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Books and Articles by Dr. Ranvir Pahwa

Ayurveda – The Science of Life An Ancient Medicine

by Dr. Ranvir Pahwa

Ayurveda is the oldest science of medicine. The word is comprised of two Sanskrit words: "ayur." meaning life, and "veda", meaning science (i.e. the science of life). It is the science of longevity – knowledge designed to prolong life, and to promote health, growth, and happiness. It originated in India and has become an integral part of their society, where it teaches people how to be healthy, wealthy, and wise in any circumstance. Ayurveda's medicinal knowledge was also passed on to the Greeks, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetans, and eventually spread to the Middle East and the South Pacific. More than twenty years ago, amidst the growth of Western Medicine and along with other complementary and alternative modalities, Ayurveda had its seeds sown in North America, and now its fruits are slowly emerging.

The credit for the evolution of Ayurvedic Medicine goes to various ancient sages and seers who received the knowledge from the supreme power, the Brahma (God), and who then orally transferred this knowledge to other great scholars. The Indian Vedas, from 3000 BC, are the first scriptures that indicate an account of herbal medicine and health. However, there are differing views among historians as to the exact date of origin of Ayurveda.

In brief, the Seer Atreya developed a School of Ayurvedic Physicians sometime between the 8th and 6th Century, BC. Sushrut Samhita was written between the 6th and 5th Century, BC. The sage, Sushruta, was the first surgeon credited with starting plastic surgery. Later another man, Atrey, wrote Charaka Samhita in the 1st Century, AD. Samhita, first written in the Sanskrit language, is a compilation of the art and science of healing.

Ayurveda is a system of medicine that looks after the body and the mind, as well as one's emotional and spiritual aspects. Yoga and Tantra are integral parts of Ayurveda. Yoga and Ayurveda work well together: the practice of yoga provides the spiritual aspect and thus the base for "self enquiry" and "self knowledge," however, without the good health derived from the Ayurveda aspect, the yoga practices would not be possible. The addition of Tantra involves the direct energetic approach to a spiritual path.

This ancient medicine is made up of eight branches of knowledge called Ashtang Veda. They are: (1) Kaya Chikitsa (general medicine), (2) Kaumarya Bhritya (pediatrics), (3) Graha Chikitsa (psychiatry and psychosomatic diseases), (4) Shalakya Tantra (ear, eyes, head, mouth, and throat), (5) Shalya Tantra (general surgery), (6) Agada Tantra (toxicology), (7) Rasayana Chikitsa (rejuvenation therapy), and (8) Vajeekarana Chikitsa (aphrodisiac therapy).

Ayurveda, sometimes called a Medical-Metaphysical healing science, teaches that every human being has four biological and spiritual instincts: religious (Dharma), financial (Artha), desires (Kama), and the instinct toward freedom of the soul (Moksha or Nirvana). If one has balanced health, then one can fulfill these instincts of human life. This unique medicine is directed towards self-healing and energy balance, which reduces the process of physical deterioration and disease. It also helps in the healthy maintenance of the ecosystem.

The "Five Element" Theory – Air, Fire, Water, and Earth – is the basis of Ayurvedic Medicine. These elements of the universe represent their counterparts in all the organisms and are transformed into the anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology of a living being. Different combinations of the five elements make up three constitutional attributes which are called Dosha.

Three of the Doshas are: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In the Sanskrit language, Vata means "air," Pitta means "fire," and Kapha means "water". Actually, of the five elements, Vata comprises air and ether, Pitta is made of fire and water, and Kapha holds the water and earth elements. The characteristics of the elements make the characters of Dosha. In turn Dosha makes our nature, which holds our total concept of well-being. Disturbance in the Dosha leads to changes in the body and mind (i.e., from normal to abnormal health). Doshas are the raw material of the physical, mental, and psychological aspects of an organism.
Additionally, Ayurveda scholars found, through meditation and research, that the following structural and functional attributes are managed by the Doshas: (a) Vata Dosha controls all the movements and the catabolic (destructive metabolism) aspects, (b) Pitta Dosha controls the digestive system process, fire, and overall metabolism, and (c) Kapha Dosha manages the nutritional and structural side of the body.
Balance is a natural order (i.e. health), and imbalance reflects disorder (i.e. disease/sickness). Proportionate balance in Dosha corresponds to balance in health. All people have all three Doshas. One is always primary, one is secondary, and the third one is minor. Thus, each person has a particular pattern of quality and energies. Most people do not live with one pure Dosha – this is because of pollution, eating habits, lifestyle, and emotional aspects. Therefore, many of us present the combination of two Doshas. Furthermore, a person can show various combinations of three Doshas. In addition, food and herbs are also characterised based on Dosha.

To study the disease process, Ayurveda looks at various factors: constitutional attributes (Doshas), body tissues (Dhatus), channels (Srotas), excretory functions (Malas), digestive fire (Agni), mind, psychology, whole body, consciousness, seasons, genetics, congenital aspects, trauma, and natural impacts. Ayurveda also integrates the modern diagnostic techniques and treats ancient and modern diseases and conditions. Anyone who is interested in a complete health evaluation should seek the help of an Ayurveda Practitioner who is trained and experienced in Ayurvedic Medicine, as well as in Ancient Eastern and modern health sciences.

There are several levels and aspects of therapies in Ayurvedic Medicine. Fundamental methods are Reduction and Tonification. In the reduction method there is palliation and purification, where palliation involves herbs, improving digestion, fasting, and exercise. It is meant to balance the Dosha and to increase the body's immunity. Purification is to eliminate the internal causative factors which involves oleation, sweating, and "Panch (five) Karma (procedure)." However, five procedures of "Panch Karma" are emesis, purgation, enemas, nasal therapy, and release of the toxic blood. Purification methods, especially Panch Karma, should be performed by a well-trained and an experienced practitioner. The blood-letting method is rarely practised these days in India.

Tonification method involves a tonifying oil application, enemas, nasal therapy, various foods, spices, herbs, oils, etc. This method is also known as rejuvenation therapy – that which destroys the old age and disease. The goal of the rejuvenation therapy is to become healthy and explore the spiritual aspects of life.
Before engaging in any method of therapy, Ayurveda has always emphasized having a daily routine, correct diet, and life-style based on the Doshas.

Wholife, Jan/Feb:10-11, ( 2004)