What is Ayurveda?


While the earliest written records of Ayurveda date back to 1,000 B.C., oral tradition places its inception at 5,000 B.C.  According to this tradition, the oldest surviving Ayurvedic medical text, known as the Caraka Samhita, was directly dictated from the creator of all things (Brahma) to a series of sages.  The last of these sages, or Atreya, was said to have lived around 5,000 B.C.  Whether one believes that Ayurveda is 3,000 years old or 7,000,the fact remains that it is the oldest system of medicine on earth that is still being practiced today.  It was also used by the vast majority of people on the subcontinent of India until the early 20th century. While it experienced a decline for much of the past century, its methods were neverentirely lost and it now enjoys a revival of interest in India and abroad.


In contrast to Western, or allopathic, medicine, Ayurveda is a holistic system which seeks to treat the entire body (which, under this system, includes the mind and spirit) instead of its individual parts.  Disease is seen as a symptom of an imbalance between the body and the surrounding world, which can only be cured by seeking the cause of the imbalance. In order to do this, a person?s fundamental disposition, or humor, must be determined.  There are three humors - vata, pitta, and kapha? and healthy person contains all three in balance.  Most people are already born with a combination of humors, but an unhealthy lifestyle can exaggerate their imbalance. An example of an ?imbalanced? combination would be someone whois predominantly a vata type with some pitta tendencies and very little kapha.  Such a person would then be prone to vata and pitta diseases and would need to encourage more kapha tendencies.  This can be done through diet, meditation, yoga, and herbs, or, more commonly, a combination of allof these things.

Ayurveda and the West

Allopathic medicine has recently begun to conduct clinical studies into many treatments common to Ayurveda.  This is the result of the discovery that many diseases such as arthritis, asthma, colitus, and diabetes that are typically difficult to treat by means of Western medicine, are successfully treated by Ayurvedic practitioners.  This is often done through the use of non-toxic herbal remedies.  Many of these herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, garlic, honey, and ginger, can be found in our kitchens.  Use of these items is specific to one's constitution and disorder.  For instance, someone with a kapha constitution who tends to put on weight and has a problem with his or her blood sugar will be advised to stay away from sweet and salty items and to instead ingest more pungent, bitter, or astringent items.  Cinnamon, which is pungent and slightly astringent, would be good for such a person to include in his or her diet. Amazingly, recent research has shown that cinnamon is extremely effective in reducing both blood sugar and blood lipid levels.

Special Action Herbs

In addition to common kitchen remedies, there are other plants in Ayurvedic pharmacology which are not commonly found and which are characterized by the special effect they have on the body.  According to one author on this subject:

"It can be seen that there are many musicians but only one Beethoven or only one Mozart.  These composers have a very special gift to give humanity; so, too, certain plants have special gifts for humanity. Boswellia serrata is one such plant. To be sure, many more will be discovered in the future; that is to say, allopathic medicine will confirm the amazing healing effects of these Ayurvedic treatments."

*Atreya, "Practical Ayurveda: Secrets for Physical, Sexual and Spiritual Healing." Chennai: Jaico, 2004. P. 68.


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