Ayurvedic medicine is a system of healing that originated in
ancient India. In Sanskrit, ayur means life or living, and veda
means knowledge, so Ayurveda has been defined as the "knowledge of living" or
the "science of longevity." Ayurvedic medicine utilizes diet, detoxification and purification techniques,
herbal and mineral remedies, yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, and massage therapy as holistic healing methods. Ayurvedic medicine is widely practiced in modern India and has been steadily
gaining followers in the West.
According to the original texts, the goal of Ayurveda is
prevention as well as promotion of the body's own capacity for maintenance and
balance. Ayurvedic treatment is non-invasive and non-toxic, so it can be used
safely as an alternative therapy or along-side conventional therapies. Ayurvedic
physicians claim that their methods can also help stress-related, metabolic, and
chronic conditions. Ayurveda has been used to treat acne, allergies, asthma, anxiety, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, colitis, constipation, depression, diabetes, flu, heart
disease, hypertension, immune problems, inflammation, insomnia,
nervous disorders, obesity, skin problems, and ulcers.
Ayurvedic physicians seek to discover the roots of a disease
before it gets so advanced that more radical treatments are necessary. Thus,
Ayurveda seems to be limited in treating severely advanced conditions, traumatic
injuries, acute pain,
and conditions and injuries requiring invasive surgery. Ayurvedic techniques
have also been used alongside chemotherapy and surgery to assist patients in
recovery and healing.
Ayurvedic medicine originated in the early civilizations of
India some 3,000-5,000 years ago. It is mentioned in the Vedas, the
ancient religious and philosophical texts that are the oldest surviving
literature in the world, which makes Ayurvedic medicine the oldest surviving
healing system. According to the texts, Ayurveda was conceived by enlightened
wise men as a system of living harmoniously and maintaining the body so that
mental and spiritual awareness could be possible. Medical historians believe
that Ayurvedic ideas were transported from ancient India to China and were
instrumental in the development of Chinese medicine.
Today, Ayurvedic medicine is used by 80% of the population
in India. Aided by the efforts of Deepak Chopra and the Maharishi, it has become
an increasingly accepted alternative medical treatment in America during the
last two decades. Chopra is an M.D. who has written several bestsellers based on
Ayurvedic ideas. He also helped develop the Center for Mind/Body Medicine in La
Jolla, California, a major Ayurvedic center that trains physicians in Ayurvedic
principles, produces herbal remedies, and conducts research and documentation of
its healing techniques.
To understand Ayurvedic treatment, it is necessary to have
an idea how the Ayurvedic system views the body. The basic life force in the
body is prana, which is also found in the elements and is similar to the
Chinese notion of chi. As Swami Vishnudevananda, a yogi and expert, put
it, "Prana is in the air, but is not the oxygen, nor any of its chemical
constituents. It is in food, water, and in the sunlight, yet it is not vitamin,
heat, or light-rays. Food, water, air, etc., are only the media through which
the prana is carried."
In Ayurveda, there are five basic elements that contain
prana: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These elements interact and are
further organized in the human body as three main categories or basic
physiological principles in the body that govern all bodily functions known as
the doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each
person has a unique blend of the three doshas, known as the person's
prakriti, which is why Ayurvedic treatment is always individualized. In
Ayurveda, disease is viewed as a state of imbalance in one or more of a person's
doshas, and an Ayurvedic physician strives to adjust and balance them, using a
variety of techniques.
The vata dosha is associated with air and ether, and in the
body promotes movement and lightness. Vata people are generally thin and light
physically, dry-skinned, and very energetic and mentally restless. When vata is
out of balance, there are often nervous problems, hyperactivity, sleeplessness,
lower back pains, and headaches.
Ayurvedic Body Types
Pitta is associated with fire and water. In the body, it is
responsible for metabolism and digestion. Pitta characteristics are medium-built
bodies, fair skin, strong digestion, and good mental concentration. Pitta
imbalances show up as anger and aggression and stress-related conditions like gastritis,
ulcers, liver problems, and hypertension.
The kapha dosha is associated with water and earth. People
characterized as kapha are generally large or heavy with more oily complexions.
They tend to be slow, calm, and peaceful. Kapha disorders manifest emotionally
as greed and possessiveness, and physically as obesity, fatigue, bronchitis, and sinus problems.
In Ayurvedic medicine, disease is always seen as an
imbalance in the dosha system, so the diagnostic process strives to determine
which doshas are underactive or overactive in a body. Diagnosis is often taken
over a course of days in order for the Ayurvedic physician to most accurately
determine what parts of the body are being affected. To diagnose problems,
Ayurvedic physicians often use long questionnaires and interviews to determine a
person's dosha patterns and physical and psychological histories. Ayurvedic
physicians also intricately observe the pulse, tongue, face, lips, eyes, and
fingernails for abnormalities or patterns that they believe can indicate deeper
problems in the internal systems. Some Ayurvedic physicians also use laboratory
tests to assist in diagnosis.
