The word Ayurveda has a profound meaning that helps us understand its purpose. “Ayu” refers to all aspects of life from birth to death and all aspects of our nature from body to immortal spirit. It is the continuity and harmony between all that we are and all that we wish to be. “Veda” means knowledge or learning at the deepest level, the wisdom of this conscious universe that we can cognize within ourselves and in our own lives.
Ayurveda is the science by which life in its totality is understood. It describes the diet, medicines, and behaviors that are beneficial or harmful for life and consciousness. It provides a wealth of experiential knowledge and practical healing modalities for all people. Not surprisingly, Ayurveda is called “the mother of all healing” because it cares for all creatures as a mother does for her children. It rejects nothing that is beneficial for life but strives to integrate all valid healing methods in an understanding of how life itself operates.
The sages of ancient India bequeathed Ayurveda to mankind as part of the vast spiritual system of Vedic and yogic knowledge. Seeking out of compassion to alleviate the suffering of all creatures, they looked for all methods of removing pain. They created the system of Yoga to deal with spiritual suffering and Ayurveda to deal with mental and physical suffering. Ayurveda is thus one of the oldest and most comprehensive medical systems in the world, with an unbroken. record of clinical experience going back to the dawn of human history.
However, Ayurveda is not only a system of medicine. in the conventional sense of a methodology for treating disease. It is a way of life that teaches us how to maintain health and improve both our energy and our awareness – how to live lifeto our full human and spiritual potential. Ayurveda shows us not only how to eliminate disease but how to promote longevity so that we can realize our goal in life, which is not just gaining material happiness but achieving profound spiritual realization. Ayurveda remains linked to a spiritual view of humanity and contains methods for connecting us to the greater universe that lies both within and around us.
Ayurveda treats the human being as a whole – a combination of body, mind, and immortal soul. It always considers the psychological and spiritual dimension of healing along with the physical in order to address our greater being and manifestation. This makes Ayurveda inherently a truly holistic and integral medical system such as many people are looking for in changing health care circumstances today. As various natural and alternative systems of medicine come to the forefront, and we once more rediscover the power of prayer and meditation, Ayurveda is becoming prominent as a system of medicine that has never forgotten these greater implications of healing. In our examination of Ayurveda, let us first look into the historical and philosophical background of this profound system.
It is not enough to have the right herbs to treat a condition, one must use them in the right preparation. The herbs must be in a form in which their potency is enhanced and preserved. The knowledge of how to prepare medicines is called “pharmaceutics”. Correct knowledge of this is an important part of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda contains a vast pharmaceutical science for preparing pills, powders, herbal extracts, herbal wines, medicated oils and ghees, and herbal confections, as well as many special mineral preparations. Many companies in India today prepare hundreds of such Ayurvedic medicines both for doctors and for over the counter use. Ayurvedic herb and medicine stores can be found throughout the country. They require no prescription to buy or to use.
Ayurvedic medicines are divided into three classes, according to their material of origin:
While considering herbal medicines, many factors are important beginning with the part of the plant that is best for usage: The root, flower, stem, leaves, bark, or exudations like the resin. Similarly, the proper season for collection is noted and signs that the plant is ready for harvesting.
While. using mineral substances, the place where the minerals are found, their qualities like color, smell, and form, and their different varieties are important. In the case of animal substances, the creature’s habitat, age, sex, food habits, and the part of the animal used should be properly studied.
Properties of the medicine like taste, energy, post-digestive effect, specific action, and various qualities must be taken into account. The action of the medicine on the particular dosha, organ or disease contrition in the body to be treated must be considered. While preparing a medicine, a physician must know whether the substance is pure or impure – whether it can be used directly or if it requires special processes to remove its side effects and enhance its benefits. If it is impure, the methods of its purification must be known. If a particular substance is not available at a particular season, appropriate substitutes should be known.
List of Ayurvedic Preparations
Ayurveda employs an entire range of herbal preparations from the raw plant to complex pharmaceutical products.
Phanta, Hot infusion
Hima, Cold infusion
Swarasa, Fresh juice
Kalka, Crushed pulp of the plant
Ghana, Decoction evaporated to solid
Arka, Liquid extracts
Avaleha, Herbal jellies
Asava and Arista, Herbal wines or tinctures
Ghrita, Medicated ghee
Kshara, Extraction of alkalis from plants
Guggul, Resins and balsams
Panak, Crushed fruit and their preparations
Sattva, Active or concentrated herb principles and extracts
Taila, Medicated oils
Bhasma, Oxide ashes
Kshira, Exudations, like the milky juice from various tropical fig trees
Dravaka, mixture of ashes of plants, salts, and alkalies distilled to produce a liquid, like Shankhadrava
Druti, Solid substances converted into liquids, like liquefied sulphur
Many herbs and minerals require special purification processes in order for their beneficial properties to be usable and their side effects removed. For purification of herbs, many methods exist including to cleanse, sort, peel, unhusk, polish, strain, filter, distill, or dehydrate the substance. For purification of metals and minerals, complicated and time-consuming processes are necessary like trituration, boiling in milk or cow’s urine, soaking in vinegar, or keeping the substance for a long time in dairy products like buttermilk.
