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What is Ayurveda?

Explanation of Ayurveda and frameworks and methods

A quick answer to the question what is ayurveda. Some history and some explanation of underlying principles and practices.

Ayurveda is considered the world's oldest continually practised medical system.

Pronounced "Aa-your-vay-da", Ayurveda literally means the "science of life". It first originated in India between 5000 to 10000 years ago and is generally believed to be the oldest healing science in existence, and the science from which most other health systems and practices emerged.

As a system it places emphasis on the maintenance of health as opposed to the curing of illness and sustains a portfolio of approaches and methods for maintaining health as opposed to simply providing methods for curing illness. As such ayurveda can be described as holistic and entails a whole approach to living and not simply a set of methodologies for managing illnesses and diseases. In the contemporary world this holistic approach is highly attractive to many people at the same time as its rigour may be not wholly appropriate. Many advocates of ayurveda struggle to successfully communicate the distinctive quality of ayurveda without seeming to be either "new world" in their approach and to lack theoretical rigour. Ayurveda as a whole suffers from the lack of an evidence-based approach which results in many techniques and their associated outcomes from being anecdotal at best or lacking statistical rigour. Younger practitioners who have been inculcated in western medical methodologies are powerfully aware of these failings and of the need for a more statistical and data driven approach to research and practice.

Ayurveda has three main focuses:

  1. Healing illness
  2. Prevention of disease and the comcomitant sustenance of good health
  3. Long life

Ayurveda defines various etiological factors for diseases in general. The seven causes are:

  1. sahaja (congenital factor ),
  2. garbhaja (not satisfying urges of apregnant lady),
  3. jataja (causes after birth -improper diet ,lack of exercises ,etc causing diseases like obesity, cardiac problems etc) )
  4. peedaja ( due to injuries )
  5. kalaja (due to seasonal changes ),
  6. prabhavaja,(eternal causes)
  7. swabhavaja.( conditions like aging , thirst etc).

The concept of HEALTH in Ayurveda is the most holistic concept . Ayurveda defines the state of health as the complete balance of the three humours ( vata, pitha, kapha ), the proper functioning of agni (digestive power ), the balance in all dhatu (differant types of tissues or building units of the body ) and the proper evacuation of urges . The practices of ayurveda are conducive to the maintenance of health by achieving this balance. It follows logically that ayurveda is not therefore an occassional practice for it adherents but rather a consistent approach to living life.

The most revolutionary idea in origin of disease is the concept of Aama .Concept of ama has been used in different context.The food we take in ,if not digested properly will transform into a putrefying state called aama , end result will be belching, bloating , etc..Another concept of aama is attributed as orgin of disease. Any disease has its orgin from aama , either at tissue level or at digestion level .In short aama has a concept of anything that is toxic to the body , whether as indigested food or any external agent entered the body .

Many factors like poor nutrition and over exertion can result in the weakening of immune system. A well balanced diet builds up a life sap that protects the immune system. Apart from a robust health, the life sap can also ensure mental peace and spiritual enrichment through meditation. By developing the immune sap, most of the immune disorders can be managed effectively.

Doctrines & Concepts in Ayurveda

Freedom from sufferings is the ultimate objective of life as specified in Sankhya Sutra.

The sufferings are three-pronged – caused by illness, caused by external events and caused by consequences of fate.

Ayurveda banked on three systems of Indian philosophy among the total of six. These three are sankhya, nyaya and vaisesika, and the philosophical base is on two cardinal doctrines of panchabhuta and tridosha.

These two doctrines are inter-linked with structure and function. Panchabhuta’s theme is the homology between the structural materials within the body and outside, while tridosha’s theme is functional balance inside the body. Rtucarya and vegas are two subsidiary themes. They deal with functions of bodily urges and balance the life with time and place.

Is Ayurveda Different?

Ayurveda characterises itself as a complete medical system and proponents claim that it provides a complete medical set for managing health and illness. This is open to debate. Ayurveda certainly has a distinctive approach to wellness that is increasingly influential as a philosophical approach for other medical systems whether allopathic or homeoepathic.