Ayurvedic treatment seeks to re-establish balance and
harmony in the body's systems. Usually the first method of treatment involves
some sort of detoxification and cleansing of the body, in the belief that
accumulated toxins must be removed before any other methods of treatment will be
effective. Methods of detoxification include therapeutic vomiting, laxatives,
fasting, and cleansing of the sinuses. Many Ayurvedic clinics combine all of
these cleansing methods into intensive sessions known as panchakarma.
Panchakarma can take several days or even weeks and they are more than
elimination therapies. They also include herbalized oil massage and herbalized
heat treatments. After purification, Ayurvedic
physicians use herbal and mineral remedies to balance the body as well.
Ayurvedic medicine contains a vast knowledge of the use of herbs for specific
Ayurvedic medicine also emphasizes how people live their
lives from day to day, believing that proper lifestyles and routines accentuate
balance, rest, diet, and prevention. Ayurveda recommends yoga as a form of exercise
to build strength and health, and also advises massage therapy and self-massage
as ways of increasing circulation and reducing stress. Yogic breathing techniques and meditation
are also part of a healthy Ayurvedic regimen, to reduce stress and improve
Of all treatments, though, diet is one of the most basic and
widely used therapy in the Ayurvedic system. An Ayurvedic diet can be a very
well planned and individualized regimen. According to Ayurveda, there are six
basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Certain
tastes and foods can either calm or aggravate a particular dosha. For instance,
sweet, sour, and salty decrease vata problems and increase kapha. Sour, salty,
and pungent can increase pitta. After an Ayurvedic physician determines a
person's dosha profile, they will recommend a specific diet to correct
imbalances and increase health. The Ayurvedic diet emphasizes primarily
vegetarian foods of high quality and freshness, tailored to the season and time
of day. Cooling foods are eaten in the summer and heating ones in the winter,
always within a person's dosha requirements. In daily routine, the heaviest meal
of the day should be lunch, and dinner should eaten well before bedtime, to
allow for complete digestion. Also, eating meals in a calm manner with proper
chewing and state of mind is important, as is combining foods properly and
Costs of Ayurvedic treatments can vary, with initial
consultations running anywhere from $40 to over $100, with follow-up visits
costing less. Herbal treatments may cost from $10 to $50 per month, and are
often available from health food or bulk herb stores. Some clinics offer
panchakarma, the intensive Ayurvedic detoxification treatment, which can include
overnight stays for up to several weeks. The prices for these programs can vary
significantly, depending on the services and length of stay. Insurance
reimbursement may depend on whether the primary physician is a licensed M.D.
Ayurveda is a mind/body system of health that contains some
ideas foreign to the Western scientific model. Those people considering Ayurveda
should approach it with an open mind and willingness to experiment. Also,
because Ayurveda is a whole-body system of healing and health, patience and
discipline are helpful, as some conditions and diseases are believed to be
brought on by years of bad health habits and require time and effort to correct.
Finally, the Ayurvedic philosophy believes that each person has the ability to
heal themselves, so those considering Ayurveda should be prepared to bring
responsibility and participation into the treatment.
An Ayurvedic practitioner should always be consulted.
During Ayurvedic detoxification programs, some people report
fatigue, muscle soreness, and general sickness. Also, as Ayurveda seeks to
release mental stresses and psychological problems from the patient, some people
can experience mental disturbances and depression during treatment, and
psychological counseling may be part of a sound program.
Research and general acceptance
Because Ayurveda had been outside the Western scientific
system for years, research in the United States is new. Another difficulty in
documentation arises because Ayurvedic treatment is very individualized; two
people with the same disease but different dosha patterns might be treated
differently. Much more scientific research has been conducted over the past
several decades in India. Much research in the United States is being supported
by the Maharishi Ayur-Ved organization, which studies the Ayurvedic products it
sells and its clinical practices.
Some Ayurvedic herbal mixtures have been proven to have high
antioxidant properties, much stronger than vitamins A, C, and E, and some have also been
shown in laboratory tests to reduce or eliminate tumors in mice and to inhibit cancer
growth in human lung tumor cells. In a 1987 study at MIT, an Ayurvedic herbal
remedy was shown to significantly reduce colon cancer in rats. Another study was performed
in the Netherlands with Maharishi Ayur-Ved products. A group of patients with
chronic illnesses, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, hypertension, eczema,
psoriasis, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, and non-insulin
dependent diabetes mellitus, were given Ayurvedic
treatment. Strong results were observed, with nearly 80% of the patients
improving and some chronic conditions being completely cured.
Other studies have shown that Ayurvedic therapies can
significantly lower cholesterol and blood pressure in stress-related problems.
Diabetes, acne, and allergies have also been successfully treated with Ayurvedic
remedies. Ayurvedic products have been shown to increase short-term memory and
reduce headaches. Also, Ayurvedic remedies have been used successfully to
support the healing process of patients undergoing chemotherapy, as these
remedies have been demonstrated to increase immune system activity.
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