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What is Ayurveda

The true history of Ayurveda starts from the time of the Holy books, the Vedas. Ancient mythology contends that the concept and essence of Ayurveda was revealed by the creator of the world himself – Lord Brahma.

There are four Vedas. They are –

  1. Rigveda
  2. Yajurveda
  3. Samaveda
  4. Atharvaveda

The Vedas date back to about five thousand years. They preach the philosophy of life. The Atharvaveda contains the principles of healing on which Ayurveda is based. 'Ayur' means 'life' in Sanskrit. Ayurveda is the most ancient science of healing which enhances longevity. It has influenced many of the older traditional methods of healing including Tibetan, Chinese and Greek medicine. Hence, Ayurveda is considered by many as the 'mother of healing.'

The hymns, the mantras and the medical information contained in the Vedas were contributions of Rishis and munis or sages, over a period of time. Many of these sages were learned saints who devoted their life to understanding the world.

Read more:
History of Ayurveda http://www.medindia.net/ayurveda/index.asp#ixzz1CCu6pn5F

Aryavarta, the native land of Aryans, covers a large area surrounding the Himalayas and is believed to be the place where the Rishis and Munis lived. At present it covers areas in countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Tibet. The civilizations of these countries are deeply influenced by the unique intellectual contributions of these Rishis and Munis.

The practical tenets of Ayurveda are divided into eight sections or branches. These sections include:

  1. Internal medicine,
  2. Surgery,
  3. Organic medicine,
  4. Pediatrics,
  5. Toxicology,
  6. Rejuvenating remedy,
  7. Aphrodisiac remedies and
  8. Spiritual healing.

These eight sections are called "Astanga Ayurveda".

Ayurveda is a complete or holistic system that integrates the mind, body and spirit. For a few centuries, the tradition of Ayurveda was dimmed due to the natural and human calamities and also by the invasion of foreign cultures into India. The sacred texts were either destroyed or stolen. However there were many ‘Vaidyas’ or doctors in India who managed to preserve some of the knowledge available in these Holy Scriptures. Divine plants that sustain long life and good health are now being rediscovered. Many renowned families of Vaidyas, who are specialized in certain branches of Ayurveda, have started functioning again in India. Today there is a revival of the ancient culture and traditions inherent to Ayurveda, which is a true gift of the ancient civilization to the modern world.

Read more:
History of Ayurveda http://www.medindia.net/ayurveda/index.asp#ixzz1CCuEOU4G

Ayurveda , the science of life, prevention and longevity is the oldest and most holistic medical system available on the planet today. It was placed in written form over 5,000 years ago in India, it was said to be a world medicine dealing with both body and the spirit. Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of this healing system was a part of the spiritual tradition of the Sanatana Dharma (Universal Religion), or Vedic Religion. VedaVyasa, the famous sage, shaktavesha avatar of Vishnu, put into writing the complete knowledge of Ayurveda, along with the more directly spiritual insights of self realization into a body of scriptural literature called the Vedas and the Vedic literatures.

There were originally four main books of spirituality, which included among other topics, health, astrology, spiritual business, government, army, poetry and spiritual living and behavior. These books are known as the four Vedas; Rik, Sama, Yajur and Atharva.

The Rik Veda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (3000 B.C.). The Rik Veda (also known as Rig Veda) refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of both Ayurveda and Yoga, contains verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. Among the Rik Veda are found discussions of the three dosas, Vayu. Pitta and Kapha, and the use of herbs to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. The Atharva Veda lists the eight divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of Fertility.

Vedic Sages took the passages from the Vedic Scriptures relating to Ayurveda and compiled separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. One of these books, called the Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world! The Vedic Brahmanas were not only priests performing religious rites and ceremonies, they also became Vaidyas (physicians of Ayurveda). The sage-physician-surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. In other words, the knowledge of the use of various methods of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery came through Divine revelation; there were no guessing or testing and harming animals. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form, interspersed with the other aspects of life and spirituality.

