Ayurvedic medicine, commonly known as ayurveda, is the most ancient of the six Indian Systems of Medicine. It is used by millions of people in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and as an alternative medicine in the Western world. Ayurveda dates back to the pre-vedic period of 5000 B.C. Ayurveda can be translated as the “wisdom for living” or “knowledge of a long life.” Ayurveda is among the few traditional systems of medicine with a sophisticated surgery system, referred to as “salya-chikitsa.” Ayurvedic physicians in the early 20th century began to organize into professional associations to promote their case national recognition and funding. In India, ayurveda is a now a recognized medical system of health care. Ayurvedic practitioners in India undergo five and a half years of training where they earn the professional doctorate degree of Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery. A bachelor’s in Science with a minor in Sanskrit is a desirable prerequisite. 80% of the world’s population today uses “traditional” medicine as their primary health care.
Evidence shows that some forms of ayurvedic medicine, especially those involving herbs, metals, and minerals can pose serious risks such as toxicity. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic are significantly toxic. Heavy metals are used therapeutically as anti-microbials and anti-cancer agents. The metals are known as Rasa Shastra. There is a detoxification technique that can be applied to heavy metals as well as toxic herbs, called samskaras. The detoxification is a simple chemical process involving four successive rounds of boiling crude aconitum root in cow’s urine twice and then in cow’s milk twice. This process is supposed to chemically modify both toxic and proposed therapeutic components of the root.
AYURVEDA IN THE WEST
Westerners have attempted to export the essence of ayurveda to incorporate into their own medical systems. The most commonly practiced ayurvedic treatment in the west is massage. There are twenty six schools in the U.S. and dozens in Europe that teach ayurveda. Ayurvedic health practitioners are certified but not licensed. Popular Western ayurvedic authors include: Vasant D., Sebastian Pole, Maya Tiwari, Robert Svoboda, Deepak Chopra, and Hari Sharma.
Ashtanga are the eight branches of Ayurveda:
1. Internal Medicine-Kayachikitsa
2. Pediatrics-Kaumarabhritya Tantra
3. Psychology/Psychiatry-Bhuta Vidya
4. Ears, eyes, nose, and throat-Shalakya Tantra
5. Surgery-Shalya Tantra
6. Toxicology-Agada Tantra
7. Rejuvenation-Rasayana Tantra
8. Fertility Therapy-Vajikarana Tantra
Sapta means seven and Dhatu refers to the tissues the human body is made of. The seven dhatus are Rasa, Rakta, Maamsa, Medas, Asthi, Majja, and Shukra. When food is digested and forms a semi-fluid it is called rasa dhatu. Modern science refers to it as chyme. Rakta means blood. Mamsa refers to muscle tissue. There are three types of muscles in the body: skeletal, smooth, and cardiac. Medas is the adipose tissue which consists mainly of fat. It is responsible for lubrication. Ashthi dhatu consists of bones and cartilages that give strength to the body. Majja dhatu is bone marrow, a spongy substance inside the cavity of bones. The shukra dhatu is semen in the male and ovum in the female. A part of this dhatu transforms into ojas which literally means immunity, energy, and vigor.
The central concept of ayurvedic medicine is that health exists when there is a balance between the three fundamental doshas called vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata is the dynamic kinetic principle necessary to mobilize anything from and electron to a galaxy. Air is the representative. Pitta is the thermal, explosive force behind the ability to transform anything. Sun is the representative. Kapha is the cohesion that holds everything together with its electromagnetic and gravitational forces.
Shamana and Shodhana are the two concepts of disease management in ayurveda. Shamana means allevation. The methods of shamana mitigate the disease and its symptoms. Shodhana means elimination and it aims at the elimination of the basic cause of disease. There are five types of shodhana which are known as panchakarma. Panchakarmas include: vamana, virechana, nasya, basti, and raktha mokshana. In shamana, medicines are given internally and in shodhana external treatments are given. Shodhana Karma have two poorvakarma for preparing the patients body for treatment, snehana and swedana.
TASTES AND EFFECTS
In ayurveda, foods and herbs have specific physiological effects. Tastes that transform after digestion, vipaka, are powerful. Sweet (madhura) foods nourish, cool, moisten, oil, and increase weight. Sour (amla) foods warm, oil, and increase weight. Salty (lavana) foods warm, dissolve, stimulate, soften, oil, and increase weight. Bitter (katu) foods cool, dry, purify, and decrease weight. Pungent (tikta) foods warm, dry, stimulate, and decrease weight. Astringent (kashaya) foods cool, dry, and reduce stickiness. Hot foods are known as jhala.
In ayurveda, vegetables, animals, and minerals have medicinal value. Ayurvedic medicines are made from herbs or mixtures of herbs either alone or in combination with minerals, metals, and other ingredients of animal origin. Metals, animals, and minerals are purified by individual processes before being used for medicinal purposes.
AYURVEDA THROUGH THE AGES
It is unknown how ayurveda was ultimately developed. It is probably as old as the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to 3000 B.C.E. The cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro had advanced systems of hygiene and health care. The four sacred Vedas were composed between 1200 and 700 B.C.E. The system of ayurvedic medicine was orally transferred through the Gurukul system until a written script came into existence. In this system, the Guru addressed his students directing them to a life of chastity, honesty, and vegetarianism. The normal length of the student’s training was seven years. The origins of ayurveda are said to be a divine revelation of the Hindu deity Brahma as he awoke to recreate the universe. Even though ayurveda was formulated in ancient times, a number of additions were made during the Middle Ages. Ayurvedic practice flourished during the time of Buddha and in this period mercuric and sulphur based medicines were commonly used. Emperor Ashoka, influenced by the Buddhist teachings, banned bloodshed in his kingdom. Therefore, many ayurvedic practitioners who were practicing surgery left it and adopted new treatments. Ayurveda was a part of mainstream Indian medical techniques during the regime of Chandragupta Maurya and continued to be so until the British colonization. Today ayurvedic medicines are available worldwide.
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