Ayurvedic medicine is the world’s oldest known system of medicine. It originated around 5000 years ago in India and is now steadily gaining attention and popularity in the west. Ayurvedic treatments by certified practitioners have become commonplace now.
Ayurvedic medicine is accessible and available throughout the United States. Major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have a prolific infrastructure for Ayurvedic medicine in terms of practitioners, programs, centers and medicines.
Ayurvedic medicine is generally defined as the treatment provided by Ayurvedic practitioners who follow the Ayurvedic system of medicine. However, Ayurvedic medicine has a much broader meaning than this basic definition.
Ayurvedic medicine is a complete medical system used to treat a wide variety of ailments. Ayurvedic medicine is used for conditions like hair loss, piles or hemorrhoids, cancer, asthma, cold, anxiety, high blood pressure, arthritis, thyroid, cough, diabetes, skin care, weight loss, blood purification, pregnancy issues, and many more.
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, Ayurvedic medicine is defined as a traditional system of medicine from India in which illnesses are treated with a combination of certain foods, herbs, massages, and special physical exercises.1
Ayurvedic medicine adopts a holistic approach to treat a patient. It uses diet or aahar, panchakarma or purification techniques, herbal preparations or kashth aushadh and mineral preparations or ras aushadh, meditation, para-surgical procedures like kshar sutra, and many other ancient procedures used for treating various conditions.
In Ayurvedic medicine, perfect health means achieving equilibrium between the body, mind, spirit, and social well being.
Ayurvedic medicine not only improves one’s physical health but also their psychological health, social wellness, and spiritual health.
According to the renowned Ayurvedic text Kaya Chikitsa which discusses general Ayurvedic medicine, Ayurvedic medicine is defined using the following synonyms.2
Sanskrit Synonyms For Ayurveda
The various Sanskrit synonyms of Ayurvedic medicine are chikitsa, aushadh, bhaishjya, and vyadhi har to name a few.
Chikitsa: Chikitsa is defined as any activity which alleviates disease. It helps in maintaining the balance between physical dosha, sapta dhatu (seven body tissues) and mala (waste products). It brings all of them to equilibrium and this is referred to as chikitsa. It can be loosely translated to ‘therapy’.
Aushadh: The literal meaning of aushadh is a preparation that is formed by combining various medicinal herbs.
Bhaishajya: Bhaishajya means that which conquers the fear of disease.
Vyadhi har: This term refers to that which prevents and cures a disease.
Uttam Chikitsa: A treatment is said to be the best treatment when it not only subsides the disease it is treating but also does not generate any new disease as a secondary effect or side effect. Here, uttam means ‘best’ and chikitsa means ‘treatment’.
Thus, Ayurvedic medicine promotes uttam chikitsa.3
The Deeper Meaning of Ayurvedic Medicine
Ayurvedic medicine is a vast science. There are many authentic texts on ayurvedic medicine. However, the three principal texts on Ayurvedic medicine are – Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridayam.
These three texts are also known as the great trilogy. Ayurvedic medicine employs the same basic concepts like Dosha and Dhatu for explaining other aspects of Ayurveda as well.
To understand Ayurvedic medicine, it is important to first understand the key concepts of the Ayurvedic medicine system, which are described below.
Prana: The basic life force of the body is called prana.
Pancha Maha Bhuta Theory: There are five basic elements or pancha maha bhuta which contain prana or life force. These five elements are prithvi (earth), jala (water), agni (fire), vayu (air), and aakash (ether).
Tri-Dosha Theory: These five elements are combined in pairs and organized in the body as the three main physiological principles. These are known as the tri-doshas namely Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. An individual is considered healthy when these three doshas are in equilibrium.
The three doshas are responsible for all bodily functions
Mansik Dosha: Besides the aforementioned three doshas, there are two other mansik or psychological doshas as well. These are rajo dosha and tamo dosha. These are responsible for an individual’s psychological or mental health.
