1000 BC. Many elements of Ayurveda can be found described in the Vedas. Ashtanga Hridaya, Bhavprakash and Bhaisajya Ratnavali, Charak Samhita, Kashyap Samhita, Madhav Nidan, Sharangdhar Samhita, and Susrut Samhita are some of the classic texts or ‘Ayurveda Books’.
Ayurveda got away from superstitions and got a clearer frame, especially after Charak Samhita and Sushrut Samhita. During the invasions of Genghis Khan and even Mughals, Ayurveda remained prominent, as the medicine of choice.
Once the East India Company arrived in India, scholars from the western world were introduced to Ayurveda and plant-based medicines. However, many texts and techniques were lost to western influences during these years. It got a revival after the independence and since then continues to flourish.
In India, National Ayurveda Day is observed on Dhanvantari Jayanti. Dhanvantari is believed to be the physician of the Gods and also represents spiritual healing.
Types of Principle Energies in Ayurveda (Dosha in Ayurveda)
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
If you are even slightly familiar with Ayurveda and the Principles of Ayurveda, you must have heard of these three.
But what are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha? We will shortly figure it out. Ayurveda is all about balancing body, mind, and soul. The balance comes from these elements of Ayurveda. They are called Dosha and because there are three of them, they are often called ‘Tridosha’.
The perfect balance of these three principle energies or elements of Ayurveda is considered to provide the perfect health.
Like many of its principles, Ayurveda takes the elements from nature. Such as fire, water, and air. How? Let’s find out.
What is Vata?
Symbolized as the gust of wind, Vata is believed to be made of space and air. It is connected to the movement and the energy of the body. The movement of the muscle, the pulsing of the heart, even the movements at the cellular level is attributed to Vata.
Someone who has a prominent vata energy will be a possessor of the quick and sharp mind and creativity. Since Vata is related to movement, they also exhibit a good amount of flexibility. They can be restless, overly active, and bold. Vata, when unbalanced, can create fear and anxiety.
Sugar and alcohol are most likely to derange the people with prominent vata. Exposure to cold can also cause them some disturbances. They are often suggested to go to sleep early and avoid moist, oily, and heavy foods. In Ayurveda, it is suggested that warm baths and steams help people with vata. Massage or bath before sleeping is also recommended.
What is Pitta?
Pitta is related to fire and water. The energies related to metabolism and digestion correlates to Pitta. This in turn makes Pitta the governing energy for absorption, nutrition, and even body temperature. It is also related to some of the negative energies like anger and jealousy, when unbalanced.
People with Pitta prominence will have warm bodies and sharp intelligence. However, if it is out of balance, it can make the person short-tempered and agitated. They have a strong metabolism and strong appetites. They like sweet and astringent tastes. They can be good at physical and hard work.
Hot weather does not suit people with Pitta energies. They tend to get short-tempered and angry with warmer weather. However, they will settle down a little as the weather will get cold. Ayurveda suggests that they should avoid chillies and stay in cold climates. Even should exercise at the cold hours of the day.
What is Kapha?
Kapha is considered the glue that joins everything together. It is also attributed to the structural part of one’s body such as joints and bones. Kapha acts as a lubricant for the joints and moisturizes the skin. It is attached to the feelings of love and forgiveness when balanced. Kapha is believed to be made of Earth and Water.
People with Kapha tend to be tolerant and calm. They are also some of the most forgiving people you will ever meet. however, they tend to become lazy. The excess or unbalanced Kapha nature can bring out negative energies such as envy and greed. They can also be overly attached at times.
Flu and sinus congestion are the most likely culprits to disturb the lives of Kapha people. They are also prone to diabetes and obesity and should always be aware of their lifestyle choices and eating habits, especially in the winters.
Now that you know about the three main elements of Ayurveda, it is important to know what treatment is referred to as, in Ayurveda.
Western medicine addresses the symptoms while Ayurveda is more about maintaining the balance of the body and mind.
In that sense, you can call Ayurveda a preventive medicine. However, it also consists of balancing the three essential energies we have mentioned above.
The plants, metals, minerals, and the combination of all of them can be used as a treatment in Ayurveda.
Let’s dive deeper into Ayurveda Treatments.
When a problem arises, the practitioner assesses the signs and key symptoms of the patient. This is done to find out any imbalance in the Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. The diagnosis is derived from the questioning and observation.
A physical exam is also part of the diagnosis. Cleansing of toxins and palliative measures can be taken as a treatment when required. In Ayurveda, the help in balancing the causes of the illness or imbalance of the elements.
For the bigger picture, changes in the lifestyle and diet are also advised. Plants and herbs based remedies are also given, based on the requirements. Panchkarma is a cleansing program that is suggested to many, and its benefits are numerous.
Just like Western medicine, there are modes to Ayurveda Treatments, which you can call specialties. They are: Agad tantra (Toxicology), Bhoot Vidya (Psychiatry), Kaumarbhritya (Paediatrics, Gynaecology, and Obstetrics), Kayachikitsa (Internal medicine), Rasayana (Gerontology), Shalakya (Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology), Shalya (Surgery), and Vajikaran (Aphrodisiacs).
Whether you are curious about panchakarma or the Ayurvedic diet, we have got you covered. As we go further, we will discuss both in detail. Let’s have a go.
Panchkarma in Ayurveda
Panchkarma is a detoxification process.
With help of medicated oils and herbal remedies provided by Ayurveda, your body is cleansed of toxins that it is harboring.
The ‘panch’ in the name denotes five natural methods to cleanse your body and balance the three energy elements, or the doshas, vat, pitta, and kapha.
