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What is Ayurveda?
"AYURVEDA" is made up of two words-Ayu and Veda. Ayu means life and Veda means knowledge or science. Ayurveda, is the world's oldest traditional, natural system of medicine of India. Ayurveda is based upon a deep connection and understanding of the spirit or nature of life itself and maintaining balance. It incorporates all aspects of life whether physical, psychological, spiritual or social. What is beneficial and what is harmful to life, what is happy life and what is sorrowful life; all these four questions and life span allied issues are elaborately and emphatically discussed in Ayurveda.

Following the principles of Ayurveda confers a profound understanding of the movement of vital force or energy and its manifestations within the entire mind-body system.

With a focus on natural self-healing through balance and preventive treatments, Ayurveda promotes the use of herbs, foods, exercise, aromatherapy, massage and other natural methods to proactively maintain internal harmony. Ayurveda is considered as “traditional medicine” in South Asia and is practiced in over 50 other countries as “alternative medicine”. Ayurveda is more than just the treatment of illness and ailments; it is a lifestyle and belief system that proves that maintaining health requires a dynamic balance of mind, body, spirit and environment.

Essentially, the five elements (earth, air, ether, water and light) are linked to the five senses and these in turn shape the nature of an individual's constitution - their ‘dosha’ or life force. These doshas are referred to in Sanskrit as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha has a cluster of qualities that distinguish them from each other. Disease and illness occur when they are out of balance. The purpose of Ayurvedic treatment is to restore the balance and thus good health.

What is the Ayurvedic philosophy behind health, disease and treatment?

Good health is the equilibrium of the normal functioning of the doshas (Bio-humours), dhatus (Body matrix, viz. plasma, blood cells, muscular tissue, fatty tissue, bony tissue, bone marrow, hormonal and genital secretions), malas (extractable products like faeces, sweat and urine) and Agni (Fire). Thus when Dosha, Dhatu, Mala and Agni are in a state of functional equilibrium, then good health is maintained. Distortion of the equilibrium results in disease. A poor lifestyle is the primary cause behind the failure of the body in maintaining equilibrium.
Which are the ancient texts on which Ayurveda treatments and medicines are based?

The material scattered in the Vedas was collected, subjected to rigid tests of efficacy and systematically arranged. Such compilations were called ‘Samhitas.’ Many of these compilations no longer exist. Only three authentic works have stood the test of time and are available today – the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridya Samhita. This great trio – the Brihatrayi as it called – has enjoyed much popularity and respect for the last two thousand years.

The Charaka Samhita is the oldest of the three and was probably first compiled around 1500 BC. It is considered the prime work on the basic concepts of Ayurveda. Charaka represents the Atreya School of physicians. It is a systematic work divided into eight Sthanas or sections, which are further divided into 120 chapters.

Sushruta represents the Dhanwantri School of surgeons, and is considered in Ayurveda to be the father of surgery. In the Sushruta Samhita there are sophisticated descriptions of diseases and surgical instruments.

The next important authority in Ayurveda after Charaka and Sushruta is Vagbhatta of Sindh, who flourished about the seventh century AD. His treatise called Ashtanga Hridya.

Although these texts have undergone some modification by various authors in subsequent periods, their present form is at least 1200 years old. They are all in the Sanskrit language and these treatises of effective practices and formulations laid down hundreds of years ago also form the basis of Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals.

Do the modern concepts of medicine/diet etc. agree with the Ayurvedic concepts?
All concepts about medicine/diet in modern medicine are not in agreement with Ayurvedic concepts. Being two different systems of medicine, both the systems have concepts that differ from one another. Some concepts are the same in both systems but explained differently.

Do I have to be a Hindu to incorporate Ayurveda into my life?

The principles of Ayurveda are simple, natural and universal. They are put into place in order to maintain a balance of mind, body and spirit so that anyone, anywhere at any time can live a healthier more balanced lifestyle. In fact, many of today’s nutritional supplements, holistic remedies and even western pharmaceutical formulas are rooted in Ayurveda.

Anybody can incorporate many of these into his or her daily life. The only beliefs you must have to want to practice some of the common themes of Ayurveda are:

  • Belief in living healthy
  • Belief in feeling energetic
  • Belief in looking younger
  • Belief in being less toxic
  • Belief in acting in harmony and balance internally and within your natural environment.

Does Ayurveda advocate vegetarianism?

It’s extremely common for people to assume that Ayurveda and a vegetarian or vegan life style go hand in hand. In the science of Ayurveda, the entire concept of food is based on the climate in which we live, the food that naturally occurs around us, our specific and personal digestion capabilities, our mental and physical dispositions and activities and our occupation. In short, diet should be built according to each individual’s specific factors that act to influence his/her person.

The classical texts describe three types of diets- saatvik, rajasik and tamasik.

Sattvic diet also referred to as a yoga diet or sentient diet is based on foods which are strong in the sattva guna that lead to clarity and equanimity of mind while also being beneficial to the body. Such foods include water, fruit, cereal, most vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, milk and milk derivatives (butter, ghee, cream, yogurt), and honey.

Rajasic or stimulating diet tends to raise levels of physical activity and leads to emotional upsurges and are detrimental in the long term. It is bitter, sour, salty, hot and pungent. Food with little or no nutrient value or foods that are dried, excessively spicy or reheated are considered to be rajasic. It includes chocolates, chips, papad, bread, coffee, onion, garlic, chillies etc. Concentrated sources of protein, such as meat, fish and eggs are also rajasic. These foods make the person physically active and also more aggressive and restless.

Tamasic foods have a negative and harmful effect on the body and the mind. Food that is stale, spoiled, tasteless, non vegetarian, unhygienic, adulterated or with preservatives, artificial colour and flavour, tinned, pre-packed or pasteurised are tamasic. These foods also lead to dependency or addiction, such as alcohol and tobacco. These make the person dull, lazy, drowsy and unable to think clearly.

Although vegetarianism and veganism is practiced by many who take advantage of the benefits of Ayurveda, it is still okay to consume meat and fish, but under certain conditions. Ayurveda doesn’t advocate the simple vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for everyone, though there are many benefits to eating most of your diet as fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting your meat consumption. According to Ayurveda, a saatvik diet, moderate physical exercise and regular practice of yoga help one to maintain good health.

You decide what is needed for your own healthy balance and consult a nutritionist or practicing Ayurveda expert.

Why should I go opt for Ayurvedic treatment over modern medicine?

Modern medicine tries to treat and remove symptoms rather than treat the patient suffering from it. This stems from the view that all people are more or less the same. Being holistic and disease eradicative based on the principles of individualised treatment, with the use of food as medicine, Ayurveda enjoys a better place in respect of prevention and cure of the disease in comparison to western medical system. Ayurveda makes special contributions by addressing the uniqueness of each patient and by helping each body to heal itself.

It is a natural therapy hence it has no side effect or complications which cannot be said of other systems. Furthermore, the possibility of a disease recurring after treatment with modern medicines is higher due the non-holistic approach to the disease.

What is the method of diagnosis in Ayurveda?
Diagnostic procedures in Ayurveda are aimed to establish the state and type of pathology and secondly to decide the mode of treatment. The former implies examination of the patient and make different investigations to diagnose the disease.

The second type of examination is to assess the strength and physical status of the individual so that accordingly the type of treatment required could be planned. For this, the following are taken into consideration:

  • Prakriti (Body constitution)
  • Aaharshakti (diet intake capacity)
  • Saar (Tissue quality)
  • Samhnan (physique)
  • Satamya (specific adaptability)
  • Satva (Mental strength)
  • Vyayaam shakti (exercise capacity)
  • Vaya (age)
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