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Basis for Ayurvedic Philosophy

What is Ayurveda ?

Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to India and a form of alternative medicine.The earliest literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India, i.e., in the mid-second millennium BC. The Suśruta Saṃhitā and the Charaka Saṃhitā, encyclopedias of medicine compiled from various sources from the mid-first millennium BC to about 500 CE,are among the foundational works of Ayurveda. Over the following centuries, ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments.Current practices derived (or reportedly derived) from Ayurvedic medicine are regarded as part of complementary and alternative medicine.

What is the Origin of Ayurveda?

Widely regarded as the oldest form of healthcare in the world, Ayurveda is an intricate medical system that originated in India thousands of years ago. The fundamentals of Ayurveda can be found in Hindu scriptures called the Vedas — the ancient Indian books of wisdom. The Rig Veda, which was written over 6,000 years ago, contains a series of prescriptions that can help humans overcome various ailments.

How does Ayurveda help you?

The aim of this system is to prevent illness, heal the sick and preserve life. This can be summed up as follows:

  • To protect health and prolong life ("Swasthyas swasthya rakshanam")
  • To eliminate diseases and dysfunctions of the body                                                       ("Aturasya vikar prashamanamcha")

What are the Basic Principles of Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is based on the premise that the universe is made up of five elements: air, fire, water, earth and ether. These elements are represented in humans by three "doshas", or energies: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When any of the doshas accumulate in the body beyond the desirable limit, the body loses its balance. Every individual has a distinct balance, and our health and well-being depend on getting a right balance of the three doshas ("tridoshas"). Ayurveda suggests specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to help individuals reduce the excess dosha. A healthy person, as defined in Sushrut Samhita, one of the primary works on Ayurveda, is "he whose doshas are in balance, appetite is good, all tissues of the body and all natural urges are functioning properly, and whose mind, body and spirit are cheerful..."

Ayurvedic Philosophy

Ayurveda is applicable to every living thing, as implied by its name, the science of life. Vedic sciences attribute life to more things than we normally do - the things such as air, wind, fire, the earth, planets, stars, etc. are all thought to possess conscience like living beings.The basic premise of Ayurveda is that the entire cosmos or universe is part of one singular absolute. Everything that exists in the vast external universe (macrocosm), also appears in the internal cosmos of the human body (microcosm). The human body consisting of 50-100 million cells, when healthy, is in harmony, self-perpetuating and self-correcting just as the universe is. The ancient Ayurveda text, Charaka, says, "Man is the epitome of the universe. Within man, there is as much diversity as in the world outside. Similarly, the outside world is as diverse as human beings themselves." In other words, all human beings are a living microcosm of the universe and the universe is a living macrocosm of the human beings.

Uniqueness of Individuals

Ayurveda views each and every person as unique, with a unique mind-body constitution and a unique set of life circumstances, all of which must be considered in determining either natural healing approaches or recommendations for daily living. This view is in alignment with the modern science which views individuals as unique in the universe with a unique DNA. According to Ayurveda, because we each have a unique constitution, our health prescription must be unique to us. This means that in order to be healthy, you need to eat certain foods that are beneficial for your body type and stay away from others. Your exercise program must be personally suitable as well. Your constitution determines very much about you - your body, your personality, even how you relate to other people. Understanding it lets you know what you need in order to be healthy.

Harmony With The Nature and Developing Perfect Health

The theoretical side of Ayurveda provides insights into how to live one's life in harmony with nature and natural laws and rhythms. Its practical side - specifically its guidelines for an intelligently regulated diet and daily routine, its techniques for stress management, and its exercises for increased fitness and alertness-help us take control of our lives and develop radiant health. The central goal of Ayurveda is nothing less than a state of perfect health, for the individual and for society and the environment as well, in which every man and woman is inwardly in balance and outwardly in harmony with the environment and the laws of nature.

According to Ayurveda, nature is permeated by intelligence. Intelligent laws govern the growth of all living things; kittens grow into cats, acorns into oak trees. Indeed, laws of nature regulate everything, from the tiny world of whirling atoms to the huge, enormous world of galaxies.

Human Body As A Self Correcting Mechanism and Balance

The human body is part of nature, as we discussed before as a microcosm of the universe, and when it runs perfectly, as it was designed to run, it can be perfectly healthy. It is trying to be perfectly healthy all the time, using its innate self-healing, self-regulating ability as it strives for a perfect homeostatic balance. But we repeatedly interfere. Nature has set us up with all the equipment we need to be perfectly healthy. Health is our natural state, and ill health is unnatural. Every day our systems are exposed to literally millions of bacteria, viruses, allergens, even carcinogens, and yet our immune system has the intelligence and skill to deal with all those invaders and keep us healthy. However, when stress, inadequate nutrition, or just fatigue weaken the immune system, those same invaders may produce disease.

Every second the body is adjusting to countless thousands of changing parameters, keeping us in homeostatic balance. No matter what comes along to upset the balance, the body knows its own nature, knows what ideal temperature it should be and the correct chemistry it needs to maintain, and keeps referring back to that blueprint to maintain proper balance. 

The Concept of Self

The Self, as this inner dimension of our nature is called in Ayurveda, is the central point of our being, the hub of the wheel. It is the true inner center of our diversified lives. Thought, feelings, speech, action, and relationships all originate here, deep within the personality. The whole person-and the whole field of interpersonal behavior-can be spontaneously enhanced by the process of self-referral, or looking within to experience the Self. This is analogous to the natural process by which all the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit of a tree can be simultaneously nourished and enlivened by watering the root.