The modern medical pharmaceutical industry requires a range of various chemicals or solvents in its preparations. The Ayurvedic pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, uses the contact of minerals with heat along with certain purifying herbal substances or juices. The simplest procedure for preparation of medicines in Ayurveda consists of crushing the leaves and taking out the juice of the herb. Complex procedures may involve sequential processes spread over a period of up to thirty years, like the preparation of Abhrak Bhasma (oxide of mica).
Ayurveda does not use heavy metals or minerals without extensive processes to render them fit for human consumption. In this regard, it uses drugs medicinally but in a careful, complex and safe manner. Mercury or gold preparations (rasas), for example, require many physical and subtle chemical processes before their final stage is achieved and they are able to be consumed. Such Ayurvedic drugs do not accumulate in the tissues but are eliminated from the body once their work is done. In this way, Ayurveda can employ the great healing power of minerals while avoiding their side effects. Ayurvedic medicines thus are much more complex than simple herbal or drug preparations. They have an efficacy greater than either, while preserving the benefits of both.
The most important factor in the preparation of an Ayurvedic medicine is Agni, or heat, which transforms the substance so that it can be accepted by the human body and become easily absorbed. Agni is important for bringing about the transformation of qualities required in various pharmaceutical processes. With the help of heat or Agni, many processes like heating, frying, melting, burning, smoking, cleansing, drying, distillation, digestion and oxidation are carried out.
During ancient times, although there was no equipment to measure heat gradations, various grades of heat were specifically described like low, medium, high, very high and extremely high. For these, certain parameters were used like the temperature at which hay burns, at which ammonium chloride melts, or at which borax crystallizes, For controlling temperature at various levels, different heating methods were used like sand bath, water bath, oil bath and sulphur-melting bath. These are still in use today. Various qualities of heat were obtained from different sources like cow dung, sheep dung, horse dung, woods like catechu, coal of different woods, and the husks of rice.
Ayurveda uses elaborate purification procedures to make toxic substances safe for internal usage. Procedures like triturating, contact heating, closed-shell heating, and heating in boiling liquid sulphur also indicate the portion of .the body in which the medicine’s action is likely to take place.
In Khalvi preparations, minerals are triturated with liquid extracts of herbs. A powder of the mineral is placed into a mortar and pestle with the juice of an, herb and it is triturated (stirred in a clockwise motion with the pestle) until completely dry. This is one Bhavana or procedure. Bhavanas are done at least seven times but, in some instances, may occur over a thousand times. Such medicines act mainly on the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, because the heat applied in this process is nothing but friction between mortar and pestle during trituration. This process of trituration is also the basis for the other preparations that follow.
In Parpati preparations, first Kajjali or “humanized” Rasa (sulphur and mercury) is prepared. Other herbs and minerals are then added one by one and triturated to create Kajjali powder. The components are next heated on an iron plate, which is just hot enough to liquefy the combination. Thel1 the mixture is taken out and put on a banana leaf and allowed to cool. As this process requires more heat than the Khalvi group, these medicines do not break down as quickly. They dissolve in the middle portion of the gastrointestinal tract and therefore act on the small intestine. Hence, medicines to improve absorption are prepared in this manner.
Still further micro-refined products materialize in the process of preparing the Kupipakva group. Kajjali is taken, along with certain medicines triturated in it, put into a glass shell and fired together usually in sand for a period of twenty-four to seventy-two hours. This produces Rasa or, alchemical preparations using Kajjali or humanized mercury-sulphur as a base. Here the heat contact is such that the ingredients must be put into a closed glass shell. The heat applied is much higher than that for the Khalvi group. Two different products result from this process, one at the sublimated portion at the neck of a glass shell or bottle, and ‘the other in the sedimented portion at the bottom.
Even though both these products arise from the same initial ingredients, the substances in the sublimated’ portion and those in the sedimented portion differ in their elemental constituents. Those found in the neck portion act on the lung, heart, and brain, or upper part of the body, while those at the bottom are more compact and act on pelvic organs like the uterus and kidneys and the lower part of the body.
Kupi prepared medicines are refined further, which produces yet a stronger bond between the medicines (sulphur and mercury). In the Pottali group, a sulphur cooking medium is used. The medicines are placed in a cloth bag and immersed in boiling sulphur for up to six hours. Sulphur imparts heat from all sides to the particles of the formula suspended within ii. These drugs are meant for quick action, which may be sublingual. Their action is on deeper tissues and works directly through the brain. The best example is Hemagarbha or purified gold.
Ayurveda recognizes three levels of therapies – rational, psychological and spiritual. Rational therapy is mainly for the treatment of physical diseases by physical treatment methods. Psychological therapy is for calming the mind and emotions and includes meditation. Spiritual therapy consists of yogic and occult methods to counter the effects of karma that prevent ordinary physical and psychological treatments from working.
