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Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of health care that is native to the indian subcontinent. Even today it is very common in india and Sri lanka and is used by millions of people. Ayurveda is also gaining popularity in the west. The word “Ayurveda” is a tatpurusha compound of the word ayus meaning “life,” “life principle,” or “long life” and the word veda, which refers to a system of “knowledge.”

Thus ” “knowledge of life,” “knowledge of a long life” or even “science of life.” According to Charaka samhita, “life” itself is defined as the “combination of the body, sense organs, mind and soul, the factor responsible for preventing decay and death, which sustains the body over time, and guides the processes of rebirth.”According to this perspective, Ayurveda is concerned with measures to protect “ayus”, which includes healthy living along with therapeutic measures that relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony. Ayurveda is also one among the few traditional systems of medicine to contain a sophisticated system of surgery (which is referred to as “salya-chikitsa.

As per Ayurveda, every treatment of disease embodies 4 ingredients – The physician, The medicines, The attendant and the patients and each of these has 4 essential qualities. The physician should be competent, well versed and be leading a clean, pious and ascetic life. The medicines shall be of various varieties, be possessing of multiple effects, be prepared duly out of the necessary ingredients and be prescribed to suit the patient by a competent physician. The attendant should be loyal to the patient, be neat and clean, competent and well trained. The patient should be financially able, acting as per the physician’s instructions, be confiding and unreserved with the physician and be confident in the physician’s ability. The drug, having plant, animal or mineral origin is like an instrumental aid to a physician. That is why it has been placed nent to the physician amongst the quadruples of treatment.

History of Ayurveda :

Five thousand years ago in the magnificent Himalayas, one of the greatest sages of india, Srila Vyasadeva wrote down the Vedas for the first time, this included a branch which is called Ayurveda: “The science of Life” (Ayur means life and Veda means science).
The Vedas came from an oral tradition that reached back into antiquity. Srila Vyasadev entrusted the original copies of the texts with his most erudite and enlightened disciples, who, along with other great sages, inaugurated a very long sacrificial ceremony for hundreds of years for the purification and blessings of the entire world. Remember people lived for one to two thousand years back then. During that time, they studied and discussed these ancient texts with their own disciples, who wrote commentaries, and expanded and developed these original and eternal truths without ever altering them.

Ayurveda dates back an estimated 5,000-10,000 years and is widely considered to be the oldest form of health care in the world. It is understood by many scholars that knowledge of Ayurveda spread out from India and influenced the ancient Chinese system of medicine, Unani medicine, and the humoral medicine practiced by Hippocrates in Greece. For this reason, Ayurveda is often referred to as the “Mother of all healing.”

The knowledge of Ayurveda is believed to be of Divine origin and was communicated to the saints and sages of India who received its wisdom through deep meditation. Ayurvedic knowledge was passed down orally through the generations and then written down in the Vedas, the sacred texts of India believed to be the oldest writings in the world.

Written in Sanskrit, the Vedas cover a vast number of subjects from grammar to health care. The Vedas were written approximately 2500 BC or earlier. Current knowledge about Ayurveda is mostly drawn from relatively later writings, primarily the Caraka Samhita (approximately 1500 BC), the Ashtang Hrdyam (approximately 500 AD), and the Sushrut Samhita (300 – 400 AD). These three classics describe the basic principles and theories from which Ayurveda has evolved. They also contain vast clinical information on the management of a multitude of diseases expanded upon by later writings and research.

Ashtanga :

The practical tenets of Ayurveda are divided into eight sections or branches.

These sections include:

Kayachikitsa Tantra: Dealing with internal medicine treatment, it is generally considered the most well developed of the branches of Ayurveda.

Shalya Tantra: This branch of surgical Ayurveda has limited application today.

Shalakya Tantra: This branch of Ayurveda specialises in curing diseases of the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat.

Kaumarabhritya Tantra: This branch of Ayurveda deals with paediatrics, or the health and diseases of children. Today it is practiced mainly by the traditional Buddhist physicians in Nepal.

Agada Tantra: This is concerned with the treatment of cases of poisoning, including poisoned food, bites from venomous animals or insects. Today rural vishavaidyas (poison doctors) often practise this science.

Bajikarana Tantra: Recognised as the science of purification of the male and female genital organs, this branch is concerned with practices related to conceiving healthy offspring.

Rasayana Tantra: This section of Ayurveda deals with the promotion of good health and longevity. It does not have any specific sources but is included in texts dealing with internal medicine.

Bhuta Vidya: Bhuta Vidya, or the science of spiritual healing, is mainly concerned with the treatment of mental diseases. Its application extends to diseases arising from causes other than an imbalance in the Tridoshas.

Tridosha system :

The central concept of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory that health exists when there is a balance between three fundamental bodily humours or doshas called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Vata is the dynamic “kinetic” principle necessary to mobilize anything from electron to a galaxy. Air is the representative in an abstract sense.

Pitta is the thermal, explosive force behind the ability to transform everything. Sun is the representative.

Kapha is the cohesion that holds everything together with its electro magnetic and gravitational forces.