The unique character of Ayurveda is a function of its modeling of wellness and disease.Where western medicine focuses on disease agents infecting the human body which is otherwise essentially healthy, ayurveda's attention to the concept of balance results in a very different style of practice. Likewise, whilst most medical systems have grown increasingly bio-chemical in their approach to the body, ayurveda still prizes a complete view of the person: physical, mental and spiritual and lifestyle factors are all considered. In this aspect it considers the psycho-somatic relationship in illness: an aspect it considers without a critical stance or disparagement. The concept of psycho-somatism is increasingly viewed by western medical science as a distraction from the pursuit of the infectious agent. Ayurveda's attention to psycho-somatism leads to an approach to treats both mind and body at the same time.

Although some advocates of ayurveda imply that only the use of natural therapies is condoned, this is not strictly true as ayurveda has a long history of pharmacological innovation. Whilst ayuveda's massage-based or external therapies seem to have few side-effects and possibly minimal efficacy, the internal therapies can be potentially toxic as ancient skills are lost and replaced with inexact factory techniques. Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals are insufficiently monitored with small laboratories producing agents which contains unregistered or undisclosed compounds resulting from poor laboratory conditions and technology.

Ayurveda's most significant contribution to medical thinking may be its focus on the complete person and the connection between balance and wellness. This approach offers a different way of modeling healthcare and providing for patient wellbeing across physical, spiritual and mental health.

How Does Ayurveda Work?

Ayurveda explains that humans like the whole Universe are made up of each of the five elements - air space, fire, water and earth as well as the soul. In other words the body is a microcosm of the Universe. These elements in their biological form make up the three doshas.The conglomeration of body,sense organs, mind and soul is called as life. Maintaining the balanced state of dosha's, body, mind soul and removal of diseases is the main aim of ayurveda.

Tridosha Theory:

The basic view of Ayurveda is that all of life (people, food, animals, nature, the universe, and diseases) are combinations of three energy-elements:

  1. air (called Vayu or Vata) is a combination of air and space,
  2. fire (called Pitta), a combination of fire and water
  3. water (called Kapha) a combination of earth and water.

When these elements are balanced, one is healthy. Illness is defined as an imbalance of these elements; all disorders are excesses of one or more element.

People and the Elements:

A person's constitution (also called dosha) is biased towards one or more of these three elements. Each element relates to certain body types, to foods and also health concerns. By their nature, whatever a person's constitution is, they have a tendency for it to become excessed or out of balance.

Air constitution person (Vata dosha)

Tends to be thin and bony. Physical symptoms of excess air include dry skin, cracking bones, gas and constipation. Mental symptoms of excess air include fear, worry, anxiety and nervousness. When an air constitution (Vayu dosha) person is balanced they are creative, adaptable and have no physical health concerns.

Ayurveda notes that certain foods increase air and other foods reduce air. In general, excess air is reduced by eating cooked or steamed foods, and eating every three or four hours. Foods like carrots, rice and mung beans reduce excess air. Broccoli, baked beans and barley increase air (e.g., they cause gas). Excessive lifestyles also increases the air element.

Fire constitution people (Pitta dosha)

These tend towards excess heat. When healthy they are strong, make good leaders and are warm and goal oriented. When the Pitta dosha is imbalanced, mentally they become hot tempered, impatient, irritable.

Physically they develop heat-related disorders such as acne, rashes, diarrhea, ulcers, toxic blood, liver, kidney, gall bladder, heart and spleen disorders.

Water constitutions (Kapha doshas)

These tend towards excess water. When healthy they are strong, muscular, calm and loyal. When water becomes excessed, they develop lethargy, and a hoarding or greedy nature. Physically they develop congestion, overweight, edema, heart and kidney problems, etc.

Health means balance.

Health means balanced state of doshas and its imbalance is called as disease. Each constitution has a natural tendency to become imbalanced or excessed. By eating foods and living a lifestyle that reduces the the excesses, one remains balanced. Balancing produces healing, prevention, and reverses the aging process.