Rational or objectively planned therapy – Yukti Vyapashraya
Psychological therapy – Sattvavajaya
Spiritual therapy – Daiva Vyapashraya
Western medicine recognizes only a kind of rational therapy, the treatment of bodily conditions by objectively verifiable medicines. Ayurveda considers such an approach to be useful but incomplete, only one part of medicine. Without considering the role of the mind and of karma, we can neither understand nor properly treat the majority of diseases, which have subjective causes and complications.
Some scholars view Ayurveda as a rational system of medicine that arose historically out of primitive religio-magical roots, like the use of mantras and amulets giving way to herbs and surgery. However, Ayurveda has never separated itself off from these subtle and spiritual levels of healing. It also considers them to be rational but from the standpoint of our immortal soul, not merely that of the physical body. These remain an integral part of Ayurvedic treatment to the present day, which uses gems, mantras and rituals, as well as diet and herbs.
1. Rational Therapy :- Rational or objectively planned therapy refers to the usage of specific medicines along with dietary regimens to counter the negative qualities evidenced by the disease. It is based upon logic and experience and reflects the Ayurvedic model for understanding the workings of natural forces in the body. Most Ayurvedic medical practice today falls within this field and it is specific to problems with a clearly defined physical origin and pathology. It generally consists of prescribing diet, herbs exercise and lifestyle recommendations contrary to the doshic nature of the disease.
2. Psychological Therapy : – Ayurvedic psychological therapy means controlling the mind to counter negative emotional states. It consists of developing the clear or Sattvic quality of the mind for gaining self-knowledge and freedom from desire. It uses the practices of Yoga and meditation to promote longevity, aid in rejuvenation, and treat disease, particularly mental disorders. It has a spiritual implication but relies less on ritualistic practices, as does spiritual therapy.
3. Spiritual Therapy :- Spiritual, literally “celestial” therapy is applied to diseases that are neither purely physical nor psychological and whose formation cannot be explained from evident causes. It consists of various subtle, religious or occult methods to ward off negative influences and to promote those which are positive. Such methods include chanting mantras, the spiritual use of herbs and gems, rituals for giving good fortune (Man gala), offerings of oblations (Bali), offerings in general (Upahara), fasting (Upavasa), pilgrimages (Gamana), performance of prostrations (Pranipata), fire sacrifices (Homa), ceremonial penances (Prayaschitta), and rituals for well-being (Swastyayana).
This therapy is found not only in Ayurveda but also in the tradition of Vedic Astrology (Jyotish) as well as in various yogic approaches, particularly teachings of the tantric order. Much of it is considered to be magical in nature but it has its logic for countering negative karmic patterns. With these three different types of therapies, Ayurveda provides diverse methods and approaches for dealing with all possible difficulties in health and well-being.
The curative aspect of Ayurveda treats diseases and contains an entire range of therapeutic measures. These curative aspects also consist of three parts – Internal Medicine, External Medicine and Surgery – which are discussed in detail below. Most attention will be given to the Internal Medicine portion as it is the most important.
For adequate management, it is essential to evaluate the exact strength of the patient as well as the disease. For this, Charaka advocates a tenfold clinical examination (Dashavidha Pariksha).
Body Constitution :- First the basic or birth constitution of the person must be determined. This is the main background factor in all treatment. The constitution is of seven types as already discussed: Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha, Pitta-Kapha and balanced Vata-Pitta-Kapha.
Disease Condition :- Determination of the particular disease is the major object of the clinical examination. Under this heading, one has to assess the causative factors, aggravated doshas, affected bodily tissues, habitat, time, strength, signs and symptoms. As the strength of the disease can be assessed only by the consideration of this factor, the entire clinical examination is designed to elucidate its nature.
Tissue Vitality :- The seven types of tissues – plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow, and reproductive are examined for the assessment of their optimal state along with the examination of the mind. A person having particular tissue vitality does not suffer from diseases affecting that tissue. Note the section on Tissue Sara.
Body Build :- This refers to the compactness and tone of the tissues like bone, muscle, and blood. Generally, it means a well-built body in which the bOl1es, are symmetrical and well distributed, andin which the joints are well bound with enough flesh and blood. Such persons are strong; those who appear contrary, with weak or flaccid muscles and joints, are weak.
Body Measurement :- Proper proportion of the body and limbs indicates health. Improper proportion shows disease. This factor has already been discussed .under Measurement of Body Proportion.
Adaptability :- Substances which are homologous, or of like nature to the body, are known as “Satmya.” Individuals for whom ghee, milk, sesame oil and all the six tastes are adaptable are strong, tolerant of difficulties, and long lived. Those who have adapted to only a few things, who are hypersensitive or intolerant of many things, are generally weak and short lived. This factor of adaptation is very important in health and disease. We easily habituate ourselves in life, including to health matters of food, exercise and medicines. If we are habituated to bad food, wrong exercise and to a poor health regimen, then our health will not be good. For this same reason, treatment takes time, as habits must change. Similarly, we should strive to create good habits in children so that they don’t become habituated to what is harmful for them.