All Ayurvedic physicians believe that these ancient ideas, based in the knowledge discovered by the Rishis and Munis, exist in harmony with physical reality. These Ayurvedic concepts allow physicians to examine the homeostasis of the whole system. People may be of a predominant dosha or constitution, but all doshas have the basic elements within them

Sapta dhatus :

Sapta means seven and the word Dhatu refers to various types of tissues the human body is made of. The word Dhatu in Sanskrit means “that which forms the body”. The root Dha means support and the Dhatus sustain the body.

The seven dhatus mentioned are Rasa, Rakta, Maamsa Medas, Asthi, Majja and Shukra.

Rasa: The food we consume is digested in the stomach and intestine and forms a semi-fluid. This is called Rasa dhatu. In modern science it is called chyle. This is absorbed into the blood stream and becomes part of the plasma the fluid which can be seen after the cells in the blood settle down at the bottom if blood mixed with an anticoagulant (a substance which prevents blood from clotting) is kept in a tube.

Rakta: Rakta means blood. Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the body.

Mamsa: This refers to muscle tissue. There are three types of muscles in the human body. The skeletal muscles are responsible for movements of joints and are under voluntary control. Smooth muscles are present in internal organs and are not under voluntary control. For example the intestines contain smooth muscles which propel food forward. Cardiac muscle is present only in the heart and is a specialized tissue responsible for pumping of blood.

Medas: This is the adipose tissue which consists mainly of fat. It is responsible for lubrication.

Ashthi: This consists of bones and cartilages. Bones give strength to the body.

Majja: This refers to the bone marrow. It is a spongy substance inside the cavity of bones.

Shukra: The shukra dhatu is represented by the semen in the male and the ovum in the female. It is responsible for reproduction. But a part of this dhatu transforms itself into ojas.

The word ojas is a Sanskrit word which literally means immunity, energy, vigor etc. It is somewhat an abstract entity and its equivalent in modern medicine is not known. It is the interface between the spiritual and the material dimensions of a human being.

We all know that some people are full of energy, rarely fall sick and have a bright look on their face. On the other hand some people always feel tired, fall sick frequently and look dull. It may not be possible to identify any difference between the two by conducting detailed physiological and biochemical tests.

According to ayurveda the difference is in the level of ojas. Ojas integrates body, mind and spirit together resulting in a unique individual. Ojas is responsible for bala (strength) and vyadhikshamatva (resistance to diseases).

Scriptures describe two types of ojas-Para ojas and Apara ojas. Para ojas is said to be located in the heart and its loss leads to death. Apara ojas is distributed throughout the body.


Mala means waste products or dirty. It is third in the trinity of the body i.e. doshas and dhatu. There are three main types of malas, e.g. stool, urine and sweat. Malas are mainly the waste products of the body so their proper excretion from the body is essential to maintain the proper health of the individual.

Faeces (purisha) provide support and tone to the body along with maintaining the temperature of the colon. Improper functioning can lead to Vayu illnesses like worry, fear, a feeling of being ungrounded, nervousness, headaches, gas, distention and constipation. Proper elimination of the faeces is damaged by the excessive use of purgatives, colonics, worry, and fear (fear can create both improper functioning or be a byproduct of this dysfunction). It is also damaged by excessive travel, the wrong foods (such as junk food or foods that are too light or too heavy), oversleeping, coffee, drugs, antibiotics, insufficient exercise and prolonged diarrhea. In Ayurvedic literature, it has been clearly stated that debilitated persons suffering from tuberculosis should not be given any kind of purgatives, as it is the feces that maintain the temperature of such persons.

Urine (mutra) expels water and other solid wastes from the body. Poor urine elimination results in bladder pain or infection, difficult urination, fever, thirst, dry mouth, or dehydration. It is affected by diuretic drugs, alcohol, excessive sex, trauma, fright or intake of too few liquids.

Sweat (sweda) controls the body temperature by expelling excess water and toxins, cools the body, moistens the skin and hair, carries away excess fat from the body and purifies the blood. Excess sweating can cause skin diseases (usually Pitta related) like eczema, boils, fungus, burning skin, dehydration, fatigue or convulsions (caused by Vayu). Deficient sweating can result in stiff hair, skin fissures, dry skin, dandruff, wrinkles or susceptibility to colds and flu (i.e., peripheral circulation). Sweating is damaged by eating too many dry foods, lack of salt, excessive or deficient exercise, and excessive use of diaphoretic herbs or excess sweating.

Tastes and effects :

Ayurveda holds that the tastes of foods or herbs have specific physiological effects. Those tastes that transform after digestion (Vipaka) are more powerful.

Sweet (Madhura) – Sweet foods nourish, cool, moisten, oil, and increase weight

Sour (Amla) – Sour foods warm, oil, and increase weight
Salty (Lavana) – Salty foods warm, dissolve, stimulate, soften, oil, and increase weight
Bitter (Katu) – Bitter foods cool, dry, purify and decrease weight
Pungent (Tikta) – Pungent foods warm, dry, stimulate, and decrease weight
Astringent (Kashaya) – Astringent foods cool, dry, reduce stickiness.

