|Ayurveda: An Overview|
“Science is a light that illuminates. One’s own intellect is vision. One who applies both seldom errs.”
To understand this holistic therapy let’s answer a few questions.
Thus, Ayurveda is a science of life, touching every aspect of human health, for example, preventive, curative, social, spiritual.
Ayurveda originated from Lord Brahma, who revealed this knowledge in the form of the Brahma Samhita.
Aims of Ayurveda:
“Svasthasya svasthya rakshanam aaturasya vikar prashamanam cha I”
Ayurveda is a holistic system of human health which provides great scientific contributions as a medical science in the form of prevention and treatment of diseases. It teaches how to maintain healthy body throughout life.
“Dhatusamya kriya cha ukta tantrasyasya prayojanam II”
Ayurveda describes dhatus as the ultimate responsible factors for disease. So, the second object is to restore their balance by uprooting the root cause of disease rather than merely symptomatic treatment.
Brief introduction of Doshas, Dhatus, Mala, Agni, Panch-mahabhuta:
There are three doshas (humors): vata, pitta and kapha. In a balanced condition these three doshas maintain health, but when this equilibrium is disturbed, the normal functions of the body are hampered and this eventually manifests as disease. This imbalance may be in the form of a decrease or increase of one, two or all three doshas.
Vata usually means air, wind or gas, but in the body, as a dosha, it is representative of the vayu (air) and akash (space) mahabhuts (basic elements). It is the principle kinetic energy responsible for all bodily movements and nervous system functions.
The properties of vata are dryness, cold, lightness, mobility, roughness and penetrable to most minute space of the body.
Pitta is composed of the basic elements tej (fire) and jal (water) and governs the enzymatic and hormonal activities of the body. It is responsible for digestion, pigmentation, body temperature, thirst, hunger, sight, courage and mental activities.
The properties of pitta are hot, light, intense, fluid, putrid, pungent and acrid. It is able to digest and transform the substance into different forms suitable to the body.
Kapha is phlegm, which is made up of the basic elements of prithvi (earth) and jal (water). It is responsible for the cohesion and stability of the body. It lubricates joints, maintains sexual power and strength, and controls patience.
The properties of kapha are heavy, viscous, cold, stable, dense, soft and smooth. It provides the body mass and firmness, and immune protection.
The seven dhatus, or tissues, are responsible for sustaining the body. Each dhatu is the source from which the next dhatu is formed and nourished.
These are the waste products of digested food and drink. Ayurveda delineates three principal malas: feces, urine and sweat. Regular elimination of these malas cleanses the body and maintains proper functioning of body systems.
There are three categories of agni:
The major type is jatharagni (digestive enzymes of GI system) that assists in digestion and assimilation of food; it is active in the mouth, stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
The second type is bhutagni, which comprises five subtypes, which are located in the liver. They effect the molecular transformation of digested food into usable form, which is then released into the blood to be circulated in all dhatus (body tissues).
The third type isdhatwagni, which comprises seven subtypes, one for each of the seven dhatus. Each has its own dhatwagni to convert the earlier dhatu material into its functional form.
Ayurveda proposes that the cosmos is composed of five basic elements: space (akash), air (vayu), fire (agni or tejas), water (jala), earth (prithvi). Human beings are miniature representations of the universe and contain within them everything that makes up the surrounding world. Dosha, dhatu, mala and agni also arise from these basic elements.
Ayurveda believes that these five elements exist in different proportions in all forms of matter. The state and properties of matter depends on the proportions of these basic elements.
The panch-mahabhutas can be defined in a material as well as a subtle sense. These basic elements constantly change and interact with each other resulting in a dynamic world.
The basic element of water is present in all body fluids, such as, plasma, saliva, digestive juices and enzymes. Water has the property of flowing and holding the things together.
The basic element of fire is the universal force in nature that produces heat and radiates light. It regulates the metabolic processes regulating the cell by controlling the functioning of various enzymes.