Mental Nature :- The mind is the controller of the body as long as it is in contact with the soul. According to its degree of strength, the mind is graded as either high medium or low. Accordingly, individuals have three types of mental constitutions according to the three gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Those who are predominant in Sattva possess high mental strength. Those predominant in Tamas possess low mental strength. Those predominant in Rajas fall in the middle. Mental constitution has been described in detail elsewhere in this text.
Capacity for Food :- The capacity for food is to be judged from the ability to ingest and digest food and by regularity of the appetite. Good capacity for food indicates health, while poor capacity shows disease. That is why loss of appetite or dislike of food is’ a common symptom of many diseases starting with the common cold.
Capacity for Exercise :- The capacity for exercise is judged by the capacity for work. From the capacity for work, three degrees of strength – low, moderate and high – can be determined. Those who have fatigue upon slight exertion are low in strength. Those who do not fatigue even after severe exertion are high in strength. The rest fall in the middle.
Age :- Age is broadly divided into three phases: Childhood, middle age and old age. Kapha, Pitta and Vata energies are more predominant during .childhood, middle age and old age respectively. Diseases occurring in these age groups should consider the dosha governing that stage of life. Particularly for elderly people, Vata should always be considered in treatment, regardless of their birth constitution.
For proper diagnosis, the disease itself must be examined. We must determine the qualities, symptoms and sites of the disease. There are five approaches for this:
Causative factors (Nidana)
Preliminary symptoms (Purvarupa)
Primary signs and symptoms (Rupa)
Means of alleviation (Upashaya)
Disease pathogenesis (Samprapti)
Pathogenesis has already been discussed. Upashaya requires some clarification. In certain diseases, diagnosis becomes difficult or may not even be possible. In such cases, the patient is given certain exploratory treatments in order to see how the disease responds to them. Such methods are called Upashaya or “means of alleviation”. By trying out certain herbs or therapies on a patient and noting the response that occurs, we can get a better idea of their real condition and how to treat it in the long run.
The program of examination for the patient should consist of:
Factors that aggravate the disease
Signs and symptoms
Stage of aggravation
Continuity of disease
Lessening of disease
Name and classification of disease
Rules of treatment
The diagnosis of the particular disease is based upon these methods but Ayurveda also places a great emphasis on methods for determining the dosha behind the disease. These are useful for both the experienced and the beginning practitioner. In this respect, Charaka states:
“When classified according to cause, pain, color, site, form and nomenclature, the number of diseases becomes countless. A physician need not be ashamed if he is unable to name all diseases as there can be no definite standardization of nomenclature for disease.”
The same provoked dosha produces various diseases according to its location, by which tissues it has entered into. For example, Vata entering into the blood causes gout, while entering into the bones causes arthritis. Therefore, treatment should be initiated after diagnosing the nature of the disease relative to the dosha and the tissue affected, as well as by other special factors. Merely to know the modern medical name for a disease is not enough to determine the appropriate Ayurvedic treatment.
The great complexity of diseases .can be explained by imbalances of the three doshas. In this way, Ayurveda can treat diseases in a direct manner that goes right to the cause and does not become concerned with unnecessary details. Through understanding Vata, Pitta and Kapha along with their normal and abnormal states, we can understand and treat all possible diseases, even if we do not know their specific forms or manifestations. This is the great beauty and simplicity of Ayurveda, which makes it so enduring as a system of medicine. ‘It places the key to health and disease in our own hands.
According to Ayurveda, disease is not complicated or mysterious. The causes of health and disease lie in our own every day nature and behavior. In order to treat a disease, we must first understand what has brought it about. We cannot remove an effect without removing its cause. Ayurveda is concerned with going to the root of disease, not merely with treating symptoms. For this it looks at one’s entire lifestyle.
According to Ayurveda, the imbalance of the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha is the immediate cause of all diseases. External factors like weather changes, or internal factors like wrong emotions, can trigger these imbalances. The Ayurvedic view of disease primarily stresses’ internal causes that can be managed by right living practices and corrected by natural healing methods.
Charaka points out the factors responsible for keeping a person free from disease. He states that one who follows a wholesome diet and life regimen; who enters into actions only after their proper consideration; who is unattached to the pleasures of the senses; whose thought, speech, and deeds are happily blended; whose mind is controlled and is possessed of knowledge, austerity, and the love for meditation; such a person seldom gets afflicted with disease. If we act contrary to these principles, the doshas become aggravated resulting in various health problems.
The three doshas are disturbed by inappropriate diet, behavior and lifestyle. Their imbalance initiates pathological changes such as the build up of toxins. In Ayurveda, the etiology of disease is described in two broad categories: General factors common to all diseases, and specific factors behind particular diseases. A third factor behind disease occurs from the natural effect of time and the aging process. We will explain these factors in detail.
Common Causes For all Diseases
Role of the Senses :- One of the most important factors in the disease process is wrong use of the senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell are the five sense qualities through which environmental factors enter the body and mind. How we use our senses determines the type of food that we eat, the water we drink, and the particular lifestyle that we follow.
