What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a whole medical system that is based on various theories about health and illness and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. The aim in Ayurveda is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This is believed to help prevent illness and promote wellness. Ayurveda also has treatments for specific health problems.
Ayurveda is based on ideas from Hinduism, one of the world's oldest and largest religions, and ancient Persian beliefs. In India, Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care, although conventional (Western) medicine is becoming more common there, especially in urban areas. Ayurveda and variations of it have been practiced for centuries in some other countries as well.
Ayurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, is a whole medical systemthat began in India and has evolved there over thousands of years. The word Ayurveda is made up of two Sanskrit words--ayur, which means life, and veda, which means science or knowledge. Thus, the word Ayurveda means "the science of life."
In the United States, Ayurveda is considered complementary and alternative medicine. Many therapies used in Ayurveda are also used on their own as CAM, such as herbs, massage, and yoga. NCCAM is supporting some research studies on Ayurvedic therapies.
In India, research in Ayurveda is undertaken by the Ministry of AYUSH, an abbreviation for the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, through a national network of research institutes.
Concepts of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is dealt with in more detail because it has influenced the other Asian systems of medicine and remains the philosophical base for them. It is becoming increasingly popular in the West, although the term ‘Ayurveda’ is often misused. For example, recent newspaper headlines in the US included statements such as:
Ayurveda continues to grow rapidly as one of the most important systems of mind–body medicine, natural healing and traditional medicine as the need for natural therapies, disease prevention and a more spiritual approach to life becomes ever more important in this ecological age.
Before going on to calculate the success of this ‘eco-friendly science’ in material terms—in 2007 the ‘global herbal market’ was worth US$120 billion, with Ayurvedic treatments and products accounting for 50% of the total. There can be no argument about the increasing popularity of Ayurveda—clinics and treatment centres exist thousands of miles from India, and the term ‘Ayurvedic tourism’ is now recognized in many holiday resorts. Unfortunately, the high-class beauty and pampering packages offered in such places are centuries away from the ‘real’ Ayurveda, and disappoint professional vaids, who consider the use of a holistic system of medicine, meant to diagnose and treat a whole person, being reduced to superficial treatments intended to focus on a single part of the body as a travesty.
Prana is known as the ‘life energy’ and activates both the body and mind in Ayurvedic medicinal systems. It is contained in the head and controls the main functions of the mind, including emotions, memory and thought. Additionally, prana kindles the bodily fire ‘Agni’ and therefore controls the function of the heart and, via the bloodstream, other vital organs (dhatus).
Bhutas are the five basic elements of Ayurveda—ether (or space), air, fire, water and earth. They are seen as manifestations of energy and can be equated to the five senses of hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell. In turn, these senses are associated with a particular sense organ (or organs) of the body, which impact on other ‘organs of activity’ and result in actions being carried out by the body.
Tridosha are the three humours or basic forces that manifest in the human body. They are formed from the five bhutas and are known as vata, pitta and kapha. The tridosha govern all functions of the body and mind and, by understanding the relationship between them, a vaid may make a diagnosis of the disease affecting a patient.
It should be noted the tridosha govern basic human emotions such as fear, anger and greed, and are involved in more complex emotions such as empathy, compassion and love. It is thought that when the tridosha are in equilibrium, the body and mind are healthy and a sense of well-being exists within a person.
Prakruti is a description of the human constitution—the ‘type’ of person you are. It is believed the individual's prakruti is determined by the parents' prakruti at the time of conception. A vaid can analyse a patient's constitution by looking at how his or her tridosha combine. Most people are a combination of dosha elements, and can be described as vata-pitta or pitta-kapha for instance.
As well as the vata, pitta and kapha type of personalities, three attributes provide the basis for distinctions in human temperament, individual differences and psychological and moral dispositions. These basic attributes are satva, rajas and tamas. In brief, satva expresses essence, understanding, purity, clarity, compassion and love; rajas describes movement, aggressiveness and extroversion; and tamas manifests in ignorance, inertia, heaviness and dullness.
Agni is known as the ‘digestive fire’ and governs metabolic processes. It is essentially pitta in nature. Agni can become impaired by an imbalance in the tridosha and therefore affect metabolism. In these circumstances, food will not be digested or absorbed properly, and toxins will be produced in the intestines and may find their way into the circulation.
Ama are the waste products of the body—faeces, urine and sweat—and are the root cause of disease. Their appearance and properties can give many indications of the state of the tridosha and therefore health. For example, a patient suffering from a pitta disorder, such as fever or jaundice, may have dark urine. Additionally, substances such as coffee and tea, which stimulate urination, also aggravate pitta and render the urine dark yellow. If a patient has overactive ama production, the overcombustion of nutrients may occur, leading to vata disorders and emaciation (e.g. overactive thyroid).
Dhatus are the seven tissues or organs of which the human body is composed. Therefore any imbalance in the tridosha directly affects the dhatus. Dhatus are those substances that are retained in the body and always rejuvenated or replenished. The dhatus do not correspond to our definition of anatomy, but are more a tissue type than an individual organ.
Gunas Charaka, author of the Charaka Samhita, wrote that all material, both organic and inorganic, as well as thought and action, have ‘attributes’—qualities that contain potential energy, while the actions with which they are associated express kinetic energy. This is possibly the first reference to the concept of potential and kinetic energy. Vata, pitta and kapha each have their own attributes, and substances having similar attributes will tend to aggravate the related bodily humour.