The element of air consists of the movement present in the body. This element sets the universe in motion. It is an invisible kinetic force that moves the blood through vessels, wastes from the body and thoughts through the mind. It also denotes the muscular movements of the body.
The basic element of space is present in all cells. It is everywhere and generally touches everything. It also corresponds to spaces within the body like mouth, nostrils and abdomen.
Ayurveda views every person as a unique individual made up of these five elements. All these elements have the ability to combine with each other to perform various physiological functions. These five elements when joined in different combinations form three biological humors or doshas that form the nature of an individual, known as the body’s composition or prakriti. This is why Ayurveda treats each person as an independent unit.
The combination of air and space forms vata or the kinetic biological mode. Vata is responsible for all in and out movements of the system.
The combination of fire and water forms pitta or the transformative biological mode. It transforms the outer non-acceptable elements directly into the inner acceptable elements of the body.
The combination of earth and water forms kapha or the constructive biological mode. It is responsible for lubrication and providing structure to the body.
Each individual is a combination of two modes, of which one is primary and the other is secondary. The primary mode represents the characteristics of an individual and treatment is based on that.
There are five sense organs in the human body and each of the senses is associated with a specific basic element.
Ayurveda describes six types of taste: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each of these is comprised of at least two basic elements.
Thus, the panch-mahabhutas form the basis of all diagnoses and treatments in Ayurveda. Balancing these panch-mahabhutas is essential for maintaining health and curing diseases from any cause.
Diagnosis: 10 Investigatory Steps
One is Shaman Chikitsa, used to subdue the vitiated doshas, due to which any ailments may be produced. It is administered by using various medicinal herbo-mineral preparations.
However, if the doshas are spoilt beyond a particular level, they give rise to various endotoxins, which have a tendency to accumulate in the minute body channels. These are harmful and hence need to be eliminated from the body. In such cases, the second type of treatment, which is called Shodhan Chikitsa, or cleansing therapy, is prescribed.
Panchakarma is the cornerstone of the Ayurvedic management of disease. It is the process which targets the root cause of the problem and corrects the essential balance of three doshas in the body. Panchakarma is not only good for alleviating disease, but is also a useful tool in maintaining excellent health. Ayurveda advises undergoing panchakarma at the transitions of the seasons to cleanse the body, improve digestion and improve the metabolic processes.
Panchakarma has been given a special place in all ancient Ayurvedic texts. Acharya Charak, the author of the most important ancient text on internal supplement, Charak Samhita, has described a wide use of panchakarma therapy for almost all the major diseases.
Two separate sections, Kalpa Sthanam, and Siddhi Sthanam in Charak Samhita describe the details of special decoctions and other preparations used for panchakarma therapy.
Panchakarma involves three phases:
This includes sansarjan kram (specific diets), dhum pan (smoking of medicinal cigars) and some general rules to follow specific activities.
Purva Karma (Pre-purification Measures):
Before the actual process of purification begins, there is a need to prepare the body by the prescribed methods to encourage it to let go of the toxins. This is done by two procedures: snehan and svedan.
Snehan is oil massage. Oil is applied to the entire body with a particular type of massage which helps the toxins to move towards the gastrointestinal tract. Oil massage also makes the superficial and deep tissues soft and supple. Snehan is given daily for three to seven days, as indicated.
Svedan is sudation or sweating and is given every day immediately following the snehan. A herbal concoction may be added to the steam to further loosen the toxins from the individual. Svedan liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastro-intestinal tract. After three to seven days of snehan and svedan, the doshas become well ripened and then ready to exit out of the body from their residing centre. A particular panchakarma method is then given according to the individual’s constitution and disorder, prakriti and vikriti, respectively.
Five Basic Shodhans: (Cleansing Methods)
Vaman: Emesis Therapy
When there is congestion in the lungs causing repeated attacks of bronchitis, colds, cough or asthma, the Ayurvedic treatment is therapeutic vomiting, vaman, to eliminate the kapha causing the excess mucus.