Sensory contacts are of four types: Excess, deficient, inappropriate and optimal. For example, we can take in too much light through the eyes, too little light, the wrong type of light, or the appropriate type and amount. Out of these four, only optimal contact promotes health. The three other contacts cause disease.
Scientific studies show that disturbing sounds produce pathological changes in the blood. All of us have experienced how noise can disturb not only the mind but also the body. Just as sounds that are too loud can damage health, the same is true of harmful exposure to the other sensory qualities of sight, taste, odor, and touch. An excess of sensations disturbs the mind’ and leads to wrong actions and dietary indiscretions.
Other medical sciences are beginning to discover this factor in diseases. However, only in Ayurveda are the senses given clear recognition as one of the primary causes of disease. Ayurveda covers not only physical factors but psychological factors as well. The senses are common factors that connect the two. If we look at disease only according to external pathogens and do not acknowledge the role of the senses, we miss much of the real problem. The senses are our real link to the outer world and our relationship with our environment, healthful or unhealthful, can be measured by how we use them. Sensory impressions are like food for the mind and determine how we think, feel and judge things.
Wrong Use of the Will :- The second main factor in the disease process is volitional transgression or wrong use of the will. It is called Prajnaparadha, which literally means “failure of intelligence”, referring to human weakness by which we continue to perform wrong actions even after we have experienced them to be harmful. An example is an alcoholic who, even after having experienced a hangover and the side effects of drinking, perhaps swearing never to drink again, ignores this message of experience and starts drinking again. Wrong use of the will relates to causes from within our psyche that result in defective, excessive or perverted actions of body, speech and mind.
Unfortunately, most of us today are taught to indulge our senses and to pursue desire rather than to cultivate our will power and enjoy freedom from external influences. Not knowing the proper use of the, will, we create many unnecessary problems for ourselves. Ayurveda states that unless we strengthen our will and reduce our desires, we can never have health, much less peace and happiness in life. We will be pulled in various directions by conflicting desires and .never experience true happiness and contentment which cannot come through mere external stimulation. To counter this, we must cultivate a strong will and learn to achieve the lasting goals of life: Contentment, creativity and greater awareness.
Misuse of the Body : –Maintaining the proper and timely discharge of our natural functions ensures health, while their misuse causes disease. The misuse of bodily functions occurs mainly through either suppression or through forced excitation of our natural urges, what modern psychology calls repression or indulgence. According to Ayurveda, we should not unduly suppress our natural urges but should attend to them attentively as they naturally arise. If we suppress them, we derange and weaken the life-force (Prana) and cause our natural impulses toward healthy function to be impaired. Nor should we artificially excite our urges through the pursuit of self-indulgence. We should seek wholesome sensations and avoid those that are artificial or extreme.
While modern culture has emphasized removing repression, it has not always properly criticized the dangers of over indulgence. A toxic body creates wrong urges that indulgence only reinforces, turning them eventual1y into addictions that are hard to overcome. The rule is that if we are ever in doubt, repression is safer than indulgence, though a balanced approach is best of all.
Misuse of the Mind : – Like the body, the mind has its proper and timely functions that must be maintained for health and well-being. We should train and exercise our mind through regular concentration, contemplation and meditation. Wrong actions of the mind bring about wrong actions of the body and eventually result in disease. The mind gets disturbed owing to an increase in agitated (Rajasic) and dull (Tamasic) qualities in the mind, like wrong imagination or lack of attention. This causes the development of fear, grief, anger, greed, infatuation, envy and other negative emotions which imbalance both the body and the mind. To counter this, we should develop Sattva (clarity, contentment and peace) and avoid distraction and laziness.
Misuse of Speech : – Speech is our main organ of action that determines how we function and relate in the world. It has a great power to either help or to harm others. There is perhaps nothing as destructive as harsh words and’ nothing as helpful as kind and considerate statements. Speech, therefore, has a key place in health and disease.
Misuse of speech refers to using language that is insinuating, untrue, untimely, quarrelsome, unpleasant, incoherent, harsh or abrasive. This not only harms others but also sets up negative energy patterns that harm ourselves as well. In short, any willful disregard for the natural condition and right usage of things, followed by wrong action or misconduct, is known as volitional transgression. Hence, one should use caution and not indulge in overuse or misuse of any function related to mind, body and speech.
Wrong use of the will and wrong use of the senses usually go together because, without the proper will power, our senses control us rather than us controlling our senses. Two important principles can help in keeping the will and senses directed productively rather than destructively. The ‘first is to hold to non-violence and never wish harm to another living creature in thought, word or deed. The second is detachment, to remain above all desires, fears; enticements and allurements, accepting what life brings us. Then both body and mind will remain calm, centered and relaxed.
Effect of Time : – The nature of living beings is to die. What has a beginning most have an end? The effect of time, or the natural movement of change and transformation, is another cause of disease that no one can avoid. No one can escape the effects of seasonal changes and variations governed by the time factor from birth to death. Normal as well as abnormal seasonal changes affect the doshas, the mind and the strength of the body.
