From Rama Kant Mishra Article Dateline: July 2001
Ayurveda, the ancient system of holistic healing from India, is justly enjoying a widespread resurgence in popularity today. Savvy, health-conscious individuals all over the world are taking more responsibility for their own health and well-being.
The old adage prevention is better than cure makes increasingly more sense in a time when health-care is exorbitant and fraught with risks such as dangerous side effects of drugs that often lead to more problems instead of treating the illness they were taken to address.
In a world that offers more choices than ever before, more and more individuals are exploring alternative health systems such as Ayurveda to help them lead a healthy lifestyle and stop disease before it ever has a chance to take root in the physiology.
The Story of Ayurveda
According to Hindu mythology, the science of life was first enunciated by Brahma, the Creator, in the Brahma Samhita. One version has it that when disease, in the form of fever, first made its presence known on earth, the rishis (sages) of the time gathered together and sent Bharadwaj to the devas (gods) to get the knowledge to combat it. Bharadwaj studied Ayurveda from Indra, king of the devas, and returned to earth to spread the knowledge. He taught several sages, who in their turn, propagated the knowledge further.
Ayurvedic principles, techniques and formulations were eventually laid down in many texts, such as the famous treatises by Charaka and Sushruta. Preserved and built upon by traditional Ayurvedic experts, called Vaidyas, Ayurveda flourished in India for millennia until it was relegated to the shadows by long periods of Moslem and British rule. A holistic approach to healing Ayurveda — literally Science of Life — is based on the twin principles of wholeness and balance.
As a holistic healing tradition, Ayurveda recommends treating the whole person-body, mind, senses, emotions and spirit-instead of following the one-cause-one-cure principle and focusing on the symptoms of the moment. The premise is that if the roots are nourished and watered, the plant will flourish. Diet, sleep, lifestyle, daily and seasonal routines and internal cleansing are just as, or more, important than herbs and potions in order to maintain good health. And Ayurveda is equally about maintaining or preserving good health as it is about treating disorders.
Balance is the key: The three doshas According to Ayurveda, perfect health is a state where mind, body and spirit are balanced. All activities of the mind and body are governed by three biological principles or doshas — Vata, Pitta and Kapha, each of which is made up of some of the five elements of creation or mahabhutas. Vata is mainly air and space, and governs movement in the body-the flow of blood, for example, or elimination, or breathing or thoughts flitting across the mind.
Since the other two doshas, Pitta and Kapha, cannot move without Vata, Vata is considered the lead dosha. Pitta, mainly fire and water, governs heat, metabolism and transformation. Digestion is an important Pitta activity. Kapha is made up mainly of earth and water, and, accordingly, is linked to structure and moisture balance in the physiology. Among other things, Kapha controls weight and lubrication in the lungs, for example. Each of the doshas is also related to a season of the year — Kapha with Spring, Pitta with Summer and Vata with Fall and Winter.
When all of these doshas are perfectly in balance in an individual, it means that all the systems and activities of mind and body are functioning at optimal levels, and the individual, therefore, enjoys perfect health. When one or more of these doshas goes out of balance, disorders result. Some factors that can cause these doshas to become imbalanced are improper diet or eating habits, stress, pollution or the weather. Then, to restore good health, the dosha that has become imbalanced needs to be restored to its original make-up in that specific individual.
Prakriti and Vikriti
It has become common to associate Ayurveda just with superficial body-typing, based on the fact that every individual is born as a combination of one or more of the three doshas described above. Asking What is your dosha? or Are you Vata, Pitta or Kapha? is just barely scratching the surface of Ayurveda. It is much more important to go beyond introductory body-typing or finding out the Prakriti of an individual to determining what imbalances exist in a person’s physiology (Vikriti) — and then finding out how to restore balance.
The Beej-Bhoomi theory
Ayurveda proposes an interesting theory of disease — the Beej-Bhoomi theory. Proper digestion is crucial for good health. If digestion is not optimal, toxins, called ama or digestive impurities, build up in the body and clog the channels of flow. Not just the blood vessels, but all the microcirculatory channels in the body as well as the energy pathways. Ama weakens the physiology, creating conditions fertile for disease and infection to take root. Ayurvedic rejuvenation and cleansing programs — Panchakarma — are techniques designed to flush ama out of the physiology.
The Science of Herb Combining and Processing
Although single Ayurvedic herbs and spices such as Brahmi, Turmeric and Ashwagandha are popular, one of the most significant contributions offered by Ayurveda is the science of herbal combination — formulations that personify sanyoga, the fortuitous blending of a variety of herbs that results in a formulation offering the dual benefits of synergy and balance.
An Ayurvedic formulation can often contain twenty or more herbs and spices — primary herbs that target the area of imbalance, supporting herbs to enhance the benefits of the primary herbs, balancing herbs to counter any possible side-effects from the actions of the main herbs, and bio-availability enhancers to expedite the transfer of the benefits of the formulation to the parts of the physiology. The most complex of the traditional Ayurvedic herbal combinations are an elite group called rasayanas, extolled at length in the Ayurvedic texts for their positive impact on the physiology.
The second principle, sanskar, refers to the way the herbs are harvested, used and processed. Ayurvedic formulations traditionally use the whole herb instead of extracting the active ingredient from the plant. Nature’s healing wisdom is perceived to reside best in the plant in its entirety. Using the whole herb rather than the isolated ingredient also contributes to a balanced formula less likely to have side-effects, because according to Ayurveda, each medicinal plant has both the primary effect and the antidote present in it in its natural state.
At the best Ayurvedic manufacturing facilities, the natural intelligence of the plants is carefully preserved in the final product by using traditional processing techniques that eschew chemical solvents and damaging high temperatures. Following the harvesting and processing techniques enunciated in the traditional texts results in a potent, balanced formulation.
Scientific Scrutiny of Ayurveda
Ayurvedic herbs and formulations are increasingly catching the attention of researchers all over the world. In a heartening trend that seeks to blend the best of the ancient and the modern, not only individual Ayurvedic herbs such as Brahmi and Guggul, but even proprietary rasayanas such as the antioxidant formula Amrit from Maharishi Ayurveda have been and continue to be extensively researched at independent institutions to scientifically validate and document their beneficial effects.
Cumulative Benefits of Ayurveda
The Ayurvedic approach to health is gentle and comprehensive. The concepts of instant cures and pill-popping for immediate relief are foreign to Ayurveda. Because the endeavor is to seek and correct the source of problems — imbalances in the physiology — the best results from Ayurveda come to those who are patient and persistent, who diligently adopt the associated dietary and lifestyle changes needed, and take a degree of responsibility for their own well-being. For those who do make the commitment, Ayurveda offers rich, cumulative health benefits that can help you enjoy a long, healthy and blissful life.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.
From Rama Kant Mishra
Article Dateline: July 2001
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