The Self can be directly experienced. Those who do experience it find it to be deeply peaceful, yet a reservoir of creativity, intelligence, and happiness that spills over into all phases of living.

How Do We Get Sick?

Ayurveda holds that specific disease conditions are symptoms of an underlying imbalance. It does not neglect relief of these symptoms, but its main focus is on the big picture: to restore balance and to help you create such a healthy lifestyle that the imbalance won't occur again.

Living in health and balance is the key to a long life free from disease.Perhaps the most important lesson Ayurveda has to teach is that our health is up to us. Every day of our lives, every hour of every day, we can, and do, choose either health or illness. When we choose wisely, nature rewards us with health and happiness. When we persistently choose unwisely, nature, in her wisdom, eventually sets us straight: She makes us sick and gives us a chance to rest and rethink our choices.

The Five Great Elements

Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five great elements or building blocks. These are earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence, and rigidity. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells, and tissues are manifestations of the earth. Earth is considered a stable substance.

Water characterizes change and represents the liquid state. Water is necessary for the survival of all living things. A large part of the human body is made up of water. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another. Water is a substance without stability.  

Fire is the power to transform solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. In other words, it possess power to transform the state of any substance. Within our bodies, the fire or energy binds the atoms together. It also converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle. Fire transforms food into energy. It creates the impulses of nervous reactions, our feelings, and even our thought processes. Fire is considered a form without substance. 

Air is the gaseous form of matter which is mobile and dynamic. Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions. It is a key element required for fire to burn. Air is existence without form.  

Ether is the space in which everything happens. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Ether is only the distances which separate matter. The chief characteristic of ether is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration.  

Every substance in our world is made up of these five substances. All substances can be classified according to their predominant element. For example, a mountain is predominantly made up of earth element. A mountain also contain water, fire, air and ether. But these elements are very small compared to the earth. So, its classification is the earth.  

Ayurveda defines a human as the assemblage of the five great elements plus the "immaterial self." 

The Senses

The five elements manifest in the functioning of the five senses of man. This allows the person to perceive the external environment in which he or she lives. They are also related, through the senses, to five actions expressing the functions of the sensory organs.

The basic senses and their relationship to the five elements are shown below:

ElementSensesSense OrganActionOrgan of Action
EtherHearingEarSpeechTongue, vocal cords, mouth
AirTouchSkinHoldingHand
FireVisionEyeWalking Feet
WaterTasteTongueProcreationGenitals
EarthSmellNoseExcretionAnus

Like And Unlike

Anything that enters our body (microcosm) can exert three possible effects on the organism.

  • It can act as food. This nourishes the organism
  • It can act as medicine. This balances the organism
  • It can act as poison. This disturbs the organism

The five elements may exert one, two, or all three of these effects. The rule that governs the interaction between the environment and the organism is the Law of Like and Unlike. Like increase like. Unlike decreases like.

For example, when you lie in full sun, your body temperature goes up. Similarly, when you take bath in cold water, your body temperature goes down. Everything you experience, food, medicine, or poison, increases like parts of your microcosm and decreases those parts that are unlike it. Similarly, thought also enters your microcosm. Thought can be positive or negative and will influence your being. Goods thoughts cheer you up. Bad thoughts will poison you and decrease your good feelings.

Knowing what is good and what is not so good for your personal self enables you to make informed choices in your life. Right thoughts and attitudes actually induce prosperity. Evil thoughts and bad deeds will not result in prosperity, but to the ultimate ruin of the microcosm.

What is 'Tridosha' or the Theory of Bio-energies?:

The three doshas, or bio-energies found in our body are:

  • Vata pertains to air and ether elements. This energy is generally seen as the force, which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination.
  • Kapha pertains to water and earth elements. Kapha is responsible for growth and protection. The mucousal lining of the stomach, and the cerebral-spinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal column are examples of kapha.
  • Pitta pertains to fire and water elements. This dosha governs metabolism, e.g., the transformation of foods into nutrients. Pitta is also responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems. ( For Detail Information About Tridosha, See Our Next Post "Theory Of Bio-energies" )
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.

What is 'Panchakarma' or the Therapy of Purification?
If toxins in the body are abundant, then a cleansing process known as panchakarma is recommended to purge these unwanted toxins. This fivefold purification therapy is a classical form of treatment in ayurveda. These specialized procedures consist of the following:
  • Therapeutic vomiting or emesis (Vaman)
  • Purgation (Virechan)
  • Enema (Basti)
  • Elimination of toxins through the nose (Nasya)
  • Bloodletting or detoxification of the blood (Rakta moksha)

The Science of Herb Combining and Processing

Although single Ayurvedic herbs and spices such as Brahmi, Turmeric and Ashwagandha are popular, 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.

Scientific Scrutiny of Ayurveda

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 the antioxidant formula Amrit from Maharishi Ayurveda have been and continue to be extensively researched at independent institutions to scientifically validate and document their beneficial effects.
Ayurvedic herbs are a key component of ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. In general, practitioners use ayurvedic herbs to cleanse the body, boost defense against disease, and keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance. Other healing approaches and techniques (including massage, yoga, and specialized diets) are also central to ayurvedic medicine. Along with ayurvedic herbs, practitioners frequently use certain therapeutic oils and spices to treat illness and promote well-being.

Cumulative Benefits of Ayurveda

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.

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