Similarly, each individual must face the natural process of aging. Disease naturally occurs through the process of growing old, particularly chronic diseases like arthritis. Although to minimize this certain methods like seasonal regimens and rejuvenation therapies are prescribed, one cannot avoid this altogether, nor should one try. Ayurveda says that we should live a happy life accepting old age when it comes, which has its beauty and wisdom, not trying to be forever young, which is not possible.
Classical Ayurveda as defined in Charaka and Sushruta, like classical Yoga, consists of eight limbs or branches:-
1. Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa)
Internal medicine is the main branch of Ayurveda that treats our entire nature. Ayurveda considers the human being as a whole, comprising body, mind, and soul. Mind and body affect each other and together form the seat of disease. The approach of Ayurveda from the very beginning is psychosomatic. Ayurveda groups all human beings into seven different types of psychophysical constitutions (Prakriti) according to the predominance of the three biological humors (doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha). It similarly groups them into seven psychological constitutions according to the predominance of the three mental qualities (gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas). All these factors are taken into account during the treatment of disease. Diseases are caused by imbalances of the doshas or gunas, which in turn damage various tissues and systems.
Internal medicine mainly deals with diseases that have an internal or organic cause, as apart from injuries or poisons. A number of infectious diseases are described in Ayurveda but great importance is not given to pathogens as their cause. Ayurveda emphasizes internal factors, the condition of the individual behind all diseases, even those appearing to come from the outside. If the soil remains sterile, the seed will not grow. In the same way, if the internal energies are balanced, disease has no field in which to act.
2. Surgery (Shalyatantra)
Surgery is not just an invention of modern medicine but was already highly advanced in several ancient cultures, including India, Greece and Egypt. Its low condition in Europe during the Middle Ages was a period of decline, a temporary dark age, and was not indicative of its condition in ancient and Oriental cultures; where it remained more advanced. Ayurveda still contains some forms of surgery but this component of it has been declining. It was taken over more by allopathic medicine in India.
In the field of surgery: modern medicine has made great advances that Ayurveda must acknowledge and admire. But Ayurveda holds that surgery should be integrated with the other aspects of medicine in order to create a truly complete system of medicine. Surgery is not the only method of treatment, nor always the best, but it does have its importance and may have no alternative, particularly in dealing with traumatic injuries or large tumors where it is most appropriate.
3. Shalakya Tantra
This is the Ayurvedic branch of Ophthalmology and Otorhinolaryngology, the branch of medicine dealing with the diseases of the eyes, head and throat. Sushruta described seventy-two eye diseases along with surgical operations for such conditions as cataract and pterygium. Special techniques are described for many diseases of the ear, nose and throat that can be treated locally with various instruments and herbal applications.
4. Pediatrics (Kaumarabhritya)
This branch deals with prenatal and postnatal baby care and with the care of the mother both before conception and during pregnancy. Ayurveda describes special methods for conceiving a child of the desired sex, intelligence, and constitution. Various diseases of children and their treatment come under this branch. According to Ayurveda, the health of children is the key to the health of society. Right diet and exercise for children falls under this branch as preventive methods for diseases likely to occur later on in life.
5. Toxicology (Agadatantra)
This branch deals with the toxins and poisons of the vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms and how they can adversely affect our health. Most interesting to note is that the concept of the pollution of air and water has been given due consideration. Such pollution is said to be the cause of various epidemics and the collapse of civilizations. Certain poisons, particularly in small doses, also have benefits as medicines.
6. Psychology (Bhutavidya)
Ayurveda is equally concerned with mental diseases and their treatment as it is with physical disorders. Ayurvedic treatment methods include not only physical methods like diet and herbs, but also yogic methods for improving the condition of the mind like pranayama, mantra and meditation. Generally, Ayurvedic doctors prescribe both types of approaches and stress their interrelationship. Bhuta literally means the influence of the past, and shows how previous karmas and mental patterns weigh down the mind and heart. So clearing of negative conditioning from the past is part of this branch of Ayurveda. There is ample material for further research on this branch in the Vedas, Tantras, and the Ayurveda Samhitas.
7. The Science of Rejuvenation (Rasayana)
Ayurveda addresses all the needs of life, which include how to prolong life and how to renew our vitality after disease or during the aging process. Rejuvenation therapy is used to prevent diseases and for promotion and extension of a healthy life. However, proper detoxification is an essential prerequisite for rejuvenation. A code of right conduct in life also has to be observed as part of the rejuvenation process, including meditation. Details of rejuvenation regimen in terms of diet and herbs have been described in detail in Ayurvedic texts.
8. The Science of Aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana)
Sexual energy is the root of bodily health and disease. This’ branch of Ayurveda deals with increasing sexual vitality and efficiency necessary for a happy sex life, health and for procreation. For achieving good progeny, the therapy of Rasayana and Vajikarana are closely interrelated. Vajikarana medicines also act as rejuvenatives because the sexual energy can function internally to revitalize our tissues and organs.
These eight branches of Ayurveda overlap and are connected in various ways. So we should not view them as separate but as integral parts of the same approach.