What is fascinating is Ayurveda's use of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle and surgery. Consequently Ayurveda grew into a respected and widely used system of healing in India. Around 1500 B.C., Ayurveda was delineated into eight specific branches of medicine. There were two main schools of Ayurveda at that time. Atreya- the school of physicians, and Dhanvantari - the school of surgeons. These two schools made Ayurveda a more scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system

People from numerous countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this world medicine and the religious scriptures it sprang from. Learned men from China, Tibet, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanistanis, Persians, and more traveled to learn the complete wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. Ayurvedic texts were translated in Arabic and under physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Sempion, both of whom quoted Indian Ayurvedic texts, established Islamic medicine. This style became popular in Europe, and helped to form the foundation of the European tradition in medicine.

In 16th Century Europe, Paracelsus, who is known as the father of modem Western medicine, practiced and propagated a system of medicine which borrowed heavily from Ayurveda.

There are two main re-organizers of Ayurveda whose works are still existing in tact today - Charak and Sushrut. The third major treatise is called the Ashtanga Hridaya, which is a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus the three main Ayurvedic texts that are still used today are the Charak Samhita (compilation of the oldest book Atreya Samhita), Sushrut Samhita and the Ashtangha Hridaya Samhita.

These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old. It is because these texts still contain the original and complete knowledge of this Ayurvedic world medicine, that Ayurveda is known today as the only complete medical system still in existence. Other forms of medicine from various cultures, although parallel are missing parts of the original information.

Ayurveda in India
Ayurveda in India—the science of life, the origin of most forms of natural and alternative medicine—has its mention in one of the oldest (about 6,000 years) philosophical texts of the world, the Rig Veda. The Sutrasthana of Charaka Samhita, a much referred ayurvedic text, says; "The three—body, mind and soul—are like a tripod, the world stand by their combination; in them everything abides. It is the subject matter of ayurveda for which the teachings of ayurveda have been revealed." (1.46-47)

In its broader scope, ayurveda in India has always sought to prepare mankind for the realization of the full potential of its self through a psychosomatic integration. A comprehensive health care is what this natural and alternative medicine prescribes for the ultimate self-realization.

"Life (ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond." —Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, 1.42-43.

The verses of Rig Veda, the earliest source of ayurveda, refer to panchamahabhut (five basic elements of the entire creation), and the three doshas or primary forces of prana or vata (air), agni or pitta (fire) and soma or kapha (water and earth) as comprising the basic principles of ayurveda. One branch of Indian philosophy—Sankhya states that there are 24 elements, all of which constitute the foundation of the gross world: earth, water, fire, air and ether. These five elements in different combinations constitute the three body types/doshas—vata dosha (air and ether), pitta dosha (fire) and kapha dosha (earth and water). The panchamahabhut and the dosha theories are the guiding factors of ayurveda as a therapeutic science. The Rig Veda also mentions organ transplants and herbal remedies called soma with properties of elixir.

This science or knowledge of healing, as mentioned in the Rig Veda, was revealed to Rishi Bharadvaja from the great Cosmic Intelligence. The knowledge consists of three aspects known as the Tri-Sutras of ayurveda, which are—etiology or the science of the causes of disease, symptomatology or the study and interpretation of symptoms and medication and herbal remedies. Approximately, during 4,000 to 3,000 BC, Sam Veda and Yajur Veda, the second and third Vedas came into being. Chanting of mantras and performance of rituals were, respectively, dealt in these two Vedas. And, during 3,000 to 2,000 BC Atharva the fourth Veda was authored, of which ayurveda is an upaveda (subsection). Though it had been practiced all along, it was around this time that ayurveda in India, was codified from the oral tradition to book form, as an independent science. It enlists eight branches/divisions of ayurveda: Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine), Shalakya Tantra (surgery and treatment of head and neck, Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology), Shalya Tantra (Surgery), Agada Tantra (Toxicology), Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry), Kaumarabhritya (Pediatrics), Rasayana (science of rejuvenation or anti-aging), and Vajikarana (the science of fertility). The oldest treatise available on this codified version is Atreya Samhita.

