Introduction to Ayurveda

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Introduction to Ayurveda

Ayurveda is known to be the oldest healing science originating  more than five thousand years ago. The Sanskrit word “Ayurveda” is derived from the combination of two words viz. “Ayu” and “Veda”.  “Ayu” means life or longevity and ” Veda” means science or knowledge. “Ayurveda” is“The Science of life”.

It originates from ancient Vedic culture and the knowledge was disseminated by veterans  for thousands of years orally to their disciples.Ayurveda dictates your entire lifestyle. Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing.

It is different from all other approaches to health care in the following way:

  • It emphasize on treating the person as a whole rather than treating his symptoms or disease alone. Therefore, it is focused on the rectification of the imbalances created or occurred in the body and try to eradicate the cause.
  • It recommends different regimens for different types of people as it recognizes the unique constitutional differences of all individuals Although two people might be suffering from the same disease but their treatment would vary depending on their unique constitution.
  • The ultimate aim of Ayurveda is to create a state of perfect health for the individual.

In Ayurveda, health is defined as a state in which the structure and function of a particular individual is working optimally and the individual is in a state of physical, mental and spiritual equilibrium.Both Charaka and Vagbhat, ancient Ayurvedic scholars,  described  health as:

  • All three doshas are in equilibrium with regard to the individualPrakriti.
  • All seven tissues, Dhatus, are in the proper state of  integrity.
  • The digestive fire, Agni, is balanced resulting in proper appetite, digestion, and assimilation
  • The waste materials, malas, are being formed and eliminated regularly.
  • The sense organs, Indriyan are functioning normally and the mind is unperturbed.
  • The individual  experiencing cheerfulness and satisfaction.

Deviation from the above mentioned criteria of health is a state ofimbalance or disease.

It is a state of disequilibrium of the Doshas, Dhatus, Agni, and malas.

Every living being has an inherent tendency to move in the direction of self-healing and balance. The balance toward which we naturally move is according to our Prakriti or our unique constitution inherited by us at birth.

The disease state is known as Vikriti, which represents a deviation from that natural composition of the doshas. There will always be more momentum in the direction of health than towards disease if one follows religiously the regimen, nature has intended for him.  There is an inherent tendency in nature to direct from Vikriti to Prakriti and systems of medicine are merely acting as a medium to support this self-healing progression.

Yet despite the immense natural inclination towards health, many individuals acquire illnesses of different types. It is a disturbance in the Doshas which leads to the occurrence of disease. The factors that lead to doshas imbalance are said to be the ultimate cause of disease.

Ayurveda is based on certain theories like Five elements theory and Tridosha theory.

  • Five Elements Theory

The concept of Panchamahabhuta (Five elements) is the foundation of Ayurveda to understand its physiology (normal functioning), pathology (disease formation) & pharmacokinetics (movement of drug within the body) .

Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five basic elements. These five elements are earth(prithvi), water (Jala), fire (Agni or tej), air (Vayu) andether or space (Akash) and collectively they are termed as Panchmahabhuta.

These are the minutest elements, which constitute living and non-living matters. Every thing, including drugs, herbs and living beings are made of these basic elements. Every matter contains all of these five elements. Depending on the predominance of the content, the matter is classified as Parthiva, Apya, Taijasa, Vayaviya and Akashiya( With predominance of earth, water, fire, air and space respectively). The permutation and combination of these elements and its quantity in a given matter determines its properties.  

Ayurveda understands body, mind and spirit likewise. It divides the constitution of people into three categories—Vata (ether/air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water/earth).These are three basic energies or life forces that are the biological deriVataives of the five elements and they govern all the function and structure of the body or its existence as a whole. 

  • Tridosha Theory

Tridoshas are the biological deriVataives of the five basic elements present in the Universe. The term Doshasmeans the factors which are capable of vitiating the body tissues if they are  increased, decreased or vitiated alone or all together. These three are the basic constituents responsible for the structure and proper functioning of the body or its existence as a whole.

Tri means three and doshas being the basic physical energies when in balance. Derived from thePanchamahabhuta, each dosha – which like the elements cannot be detected with our senses but their qualities can be. Every physical attribute, mental faculty and the emotional make up of a human being can therefore be explained in terms of the Tridoshas.

At the time of conception, permutations and combinations of Vata, Pitta and Kapha determine the constitution of the new individual. These three metabolic forces govern all biological, psychological and physiological functions of the body, mind and consciousness and have subtle properties. They determine personality traits as well.

The unique individual constitution produces natural tendencies and individual preferences in food, flavor and temperature.

Significance of Tridoshas

The foundation of “Ayurveda and treatment in Ayurveda” is Tridoshas and Dushyas (Dhatu and mala).

Dosha balance is mandatory for optimal health.Therefore in balanced state they are also known as Dhatuas they are responsible for health. Each Dosha has its own specific properties. Diet, life style, drugs etc. if have similar properties as that of dosha will increase the dosha and if diet, drugs etc. have opposite properties will decrease the doshas. e.g. Vata is dry, light and cold. Any diet, drugs etc. that have similar properties will increase Vata and any diet, drugs etc. that have opposite properties like heavy, oily and hot will decrease Vata.

The combination of the three life forces viz. Tridoshas remains unaltered throughout an individual’s lifetime and can indicate a person’s inherent strengths and susceptibilities. This inherent combination or constitution, however, responds to environmental changes such as diet and lifestyle thereby providing an opportunity to the individual  to maintain and restore health.

The physiological (normal function) activity going on in the body could be classified into three categories :

    • Movement
    • Transformation
    • Lubrication

Vata Dosha is responsible for movement,  Pitta Dosha is responsible for transformation and lubrication is provided by Kapha Dosha. Kapha Dosha also binds two things together.

