Put simply, Ayurveda means “science of life” (a Sanskrit word, ayur meaning life, veda meaning science or knowledge). It is an ancient philosophy based on a deep understanding of external truths about the human body, mind and spirit. Unlike orthodox medicine, it is not based on the frequently changing findings of specific research projects, but rather on permanent eternal principle of living which can be applicable to modern life as we know it. Although it originated in the East several thousands of years ago, Ayurveda could not be more appropriate for present-day Western society, where so many suffer from stress related conditions which conventional medicine has been unable to remedy. Ayurveda is the oldest healing system known as it also the most complete. Its logical, common sense approach to health and living is combined with philosophy, psychology and spiritual guidance. Ayurveda has an armoury of physical treatments from medications and massage to even surgical techniques. It also combines treatments with yoga, cleansing and detoxification which can provide remedies for such disorders as infertility, impotence, arthritis, hypertension, gastro-intestinal problems, chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. It offers natural herbal remedies which counteract imbalances in the body and can successfully treat most health problems encountered in the West today. It also advocates meditation and provides recommendations for harmonious living and good relationships.
Ayurveda teaches us that those highly complex organisms we call human beings are made up of a mixture of matter and anti-matter and that it is the constant interaction between those two which determines the state of our physical and mental health. Ayurveda’s most powerful tenet is that nothing functions in isolation and where there is imbalance, the result is illness and disorder. The universe consist of five elements-Ether, Air, Earth, Fire and Water- and the human body is composed of a combination of them. Furtheremore, three principle bio-energies known as the doshas exist in all matter and are composed of different combinations of the five elements. They are called vata, pitta and kapha…(the tridosha principle). Their influence affects all mechanisms of the body. Most individuals have a predominant dosha, which then determines the body type and temperament. Although the concept of the doshas is unique to Ayurveda, it is not unlike the traditional Western idea of three basic body types- ectomorph (lean and delicate), mesophorph (compact and muscular) and endomorph (stocky).
Genetic research has provided insights but has also fuelled controversy. It is not difficult to accept that we “inherit” certain characteristics, hair colour, height, the shape of our nose, even a predisposition to certain diseases. But modern psychological theory has tended to the view that our personalities and behavioural characteristics are formed after we are born and cites “conditioning” and “environmental factors”. Ayurveda has never made this distinction between the physical and the psychological. It believes in both visible and invisible forces and embraces science, medicine, psychology and the spiritual as one. We are all part of the One, of a whole, and, if we learn to live in harmony with nature (both internal and external), we will enjoy long life and good health. Systems of categorisation Most systems of medicine, ancient and modern, have attempted to divide the human race into types. The older the system, the more likely it is that the categories correspond to forces which are perceived to prevail in nature. In ancient China, yin and yang correspond to the passive female principle and the creative active male principle. In Europe in the Middle Ages, the humours were believed to be fluids secreted by the body and which profoundly influenced physical type, mental state and behaviour. The predominance of a person’s nature- if it was blood, the person was deemed sanguine (happy and positive), if choler, choleric (hot tempered and angry), if melancholy, melancholic (tending to sadness). In more recent times, people have been characterised as extrovert (cheerful, positive and outgoing) or introvert (shy and reflective), passive or aggressive. The idea that our thought processes are influenced by bodily “humours” or “forces” or vice versa is considered by many to be outdated, but history reveals that principles such as these were established in ancient medical practises throughout the world.
Because Ayurveda is a complete system of healing, encompassing philosophy, psychology and spirituality as well as a deep understanding of the disease process, it often succeeds where orthodox treatment fails. A unique programme of treatment can be devised for every patient. The approach is never narrowly mechanistic. No two patients, even if they appear to be suffering from the same illness, are the same to an Ayurvedic doctor. Ayurvedic practitioners obey the ancient medical injunction to do no harm. Although the remedies they prescribe are highly effective, none has adverse side effects and are all made from natural substances and are non toxic. No artificial materials or chemicals formulated in a laboratory are used. In order to benefit from Ayurveda, patients do not have to subscribe to the spiritual beliefs on which it is founded. All they need to do is come with an open mind and a genuine wish to be healed. Although still in the process of being fully accepted in the West as an authentic branch of medicine, Ayurveda is presently viewed (albeit with a degree of scepticism) by orthodox practitioners as complementary medicine and clinics are proliferating. It is popular because it works, and it works with, rather than against Western medicine.