Understanding Ayurveda

What does Ayurveda mean? How can it help you? What is it all about?

Hymn to plants in Rig Veda

Plants, which as receptacles of light, were born three ages before the Gods, I honor your myriad colors and your seven hundred natures.

A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures and thousand are your Growths. May you of a hundred powers make whole what has been hurt.

What does "Ayurveda" mean?

Ayurveda combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (knowledge). The name aptly describes the essence of this ancient Indian system of medicine.
Who founded Ayurveda?

The ancient healers of India, who had excellent observation skills. They observed and recorded the relationship between themselves and their environment -- and thus, in the millennia that followed a totally natural and effective system of medicine was formulated.

How does an Ayurvedic physician work?

An Ayurvedic physician is trained in the use of diet, cooking, yoga, breath-work, meditation and a vast pharmacopoeia in order to help the individual achieve balance.

He is called a "vaidya" which in Sanskrit means "one who knows". The vaidya utilizes her/his observation skills thus:

(a) to determine an individual’s unique constitution pattern
(b) to diagnose imbalances in that constitution
(c) to recommend holistic ways to treat those imbalances

What is the fundamental Ayurvedic theory of healing?

Ayurveda not only treats persons who are ill but brings to life the concepts of preventive health care and health promotion. The goal of Ayurveda is to help each person discover a personal knowledge of living healthy and long.

So how does Ayurveda define good health?

In Ayurvedic medicine, the keyword is balance, between body, mind and spirit. Health, therefore, is defined as soundness of body (sharira), mind (manas) and Self (atman). Each of these must be nurtured if the individual is to create health.

How is the Ayurvedic physician different from the Allopath?

The Allopath is trained to treat individual parts of the human body. The vaidya, on the other hand, believes that the body and mind and spirit are intimately linked--so when he treats a person for, say, liver disorder, it is not just the liver he will focus on. It’s the whole person, his diet and lifestyle patterns and even his state of mind.

But the vaidya does not seem to speak common medical language. How do I communicate with him?

Once you are familiar with the simple Ayurvedic approach to good health, the vaidya’s vocabulary will make perfect sense. The Ayurvedic physician or vaidya, views a person as a composite of 3 forces or doshas:

1. Vata: the force symbolized by AIR
2. Pitta: the force symbolized by FIRE
3. Kapha: the force symbolized by WATER

According to him, the quality and the relative balance of these doshas determines health and disease. When these doshas act harmoniously, the functions of digestion, absorption and elimination—both in body and in mind-- create health.
Can my constitution be the same as that of my blood relations?

No! No two persons in the world have the same constitution, according to Ayurveda. What makes you YOU is unique in itself. Think of the things you ingest every day: foods, medicines, emotions, thoughts, climates, colours, activities. Each of these is responsible for the way you feel and behave. They tend to either balance or unbalance a you and to either improve or aggravate various types of illness.

But isn’t that a more tedious approach? If my asthma attacks are different from another persons, then I need different medicines—are there as many medicines in the world as there are people, then?

Absolutely. Not medicines in the limited sense of the word, though. Because Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing, it does not believe in a common pill for every ill. You need to have a comprehensive health strategy: and it can start with something as simple as your daily routine.

What’s more, your being an unique individual is a great advantage in many ways, once you know your body type or "prakriti" thoroughly. You will know just what kind of diseases you are prone to and why. You will also know what kind of diet, sleep patterns and lifestyle will work best for you. That’s the first step towards a preventive lifestyle.

The Author:

SHUBHRA KRISHAN is a journalist from India, specialising in writing about health. For ten years, she was on-air news correspondent for India's largest television channel, Doordarshan. While in India, she also scripted and edited 104 episodes of "Feeling Fine", a popular weekly TV show that focused on healing with Ayurveda. She then moved to print journalism, when Cosmopolitan (India) hired her as Features Writer. Shubhra also worked as Senior Editor with India's leading women's magazine, Femina. She now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado and freelances for American magazines and for several websites.

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1 Response

  1. Loren Frohning

    Thank you for covering Ayurveda on this site! This is a great intro post and I’m excited to read more of what you have to say about the vedic ways on your other articles. Take care and keep posting, please!

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