Prakriti: Prakriti means one’s basic bodily constitution. Every person has a unique combination of doshas. This combination decides the prakriti of that person.
Ayurvedic medicine is always individualized for every person as it places one’s prakriti at the foundation of their treatment plan. Grossly, there are seven types of prakritis.
Sapta dhatu: Sapta dhatu means seven body tissues. These are rasa dhatu (plasma), rakta dhatu (blood), mamsa dhatu (muscle), meda dhatu (fat tissue), asthi dhatu (bones), majja dhatu (bone marrow), and shukra dhatu (reproductive fluid).
Rasa dhatu, rakta dhatu, mamsa dhatu, and meda dhatu also have their own upa dhatus or secondary body tissues.
Mala: Mala are waste products of the body. This includes fecal matter, urine, and sweat.
Srotas: Srotas means channels. There are thirteen srotas in the body. Srotas are the body’s channels consisting of one or more systems. Srotas are responsible for transporting bodily fluids and performing various bodily functions.
Thus, Ayurvedic medicine focuses on the above-mentioned aspects to treat and manage a person’s health and wellbeing. These concepts are used in Ayurvedic medicine to achieve harmony between the mind, body, and spirit.
Types of Ayurvedic Medicine or Treatments 4
According to the renowned Ayurvedic scholar Charaka, there are several types of treatments for all the different types of diseases that exist. In Ayurveda, the treatments are classified for easy understanding. These are as follows:
- Eka vidha chikitsa or one type of treatment
- Dwi vidha chikitsa or two types of treatment
- Tri vidha chikitsa or three types of treatment
- Chatur vidha chikitsa or four types of treatment
- Panch vidha chikitsa or five types of treatment
- Shad vidha chikitsa or six types of treatment
- Sapta vidha chikitsa or seven types of treatment
- Shalya tantriya chikitsa or eight types of treatment
- Dash vidha chikitsa or ten types of treatment
- Troy dash bhed or thirteen types of treatment
- Ashta dash bhed or eighteen types of treatment
- Shashti upkram or sixty types of treatment
These classifications of chikitsa are only used as a general guide for treatment. An Ayurvedic physician may implement other treatment modalities depending on the particular condition of the patient and the ailment.
In Ayurveda, the most commonly used classification while treating a patient is the tri vidha chikitsa or three types of treatment. The three types of tri vidha chikitsa are defined as follows.5
Daiva vyapashraya chikitsa: It means the treatment is based on the belief in divine power and divine remedies. This may include prayer, mantra or use of any other faith-based system.
Yukti vyapashraya chikitsa: In this modality, the treatment involves planned medicines, as well as diet and lifestyle management for the patient.
However, it should always be done skilfully which is why it is called yukti vyapashraya chikitsa (yukti means planning skillfully). It further has three sub-types namely – panchakarma procedures, oral intake of Ayurvedic formulations, and surgical procedures.
Satvavajaya chikitsa: Satvavajaya is made up of two words. Satva means mind and avajaya means to win. Therefore, satvavajaya chikitsa is the prescribed treatment for managing unhealthy mental tendencies like stress and anxiety, depression, and others.
This therapy guides people on how they can keep their mind and senses under control. Some of its aspects can even be correlated to modern-day psychiatry.
These classifications broadly cover the various aspects of the implementation of Ayurvedic medicine and Ayurvedic treatments.
Please consult your Ayurvedic practitioner before using any Ayurvedic medicine or undergoing an Ayurvedic procedure.
- Ayurvedic medicine Definition, Cambridge English Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/ayurvedic-medicine
- Kaya Chikitsa by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, part -1, pages 86,87, Chaukhmbha publishers, Varanasi, 2016.
- Kaya Chikitsa by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, part -1, page 102,Chaukhmbha publishers,Varanasi, 2016.
- Kaya Chikitsa by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, part -1, page 88,Chaukhmbha publishers,Varanasi, 2016.
- Kaya Chikitsa by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, part -1, page 103, Chaukhmbha publishers, Varanasi, 2016.