Ayurveda

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

by Sangeetha Rajah

The word Ayurveda in Samskrit is a combination of two words "Ayus" meaning longevity and "Veda" meaning Science. So Ayurveda is the "Science of Longevity or Life".

The aim of Ayurveda is the attainment of Moksha or liberation which is tha last of the four Purushaarthas, the other three being Dharma, Artha and Kaama. A healthy body is the basic requirement for the attainment of Purushaarthas. Ayurveda guides man to keep the body and mind fit to attain the Purushaarthas.

Ayurveda is used to

  1. cure diseases caused by the imbalance of the three doshas
  2. maintain health by preventing diseases

Ayurveda relies on two basic siddhaantas or theories namely

  1. The Paanchabhautika Siddhaanta or the theory of the five elements and
  2. The Tridosha Siddhaanta or the theory of the three humors


The Paanchabhautika Siddhaanta (The Theory of Five Elements)

The five basic elements of this universe are Prthvi (earth), Ap (water), Tejas (fire), Vaayu (air) and Aakaasa (ether). They pervade the universe both in their gross and subtle forms in all living and non-living things. This means humans and the cosmos, though different in many aspects, are yet similar in their basic constitution. The difference lies only in the composition of the five elements that make up an object. For instance, chick pea or channa is predominant of vaayu bhuta, cow's milk is predominant of prthvi and ap.

The Tridosha Siddhanta (The Theory of The Three Humors)

The word "Dosha" in Samskrit means "that which vitiates or aggravates". Vaata, Pitta and Kapha are the three doshas that make up our body physically and physiologically and are the cause for our health and disease. Vaata is predominant of vaayu and aakaasa bhutas. Pitta is made up of tejas and a little ap. Kapha is predominant of prthvi and ap. When these three doshas are in equilibrium in our body, they bring about health and when out of balance, cause disease. Our daily routine, the diet we take, our activities and above all the environment we live in - all account for the balance and imbalance of the doshas in our body. The daily and seasonal routines, diets and regimen told in Ayurveda maintain the harmony of the three doshas.

The Composition of our Body

Our body is composed of the three Doshas, the seven Dhaatus (tissues) and the three Malas (wastes). The three doshas are the Vaata, Pitta and Kapha.

The Sapta Dhaatus (The Seven Tissues)

The word "Dhatu" in Samskrit means "that which sustains or holds". Our body is made up of seven dhaatus. They sustain our body, nourish all the organs, take part in metabolism, help in assimilation, absorption, excretion and thereby maintain our health. Though Ayurveda cannot be interpreted in modern terminologies owing to its uniqueness, the nearest possible correlation is given here.

  1. Rasa - plasma
  2. Rakta - blood
  3. Maamsa - muscle
  4. Meda - fat
  5. Asthi - bone
  6. Majjaa - bonemarrow
  7. Sukra - semen

The Tri Malas (The Three Wastes)

The word "Mala" in Samskrit means "dirt, waste". There are three malas that are the metabolic wastes. They are

  1. Mootra - urine
  2. Sakrt - faeces
  3. Sveda - sweat

The elimination of these wastes is also important for the maintainance of good health.

Ashtaangas of Ayurveda - The Eight Limbs of Ayurveda

"Anga" means "part". Ayurveda has been categorized into eight branches based on the different systems of the body and their treatments. The eight angas of Ayurveda are

  1. Kaaya chikitsa - general medicine
  2. Baala - children and their diseases and treatment (Paediatrics)
  3. Graha - mental disorders, seizure by spirits, and their treatment (Psychiatry)
  4. Urdvaanga - diseases of face, eyes, nose, throat and ears and their treatment
  5. Salya - Surgery
  6. Damshtra - different kinds of poisons and their treatment (Toxicology)
  7. Jaraa - Anti-ageing Rejuvenatory therapies
  8. Vrsha - male and female infertility and their treatment

Shad Rasas - The Six Tastes

Rasa here means taste. There are six different tastes according to Ayurveda. All the food substances in this universe are composed of one or more of these six rasas.

The six rasas are

  1. Madhura - sweet
  2. Amla - sour
  3. Lavana - salty
  4. Katu - pungent / hot
  5. Tikta - bitter
  6. Kashaaya - astringent

Each rasa has specific qualities, which either aggravate or alleviate one or more of the three doshas of our body. A balanced diet in Ayurveda is the intake of food containing all the six rasas.

