It is very difficult to establish the exact time period of Ayurveda. However, the origin of Ayurveda as an oral tradition is taken to be circa 6000 BC. The history of Ayurveda is closely interwoven with the history and culture of the Indian Sub-continent. Ayurveda has accepted the Vedic hypothesis that there are common principles underlying Microcosm (individual) and Macrocosm (universe). Man and the universe are composed of the same basic elements.
The six philosophies that are at the heart of Ayurveda are called Shad Darshanas. The creators of these philosophies were enlightened scientists or rishis who had great insight or inner vision and enjoyed observing nature for its underlying patterns. All these philosophies have contributed to the teaching and practice of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda emphasizes preventative and healing therapies along with various methods of purification and rejuvenation. Ayurveda is not just a system of medicine, it is more than a mere healing system; it is a science of health promotion designed to increase our well being and happiness in all aspects and an art of appropriate living that helps to achieve longevity. It shows us how to live in such a way as to arrive at optimum health and maximum utilisation of our faculties. Maintenance of a healthy lifestyle by one’s own right action is called “swasthavritta”, which literally means “the lifestyle of abiding in one’s own nature.” A lifestyle (regime) that is balanced with a person’s constitution type will allow them to enjoy freshness and vitality everyday. It can guide every individual in the proper choice of diet, living habits and exercise to restore balance in the body, mind and consciousness, thus preventing disease from gaining a foothold in the system.
The term Ayurveda combines two Sanskrit words—Ayur, which means life, and Veda, which means science or knowledge. Ayurveda thus means “the science of life.” Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care in India, although conventional (Western) medicine is becoming more widespread in India, especially in urban areas. About 70 percent of India’s population lives in rural areas; about two-thirds of rural people still use Ayurvedic medicine and Ayurvedic remedies to meet their primary health care needs.
Many Ayurvedic practices were handed down by word of mouth and were used before there were written records. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves more than 2,000 years ago, are thought to be the first texts on Ayurveda—Charak Samhita and Sushrut Samhita. They cover many topics, including Pathology (the causes of illness), Diagnosis, Treatment, Surgery (this is no longer part of standard Ayurvedic practice), How to care for children, Lifestyle, Advice for Ayurvedic practitioners, including medical ethics and Philosophy.
According to Ayurveda, every human being is a unique phenomenon of cosmic consciousness, manifested through the five basic elements—Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. There are seven basic constitutions with one or more doshas predominant according to Ayurveda. They are: vata, pitta or kapha predominant, vata-pitta, pitta-kapha or kapha-vata predominant and vata-pitta-kapha in equal balance, a rare occurrence.
Every individual constitution has its own unique balance of vata, pitta and kapha (Tridosha) according to its own nature. This balance of Tridosha is the natural order. When this Tridosha balance is disturbed, it creates imbalance, which is disorder. Health is order; disease is disorder. Within the body there is a constant interaction between order and disorder, thus once one understands the nature and structure of disorder, one can re-establish order. Ayurveda believes that order lies within disorder.
Swami Balendu writes in his daily blog, an online diary, about the benefits of Ayurveda, explains how it is used in daily life and what you can do to include Ayurveda in your life.
The vata dosha is thought to be a combination of the elements space and air. It is considered the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing and the mind. Vata can be thrown out of balance by, for example, staying up late at night, eating dry fruit, or eating before the previous meal is digested. People with vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin, neurological, and mental diseases.
The pitta dosha represents the elements fire and water. Pitta is said to control hormones and the digestive system. When pitta is out of balance, a person may experience negative emotions (such as hostility and jealousy) and have physical symptoms (such as heartburn within 2 or 3 hours of eating). Pitta is upset by, for example, eating spicy or sour food; being angry, tired, or fearful; or spending too much time in the sun. People with a predominantly pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to heart disease and arthritis.
The kapha dosha combines the elements water and earth. Kapha is thought to help keeping up strength and immunity and to control growth. An imbalance in the kapha dosha may cause nausea immediately after eating. Kapha is aggravated by, for example, sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet foods, eating more than the hunger tells you to and consuming foods and beverages with too much salt and water (especially in the springtime). Those with a predominant kapha dosha are thought to be vulnerable to diabetes, gallbladder problems, stomach ulcers, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Order is the state of health, as defined by Ayurveda. This exists when the digestive fire (Jatharagni) is in a balanced condition; the bodily humors (vata, pitta and kapha) are in equilibrium, the three waste products (urine, feces and sweat) are produced and eliminated normally, the seven bodily tissues (rasa, rakta, mansa, meda, asthi, majja and shukralartava) are functioning normally, and the mind, senses and consciousness are working harmoniously together. When the balance of these systems is disturbed, the disorder (disease) process begins.
The internal environment is governed by vata, pitta and kapha, which are constantly reacting to the external environment. The wrong diet, habits, lifestyle, incompatible food combinations (e.g. melons and grain, or eating cooked honey, etc.), seasonal changes, repressed emotions and stress factors can all act either together or separately to change the balance of vata, pitta and kapha. According to the nature of the cause, vata, pitta or kapha undergo aggravation or derangement, which affects the Jatharagni (gastric fire) and produces ama (toxins).
This ama enters the blood stream and is circulated throughout the body, clogging the channels. Retention of toxins in the blood results in toxemia. This accumulated toxicity, once well established, will slowly affect prana (vital life energy), ojas (immunity), and tejas (celluiar metabolic energy), resulting in disease. This can be nature‘s effort to eliminate toxics from the body. Every so-called disease is a crisis of ama toxicity. Ama is the basic internal cause of all disease, due to the aggravated doshas. Major beliefs in Ayurveda that pertain to health and disease.
Ideas about the relationships among people, their health, and the universe form the basis for how Ayurvedic practitioners think about problems that affect health. Ayurveda holds that:
Ayurveda also has some basic beliefs about the body’s constitution. “Constitution” refers to a person’s general health, how likely he is to become out of balance, and his ability to resist and recover from disease or other health problems. The constitution is called the prakriti. The prakriti is thought to be a unique combination of physical and psychological characteristics and the way the body functions. It is influenced by such factors as digestion and how the body deals with waste products. The prakriti is believed to be unchanged over a person’s lifetime.