What is Ayurveda?
By Twinty Karat
Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health that is designed to help people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. Ayurveda has recently become popular in the Western world.
Ayurveda, (the complete knowledge for long life) is a system of traditional medicine native to India and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, the word Ayurveda consists of the words ‘Ayus’ meaning life, and ‘veda’, meaning science.
Evolving throughout its history, Ayurveda remains an influential system of medicine in South Asia. The earliest literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India. The Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita were influential works on traditional medicine during this era. Over the following centuries, Ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments.
In Western medicine, Ayurveda is classified as a system of complementary and alternative medicine that is used to complement, rather than replace, the treatment regimen and relationship that exists between a patient and their existing physician.
Three Elemental Energies
Ayurveda deals elaborately with measures of healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Ayurveda stresses a balance of three elemental energies or humors: vata (air & space – wind), pitta (fire & water – bile) and kapha (water & earth – phlegm).
According to Ayurveda, these three regulatory principles— doshas (literally to vitiate) —are important for health, because when they are in a more balanced state, the body will function to its fullest. When imbalanced, the body will be affected negatively in certain ways. Ayurveda holds that each human possesses a unique combination of doshas.
It is believed that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion and proper excretion leads to vitality. Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage. Because of this, mind, body, and spirit need to be addressed both individually and in unison for good health to follow.
Eight Disciplines of Ayurveda Treatment
The Ashtangas, or ‘eight schools of medicine’ in Ayurveda are:
- Internal medicine
- Rejuvenation and vitality
Balance in the Body
Hinduism and Buddhism have been an influence on the development of many of Ayurveda’s central ideas — particularly its fascination with balance, known in Buddhism as Madhyamaka. Balance is emphasized; suppressing natural urges is seen to be unhealthy, and doing so may almost certainly lead to illness. However, people are cautioned to stay within the limits of reasonable balance and measure. For example, emphasis is placed on moderation of food intake, sleep, sexual activities, and the intake of medicine.
Ayurveda stresses the use of plant-based medicines and treatments. Hundreds of plant-based medicines are employed; minerals, including sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate and gold are also consumed as prescribed. This practice of adding minerals to herbal medicine is known as Rasa-Shastra.
Ayurveda in Foreign Countries
Outside of India Academic institutions related to traditional medicine in India have contributed to Ayurveda’s international visibility.
Several international and national initiatives have been formed to legitimize the practice of Ayurvedic medicine as CAM in countries outside India:
* WHO policy of traditional medicine practice
* The European Federation for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
* The European Ayurveda Association
In the United States
* The National Ayurvedic Medical Association NAMA
* The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
* California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine CAAM
* The National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine NIAM
* The California College of Ayurveda CCA
Early contributors to the promotion of Ayurveda in the United States include the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation group along with Dr. Deepak Chopra.
In 1995, the California College of Ayurveda became the first State-Approved institution for training practitioners of Ayurveda in the United States marking the beginning of the formalization of Ayurvedic education in the United States.
In 2009, the United States of America National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health expended $1.2 million of its $123 million annual budget on Ayurvedic medicine-related research.
As a traditional medicine, many Ayurveda products have not been tested in rigorous scientific studies and clinical trials. There needs to be more scientific studies and clinical trials. There were some such clinical trials held in India, but it was concluded the trials were done improperly.
A review of Ayurveda and cardiovascular disease concluded that while the herbal evidence is not yet convincing, the spices are appropriate, some herbs are promising, and yoga is also a promising complementary treatment. Some Ayurvedic products, mainly herbs used for phytotherapy, have been tested with promising results. Studies suggest that Turmeric and its derivative curcumin are antioxidants.
Are there any risks?
It’s unlikely that Ayurvedic therapies, such as Pranayama and Rasayana would have any bad side effects. Ayurvedic herbs, however, may interact with certain medications. In addition, heavy metals, such as lead and mercury have contaminated some Ayurvedic herb supplements so be sure about choosing quality supplements. It is always advisable to see a medical professional before starting any type of therapy and especially recommended if you take medicines. If you are on any type of special diet you should also verify with the appropriate professional that Ayurvedic therapy won’t interfere with your diet.
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* Source: Wikipedia