Ayurveda is a medical system that began in India over 8,000 years ago. The system takes its name from the Sanskrit words ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning knowledge or science. The central principle of Ayurveda is that illness and disease spring from stress or imbalance in a person’s body. Ayurveda encompasses several different types of interventions, from herbal supplements to massage. The goal of Ayurveda is to restore balance to the body, mind, and spirit.
Sanjeev Mansotra explains the history, science, and application of Ayurvedic medicine, beginning with the history and core tenets of the practice.
History of Ayurveda
Ayurveda originated with the Indus Valley civilization in approximately 6,000 BCE. At first, the medical practice was an oral tradition. Ayurvedic medical texts began as part of the Vedas, the ancient Sanskrit scriptures containing philosophy, hymns, and ritual guidance for Vedic priests. These are the oldest examples of Sanskrit texts.
Principles of Ayurveda and the Doshas
The science of Ayurveda revolves around the principles of moderation and balance. Sleep, food, and sexual activity need to be balanced for a person to retain their equilibrium.
In the science of Ayurveda, there are three elemental humors of the body. The doshas are called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In order to keep the body and mind in balance, the influence of these doshas must be carefully regulated. These doshas correspond to the five elements of the planet: fire, space, earth, air, and water.
Vata dosha is comprised of space and air. This dosha is believed to be the most powerful of the three. It is responsible for basic body functions. It is also involved with blood flow, heart function, breathing, and intestinal functions. If a person eats too soon after a meal, experiences fear and grief, or stays up too late, they may become imbalanced in their vata dosha.
People who are most influenced by their vata dosha are thought to be more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis, skin problems, heart disease, asthma, and anxiety.
Pitta dosha is related to fire and water. It controls metabolism, digestion, and appetite. If a person eats too many spicy or sour foods and spends too much time in the sun, their pitta dosha may be unbalanced.
People who are dominated by the pitta dosha are more likely to experience conditions like infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, and Crohn’s disease.
Kapha dosha is ruled by water and earth. It controls body strength, muscle growth, the immune system, and weight. It can be disrupted by daytime sleeping, sweet foods, and consuming too much salt or water.
If kapha dosha is the primary influence, people may become obese. They may also have nausea after eating. They could be more prone to diabetes, cancer, and asthma.
Balancing the Doshas
There are two views of how the doshas affect the human body. One view holds that the doshas must be equal in influence. Another view is that each person possesses their own unique proportions of the doshas which define their characteristics and temperament. Bringing a person back into balance requires an intimate knowledge of their body and mind.
Another core principle of Ayurveda holds that the fluids in the body must not be blocked from circulating. This can cause disease. Massage with oils is prescribed to combat this problem.
Meditation, yoga, and other calming activities form important parts of Ayurvedic medicine since these activities help to restore balance to the body and mind. Yoga is a particularly important part of Ayurvedic medicine.
Practice of Ayurveda
Ayurvedic practitioners use several different methods to diagnose illnesses. They look for specific symptoms using their five senses. Close observation of the body’s difficulties leads to good results. Today’s Ayurvedic practitioners are more likely to stress the importance of increasing vitality by encouraging metabolic health and promoting healthy excretion and digestion.
The goal of Ayurveda is to achieve balance in the body, mind, and spirit. Ayurvedic practitioners use medicinal treatments to balance the doshas and achieve equilibrium. Many treatments in Ayurvedic medicine are plant-based, derived from the fruits, bark, seeds, roots, and leaves of certain plants. Some of the most commonly used preparations are ashwagandha, brahmi, cardamom, cumin, manjistha, and turmeric.
Mineral and metal ingredients are also used in some medicinal preparations. When partaking in Ayurvedic medicine, modern practitioners must be careful to avoid dangerous doses of heavy metals like lead and arsenic. The overarching impact of using metals and minerals in Ayurvedic medicine is not known.
The Ayurvedic Diet
In Ayurvedic medicine, a person’s diet is also considered very important to their health. The Ayurvedic diet involves eating mindfully and concentrating on whole plant-based foods. Some scientific studies have shown that following an Ayurvedic diet can benefit health and wellness.
At each meal, Ayurvedic practitioners recommend that a person eat all six tastes, comprised of bitter, pungent, sweet, sour, salty, and astringent. Eating sweet foods first, followed by salty and sour foods, and finishing with bitter or astringent foods is considered wise.
Eating mindfully means avoiding laughing, talking, and distracting oneself from their meal. Eat slowly enough so that the food is savored, but do not wait so long as to let the food get cold. Avoid overeating, and do not eat until the prior meal has been digested.
Ayurveda for Good Health
Ayurveda is considered to be an effective complementary medicine. It helps to balance a person’s basic temperament and bodily functions through the use of medicines, massage, meditation, and yoga. People who practice Ayurveda find that they are in tune with the planet and experience a calmer, more centered existence. Sanjeev Mansotra recommends that anyone who is interested in natural medicine study Ayurveda and how it can benefit them.