Pancha Maha Bhuta :

According to Ayurvedic philosophy, every living and non living being in this universe is a combination of five basic elements, called Pancha Maha Bhoothas. The human body is also constituted of these five eternal elements in various compositions. Hence, it can be said that every cell of the body is possesses all the properties of life. The difference between the human body and the external world is the expression of Chaitanya or ‘consciousness’ or ‘life spark’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. The following are the five basic eternal elements :

Space (Akasha)
Air (Vayu)
Fire (Tejas)
Water (Jala)
Earth (Prithvi)
The Panchamahabhootha (the Five elements) manifest themselves in the human body as three basic principles known as Tridosha. The word ‘Dosha’ literally means ‘that which maintains and controls the body’. These are Vatha, Pitha and Kapha. The Pancha Maha Bhootas and Tridoshas are not visible to the naked eye. But they should be conceived as comprehensive terms in which all the physical structures and physiological functions of the body are included. The Air and space elements combine to form the Vatha principle. The fire element constitutes the Pitha principle. Earth and Water elements combine to form Kapha. These three basic principles govern all biological, physiological and physio-pathological functions of the body, mind and consciousness. They act as basic constituents and protective barriers for the body in its normal physiological conditions.

Thus these Five Subtle Elements (Pancha Mahabhutas) form the basis for all things found in the material creation, from a grain of sand to the complex physiology of every human being. Balancing these elements in just the right way for each unique individual is the key to maintaining health and treating disease should it arise, whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual.

Triguna :

Tri means three and gunas means qualities, thus Trigunas determines the three qualities, which determines people’s nature, belief and perception.

The three gunas are classified as:

These three gunas -Trigunas – are found in nature as well as in mind corresponding to the three doshas (vatha, pitha, kapha) of the body. Just like the three doshas of body are the essential components of body, the three gunas – Satwa, Rajas, Tamas – are the essential components (or energies) of mind, describing the mental state of the mind of a person. Ayurveda advocates a unique description and distinction of people on the basis of the psychological state (constitution) of their mind- Manasa Prakriti. Genetically determined, these psychological characteristics are dependent on the relative dominance of the three gunas.

While all individuals have these three gunas in various proportions, the predominant guna of the three determines a person’s mansa Prakriti (pshychological constitution of mind), balances the mind and the body, maintaining them in a healthy state. Any disorder in this balance results in various types of mental disorders.

Satwa, characterised by lightness, consciousness, pleasure and clarity, is pure, free from disease and cannot be disturbed in any way. It activates the senses and is responsible for the perception of knowledge.

Rajas, the most active of the gunas, has motion and stimulation as its characteristics. All desires, wishes, ambitions and fickle-mindedness are a result of the same.

Tamas is characterised by heaviness and resistance. It produces disturbances in the process of perception and activities of the mind. Delusion, false knowledge, laziness, apathy, sleep and drowsiness are due to it.

When the three gunas are in various proportions the predominant guna determines the psychological constitution of mind. Any kind of imbalance results in various types of mental problems. The balance of rajas and tamas is disturbed by stress, negative thoughts and desires. People with a balanced satwa and rajas adopt spiritual and holistic measures to improve themselves.

For maintaining a healthy state of mind and the body, balance of three doshas and gunas are required.

Srotas or Body Channels in Ayurveda

Srotas or channels are present in all living things. These srothas or channels carry food, minerals, water, air and thoughts. A block in the srotas is the beginning of diseases. Another definition of health is here – the unchecked flow of physical elements, thought and knowledge.

Only three srotas or channels are recognized by modern medical science – they are the anna vaha srotha (the digestive system), rakta vaha srota (circulatory system) and the prana vaha srota (respiratory system).

Charaka, the ancient Ayurveda acharya lists thirteen srothas in his book, the Charaka Samhita. Three srotas for food, air and water, seven srotas associated with sapta dhatus, and three srotas for excretion. Presently there are sixteen srotas identified.

The first three srotas are:

Prana vaha srota carries breath
Anna vaha srota carries solid and liquid food
Udaka vaha srotas carry water in the body

The seven srotas associated with sapta dhatus are:

Rasa vaha srota carries plasma and lymphatic liquid
Rakta vaha srota carries blood – circulatory system
Mamsa vaha srota carries nutrients to muscles and wastes from muscle tissue
Meda (medha) vaha srota supplies fat to adipose tissues
Asthi vaha srota supplies nutrients to bones
Majja vaha srota supplies nutrients to bone marrow nervous system and the brain.
Sukra (shukla) vaha srota supplies nutrients to sexual organs and carry reproductive cells and liquids.

The three srotas associated with malas are:

Purisha vaha srota carries feces
Mutra vaha srota carries urine
Sveda vaha srota carries sweat

The three additional srotas that are not described in Charaka Samhita are

Artava vaha srotas (the menstrual channel)
stanya vaha srotas (the channel that carries breast milk) and
mano vaha srotas (the channel that carries all mental activities).

Two women-only srotas are:

Artava vaha srotas carry menstrual fluids
Stanya vaha srotas carry breast milk

One srota associated with mind is:

Mano vaha srotas carrying thoughts, and wisdom


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