What is Ayurveda? Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine from India. The name Ayurveda is derived from 2 words – ‘ayu‘ meaning life and ‘veda‘ meaning science. Here, we discuss the definition of Ayurveda, Ayurvedic medicine, and various Ayurvedic therapies.
In order to understand this age-old medical science a little deeper let’s go back to the definition of Ayurveda as mentioned in the classical Ayurvedic medical text, the Charaka Samhita.
Hita hitam sukham dukham ayus tasya hitahitam |
Mana ch tachha yatrokatam ayurveda sa uchyate ||
This verse from Charaka Samhita means – Ayurveda is the science that describes in detail the appropriate, inappropriate, happy and unhappy states of life, in addition to what is good and bad for life and longevity.
Ayurveda has been practiced in India for more than 5000 years and is now rapidly gaining popularity in the West as well.
Ayurvedic medicines, Ayurvedic practitioners, and Ayurvedic therapies are widely available throughout the US, UK, Canada, and Europe.
In this article, I would like to explain a bit in detail about the following.
- Objectives And Aims Of Ayurveda
- How Ayurveda Achieves These Objectives
- Branches Of Ayurveda
- Is Ayurveda Scientific?
- Concept Of Panchakarma
Objectives And Aims Of Ayurveda
These can be divided under 2 aspects.
Swasthasya swaasthya lakshanam: Preventing diseases.
Aathurasya vikara prashamanam: Treating diseases.
Now we can discuss ‘How Ayurveda Can Help You Achieve These Objectives‘
Ayurveda aims to keep the individual (and society as a whole) healthy and happy by preserving and promoting physical and mental wellbeing and the prevention of diseases.1
Ayurveda prescribes the following measures to achieve its objectives.
- Dinacharya – Daily Regimen
- Ratricharya – Night Regimen
- Rtucharya – Seasonal Regimen
- Achara Rasayana – Code of conducts
- Special preparations known as rasayanas are used for rejuvenation, promotion of longevity, and slowing of the aging process
However, the uses and applications of these procedures aren’t limited to prevention alone.
Ayurvedic Regimens And Therapies
Ayurveda offers various regimens including dinacharya (daily regimen), rtucharya (seasonal regimen), panchakarma (five detoxification and bio-purification therapies), and rasayana (rejuvenation) therapies.
The sadvritta (ideal routines) and aachara rasayana (code of conduct) are of utmost importance in regards to maintaining a healthy and happy psychological perspective.
The inclusive utilization of all these treatment modalities has a significant impact on lifestyle disorders.
Moreover, the application of organ-specific rasayana (rejuvenating) herbs also provides enough scope for not only preventing disease but also for promoting health and curing disease.2
Branches Of Ayurveda
Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita (~400 BC–200 AD) and Ashtanga Hridaya of Vagbhata are main classical Ayurvedic texts which give detailed descriptions of over 700 herbs and 6,000 formulations.
Madhav Nidan (~800 AD), a diagnostic classic, provides over 5,000 signs and symptoms.
Here Are The 8 Branches Of Ayurveda
1. Kaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine): Deals with general medication for disorders caused mainly due to improper functioning of the digestive fire (agni), which is solely responsible for transforming food into the essential elements of energy for the human body.
2. Bala Chikitsa (Pediatrics): Deals with the treatment of pediatric diseases and conditions including issues with pregnancy and childbirth.
3. Graha Chikitsa (Psychiatry): Deals with treating and managing mental-health problems like psychosis, epilepsy, lunacy and other mental disorders.
4. Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery): Deals with diseases caused by external sources that need surgical treatment. Hemorrhoids, urinary stones, abdominal damages, cataract, fistula, and accidents. The ancient Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta is known as the ‘Father of Surgery’ in Ayurvedic medicine.
5. Urdhwanga Chikitsa (ENT): Prediction, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases in the upper parts of the body like the head and neck. Eyes, ears, nose, throat, head, teeth and mouth related health conditions
6. Damshtra Chikitsa (Toxicology): This branch of Ayurveda treats the diseases and disorders caused by poisonous insects, reptiles, plants, minerals, metals, and other toxins.
7. Jara Chikitsa (Rejuvenative Medicine): Provides special treatment for augmenting one’s quality of life and longevity.
8. Vrisha Chikitsa (Reproductive medicine): It deals with therapies for sexual and reproductive issues, proffering remedies for contentment and treatment for infertility and other related conditions.
Is Ayurveda Scientific?
The practice of Ayurveda is based on certain principles narrated by classical medical Ayurvedic texts and tradition. What is evidence-based medicinal practice?
It is “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients” and “the integration of the best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values” 3
Evidence-based practice comprises the best research evidence, clinical experience, and patients’ preferences. Every healthcare system needs to be evidence-based and Ayurveda should be no exception.
