Ayurveda is a comprehensive system of holistic and evidenced based health care that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda as its name denotes stands for “Science of Life.” The word “ayu” means all aspects of life from birth to death and “veda” means knowledge or learning - therefore the term Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not only a system of medicine but is also a way of life and deals with the mind, body and soul and advocates a holistic and integral living. It promotes the health of a healthy person as well as offers preventive and curative measures for various diseases.
Eight Branches of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is systematically divided into Eight Branches (Ashtanga Ayurveda); Eight Branches (Drop down)
General or Internal Medicine(Kaya Chikitsa)
This deals with general ailments impaired by the digestion and metabolism. “Kaya” means digestive fire (agni) and is responsible for digestion and metabolism. From an Ayurvedic perspective when the digestive fire is not functioning properly, it causes diseases. Several infectious diseases are described in Ayurveda but
Surgery (Shalya Tantra)
The study of surgery. The Sushruta Samhita is a Sanskrit text on surgery and is attributed to Sushruta who is widely recognised by western science as the father of plastic surgery. The original text of Sushruta Samhita lists approximately 101 surgical instruments. Some methods of surgery include rinoplasty, cataract, caesarean etc
Paediatrics (Kumara Brutya)
This branch deals with prenatal and postnatal baby care as well as the care of a mother before, during and after pregnancy. It also elaborates various diseases of children and their treatments.
Psychiatry (Graha Chikitsa )
This branch deals with the study of mental diseases and their treatments. Treatment methods include medicines, diet regulation and yogic methods for treatment of mental diseases and improving mental balance and well being.
Shalakya Tantra (ENT and Ophthalmology)
This branch focuses on the area above the calivcular (collar) bones ie ear, nose, throat and head and their treatments and cure. This branch also includes dentistry.
This branch deals with the toxins derived from vegetables, minerals and from animal origins and how to process and remove them. The concept of pollution of air and water in certain places and seasons has been given special consideration. Such pollution is also said to be the cause of various epidemics. It also discusses the proper storage of food etc.
Science of Rejuvenation (Rasayana)
This branch which is unique to Ayurveda, focuses on general health and vitality including care for the elderly. Its main aim is to promote the health of an healthy individual as well as to preventive and cure diseases. It deals with the promotion of a long and healthy life and discusses how to increase our health, intellect and beauty.
Virilisation Therapy (Vajeekarna)
Unique to Ayurveda, this branch treats infertility by nourishing the whole person including the reproductive tissues, sexual fluids, prevention of birth disorders. The aim of this branch is to ensure a healthy progeny thereby creating a healthy society.
5 Great States (Panchamahabuta)
As is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm. Ayurveda perceives a close relationship between man and the universe. Just as the universe has 5 basic states of Space (Akash), Air (Vayu), Fire (Tejas), Water (Jala) and Earth (Prithvi) the human body too has these 5 states. These are not elements per se, rather they are entities or state.
Just as the Universe has space, so does our body. Space or ether is seen in the cavities of our bodies (mouth, nostrils. respiratory tract etc). Air, the second cosmic state, represents all movements in our body (ie pulsation of the heart, movement of muscles, expansion and contraction of lungs etc). The entire movements of our central nervous system is governed by bodily Air. The third state Fire is represented in the human body as the digestive system, metabolism, body temperature etc. Water, the fourth important state which is vital for the functioning of tissue and organs manifests in the body as the secretion of digestive juice, salivary glands, mucous membranes in the plasma etc. The fifth state, Earth, is represented by the solid structure of the human body ie bones, cartilage, nails, muscles, skin etc.
These five states (or commonly referred to as elements) combine to form forces called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Together they are called doshas (or humours). Vata is a combination of Space and Air while Pitta is a combination of Fire and some water and Kapha is a combination of Water and Earth.
Together Vata. Pitta and Kapha are known as the Tridoshas or three humours and are the governing principles of our bodily functions. The 5 states or the panchamahabuthas govern the body structure while the doshas govern the function of the body. Broadly speaking Vata is said to govern all movements in our body; Pitta governs transformation while Kapha governs structure and stability.
The interplay of the 3 doshas determines the quality of a person’s health or disease condition. Only when these 3 doshas are in balance, a person is regarded as healthy and likewise a person reaches an unhealthy state when there is an imbalance in either or more of the doshas.
Ayurveda states that the key to health lies in three important factors known as the “three pillars of life” They are food (ahara), sleep (nidra) and the proper and balanced use of sexual energy (bramacharya). Food and nutrition play a vital role in Ayurveda and therefore the Ayurvedic notion of regarding food as medicine.
In the area of food and nutrition, Ayurveda places a great deal of emphasis on the digestive system and stresses the need for cleansing the digestive system before administering medicine.
Ayurveda places particular emphasis on the individual basic constitution (prakruti) which is determined by the unique combination of doshas, genetic factors, nutrition and lifestyle of one’s parents. Like a fingerprint, Prakruti is unique to every individual. The term Prakruti is derived from Sanskrit word that means, "nature," "creativity," or "the first creation." Therefore, a person’s Prakruti is determined at birth, like DNA and comprises of different composition of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Prakruti determines an individual’s susceptibility to different diseases and has an influence on their course and development as well as on the complications that could arise and on the prognosis of a disease. Therefore it is pertinent for each one of us to know our Prakruti so that we can know what food to eat, lifestyle to lead how to avoid diseases, which may affect us.
According to Ayurveda, treatment of the disease consists of analysing a person’s prakruti and avoiding causative factors responsible for the imbalance of the body. Causative factors could be lifestyle (including diet, lifestyle, daily and seasonal routine, hygiene etc ) and it is for this purpose that Ayurveda propounds that an individual, and not sickness, be treated.
Ayurveda states that in order to understand a person or diseases, one has to treat human as a whole – ie mind, body and soul and understand the role of the sensory organs and senses in disease creation. It is for this reason that Ayurveda offers an individualised approach to treatments which include diet, lifestyle and herbs.