Exploring the Essence of Ayurveda | Health Reactive

 28 Mar 2024  112

Exploring the Essence of Ayurveda | Health Reactive

The word “Ayurveda” is derived from Sanskrit, meaning “knowledge of life and longevity”. This form of medicine was created based on the Vedic culture that was present in India over 5000 years ago. A few concepts that are a part of Ayurveda can be traced back to the Indus Valley. In terms of its origin, some believe that there were divine forces at play, such as Brahma giving it to Dhanvantari (a form of Vishnu) or Divodasa (a tribal king). Other potential origin stories include that it is from the Atharvaveda. The three early main texts on Ayurveda are the Charaka Samhita, the Sushruta Samhita, and the Bhela Samhita. These books have neither publication dates nor definite authors, due to their status as books with various different works with many editors.

 

A depiction of a sage teaching Ayurveda to his disciples (source: Planet Ayurveda)

Throughout the Middle Ages in India, more books were created on the subject, and they started spreading, being translated into languages like Chinese and Arabic, and spread across various countries. In Renaissance Italy and Great Britain, these procedures were studied and documented, appearing in articles at the time. However, during the British colonization of India, Ayurvedic medicine took a backseat to modern medicine in hospitals. In the modern-day, Ayurveda regained importance, and soon, state hospitals for Ayurveda were established, and modern and Ayurvedic solutions to different ailments were integrated whenever possible.

Ayurveda is completely based off of three elementary types of energy, or doshas — vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata is the energy associated with movement, kapha is the energy that comprises the body’s structure, and pitta is all aspects related to the body’s digestive system. Each of these elements is comprised of the five classical elements (fire, water, air, earth, and ether). Vatha is air and ether, kapha is earth and water, and pitta is fire and water. Every person is also thought to have a constitution, which requires a specific balance of these doshas in order to stay healthy. Various aspects of our lives can change these doshas, such as our diet, mental state, environment, and more. If these doshas fall out of balance, then it can easily cause illness, but keeping them in balance ensures good health.

 

The three doshas and their constituents (source: Urban Veda)

In terms of the Ayurveda diet, different people are thought to have different doshas that compose their foundation. These doshas will determine many characteristics about them, such as their physical composition, the diet that they should follow, and side effects — both physical and mental — that can occur if that specific dosha falls out of balance. As a result, people will prefer specific foods to others, in order to ensure that their individual dosha stays in balance. Some benefits of the diet are that it can be very personalized, and you are more mindful of what food you are putting in your body. However, it can be seen as overly restrictive. As a result, many suggest that you follow the guidelines given, but also make sure that you get all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent (acidic), and pungent) to ensure proper digestion.

Vata is how all body motions are done, and it is thought that maintaining a routine allows for vata to be kept in control. Those with a foundation in vata are thought to be extremely agile and adventurous, with dry skin and generally delicate features. Some issues that can spring up in those without their vata in balance, include, but are not limited to, are vertigo, tinnitus, hiccups, constipation, anxiety, and more. To balance vata, foods that are sweet, sour, and salty are thought to be good, in order to promote better digestion. Meanwhile, astringent, pungent, or bitter foods can cause the vata to go out of balance. Finally, specific habits and yoga poses can improve vata overall.

Next, pitta is how warmth or brightness is kept in the body, which is thought to subsequently assist with helping the digestive system. People with pitta as their main dosha tend to have a small to medium frame, rosy cheeks and lips, freckles, sharp, almond-shaped eyes, and more. Meanwhile, the imbalance of pitta can result in nausea and diarrhea, issues with the eyes (bloodshot or yellow appearance), jealousy and hatred, liver and blood problems, a fever, and more. To rebalance pitta, foods that are sweet, bitter, or astringent, such as coconut, paneer, and various types of tea, such as mint and chamomile. On the other hand, foods falling in the category of sour, pungent, or salty can easily throw pitta out of balance. Some foods that can fall under these categories are tomatoes, hard alcohol (liquors — vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey, etc.), and all salted nuts. Finally, some pranayama breathing techniques include Bhramari pranayama (bee breath) and Sama vritti breath (even breathing).

Diagram of the Ayurveda tastes and effects (source: HeyMonicaB)

Last, but not least, we have the kapha dosha. Kapha provides support in one’s bodily function — things such as joints and the myelin sheath, along with allowing for one to be content in their life if it is in balance. Physical traits of those whose foundation is grounded in kapha include large eyes, a pale tongue, round features, smooth and dense skin, and deep-set joints, to name a few. When one’s pitta is not what it should be, some afflictions that they might have include excess mucus/saliva, congestion, depression, feeling heavy after eating, clammy skin, and more. For kapha, the best tastes are pungent, bitter, and astringent — seen in foods such as broccoli, carrots, black tea, black and pinto beans, apples, and many more. On the other hand, sweet, sour, and salty tasting foods can cause large issues for kapha, including heavy sweet/sour fruits and veggies (pineapple, avocado, etc.), coconut, butter, grapes, and more. Some good types of pranayama breathing are ujjayi, Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), and Bhastrika (bellow’s breath).

Today, Ayurveda is considered a pseudoscience, due to the fact that there have not been any formal tests demonstrating how effective it actually is. Ayurvedic medicines are commonly used in India, and their ingredients are commonly derived from nature — tree barks, leaves, and berries. Ayurvedic medicine is commonly used in many societies today and is recognized by both the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization as an integral form of treatment in many nations.

 

Various Ayurvedic Medical Ingredients (source: Copper H2O)

In India, Ayurveda is a very important form of treatment, with some claiming that 80% of people use Ayurveda, both as their sole source or in conjunction with more mainstream allopathic methods. There are also medical centers devoted solely to curing problems through Ayurveda, and the Indian government has created both the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy) and the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to get information on Ayurveda and other forms of treatment. Both Nepal and Sri Lanka also have large portions of the population practicing Ayurveda. The practice has not fully caught on outside of this region, but some do practice Ayurveda regardless. One main concern with Ayurveda is that it can follow a practice known as rasa shastra, or putting heavy metals in medicine. These metals can include extremely toxic ones, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. This often isn’t properly regulated, but many say that it actually is required to help patients, causing debate on the subject.

Ayurveda is a contested topic, as its efficacy is not scientifically proven, but in India, it's status as a historical form of treatment along with many seeing its usefulness, has established it as a popular form of treatment.

we've delved into the profound depths of Ayurveda, may this journey with Health Reactive continue to illuminate your path towards holistic well-being and vibrant health.

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