Probably the most important form of patient examination practiced in Ayurveda is the eightfold examination (Ashtavidha Pariksha). These provide a good idea about the nature of the illness and’ the condition of the patient. The eight factors examined are :-
1. Examination of the Pulse
The term “nadi” literally means a tube or channel through which something flows. Texts dealing with Yoga philosophy use this term for the nerves. In the context of the eightfold examination, nadi refers to the arteries. Pulse examination (Nadi Pariksha) is the examination of the arterial pulses at certain points on the body.
The early hours of the morning are the best time for pulse examination. It can be misleading or incorrect if done after the patient has taken food, exercise or a bath, after taking intoxicants, having sex, sleep or when afflicted with hunger, thirst, anger, grief or worry.
The radial pulse at the wrist is best suited for examination. The pulse on the right hand is selected for men and on the left hand for women. The physician should place the first three fingers (index, middle and ring) of his right hand on the pulse at the wrist of the patient. The fingers of the physician should be placed softly but firmly so that even slight movements of the pulse can be felt. The examination is better done three times with an interval of several seconds in between.
The main factors to be noted during pulse examination are pulse rate (Spandana Samkhya), pulse character (Gati) and pulse qualities (Gunas). The pulse rate is the number of beats per thirty seconds (pala) or double the amount per minute as follows :-
112 per mintue
3 – 7 years
90 per minute
30 – 50 years
75 per minute
The pulse character is described as resembling the movement of certain animals and birds. Vata pulse is said to be like a snake, Pitta like a frog, and Kapha like a swan. Pulse qualities like warm, cold, soft, hard, thin, thick, full; empty, collapsed, volume and spiral movement can be ascertained by careful palpation.
Abnormal or Disease Pulse
In conditions of Vata aggravation, the pulse resembles the movement of a snake or leech and is irregular, unsteady and neither hot nor cold.
In Pitta conditions, it is like the movements of a frog, crow, sparrow, crane or quail, and is warm, rapid, thin and soft.
In Kapha conditions, it is like the movement of a swan, pigeon, dove, cock, peacock, or elephant and is steady, cold, thick, and full or hard.
2. Examination of the Tongue
The tongue provides important information on the health of a person, particularly for the diagnosis of digestive disorders. By examining the tongue, one can infer the state of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, the plasma, blood and the digestive fire.
When Vata is high, the tongue is dry, rough and cracked. When Pitta is aggravated, the tongue is reddish in color with sores or ulcers and a burning sensation. During Kapha imbalances, the tongue becomes coated, white and slimy. In anemia, it loses its normal color and becomes white and smooth. When Agni is impaired, the tongue becomes coated with a white layer (Ama) that cannot be removed by washing or scraping, and the breath is usually unpleasant.
3. Examination of the Voice
The voice of a person reveals much about their strength and weakness and the doshas involved. It is particularly important for diseases of the head throat and lungs, which often impair the vocal organs.
4. The Skin – Examination by Touch
This method is related to palpation and mainly notes normal or abnormal conditions through the skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body. It is closely connected to and reflects the conditions of Rasa Dhatu or’ the plasma. As the Rasa is the dominant bodily tissue, the skin reflects what is occurring in the body as a whole.
The skin of a person with a Pitta disorder is hot and a little oily, possibly inflamed. The skin of one with a Kapha disorder is cold and damp, and generally pale. The skin of one suffering from a Vata disease is cold, dry or rough, with possible darkish discolorations.
5. Examination of the Eyes
Examination of the eyes of a patient provides much information about the condition of the doshas. Red or inflamed eyes, along with sensitivity to bright lights or sunlight, reveal Pitta conditions. Kapha conditions are revealed by mucus in the eyes or by watering of the eyes along with cloudy vision. Vata problems manifest by dryness and tremors of the eyes.
6. General Appearance
The general appearance of the patient reveals much about their condition, including the luster of the skin or the posture of the person. Here also comes examination of the different systems of the body, which are looked at according to their function and external appearance. For many Ayurvedic doctors, this method is more important than pulse diagnosis. Each system, alo11g with its relevant functions and organs, is examined in various ways, with reference particularly to the predominant doshas and the qualities of damaged or healthy tissues.
7. Examination of the Urine
Examination of the urine is a special diagnostic tool in Ayurveda. The urine sample should be collected in a clean vessel, preferably in a sterilized glass jar, tumbler or test-tube, taken directly at the time of urination after avoiding the first few drops.
Sesame Oil Drop Urine Examination – Taila Bindu Pariksha
A small quantity of urine is taken in a broad-mouthed glass vessel and kept undisturbed in a place free from wind, sun and other disturbing factors. A moderate-sized drop of sesame oil is then taken with a stick and allowed to fall on the surface of the urine from a height of two or three inches, gently and without disturbing the urine. The condition of the oil drop should be carefully observed for its spread and the different shapes or patterns that it assumes.
8. Examination of the Stool
The stool provides information about the condition of the doshas the tissues and the food digested both in healthy and diseased states. Hence, Ayurveda advocates its examination as a diagnostic tool especially in disorders of the digestive and excretory systems.