Vimsati Gunas - The Twenty Qualities

"Vimsati" means "twenty" and "Guna" means "quality". There are twenty qualities or characteristics that make up any and every substance of the universe. Any dravya or a substance - both living and non-living - possesses one or more of these basic qualities. The Vimsati gunas are

  1. Guru - heavy / hard to digest
  2. Manda - slow / delayed action
  3. Hima - cold
  4. Snigdha - moistening / unctuous
  5. Slakshna - smooth
  6. Saandra - solid / durable
  7. Mrdu - soft
  8. Sthira - static / stable
  9. Sukshma - subtle
  10. Vishada - non-slimy
  11. Laghu - light / easy to digest
  12. Teekshna - sharp / fast
  13. Ushna - hot
  14. Rooksha - dry
  15. Khara - rough
  16. Drava - liquid / nondurable
  17. Kathina - hard
  18. Sara - mobile/ unstable
  19. Sthula - gross
  20. Picchila - slimy

Of these, the last ten gunas are the opposites of the first ten gunas.

The Cause of Health and Disease

Everything that happens in the universe is the result of either harmony or disharmony of Kaala - time / climate, Artha - senses and Karma - actions. Kaala here refers to the time of the day, the season, the stage of disease, the time and stage of treatment. Artha refers to the sense organs namely eyes, nose, tongue, skin and ears and their objects of perception. Karma refers to the actions performed by man, the timely and untimely manifestations of seasonal changes, the act of treating / healing and many other factors. Kaala, Artha and Karma may again be either Heena maatra - insufficient or no indulgence, Mithya maatra - improper indulgence or Ati maatra - excessive indulgence.

When they are Mita - moderate or balanced, they bring about health. When they are either heena, mithya or atimaatra, they cause diseases. For instance, when it rains in rainy season moderately without causing either flood or drought, then the season is favourable to health. The crops growing during that season also get full benefits of that season and man is also healthy as he intakes healthy diet. On the other hand, when there is flood, then it causes water-borne infections and the crops are also affected. So there occurs an imbalance in nature, which affects man. In short, the harmony of Kaala, Artha and Karma is the cause of health and their disharmony causes diseases.

The Nature of Diseases and their Substrata

Based on the external and internal factors causing a disease, diseases can be classified into two namely

  1. Nija - disease is caused by factors within the body, leading to vitiation of dosha / doshas like headache and fever due to sleeplessness
  2. Aagantu - disease is caused by an external factor, which leads vitiation of dosha / doshas within the body like an external ulcer caused by an accident

For all physical diseases, the site of disease or substratum is the body with all doshas and dhatus.

For all mental diseases / disorders, the site of the disease or substratum is the mind with its innate quality Satva and the two disease causing qualities Rajas and Tamas.

Methods of Diagnosis

The following methods are followed in Ayurveda to diagnose a disease.

Darsana 
diagnosing by watching / observing the patient
Sparsana
examination by touch / physical examination
Prasna  
interrogating the patient about his illness


Line of Treatment

As disease is the result of vitiation of one or more of the three doshas, treatment should be aimed at restoring the doshic balance. Treatment is of two types namely

  1. Sodhana - purificatory therapy
  2. Samana - palliative therapy

The following are the best suited treatment for the three doshas in a nutshell.

  • Vaata - Basti or enema
  • Pitta - Virechana or purgation
  • Kapha - Vamana or vomiting

Trividha Dravyaani - The Three types of Substances

Based on its action and effect on the body, a substance / drug may be classified into three namely

  1. Samanam - that which pacifies / alleviates the doshas
  2. Kopanam - that which aggravates / vitiates the doshas
  3. Svasthahitam - that which is favourable to the maintenance of health

The Four Limbs of a Successful Treatment

For a successful treatment, the four pre-requisites are

  1. The physician
  2. The Medicine
  3. The Patient's attendant and
  4. The patient himself

These four factors are mutually dependant on each other. Each of the four factors possesses four qualities essential for a treatment to be successful. When all these four factors are favourable, then the treatment will be successful.

The four qualities of a physician

A good physician should possess the following qualities. He should be

  1. Efficient
  2. Well -learned
  3. Well - experienced
  4. Hygienic

The four qualities of a medicine

The drug to be administered to the patient should possess the following four qualities:

  1. It should have undergone the many purificatory processes involved in its preparation.
  2. It should possess many healing properties
  3. It should be effective
  4. It should be suitable / apt for the patient's condition / disease

The four qualities of a patient's attendant

The attendant attending on the patient should possess these qualities. He should be

  1. Loyal and devoted to his master
  2. Hygienic
  3. Efficient
  4. intelligent enough to understand the physician's instructions and act accordingly

The four qualities of a patient

The patient undergoing treatment should possess the following qualities. He should be

  1. Wealthy enough to afford
  2. Obedient to his physician
  3. should very well remember his physician's advice / instructions
  4. with utmost patience and perseverance

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