The most fascinating aspect of ayurveda is, it was using almost all methods of healing like lifestyle regimen, yoga, aroma, meditation, gems, amulets, herbs, diet, jyotishi (astrology), color and surgery etc. in treating patients. Though ayurveda came into being as an independent upaveda of Atharva Veda, it has close links with other Vedas also. The Yajur Veda, which recommends rituals to pacify the panchamahabhuts in a view to heal both the Cosmic Being and the individual soul, is related to ayurveda in its principles and regulations of lifestyle. The upaveda called Dhanur Veda or the martial arts and ayurveda both refer to each other in the treatment of marmas or sensitive points in the body. Ayurveda recommends specific ayurvedic massages, exercises and bodywork for this purpose.

Around 15,00 BC ayurveda was delineated into to two distinct schools: Atreya—The School of Physicians, and Dhanvantari—The School of Surgeons. This made ayurveda a more systematically classified medical science, hereafter. Dhanvantari, who is considered to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, was the guiding sage of ayurveda. He made this science of health and longevity popular and widely acceptable. In fact, these two schools of thought led to the writing of two major books on ayurveda—Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita.

These two Samhitas were written in the early part of 1000 BC. The great sage- physician Charaka authored Charaka Samhita revising and supplementing the text written by Atreya, which has remained the most referred ayurvedic text on internal medicine till date. Susruta, following the Dhanvantari School of Thought, wrote Susruta Samhita, comprising the knowledge about prosthetic surgery to replace limbs, cosmetic surgery, caesarian operations and even brain surgery. He is famed for his innovation of cosmetic surgery on nose or rhinoplasty. Around 500 AD, Vagbhatt compiled the third major treatise on ayurveda, Astanga Hridaya. It contained knowledge comprising the two schools of ayurveda.

From 500 AD to 1900 AD, sixteen major Nighantus or supplementary texts on ayurveda like Dhanvantari Bhavaprakasha, Raja and Shaligram among others were written incorporating new drugs, expansion in applications, discarding of old drugs and identification of substitutes. These texts mention about 1814 varieties of plants in vogue.

Evidences show that ayurveda had nurtured almost all the medical systems of the world. The Egyptians learnt about ayurveda long before the invasion of Alexander in the 4th century BC through their sea-trade with India. Greeks and Romans come to know about it after the famous invasion. The Unani form of medical tradition came out of this interaction. In the early part of the first millennium ayurveda spread to the East through Buddhism and greatly influenced the Tibetan and Chinese system of medicine and herbology. Around 323 BC, Nagarjuna, the great monastic of Mahayana Buddhism and an authority on ayurveda had written a review on Susruta Samhita. In 800 AD ayurveda was translated into Arabic. The two Islamic physicians Avicenna and Razi Serapion, who helped form the European tradition of medicine, strictly followed ayurveda. Even, Paracelsus, considered to be the father of the modern western medicine toed the line of ayurveda, as well.

In the postmodern age, the popularity of this vibrant tradition of ayurveda lies in its, subtle yet scientific, approach to heal a person in its totality. It aims, not only at healing the body, but also the mind and spirit, at one go. Its unique understanding of the similarities of natural law and the working of human body, as well as its holistic treatment methods, help it to strike a balance between the two. This gives ayurveda an edge over other healing systems. Perhaps that`s the reason behind ayurveda being the longest unbroken medical tradition in the world, today.

Charaka Samhita
Charaka Samhita is considered to be the most ancient and authoritative writing on ayurveda available today. It also explains the logic and philosophy on which this system of medicine is based. The detailed biography of the composer of this treatise—that is, sage Charaka—is not known to the posterity. Interestingly, it is not an original writing of a single person rather like all Vedic knowledge it is a continuation and renewal of that ancient knowledge system. In fact, Charaka had redacted the Agnivesa Samhita (an edited version of Atreya Samhita). The available form of Charaka Samhita was again worked upon by Drdhabala (living in about 400 AD) long after sage Charaka.