If the digestion and absorption of food is normal, the stool is well formed and floats on water this indicates that there is no Ama ‘in the body. On the contrary, if digestion is not correct, the stool does not float on water but is slimy, with various colors, contains undigested food particles, and has a bad odor. This indicates Ama in the system. Examination of the stool can be carried out to check for abnormal blood or fat or for the presence of parasites.
Massage is an important daily or weekly practice and also has its special therapeutic value. Proper massage removes fatigue, increases muscular tone and flexibility of joints, alleviates Vata, improves circulation to the organs and the skin, eliminates waste products through the skin, stimulates the nervous system, prevents aging and increases longevity.
Oil massage is an important Ayurvedic treatment. It is relaxing to the body and mind, nourishes the skin, and improves the circulation and removes toxins. Oil massage is known in Sanskrit as Abhyanga. Medicated oil should be massaged on the whole body, including the head and feet. Regular oil massage removes excess fat from the skin, and makes the skin glossy, soft and strong. It protects the skin from dryness, cracking and roughness.
Persons of Vata constitution should use medicated oils prepared from demulcent herbs like shatavari, ashwagandha, or bala (like Narayana oil) and it should be applied while the oil is warm. Simple sesame oil can also be used. Regular massage is essential for keeping Vata under control. Persons of Pitta constitution should apply medicated oils using sandalwood or vetivert (like Chandabalalakshadi). Simple coconut oil can’ also be used. Those of Kapha constitution should use mustard or other light oils. As a result of oil massage, health is preserved, disease is prevented, and immunity increased.
Regular oil massage to the head inhibits premature hair loss or graying of the hair and promotes sound sleep. By massaging the soles of the feet and the legs, the eyesight is improved, cracks to the skin of the feet are prevented, and the reproductive system is strengthened.
Other Types of Ayurvedic Massage
Different alternative’ health-care systems use various substances for massage, including medicated oils, herbal pastes or powders, pieces of brick, wood, metal balls, or sand. In addition to oil massage, Ayurveda specifies four types of massage each utilizing different substances to enhance its beneficial effects.
UDVARTANA MASSAGE – Uses different ointments and powders that remove the excess oils left over on the body from oil massage. Powders of horse gram, garbanzo, or mung flour are used for this. It is a routine procedure done after Abhyanga or regular oil massage.
UDGHARSHANA MASSAGE – Uses the dry powder of herbs that provoke heat and open the pores of the sweat glands on the skin. It can also be done by using sand. Powders of calamus, lodhra, and shikai are used. Calamus is best for small children. This massage also helps to remove excess fat under the skin and reduces excess Kapha. It is one of the main treatment measures for obesity.
UTSADANA MASSAGE – Uses pieces of brick, small cuttle-fish bones, or wood sticks and has a scraping action on the skin. It is also used for removing excess oil from the skin after Abhyanga or. oil massage, but has a stronger or harsher action.
Pizhichili is a massage treatment developed in Kerala in southern India. In this treatment, thick, warm herbalized oils are applied all over the body by two trained therapists in a special rhythmic way continuously for 60 minutes. Traditionally, it is given daily for a period of 5 to 21 days. This treatment is done on a special table made from cherry tree heartwood. This treatment is very useful for rheumatic diseases like arthritis, tendonitis, low back strain, Parkinson’s disease, sexual debility, nervous exhaustion and breathing disorders.
ANNALEPANA MASSAGE – Is done with medicated boiled rice. First the rice is cooked along with its husks. Then some milk is boiled along with the herbal formula Dashamula and small ,balls of cooked rice are put into it. These are then taken out. and put in a cloth bag, with about two hands full of rice in each bag. First oil massage is done and then massage is done with rice in a downward direction, starting below the head. Massage is done on the chest, back, hands, and legs. Then the rice paste is removed and hot oil is applied again. After removing the excess oil, a hot water bath is taken.
Ayurvedic Head Massage – This is an ancient technique to relax and relieve mental fatigue and confusion. It helps to create more clarity and regenerate the mind and brain activity for better functioning. The oils used for this massage contain herbs that are calming to the mind, and stimulant to the brain, nerves and sensory organs.
Lepana (Herbalized Mud Treatment) – This is a treatment in which a medicated herbal paste is applied over the entire body and allowed to dry. It is then removed using a special deep tissue technique which leaves the muscles and fascia revitalized and flexible. This treatment is traditionally given for obesity as well as various types of inflammatory conditions, skin diseases, arthritis, gout, muscular strains, and circulatory imbalances.
Benefits of Ayurvedic Massage
Massage stimulates the internal functions of the body and provides nourishment to various body tissues. It helps in cleansing the toxins from channels. Massaging with oil provides lubrication to various body mechanisms. It stimulates the different agni (enzymes), increases assimilation of food and increases the vital body fluid called the Ojas. It works at both mental and physical levels of the body. It is beneficial in the case of insomnia, weakness of nerves, laziness, exhaustion, general debility, dry and unhealthy skin.