Ayurveda is often defined as a ‘cultural life science’, or a ‘culture-based health system’, and so one may not find everything on the subject as strictly codified as other sciences. That is not to say that there are no documents pertaining to this ancient science, but still, a lot of knowledge on the subject has been passed down through the generations by way of practice, more than in documented form. Ayurveda is based on the simple dictum of “being in your natural state”, and consists of the four dimensions of spiritual, mental, sensorial, and bodily well-being. Further, the aim of Ayurveda is not only to heal, but equally, to prevent ailments.
According to Ayurveda, people are made of the five basic elements of water, earth, space, air, and fire, and combinations of these form the three life forces (energies), which are known as doshas, of which there are three (tridosha)—Vata Dosha (space and air), Pitta Dosha (fire and water), and. Kapha Dosha (water and earth). Ayurveda lays emphasis on the fact that individuals have their own particular kind of constitution (prakriti), which depends on dominant traits regarding genetic and environmental factors, eating habit, and lifestyle. Ayurveda identifies two types of constitution, the first as stated above (as per the doshas), and the second, according to the mental state of the individual.
Among the doshas, Vata Dosha is considered to be the most powerful, and it controls the basic body functions, such as respiration, nerve impulses, circulation, heart function, elimination of waste, and cell division. Individuals of this dosha are more likely to suffer from asthma, heart disease, skin problems, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Pitta Dosha controls metabolism, digestion, and some hormones concerned with appetite. Individuals with this dosha as the dominant trait may suffer more from infections, hypertension, heart disease, etc. Similarly, Kapha Dosha controls the immune system, growth, and body strength, and individuals having this as their primary life force are more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases like asthma, diabetes, obesity, etc.
Ayurveda focuses on a holistic approach for the prevention and treatment of disease, and prescribes different treatment options for different individuals. It has been claimed that Ayurveda is more patient-centric, rather than disease-centric, as is the case with allopathic medicine. The practitioner takes into consideration an individual’s primary life force and unique physical and emotional makeup, along with the balance between these elements, before prescribing a mode of treatment, the objective of which is to cleanse the body of undigested food, which can accumulate and be toxic, thus causing illness. A special cleansing procedure known as Pancha Karma (meaning five procedures, consisting of blood purification, massage, medical oils, herbs, and enema) is done to get rid of the accumulated toxins and restore balance in the body. Pancha Karma is a treatment that is both curative and preventive, as also, rejuvenative, and its goal is to make the individual more receptive to the curative process of Ayurveda.
There are eight branches in Ayurveda, namely, Kayachikitsa (dealing with general medicine), Kaumāra-bhṛtya and Bala Roga (dealing with children’s treatment), Shalya tantra (dealing with surgical techniques), Śālākya tantra (dealing with diseases of the eye, ear, nose, teeth, etc.), Bhuta vidya (dealing with unknown causes that are not directly visible and not explained by tridosha), Agada tantra (dealing with antidotes to poison), Rasayana tantra (treatment of geriatrics, also dealing with rejuvenation), Vajikarana tantra (dealing with aphrodisiacs). Likewise, there are three types of medicines used in Ayurveda—herbal, mineral (using heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, silver, gold, sulphur, etc.), and a combination of both herbal and mineral. Ayurveda dwells on many ways we can put it into practice as part of our daily lives, and there are numerous home remedies using common items found in the kitchen that are effective against various common ailments.