According to Charaka, science is dependent upon yukti—a quality of the intellect that enables it to perceive phenomena brought into existence by a multiplicity of causes. Thus, it`s not surprising that much of the treatise of Charaka Samhita is in the form of a symposium wherein groups of ayurvedic scholars take up a series of topics for discussion. This gives indication that the science of ayurveda is a product of constant verification, fine-tuning and authentication by an active community of physicians. The samhita mentions about the gradual development of the fetus within the womb in minutes that equals the modern medical version in accuracy.

The language is Sanskrit and is written in verse form. The style is in keeping with the Vedic oral tradition of conserving knowledge. The samhita contains 8,400 metrical verses.

Charaka followed the Atreya School of Physicians, which predominantly deals with treatments through internal and external application of medicine. Though the samhita contains all the theoretical knowledge of ayurveda it`s focus is on healing the body, mind and soul of a patient in the minimum invasive manner that`s Kayachikitsa. Hence, he placed great emphasis on the diagnostic part of the treatment. So much so that he classified everything from solar calendar to topography to the timing of the birth of a child. He identified eight stages of a disease from its inception to the culmination. Charaka also laid great emphasis on the timing and manner of the collection of medicinal plants.

Charaka sought to correct the element of fire or the digestive function in a body. It sought to alter the chemical processes in the cells by purification methods and medicinal application. From a greater perspective Charaka laid emphasis for health and longevity to strike a balance between one`s corporeal and spiritual being. That is the reason why Charaka went so detail into the diagnosis of a disease`s origin.

Susruta Samhita
Susruta wrote his samhita, the most authentic text on the practice of ayurvedic surgery around the sixth century BC Susruta is, also, renowned as the father of plastic surgery. He represents the Dhanvantari School of surgeons. His samhita discussed in minute details on how to perform prosthetic surgery to replace limbs, cosmetic surgery on nose and on other parts of the body, cesarean operations, setting of compound fractures, and even brain surgery. Susruta`s original work seems to have been revised and supplemented by Nagarjuna between the third and fourth centuries AD.

This branch of medicine is believed to have arisen in part from the exigencies of dealing with the effects of war. Epic Ramayana mentions remarkable feats of surgery having taken place in the past. We have reference to the transplantation of an eyeball and a head in epics.

The style Susruta Samhita is both prose and poetry with poetry being the greater portion. This work, also, is said to be a redaction of oral material passed down verbally from generation to generation.

This work is unique in that it discusses blood in terms of the fourth doshic principle.
This work is the first to enumerate and discuss the pitta subtypes. Susruta details about 125 surgical instruments used by him mostly made of stones,wood and other such natural materials. The Susruta Samhita presents many innovations in ayurvedic surgery. Use of shalaka—meaning foreign body (here, rods or a probe etc.) is mentioned by Susruta. Some of the classifications found in the Susruta Samhita are not even traced by the modern medical science. It described five types of pterygium, and the prognosis it made about glaucoma has not been improved since. In fact he is the first surgeon in medical history who systematically and elaborately dealt with anatomical structure of eye.

Susruta has discussed about 72 diseases of the eye. He has stipulated drug therapy for various types of conjunctivitis and glaucoma along with surgical procedures of the removal of cataract, pterygium, and diseases of ear, nose and throat.

The Susruta Samhita, besides being the most authentic text on practice and theory of surgery, is also the most commonly quoted text on health.

Astanga Hridaya
Astanga Hridaya is accepted as the third major treatise on ayurveda. Around 500 AD, Vagbhatt compiled this samhita. It contained knowledge comprising the two schools of ayurveda—the school of surgery and the school of physicians.