First, after the snehan and svedan, three to four glasses of licorice or saltwater is administered. Then vomiting is stimulated by gently rubbing the posterior part of the tongue. Alternatively, one may take two to three glasses of saltwater, which will also aggravate kapha, and then rub the tongue to induce vomiting. Once the mucus is released the patient will feel instant relief. It is likely that congestion, wheezing and breathlessness will disappear and that the sinuses will become clear. Therapeutic vomiting is also indicated in chronic asthma, diabetes, chronic cold, lymphatic congestion, chronic indigestion and edema.
Virechan: Purgation Therapy
When excess bile, pitta, is secreted and accumulated in the gall bladder, liver and small intestine, it tends to result in rashes, skin inflammation, acne, chronic attacks of fever, bilious vomiting, nausea and jaundice. Ayurveda recommends the administration of therapeutic purgation or a therapeutic laxative. Virechan is facilitated with senna leaves, flax seeds, psyllium husks or triphala in a combination that is appropriate for the individual person.
In cases of blood impurities and skin diseases, too, virechan is recommended.
Basti: Enema Therapy
The predominant site of vata is the colon. Ayurvedic basti involves the introduction into the rectum of herbal concoctions of sesame oil, and certain herbal preparations in a liquid medium.
Basti is the most effective treatment for vata disorders, although many enemas over a prescribed period of time are usually required. It relieves constipation, distention, chronic fever, cold, sexual disorders, kidney stones, heart pain, backache, sciatica and other joint pains. Many other vata disorders such as arthritis, rheumatism, gout, muscle spasms and headaches may also be treated with basti.
Vata is a very active principle in pathogenesis. If we can control vata through the use of basti, we have gone a long way in going to the root cause of the vast majority of diseases.
Vata is the main etiological factor in the manifestation of diseases. It is the motive force behind the elimination and retention of feces, urine, bile and other excreta.
There are eight main types of basti, according to traditional texts, each with their own indications and contra-indications as listed below:
Nasya: Nasal Administration
The nose is the doorway to the brain and it is also the doorway to consciousness. The nasal administration of medication is called nasya. An excess of bodily humors accumulated in the sinus, throat, nose or head areas is eliminated by means of the nearest possible opening, the nose.
Prana, a life force as nerve energy, enters the body through the breath taken into the nose. Prana is primarily stays in the brain and maintains sensory and motor functions. Prana also governs mental activities, memory, concentration and intellectual activities. Deranged prana creates defective functioning of all these activities and produces headaches, convulsions, loss of memory and reduced sensory perception. Thus, nasal administration, nasya, is indicated for prana disorders, sinus congestion, migraine headaches, convulsions and certain eye and ear problems.
There are six main types of nasya, as listed below:
Raktamokshan: Traditional Ayurvedic method for purification and cleansing of the bloodToxins present in the gastrointestinal tract are absorbed into the blood and circulated throughout the body. This condition is called toxemia, which is the basic cause of repeated infections, hypertension and certain other circulatory conditions. This includes repeated attacks of skin disorders such as urticaria, rashes, herpes, eczema, acne, leukoderma, chronic itching or hives. In such conditions, along with internal medication, elimination of the toxins and purification of the blood is necessary. Raktamoksha is also indicated for cases of enlarged liver or spleen, and in gout.
Extracting a small amount of blood from a vein relieves the tension created by the pitta-genic toxins in the blood. Bloodletting also stimulates the spleen to produce antitoxic substances which helps to stimulate the immune system. Toxins are neutralized enabling radical cures in many blood-borne disorders.
Today, Ayurveda has become accepted as a safe system for the holistic treatment of disease and maintenance of health. It is a therapy which teaches us to keep our physical, mental and spiritual health in balance to live a long, happy and healthy life.