Ayurveda is the oldest surviving medical system in the world. Word ‘Ayurveda’ derived from its ancient Sanskrit roots -‘Aayu’ (life) and ‘ved’ (the true knowledge). It is offering a rich, comprehensive design to human healthy life. The main source of knowledge in this field therefore remain the Vedas, the divine books of knowledge they propounded, and more specifically the fourth of the series, namely Atharvaveda that dates back to around 1000 BC. Of the few other treatises on Ayurveda that have survived from around the same time, the most famous areCharaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita which concentrate on internal medicine and surgery respectively. These between them forming a greater part of the knowledge base on Ayurveda as it is practiced today.
Ayurveda science is a traditional holistic health care system, older than any other system of medicine, has been practiced in India for more than 5000 years. Ayurveda, recognized as alternative medicine now, represents the science of life and longevity originating in the Vedic traditions of India. Based on the principle of eternal life, this holistic health care system has a vast body of knowledge covering eight branches. Its major premise involves the symbiosis of mind, body and spirit. Any imbalance in this synthesis results in physical ailments. This ancient Indian medicine seeks to reestablish the harmony between the body and its habitat by creating the optimum health environment.
The entire science of Ayurveda is based on the ‘Five Great Elements’ (Panchmahabhuta) theory. These five elements are earth (prithvi), water (jal), fire (agni or tej), air (vayu) and ether or space (akash). In popular tradition, the universe is understood to be made up of these elements. Ayurveda comprehends body, mind and spirit likewise and has specific methods for working on each. It divides the constitution of people into three humoral categories—Vata (ether/air), Pitta(fire) andKapha (water/earth). Vata rules mental mobility. Pitta, or fire, governs digestion and assimilation on all levels from food to ideas. And kapha or water governs form and substance and is responsible for weight, cohesion and stability. Using these three types in combinations of two creates six more subtypes. A seventh subtype also exists, which is a combination of all the three categories.
Principles of Ayurveda
In Ayurveda we view a person as a unique individual made up of five primary elements. The elements are ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. Just as in nature, we too have these five elements in us. When any of these elements are present in the environment, they will in turn have an influence on us. The foods we eat and the weather are just two examples of the presence of these elements. While we are a composite of these five primary elements, certain elements are seen to have an ability to combine to create various physiological functions. Ether and air combine to form what is known in Ayurveda as the Vat dosh. Vat governs the principle of movement and therefore can be seen as the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination. Fire and water are the elements that combine to form the Pitt dosh. The Pitt dosh is the process of transformation or metabolism. The transformation of foods into nutrients that our bodies can assimilate is an example of a pitt function. Pitt is also responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems as well as cellular metabolism. Finally, it is predominantly the water and earth elements, which combine to form the Kaph dosh. Kaph is what is responsible for growth, adding structure unit by unit. Another function of the Kaph dosh is to offer protection. Cerebral-spinal fluid protects the brain and spinal column and is a type of Kaph found in the body. Also, the mucous lining of the stomach is another example of the Kaph dosh protecting the tissues. We are all made up of unique proportions of Vat, Pitt and Kaph. These ratios of the dosha vary in each individual; and because of this, Ayurveda sees each person as a special mixture that accounts for our diversity.
Ayurveda gives us a model to look at each individual as a unique makeup of the three doshas and to thereby design treatment protocols that specifically address a person’s health challenges. When any of the doshas (Vat, Pitt or Kaph) become accumulated, Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to assist the individual in reducing the dosh that has become excessive. We may also suggest certain herbal supplements to hasten the healing process. If toxins in the body are abundant, then a cleansing process known as ‘PanchKarm’ is recommended to eliminate these unwanted toxins.