There is another similar work called the Astanga Sangraha belonging to the same period. It is slightly bigger in size than the Astanga Hridaya, and is written in verse form whereas the later text was in prose form. It is believed either there are two works by a person or two persons with the same name. However, both the works came into being after the Charaka and Susruta Samhitas.

The Astanga Hridaya primarily deals with kayachikitsa besides, discussing in detail about various surgical treatments. The kapha subtypes are first listed and described in this samhita, completing exhaustive explanation of vata, pitta, kapha with their five subtypes.

Astanga Hridaya seems to emphasize on the physiological aspect of the body rather than the spiritual aspects of it like its counterparts—Charaka and Susruta Samhitas. Despite that, the quality and range of its discussions about ayurveda makes it a work to reckon with.

Ayurveda, which literally means the knowledge or wisdom of life, is the traditional medicine of India. Over the past decade, its popularity as an alternative or complement to Western Medicine has grown steadily.

Brought into the mainstream public eye by Dr. Deepak Chopra M.D. in 1991, his book Perfect Health enlightened millions of readers about this ancient healing art. Since that time, interest in Ayurveda has grown steadily and Ayurveda is quickly establishing itself as a unique health care profession.

Focusing on how we relate to our environment, Ayurveda views the cause of disease as the natural expression of the body and mind to living out of harmony with it's environment. From this perspective we can begin to understand that Ayurvedic treatments center around helping each individual move back into a harmonious relationship with their environment. In Ayurveda we understand that where there is harmony there is health and where there is disharmony, there is disease.

Our environment consists of everything that we experience through our five senses. Thus what we eat, look upon, smell, touch or listen to, affects our well being. The goal of Ayurveda then is to help each person take in the impressions that are right for them. In Ayurveda, each person is seen as a unique individual with unique genetics and biochemistry. Hence, what is right for each individual is different. We call a person's uniqueness their "constitution." Your constitution describes who you are at the most fundamental level.

The concept that we are all different is unique to Ayurveda. As a result of this understanding, Ayurveda prescribes a different program to each individual based upon their constitution and the nature of the imbalance within them. This avoids the "Everybody Must" syndrome that infiltrates many systems of healing. The "Everybody Must" syndrome says that everyone must follow one specific path in order for healing to take place or to establish optimal health. Ayurveda vehemently disagrees with this notion and subscribes to the philosophy that "nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone."

I am reminded of the story of Lord Buddha who upon selecting his personal physician sent several physicians into the forest with the task of finding as many plants as they could with no medicinal value. Each physician brought back many samples of plants that they felt from their experience and meditations had no value. One physician by the name of Jivaka came back empty handed. He explained his frustration to Lord Buddha. "I am afraid I have failed you, he began, I have spent much time in the company of all of the plants in the forest but their is none that I can find with no value to someone. " Upon hearing this, Lord Buddha selected Jivaka as his personal physician. Indeed, Ayurveda recognizes that medicine exists everywhere and often in the most unlikely of places. Not only are plants and herbs sources of medicine but Ayurveda also uses aromas, colors, sound, special forms of massage and food as healing tools.

It is through our senses that we experience the world around us. If we take in harmonious impressions through our senses, we can expect to experience greater calm, clarity and peacefulness and thus, via the mind/body relationship, greater physical health. If we take in disharmonious impressions, we create agitation in the mind and this leads to disease. We will now explore the fundamentals of each of the five senses.

Through our eyes we take in thousands of impressions each day. These impressions are actual energies with different vibratory rates. Each color is a different energy or vibrates at a different rate. Some colors are harmonious for us and some agitate us in subtle ways. We interact with color all the time through the clothes we wear and our home environment. Conscious use of color can help create an environment for healing. While some color therapist attribute healing qualities to certain colors.

