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Ayurveda -- 5,000 Years Young - by Rama Kant Mishra
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
(Optional - If you like, you can link to the Vata, Pitta and Kapha sections at
www.mapi.com to have readers discover which dosha in their physiology needs to be
balanced and simple tips for balance)
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, I think that 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.
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 Amrit from Maharishi Ayurveda have been and continue
to be extensively researched at independent institutions to scientifically validate
and document their beneficial effects.
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.
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.
Rama Kant Mishra comes from a long
line of Raj Vaidyas -- physicians to the erstwhile royalty of India. He is currently
Director of Research and Product Development at Maharishi Ayurveda Products in Colorado
Springs. His perspective on health and wellness issues can be read in a free monthly
ayurveda newsletter published at http://www.mapi.com.
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