Many people have two or even all three elements in their constitution. In these cases, both elements tend toward excess. Thus foods and lifestyles that reduce both elements need to be followed.

Ayurveda & Natural Urges

Urges are demands of the body, so need to be satisfied as long as to be healthy.

Thirteen different urges are explained by Charaka. These urges are to be satisfied for the normal functioning of body mechanism. These are the indicators of healthy functioning of various systems. The urges includes flatus, faeces, urine, hunger, sneeze, thirst, sleep, cough, hiccough, tears, vomiting, ejaculation etc.

When these natural urges are not met it can cause vitiation of vata and there by affecting the systems involved. Treatment for these conditions are also described clearly. The significance of the urges as etiology of many diseases is explained.

The Ayurveda Approach

The approach of ayurveda is bound in seven synonyms called

  • sakha,
  • vidya,
  • sutra,
  • jnana,
  • sastra,
  • laksana and
  • tantra.

The treatises of ayurveda, numbering ten, deal with body and its function, disease process, causation of diseases, course of illness, objective of treatment, treatment , treatment procedures, therapeutic instruments and the role of physician.

According to Charaka, an ideal physician should have thorough knowledge about the eight vital spheres of ayurveda, which are

  • text and
  • scope of the text,
  • topic and
  • scope of the topic,
  • section and
  • scope of the section,
  • topic and
  • scope of the topic.

Ayurveda deals with everything existing in nature and all the objects of the matter. The matter is categorized into

  • substance,
  • quality,
  • activity,
  • generality,
  • particularity and
  • inherence.

Substance, quality and activity are objective or external existence whereas generality, particularity and inherence are the outcome of intellectual efforts.


The substances - ether, air, fire, water, earth – are independent entities.


Quality falls into four category – sensation, physical, mental and intellectual. Sound, touch, vision, taste and smell account for sensation qualities. There are twenty physical qualities, each having positive and negative qualities, such as heavy and light, hot and cold, moist and dry, slow and quick, smooth and rough, solid and liquid, soft and hard, fixed and mobile, subtle and gross, clear and turbid. Mental qualities number five – joy, sorrow, desire, aversion and effort. Qualities of intellectual are ten in total. They are superiority and inferiority, conjunction and disjunction, reason, number, individuality, processing, size and practice.


Activity means movement and the movement characterizes substances. Activity in the form of quality is inherent in substances. Ayurveda has given a twist to the activity and it views it as union and disunion of substances.


Quality of generality is indicative of substances with same characteristics. Generality causes hike in substances all the while and unifies similar substances.


Quality of particularity does the work of distinguishing the things. While generality helps increase the substances with similar contents, particularity reduces the substances having dissimilar properties. The function of particularity plays a cardinal role in ayurvedic treatments.


Quality of inherence helps unite a substance and its divergent qualities. The united substance and qualities are ever inseparable.

Eight Branches of Ayurveda

The birth of ayurveda is through sage Bhardwaja. The history has it that he gained it from the god Indra.Evidences are available on surgical corrections done.

Ayurveda is the provider of long life, happiness and reliever of sufferings.

It has eight branches. They are:

  1. Internal medicine (KayaChikitsa)
  2. Head and neck disorders (Salakya Tantra)
  3. Surgical removal of foreign agents from the body (Salya tantra)
  4. Supernatural medicine (Bhoota vidya)
  5. Treatment of poisoning (Visha chikitsa/ Agada Tantra)
  6. Children’s medicine (Kaumara Bhritya)
  7. Rejuvenation therapy (Rasayana Chikitsa)
  8. Virile therapy (Vajikarana Chikitsa)

Three Treatment Paths

Charaka Samhita stipulates three means of treatment – sacred, rational and psychological.

Sacred path employs chanting of hymns, wearing of precious stones and herbs, pilgrimage, fasting, atonement etc.

Rational method advocates medication and proper diet.

Psychological method gives importance to the control of mind, take it easy attitude etc.

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