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5.3.2 Ayurvedic Medicine - an introduction

by Dr. Duane Weed, D.C. (drweed.delphi.com)

The Ayurvedic system traces its roots to the Himalayan Mountains of India over five thousand years ago. According to legend, a conference was held in a Himalayan cave in which the greatest sages of India--some after having traveled thousands of miles--met to discuss their knowledge of their healing arts. These scholars and teachers possessed traditional knowledge about the medicinal plants of India that had been handed down orally by the tribes of the Indian forests since the beginning of history. At this conference, these sages compared and combined their knowledge into one body which they called the Ayurveda, from two Sanskrit words; Ayus, or "life", and Veda, or "knowledge". "Ayurveda" has been translated as "the knowledge of life", and as "the science of life". It has been suggested that a more appropriate translation would be "the knowledge of life span".

After this historic conference, the Ayurvedic knowledge was passed orally from teacher to student for over a thousand years, continuously growing as each Ayurvedic physician added his insights and experiences. It was finally written down in the first century A.D. by the Ayurvedic physician, Charaka.
By that time--and hundreds of years before the birth of European medicine--Ayurveda had specialists in psychiatry, pediatrics, gynecology, ear nose and throat, ophthalmology, surgery, toxicology, virility, and fertility.

Ayurvedic medicine probably predates any other healing tradition in existence today--even Chinese medicine. Even before the Ayurvedic conference, knowledge of the medicinal plants of India had spread to other continents. Seeds from plants indigenous to India have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Travelers had carried information about Indian plants through Tibet into China, and Arabs had traded for Indian herbs before the birth of Islam.
At the time of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba traded herbs and spices of India to the Israelites. Ayurvedic medicine began to be studied by Arab physicians and knowledge of the plants of India was passed on to the Greeks and Romans. By the first century A.D., when Charaka was writing Ayurveda's first written records, Pliny was already describing the plants of india to the Roman Empire in his NATURAL HISTORY. And much more recently, as any American school child can tell you, a Portuguese sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, while searching for a trade route to India to acquire her herbs and spices.

According to Ayurvedic philosophy, health is dependent upon one's ability to live in harmony with one's self and with the external universe. As much attention was given to illnesses of the mind as to illnesses of the body.
The Ayurvedic physician taught that in order to avoid illness and pain, the patient must control the destructive (and self-destructive) nature. Living in harmony with the environment was recognized as essential to one's mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Ayurvedic physicians taught that prevention was more desirable than a cure. Their ideal was to develop an individual's natural resistance to disease to the point where one's immune system could function as one's best medicine.
Their goal was to maintain an individual in his or her optimal health throughout life, so that the ultimate goal of life--the awareness of his or her connection with the life principle--could be pursued.

Today's Ayurvedic physicians, like their predecessors, recognize three major body (or physiology) types which they refer to as the three DOSHAS: VATA, PITTA, and KAPHA. One's body type is also referred to as one's PRAKRITI, and is determined by heredity. Most people are actually a combination of types; a VATA/PITTA type for example. Ayurvedic physicians evaluate their patients using such techniques as observation, interview, and pulse diagnosis to determine the patient's body (or physiology) type. They then determine the imbalances that are present in the body and make recommendations according to the patient's body type. Dietary and herbal recommendations make up a large part of their treatments; but many other techniques such as meditation, hatha yoga, aroma therapy, and music therapy are also employed.

Thanks to the Ayurvedic tradition, many herbal combinations based on centuries of accumulated knowledge are available to today's eclectic herbalists and natural health enthusiasts. Ayurvedic herbal formulations, like Chinese herbal formulations, are combinations of many different herbs that work synergistically. Single herbs are rarely if ever employed. Even though there are competent Ayurvedic physicians in practice today, one does not have to see an Ayurvedic physician to use an Ayurvedic herbal combination, as long as the recipe of an Ayurvedic master is carefully followed.