The five methods are:
Let’s find out what these five methods of detoxification mean:
Vamanam is for the balancing of the Kapha. It clears the lungs and sinuses from the mucus and helps with the respiratory-related illnesses caused by the excess of Kapha. Vamanam also helps with skin-related diseases. It is a process of medical emesis or medical vomiting and is only offered at specialized clinics. It is also advisable to perform Vamanam under the supervision of the experts.
It is performed in the early morning and with an empty stomach as the Kapha is believed to be intense in the morning. Kapha aggravating foods are provided to the patient and then heat is applied to the chest and back to liquify the mucus. Which would eventually help in diseases with lungs and sinuses.
In this method, the toxins from your intestines are eliminated with help of laxatives. This method is often used for curing jaundice or hemorrhoids. Pitta dosha is balanced with this procedure.
3. Asthapana or Niruham
You must have heard of ‘Vasti’ before. In this method, an enema is given to the patient. The herbal concoction is introduced to the rectum relieving constipation and other Vata related diseases such as backache, joint pain, kidney stones.
Anuvaasan is an oil enema given especially for the patients who have anemia, obesity, and diabetes. These are also diseases resultant of excess Vata. However, Anuvaasan can also help with joint-related issues, arthritis, urinary disorders, paralysis, and reproductive issues.
In this process, medicated oil or herbal medicine is poured into one of the nostrils of the patient. A Neti pot is mostly used for this method. It helps in moisturizing nasal passages, clearing the sinuses of mucus, prevents migraine and allergies, and also helps with insomnia.
Ayurvedic Plants & Herbs
Several plants and herbs mentioned in Ayurveda can help you improve your digestion and balance the three doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Since Ayurveda advocates getting close to nature, these are some plants and herbs with minimal side effects and prolonged health benefits to offer.
For years, these Ayurvedic plants and herbs have been used as pest controls and dyes when it comes to external uses. Internally, they can be used as teas, food items, medicine, and in many other ways.
The use of herbs in the panchakarma method above is the prime example above. Let’s get to know some more of them:
Ashwagandha: Helps in reducing stress, enhances memory, muscle growth, blood sugar levels. It also helps in boosting your immune system.
Boswellia: Used as an anti-inflammatory herb, Boswellia can reduce pain and improve digestion. It is also used to improve oral hygiene and fight related infections.
Triphala: A combination of amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki herbs, it is used as a natural laxative to reduce constipation and fight gut disorders. It can also be used as a mouthwash.
Brahmi: It is also an anti-inflammatory herb. It can improve your ability to fight stress and anxiety. Many believe that it improves brain functions.
Cumin: A famous spice found in the kitchen, it reduces symptoms of IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. Also helps fighting type 2 diabetes and health diseases. It also helps with abdominal pain and bloating.
Turmeric: Known for its anti-inflammatory characteristics, it also helps against heart disease. Some studies also show it as an antidepressant. It helps in improving overall brain health.
Cardamom: Helps in lowering your blood pressure. It can also improve breathing. Some believe it even heals stomach ulcers, however, research is needed on that claim.
Like everything else in Ayurveda, diet is also about the right balance.
Each dosha mentioned above (vata, pitta, and kapha) is responsible for a specific physiological element in our body.
A perfect Ayurvedic diet will depend on determining your prominent dosha and deciding what to eat and what not to eat based on that.
This will help you promote balance between vata, pitta, and kapha. It consists of whole foods and a vegetarian diet.
Weight Loss and mindfulness can be achieved with a proper Ayurvedic diet.
Vata, Pitta, Kapha, and the Ayurvedic Diet:
For people with Vata prominence, Small amounts of seafood or tofu are good. They can eat dairy products like milk, ghee, and yogurt. Ripe fruits like bananas, strawberries, and peaches are from there. Oats and rice should be a part of their diet, along with vegetables like beets, onions, carrots, and green beans. Herbs like basil, ginger, cardamom, cumin, oregano can be taken.
On the other hand, you may need to avoid red meat, light fruits like raisins, pear, and pomegranate. Raw vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower can also be avoided. If you can, avoid potatoes and tomatoes, too. Buckwheat, barley, and corn are not good for you either. Any bitter herbs like coriander or parsley should be avoided.
For people with Pitta, egg whites and tofu can be consumed. They can take dairy products like butter, ghee, and milk. With fruits, make sure they are fully ripe and sweet. Melons and mangoes are your friends. Sweet and bitter vegetables like celery, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, zucchini, leafy greens, and brussels sprouts can be eaten. Chickpeas and kidney beans are also good. You can eat basmati rice and wheat. Try to eat flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds in moderation.
Avoid eating egg yolks, red meat, buttermilk, and cheese. Unripe fruits like grapes, papaya, and sour cherries should be avoided. Keep an eye on your pepper intake. Millet and corn should also be avoided. Pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts can also be avoided. You can eat spices like black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric without worries.
Those who are Kapha dominant can eat poultry in small amounts. They should avoid dairy and instead try soy milk. Eating apples, pears, cherries, figs, and prunes are okay. You need to eat leafy vegetables like leafy greens, asparagus, radishes, and okra. You can also add moderate amounts of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or flax seeds to your diet. All legumes and spices are okay for you.
When it comes to foods you need to avoid, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers are on the list. You should also avoid red meat and shrimp. Fresh figs, banana, coconut, and mangoes should also be avoided. Try to avoid rice and wheat whenever you can. In nuts, you should be away from cashew, pine nuts, walnuts, and sesame seeds.
Well, that is it for now. Hope the detailed guide helps you understand the basic Ayurveda and its elements. There are still a lot of things to explore and understand in the field of healing knowledge that is Ayurveda. However, for now, this should keep you going. If you are just getting into Ayurveda, we wish you a happy and healthy self-exploration in one of the oldest medicine systems of the world!