The nervous system functioning by modern physiology for example, can be identified with Vata. The chemical process being carried out in the human body can be attributed to Pitta, including enzymes, hormones and the complete nutritional functioning and the activities of the skeletal and the anabolic system, actually the whole physical volume of an organism and all body fluids, can be identified with Kapha.

Vata, Pitta & Kapha are considered in Ayurveda to be the representative of Air, Sun and Moon respectively in the body. Their function is similar to that of Air, Sun and Moon in nature. Soma means (Moon) and its representative Kaphaperforms the function of Visarga (to nurture) or greasing in the universe and body respectively. Surya means (sun) and its representative Pitta performs the function ofAadan (to absorb and transform) in the universe and the body respectively. Anil means Air and its representative Vata performs the function of Vikshepa (to move or motiVatae) in the universe and body respectively.

  • Eight Branches of Ayurveda

There are eight main branches of Ayurveda, popularly known as‘Ashtang Ayurveda’.

No.  Branch  Modern correlate
1 Kaya chikitsa Internal Medicine.
2 Shalya Tantra Surgery.
3 Shalakya Tantra ENT (Ear, nose and Throat) and Ophthalmology (eye).
4 Bhoot Vidya Psychiatry.
5 Agad Tantra Toxicology, Forensic medicine.
6 Kaumar Bhritya Pediatrics
7 Rasayan Tantra Rejuvenation and Geriatrics
8 Bajikaran Tantra Aphrodisiacs therapy.
  • Panchakarma

Panchakarma forms an integral part of Ayurvedic treatment.

Panchakarma  is a Sanskrit word that means “five procedures” or “five treatments”. This is a procedure, unique to Ayurveda, that cleans the body of toxic materials. Therefore it is often called as Purification therapy ordetoxification therapy. Panchakarma is used according to the requirements of the individual based on the personality type, extent and type of the doshas imbalance.  Although the human body is considered to be a  natural healing system capable of rectifying itself, the formation of toxins reduces that natural capacity. Then comes the role of Panchkarma. Detoxification methods of Ayurveda likePanchakarma, when taken completely or partially, make the body more responsive to medicines and treatment. It hastens the healing process.

In Ayurveda, from one point of view Panchakarma is said to include the following

Vamana Karma      Drug induced Vomiting.
Virechana Karma    Drug induced purgation.
Niruha Basti Decoction of appropriate drugs are used. (Vasti is medicated enema)
Anuvasana Basti Oily substance are used.
Nasya karma/ Shirovirechana    Administration of medicines or medicated oil through nasal passage.

In Surgery, Panchakarma is considered to include above mentioned Vamana, Virechana, Basti , Nasya or Shirovirechana and Rakta Mokshana (Blood letting).There are certain procedures to complement Panchakarma that precede and that follow Panchkarma known as Poorvakarma (Preparatory procedures) and Paschatkarma (Post procedures)respectively.

  • Poorvakarma comprises of two main procedures viz.
    • Snehan Karma      Oleation therapy
    • Swedan Karma     Sweat inducing therapy
  • Paschatkarma comprises of the rehabilitative procedures that are followed after the main procedures i.e. Panchakarma.

It includes:

Samsarjana Karma- Scheduled diet regulation. After the completion of the main procedures such as Vamana, Virechana, the digestive power is mitigated. The digestive power is restored by adopting a  scheduled dietary regimen, known as Samsarjana Karma.

Procedures done to deal with the complications that might arise as a result of Panchakarma.


Panchakarma purifies the body and benefits procured thereby are the following way

I. Digestive power is increased and it benefits the following way:

  • Alleviates the disease / symptoms.
  • Induces normal functions of senses, intellect and mind.
  • Enhances body’s complexion.
  • Strengthens the body.
  • Delays ageing process.
  • Longevity increases, devoid of diseases.

II.  Panchakarma treats the imbalance or disease completely from its root. Therefore it is known as purification or detoxification therapy (Sanshodhana Karma).

Ayurvedic treatment is not complete withoutPanchakarma. Besides, being complementary to the Palliative treatment it is a complete treatment in itself.

It would be important to understand the difference between modern medicine and Ayurvedic approach of healing. Modern medicine treats diseases. As magical wand, it acts on the body and pacifies its complaints and chiefly uses drugs and surgery to treat diseases. At times, usage of drugs and surgical treatment becomes mandatory as per the requirement. At the same time toxic effects of the drugs cannot be denied. Strong medicines weaken the patient.

Ayurveda takes a holistic approach towards a human being and tries to go in depth to find out the origin of disease and eliminate the cause. It is the system of medicine which focuses on the balance of mind, body and soul. From Ayurveda perspective, diseases vary because people are different. 

Both systems of medicine are complementary to each other.Emphasis should be laid on the fact that Ayurveda is not the substitute for modern allopathic medicine.  But even in cases where usage of allopathic drugs and surgery is necessary it can be used in conjugation with the allopathic medicine to bring out better results.Ayurveda aims at achieving balance in the body, making the person stronger, strengthening immunity and maintaining harmony with the nature.

Ayurvedic approach is not just restricted to the use of drugs or herbs and surgery. It is much beyond that. As the name implies, Ayurveda is the science of life. It includes a a balanced life style with focus on dietary regime, routine etc. as these are known to influence one’s basic constitution and might cause imbalance and hence the disease and determines the preventive measures to be taken according to the person’s susceptibility to diseases as per their natural constitution.

Ayurveda makes use of natural therapies as well, such as Yoga, meditation besides drugs and surgery.

It is the science that can be resorted to when the imbalance is recognizable as discomfort but not much to be stated or recognized as a disease. 

Ayurveda recognizes that each one of us is unique and has to be treated individually.