When we visualize the word ‘Ayurveda’, we tend to conceive Ayurveda as ‘belonging’ to the disciplines of “Alternative Medicine” or “Herbal Therapy”. However, these terms do not describe Ayurveda and are extremely inadequate. What we need to do, is to try to recognize what Ayurveda is, and not ‘see’ it as just a medicine or as an art in the curing of diseases. Curing diseases is just a part of it. Broadly speaking, Ayurveda covers topics ranging from the evolution of the Universe and its basic components, (Panch Mahabhuta), the constitution of the body, the self or the Atma, and also the topics of the causes of diseases, remedies, ways to cure, and ways of attaining a state of wellbeing. Ayurveda, therefore, is not just about medicines or therapy, it is a very ancient time tested science of life, although promoting health and curing diseases is no doubt one of its main objectives. Ayurveda defines health as Swasthya ― to be one’s own spiritual self. It is the state of equilibrium of the three principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha along with a connected state of senses, mind and soul. Charaka (A.D.500-600), the renowned Ayurveda physician, defined health as a state of equipoise between body, mind sense organs and soul.
Mind and Soul
The ‘Mind’ and the “Soul” are considered one of the most important components of life and health. To a very large extent it is the mind, and Soul that govern and/or determine the health and the disease states of individuals as well as that of society. It is this approach that makes this ancient science holistic and the study and knowledge into the realm of the mind enables us to manage a large variety of the so called “Psychiatric disorders”. The increasing mental stress we experience in this exceedingly progressive world of ours, plays an important role in the number of present day ailments such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, allergies, cancer, diabetes etc. Yoga & meditation, which are integral parts of Ayurveda, go a long way in controlling not only these stress borne diseases but also other diseases.
From times immemorial, the people of India have been using herbs, minerals and other drugs to successfully treat a number of ailments. But the advent of modern medical science coupled with the effect of the long hibernation of this ancient art, successfully wiped out the knowledge of the effectiveness of Ayurveda to such an extent, that using herbs or other medicines was considered almost dangerous up until just a few decades ago.
However, realization of its usefulness is returning at an unbelievable pace. Not only the layperson but also physicians today, realize and accept that Ayurveda can be very effective in treating not only commonly encountered ailments but even many complicated and life threatening diseases, without the devastating and distressing side effects of many prescribed allopathic medications . The sudden high level of consumer interest however calls for a little caution. ‘Natural’ medicines or the herbs and drugs of Ayurveda may not give optimum results or may cause adverse effects if taken inappropriately or in excess, without the professional guidance of Ayurvedic experts.
The unique characteristics of Ayurveda are many. The Shodhana therapy or the Panchkarma therapy lays emphasis on the eradication of the diseases through purification of the body. This process is more complicated and requires expert care. The toxins or the factors causing diseases are first collected or brought to a specific organ of the body – in most cases, to the organs of the digestive system from where they are again made to leave the body by different processes such as:
Vamana ―therapeutic emesis,
Virechana ― Therapeutic purgation
Vasti ― Medicated Enemas
Nasyam ―administration of drugs through the nose
Raktamokshana ―blood letting & Leach application etc
Panchakarma ― also includes other minor treatments such as Ayurvedic massage, steam treatments, Shirodhara, Shirobasti etc.
Diet and Life Style
As we have already seen, herbs or other drugs are just a part of the science of health. . One of the unique aspects of Ayurveda therapy is the importance it lays upon food – the diet you intake and your life style. Dietary modification and life style modifications are described in painstaking details for healing every disease. The science goes to the extent of saying that if a proper diet and appropriate life style is followed, there is little need of any kind of medicines, and if not followed, medicines alone can accomplish next to nothing! Further still, not only modifying the diet but also limiting the diet or in some cases, altogether avoiding it ― fasting or langhana as it is technically called ― provides spectacular improvement in many rather obstinate health conditions. Naturopathic medicine also is seen to follow this ‘fasting therapy’.
Modern medicine and Ayurveda
Medicines or the art of healing has evolved with man, progressing constantly through experience, observation and judgment and of course in the later years, enriched by science. During the last century, science has brought about a revolutionary change in this world as a whole and in the world of medicine. Mind boggling feats have been achieved in the field of medicines and surgery today, thanks to the advances in science and technology. Yet, the lay man is developing a lack of faith against not only the medications, but also the medical profession. Some people believe that medical science has left behind its very essence ― been robbed of humanism. The hi-tech machines and sophisticated gadgets have depersonalized medicine, which brings about a lack of compassion. And the escalating costs of medicines and testing often reduce a family’s financial condition to almost nothing.
We, having fallen in love with science and technology, have forgotten that faith and nature are two of the greatest healing forces and that the medical profession has as ancient heritage of Ayurveda on which one can rely. People all over the world are beginning to realize that expensive conventional medical treatments are not the only way. Herbal and other therapies of Ayurveda are of equal importance. Faith is increasing by leaps and bounds in this holistic approach to medicine.
There is a very important point to be stressed at this juncture. The field of health promotion and healing of diseases should not be converted into a battlefield of herbal medicines versus modern medicines, as is often the case. Modern medicines and Ayurveda are not mutually exclusive or contradictory, they just represent different perspectives.
Ayurveda therapy is based more on tradition and on the wealth of experience and feelings and therefore adapts to the personal needs of the individual. One example of this is that it takes into consideration the ‘constitution’ of every single individual during treatment based on the three doshes ― the Vata, Pitta & Kapha and their different combinations. . Ayurveda also takes into consideration the constitution of mind, based on the factors – Rajas, Tamas and Satvas.
Another major factor is that it is not just the sick or the ill that can benefit from Ayurveda. Health promotion, rejuvenation and longevity have been given great importance in Ayurveda through ‘Rasayana Chikitsa’ which can guide you not only in the field of recuperation, general health promotion, and longevity, but also in the field of mental, emotional and spiritual well being.
To evolve a health care system with a holistic approach we would need to embrace the best of all the medical systems, their diagnostic means, treatments and therapies. When there are fantastic benefits from each system, why choose and rely on only one? The important thing to consider is that there is little in any system that truly contradicts the other. The aim should be to take what is of value in each system and apply it judiciously for overcoming diseases, promoting health and for the overall uplifting of human kind. Illness is the common enemy and the need of the day is work together, and share the valuable and beneficial aspects of all health care systems, working collectively for the betterment of the society.
The author, Dr. Medha Patel (M.D. Ayu.) is a Director of Nisarg Ayurveda Health Care Centre. Website: http://nisargayurveda.com