Some of the most common herbs currently used in Ayurvedic formulations are:

Acacia catechu, Adhatoda vasica (Vasaka), Andrographis paniculata, Aegle marmelos (Bel), Alpina galanga, Alstonia scholaris, Apium graveolens, Ashwagandha root, Azadirachta indica (Margosa), Boerhaavia diffusa (Hogweed), Boswellia serrata, Caesaipinia crista, Clerodendrum indicum, Commiphora mukul (Indian Bedellium), Curcuma longa (Turmeric), Cyperus rotundus, Enicostemma littorale, Fumaria parviflora, Glycyrrhiza glabra (Liquorice), Gymnema sylvestre, Hedychium spicatum, Hemidesmus indicus (Ind. Sarsaparilla), Holarrbena antidysenterica, Inula racemosa, Momordica charantia (Bitter Gourd), Myrica nagi, Ocimum sanctum (Holy Basil), Paederia foetida, Phylianthus emblica, Picrorhiza kurroa, Pimpinella anisum, Pistacia integerrima, Pterocarpus marsupium, Rubia cordifolia (Indian Madder), Sida cordifolia, Smilax china, Swertia chirata, Syzygium cumini (Jamun), Terminalia belerica, Terminalia chebula (Chebulic Myrobalan), Tinospora cordifolia, Trachyspermum ammi, Tribulus terrestris, Trigonella foenum-graeceum, Vitex negundo, Withania somnifera (Winter Cherry), Zingiber officinale (Ginger)

REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL READINGS:

  • THE GARDEN OF LIFE, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HEALING PLANTS OF INDIA by Naveen Patnaik, Doubleday, New York, 1993.
  • PERFECT HEALTH, THE COMPLETE MIND/BODY GUIDE by Deepak Chopra, M.D., Harmony Books, New York, 1991.
  • PERFECT WEIGHT, THE COMPLETE MIND/BODY PROGRAM FOR ACHIEVING AND MAINTAINING YOUR IDEAL WEIGHT by Deepak Chopra, M.D., Harmony Books, New York, 1994.
  • RESTFUL SLEEP, THE COMPLETE MIND/BODY PROGRAM FOR OVERCOMING INSOMNIA by Deepak Chopra, M.D., Harmony Books, New York, 1991.
  • RETURN OF THE RISHI by Deepak Chopra, M.D., Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1988.

From Robert Hensley (Hensleys.aol.com):

Ayurveda is the world's oldest science of health care. The written tradition dates back around 5,000 years, but the oral tradition in India is timeless.

The basic principles of Ayurveda include:

  1. Mind, body, emotions, and spirit are more than connected, they are one.
  2. There are 3 fundamental principles of nature: called Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which govern all processes in all levels of our life.
  3. Vata governs all movement, Pitta all heat and transformation, and Kapha all growth, structure and lubrication.
  4. Everything we experience influences these governing principles.
  5. If these principles that guide the processes of our body, mind, etc get "out of balance" due to poor diet, activity, etc. they can become overactive, and disease results.
  6. If vata gets out of balance, for instance, it leads to overactive mind, poor circulation, poor nerve conduction, loss of memory, irregular elimination, uncomfortable menses, etc. - all things related to movement.
  7. If pitta is out of balance, we can get excessive digestive fire, resulting in heartburn, excess stomach acid, a hot temper, inflammations, etc. -all things related to heat and digestion.
  8. If kapha gets out of balance, it can lead to chronic congestion, weight gain, cellulite, cholesterol buildup, acne, oily skin, etc. - all things related to structure and lubrication.
  9. Herbs in synergistic combination, diet, routine, meditation, etc are used to restore balance to restore proper operation of the various systems. Balance restores health.
  10. Ayurveda does not focus on decreasing symptoms, it focuses on increasing health. Where there is health, there is no room for disease.
  11. Symptoms are only used as one of eight ways to determine the underlying imbalance or weakness that has allowed the disease to occur.

Due to foreign intervention in India for hundreds of years, Ayurveda became fragmented, and it has been revived over the past 35 years by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. As a result of growing scientific verification at major research institutions, it is the worlds' fastest growing health care system.



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