The Eight branches of ayurveda ashtanga ayurveda
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.