– The Science of Life
An Ancient Medicine
by Dr. Ranvir Pahwa
Ayurveda is the oldest science of medicine. The word is
comprised of two Sanskrit words: "ayur." meaning
"veda", meaning science (i.e. the science of
life). It is the science of longevity – knowledge designed
to prolong life, and to promote health, growth, and happiness.
It originated in India and has become an integral part of
their society, where it teaches people how to be healthy,
wealthy, and wise in any circumstance. Ayurveda's medicinal
knowledge was also passed on to the Greeks, Chinese, Japanese,
and Tibetans, and eventually spread to the Middle East and
the South Pacific. More than twenty years ago, amidst the
growth of Western Medicine and along with other complementary
and alternative modalities, Ayurveda had its seeds sown
North America, and now its fruits are slowly emerging.
The credit for the evolution of Ayurvedic Medicine goes
to various ancient sages and seers who received the knowledge
from the supreme power, the Brahma (God), and who then orally
transferred this knowledge to other great scholars. The Indian
Vedas, from 3000 BC, are the first scriptures that indicate
an account of herbal medicine and health. However, there are
differing views among historians as to the exact date of origin
In brief, the Seer Atreya developed a School of Ayurvedic
Physicians sometime between the 8th and 6th Century, BC. Sushrut
Samhita was written between the 6th and 5th Century, BC. The
sage, Sushruta, was the first surgeon credited with starting
plastic surgery. Later another man, Atrey, wrote Charaka
Samhita in the 1st Century, AD. Samhita, first written in the Sanskrit
language, is a compilation of the art and science of healing.
Ayurveda is a system of medicine that looks after the body
and the mind, as well as one's emotional and spiritual
aspects. Yoga and Tantra are integral parts of Ayurveda. Yoga
and Ayurveda work well together: the practice of yoga provides
the spiritual aspect and thus the base for "self enquiry"
and "self knowledge," however, without the good
health derived from the Ayurveda aspect, the yoga practices
would not be possible. The addition of Tantra involves the
direct energetic approach to a spiritual path.
This ancient medicine is made up of eight branches of knowledge
called Ashtang Veda. They are: (1) Kaya Chikitsa (general
medicine), (2) Kaumarya Bhritya (pediatrics), (3) Graha Chikitsa
(psychiatry and psychosomatic diseases), (4) Shalakya Tantra
(ear, eyes, head, mouth, and throat), (5) Shalya Tantra (general
surgery), (6) Agada Tantra (toxicology), (7) Rasayana Chikitsa
(rejuvenation therapy), and (8) Vajeekarana Chikitsa (aphrodisiac
Ayurveda, sometimes called a Medical-Metaphysical healing
science, teaches that every human being has four biological
and spiritual instincts: religious (Dharma), financial (Artha),
desires (Kama), and the instinct toward freedom of the soul
(Moksha or Nirvana). If one has balanced health, then one
can fulfill these instincts of human life. This unique medicine
is directed towards self-healing and energy balance, which
reduces the process of physical deterioration and disease.
It also helps in the healthy maintenance of the ecosystem.
The "Five Element" Theory – Air, Fire,
Water, and Earth – is the basis of Ayurvedic Medicine.
These elements of the universe represent their counterparts
in all the organisms and are transformed into the anatomy,
biochemistry, and physiology of a living being. Different
combinations of the five elements make up three constitutional
attributes which are called Dosha.
Three of the Doshas are: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In the
Sanskrit language, Vata means "air," Pitta means
"fire," and Kapha means "water". Actually,
of the five elements, Vata comprises air and ether, Pitta
is made of fire and water, and Kapha holds the water and earth
elements. The characteristics of the elements make the characters
of Dosha. In turn Dosha makes our nature, which holds our
total concept of well-being. Disturbance in the Dosha leads
to changes in the body and mind (i.e., from normal to abnormal
health). Doshas are the raw material of the physical, mental,
and psychological aspects of an organism.
Additionally, Ayurveda scholars found, through meditation
and research, that the following structural and functional
attributes are managed by the Doshas: (a) Vata Dosha controls
all the movements and the catabolic (destructive metabolism)
aspects, (b) Pitta Dosha controls the digestive system process,
fire, and overall metabolism, and (c) Kapha Dosha manages
the nutritional and structural side of the body.
Balance is a natural order (i.e. health), and imbalance reflects
disorder (i.e. disease/sickness). Proportionate balance in
Dosha corresponds to balance in health. All people have all
three Doshas. One is always primary, one is secondary, and
the third one is minor. Thus, each person has a particular
pattern of quality and energies. Most people do not live with
one pure Dosha – this is because of pollution, eating
habits, lifestyle, and emotional aspects. Therefore, many
of us present the combination of two Doshas. Furthermore,
a person can show various combinations of three Doshas. In
addition, food and herbs are also characterised based on Dosha.
To study the disease process, Ayurveda looks at various factors:
constitutional attributes (Doshas), body tissues (Dhatus),
channels (Srotas), excretory functions (Malas), digestive
fire (Agni), mind, psychology, whole body, consciousness,
seasons, genetics, congenital aspects, trauma, and natural
impacts. Ayurveda also integrates the modern diagnostic techniques
and treats ancient and modern diseases and conditions. Anyone
who is interested in a complete health evaluation should seek
the help of an Ayurveda Practitioner who is trained and experienced
in Ayurvedic Medicine, as well as in Ancient Eastern and modern
There are several levels and aspects of therapies in Ayurvedic
Medicine. Fundamental methods are Reduction and Tonification.
In the reduction method there is palliation and purification,
where palliation involves herbs, improving digestion, fasting,
and exercise. It is meant to balance the Dosha and to increase
the body's immunity. Purification is to eliminate the
internal causative factors which involves oleation, sweating,
and "Panch (five) Karma (procedure)." However,
five procedures of "Panch Karma" are emesis, purgation,
enemas, nasal therapy, and release of the toxic blood. Purification
methods, especially Panch Karma, should be performed by a
well-trained and an experienced practitioner. The blood-letting
method is rarely practised these days in India.
Tonification method involves a tonifying oil application,
enemas, nasal therapy, various foods, spices, herbs, oils,
etc. This method is also known as rejuvenation therapy –
that which destroys the old age and disease. The goal of the
rejuvenation therapy is to become healthy and explore the
spiritual aspects of life.
Before engaging in any method of therapy, Ayurveda has always
emphasized having a daily routine, correct diet, and life-style
based on the Doshas.
Dr. Ranvir Pahwa is an Ayurveda practitioner, herbalist,
homeopath, and nutritional consultant, as well as a practitioner
of acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, Ayurveda Marma point
therapy, yoga, and meditation. He has written two books: Home
Remedies From India and Healthy
Cooking Volume I. He is a
part-time Clinical Assistant Professor of Pathology in the
College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. To contact
him see his display ad on this page. Email: email@example.com.