Ayurveda once again teaches us that each person is an individual and hence, every color has a healing capacity if prescribed for the right person. Not only is color important but also how colors interrelate. Clashing colors in general create greater agitation while those that blend harmoniously create a greater sense of calm. In Ayurveda we also look at the quality of the impression received by the eye. Violent images as seen in real life or in the movies create agitation and disharmony.Viewing nature and flowers creates a feeling of calmness and clarity and thus benefits our journey toward health.

Through the sense of taste, we interact with the foods we eat. Each of the five tastes affects the body and mind differently. Each taste has its benefits and each has its negative consequences if we overindulge in them. Sweet taste as an example is very nourishing and builds tissue and strength, but overindulgence, as we all know, leads to excessive weight gain, diabetes and other complications. In Ayurveda we do not count calories, grams of fat, or the cholesterol content of food. From an Ayurvedic perspective, if we learn what balance of tastes are right for us, then we will eat in harmony with our body's constitution and the body will respond with greater health.

Some benefit from hot, spicy food while others from milder or bland foods. Some people benefit from meat while others thrive as vegetarians. Some people need the nourishment of sweet-tasting grains and others the cleansing qualities of bitters. What tastes and types of foods are correct for each individual depends upon that person's constitution and the nature of any imbalances that may be present.

Our ears take in the vibratory energy of sound. Some sounds are calming and others agitating. Of course, which sounds balance our energy depends again on our constitution. We may think that only quiet, calming sound is healing. Again we must remember the tenant of Ayurveda that teaches us that what heals each person is different. For instance, agitating music can also be motivating. If lethargy and depression is a challenge, motivation is what you want. Meanwhile, for anxious individuals, the calming nature of new age music is beneficial. In Ayurveda, special sound energies called mantra are sometimes prescribed to induce specific reactions in the body.

Through our nostrils we entertain the sense of smell. Aromatherapy is an important part of Ayurveda as smell has long been known to evoke emotion. From the perfumes and scents long used in mating rituals to the relaxing feelings evoked by a walk through a rose garden, aromas have always played a large role in our lives. While most people use aromas (perfumes and aftershaves) unconsciously, Ayurveda teaches us that some aromas create harmony while others contribute to disharmony and ultimately to diseases. From this understanding we can see that aromas are also medicine in the context that they can be intelligently used to balance the subtle energy of our bodies. In Ayurveda specific aromas are prescribed to aid the healing process.

Touch is a very important aspect of Ayurveda. Through Ayurvedic massage the body and mind are nurtured. The skin is seen as a receptacle of a variety of energies. Some forms of massage are aggressive while others are soothing. What type aids an individual's healing process depends upon the constitution and the nature of the imbalance. Through the knowledge of Ayurveda, different oils are selected for each individual. These oils are chosen based upon their unique properties. Some are warming while others are cooling. Some nourish the body through the skin while others are less effective. In addition, specific hand motions are utilized to balance the subtle energies defined by Ayurveda.

These subtle energies are known as doshas or humors in Ayurveda. There are three fundamental doshas known as Vata , Pitta, and Kapha. How they combine and in what percentages make up a person's inborn constitution. No two people share the same constitution. This natural unique balance of energy is essentially an energetic blue print of the person on the physical and emotional level. Through understanding the constitution we can predict where in the body weaknesses are likely to occur and thus take measures to prevent disease. Likewise, a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist can observe how the current balance of these energies is out of balance with their inborn ideal, and thus come to an understanding of how a disease took root in the body and began to grow. With this knowledge, regimes can be prescribed to re-establish balance and often reverse the effects.

Our constitution can be described as an energetic template of our genetic blueprint. Our genetics have been shown to be the basis of our individuality. Our genetics control how we are likely to react to our environment and can also be used to predict predisposition's toward certain diseases. They also determine our biochemical individuality. This individuality affects everything from our unique nutritional needs to how we respond to different drugs, foods, colors, aromas, temperatures and everything else in our environment. Indeed, if we can understand our constitution, we can begin to take conscious control over our choices and choose those that will lead us toward optimal health.