However, when pleading for evidence, the concept of evidence also needs to be defined appropriately for establishing the right context.
Issues related to the nature of evidence, whether primary or secondary, and whether applicable to the medical science of Ayurveda or limited only to Ayurveda drugs should be thoroughly debated.
What About Randomized Control Trials?
Research on clinical practice is a challenge and we may face initial hurdles with documentation, data retrieval, standardization, and analysis.
However, it is important to initiate the process and start moving in the right direction.4 The Randomised Control Trial (RCT) is seen as the gold standard of allopathic research.
But RCT cannot be just picked up and applied in Ayurveda directly.
Ayurveda has many challenges including standardization, drug delivery, valid control, randomization, practitioner’s influence, choosing of placebo and the interference of diet and panchakarma.
Ayurveda approaches are often highly individualized and attempt to respond to patients’ needs.
The Ayurvedic approach is often holistic, taking into account many facets of a patient’s life.
Placebo effects and the role of the provider are frequently recognized as an important part of treatment. Outcomes of Ayurvedic therapies are often subjective, rather than being more objective outcomes.5
There are a very few randomized double-blind controlled studies available to validate the claim and study the potential hazards of Ayurveda medicines.
The adverse effects can be because of the overdose, contamination, allergies, or mistaken medicinal plant.6
Hopefully, in the near future, a systematic assessment of evidence with single isolated instances like a case study or case report is created. There are so many Ayurveda hospitals and clinics in India that practice and propagate evidence-based Ayurveda.
Concept Of Panchakarma
As per Ayurvedic principles, an improper diet and lifestyle, external factors like changes in atmosphere and weather conditions can result in the accumulation of toxins in the body.
This accumulation of toxins can create an imbalance in the doshas and can result in diseases. The accumulated and aggravated doshas can be pacified in 2 ways.
1. Shamana Chikitsa: In shamana chikitsa, the aggravated doshas are pacified by means of oral medicines. This can be done when the dosha aggravation is minor.
2. Shodhana Chikitsa: When there’s a larger extent of dosha vitiation it is better to get rid of the doshas from the root and shodhana or panchakarma is done.
The word ‘pancha’ in Sanskrit means five and ‘karma’ means procedure.
The five procedures are the following.
- Vamana – Therapeutic Emesis
- Virechana – Therapeutic Purgation
- Vasti – Therapeutic Enema
- Nasya – Nasal Errhine
- Rakta Mokshana – Bloodletting
A vitiated dosha is a basic factor in the manifestation and progress of any disease.
Panchakarma therapy, specifically samshodhana like vamana and virechana, aims to eliminate the vitiated Doshas from the body so that the disease could be prevented or if the pathology has already established, treated in the most effective manner.
Nasya (intranasal drug administration) is a part of therapeutic panchakarma which acts at both the local and systemic levels.
Virechanakarma (therapeutic purgation) is another panchakarma therapy, which eliminates excessive vitiated dosha in general and Pitta dosha in particular from the body through the anal route. While
Vamana (therapeutic emesis) helps in eliminating a vitiated Kapha dosha.
Vastikarma is considered to be one of the most important procedures in five-fold panchakarma therapy. The word vasti (also written as basti) stands for a special instrument used for enemata therapy.
Medicines are administered into the body through gudamarga (rectum). Some times medicines are also administered by other routes, like urethra or vagina.
This procedure is termed as uttara vasti. Basti is performed in Vata roga or Vata pradhana rogas (Vata-related disorders).7
Rakta mokshana or therapeutic bloodletting helps in removing the vitiated blood from the body by the application of therapeutic leeches or puncturing.
Health is defined as a state of equilibrium with one’s self (svasthya) but which is inextricably linked to the environment.
Ayurvedic principles, such as the tridohsa (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) theory, provide the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm that can be applied in day-to-day practice.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before undergoing the Ayurvedic therapies mentioned above.
- Majumdar K. A. (1982). Prevention of common diseases in India by ayurvedic principles. Ancient science of life, 1(3), 155–158.
- Chandola H. M. (2012). Lifestyle disorders: Ayurveda with lots of potential for prevention. Ayu, 33(3), 327. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.108814
- Sackett DL, Rosenberg WM, Gray JA, Haynes RB, Richardson WS (1996) Evidence-based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. BMJ 312: 71-72.
- Patwardhan B. (2013). Time for evidence-based Ayurveda: A clarion call for action. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 4(2), 63–66. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.113860
- Carter B (2003) Methodological issues and complementary therapies: researching intangibles? Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery 9: 133-139.
- Panda AK (2012) Evidence-based Ayurveda Practice. J Homeop Ayurv Med 1:e108. doi: 10.4172/2167-1206.1000e108
- Gupta, P. K., & Sigh, R. H. (2001). A conceptual study on vasti effect. Ancient science of life, 20(3), 54–59.