Ayurvedic Treatment :
In working with patients, an Ayurvedic practitioner uses various techniques, including questioning, observation, touch, advising, a treatment plan, and specific therapies. Patients are expected to be active participants in their treatment, because changes in diet, lifestyle, and habits are often required.
The goals of Ayurvedic treatment are to:
· Eliminate impurities. A process called panchakarma focuses on the digestive tract and the respiratory system.
· Reduce symptoms. The practitioner may suggest treatment options such as:
o Breathing exercises
o Specific foods and diets
o Tiny amounts of metal and/or mineral preparations
o Hands-on therapy (such as massage of "vital points")
o Lying in the sun
· Reduce worry and increase harmony in one's life.
· Help eliminate physical and psychological problems.
Practice in the United States
Practitioners of Ayurveda in the United States have various types of training. Some are trained in the Western medical tradition (such as medical or nursing school) and others in a whole medical system called naturopathic medicine, before or after they study Ayurveda. Many learn at one of India's many colleges for Ayurveda. Practitioners may differ as to which aspects of Ayurvedic practice they are trained in (for example, being trained in massage but not in preparing herbal treatments, and vice versa).
The United States does not have a national standard for certifying or training Ayurvedic practitioners. Some Ayurvedic professional organizations are collaborating to develop licensing requirements. Consumers should know that not all practitioners who offer services or treatments that are called "Ayurvedic" have been trained in an Ayurvedic medical school. (Services in spas and salons often fall into this category.) It is important to ask about a practitioner's training and experience.
Powerful Ayurveda Herbs and Health Benefits
· Ayurveda is a traditional Indian system of medicine. It aims to preserve health and wellness by keeping the mind, body, and spirit in balance and preventing disease rather than treating it.
· To do so, it employs a holistic approach that combines diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
· Ayurvedic herbs and spices are also an important component of this approach. They’re thought to protect your body from disease and offer a variety of health benefits, including improved digestion and mental health.
· Here are Ayurvedic herbs and spices with science-backed health benefits.
· Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small woody plant native to India and North Africa. Its root and berries are used to produce a very popular Ayurvedic remedy.
· It’s considered an adaptogen, which means that it’s believed to help your body manage stress more effectively. Research has shown that it reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone that your adrenal glands produce in response to stress.
· In several studies, ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
· There’s also evidence linking ashwagandha to lower levels of anxiety and improved sleep in people with stress and anxiety disorders.
· Ashwagandha contains chemicals that might help calm the brain, reduce swelling (inflammation), lower blood pressure, and alter the immune system.
· Moreover, research shows that ashwagandha may enhance muscle growth, memory, and male fertility, as well as lower blood sugar levels. However, larger studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
· Finally, there’s evidence that it may help reduce inflammation and boost your immune system, though more studies are needed.
· Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense or olibanum, is made from the resin of the Boswellia serrata tree. It’s known for its easily recognizable spicy, woody aroma.
· Research suggests that taking boswellia 800 mg daily after a meal improves levels of blood sugar and cholesterol in patients with type 2 diabetes.
· In test-tube and animal studies, boswellia appears to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), yet with fewer side effects.
· Boswellia is applied to the skin to tone the skin and decrease wrinkles. It is also used to reduce skin damage caused during radiation treatments for cancer.
· Human studies link boswellia to reduced pain, improved mobility, and a greater range of movement in people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It may also help prevent oral infections and fight gingivitis
· Moreover, it may improve digestion in people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, as well as breathing in people with chronic asthma.
· Triphala is an Ayurvedic remedy consisting of the following three small medicinal fruits
· amla (Emblica officinalis, or Indian gooseberry)
· bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica)
· haritaki (Terminalia chebula)
· Test-tube and animal studies show that triphala may reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, as well as prevent or limit the growth of certain types of cancer.
· One of the major reasons responsible for dental problems is plaque build-up. Dental plaque can result in cavities and gum diseases. One of the best ways of keeping dental problems at bay is regular consumption of triphala. The antimicrobial properties of this herb can help you fight oxidative stress better than commercial toothpastes.
· It may also function as a natural laxative, reducing constipation, abdominal pain, and flatulence while improving the frequency and consistency of bowel movements in people with gut disorders.In addition, a limited number of studies suggest that a mouthwash containing triphala may reduce plaque build-up, decrease gum inflammation, and prevent the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
· Brahmi (Bacopa monieri) is a staple herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
· According to test-tube and animal studies, brahmi appears to have strong anti-inflammatory properties that are as effective as common NSAIDs.
· Studies also link it to improvements in learning rates, attention, memory, and information processing, as well as reduced symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as inattention, impulsivity, poor self-control, and restlessness.
· Some studies further suggest that brahmi may have adaptogenic properties, which means that it may help improve your body’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety. However, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made
· Turmeric, the spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow color, is another popular Ayurvedic remedy.
· Curcumin, its main active compound, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Test-tube research shows that it may be equally or even more effective than some anti-inflammatory drugs — without all of their side effects.
· Also, turmeric may help protect against heart disease, in part by improving blood flow as effectively as exercise or certain pharmaceutical drugs. One study further suggests that it may be as effective as Prozac, a drug commonly used to treat depression. Moreover, compounds in turmeric may help preserve brain function by increasing brain levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Low levels of BDNF have been linked to disorders like Alzheimer’s and depression.