Indian healing 101
One of the oldest-surviving complete medical systems, Ayurveda is a system of medicine that integrates medical science, philosophy, psychology, alchemy, and spiritual understandings, and includes the use of both astrology and astronomy. Despite being a complex system, here we will break it down into a simple yet comprehensive overview.
bodywork – yoga and massage
Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words of ayur for “life” or “longevity” and veda, for “knowledge” or “wisdom”. This means it’s “the wisdom of life” that can be achieved by physical, emotional, and spiritual balance, leading to Moksha (enlightenment).
The traditional roots
Ayurveda shares with yoga the understanding of the Sankhya school of philosophy (of the six classical schools of Indian philosophy); Cosmic evolution comes from creation and manifestation—which in English means that everything comes from one source. It is the goal of the Ayurvedic sage to understand that balance – finding the cold for the hot, the cure for the disease. An individual finds his or her own best way to uniquely balance to live the healthiest and longest, happiest life.
Some of the earliest recorded literature on Ayurveda was found in Sanskrit poetry, particularly in the Vedas, specifically the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. Before this—knowledge of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation was orally transmitted from Himalayan masters.
Around 800 BCE, the first school was founded, and by 700 BCE, all the knowledge was compiled into the Charaka Samhita, the main textual authority of Ayurveda. This describes 1,500 plants and noting 350 of them as valuable medicines. Alongside the Susruta Samhita from 600 BCE (which is the basis for modern surgery) and the Ashtanga Hridayam, Ayurveda culminates centuries of knowledge and wisdom.
How does it work?
As Ayurveda is a complete system that definitely fits a contemporary joke – that “nutrition is religion”. It goes beyond this due to its philosophical and spiritual principles. The goal of someone who seeks to be “healthy” (or balanced and closer to enlightenment) is to recognize we aren’t just our bodies, but that they are tools that house our minds and consciousness. Because we are both mundane and divine, the goal is to not only prevent people from degenerating through disease or unhealthy living, but to connect each individual to their true nature.
This is done through recognizing the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and ether, , how they become the doshas (the three humours that determine both the physical and psychological “types” of an individual.
The Doshas are
Vata (ether and air)
Pitta (fire and water)
Kapha (earth and water).
Everyone’s dosha has specific needs to balance them out so that they maintain all five elements in their nutrition and life style. E.g., Pitta person would need more earth, air, and ether to be “healthy” in Ayurveda.
From Doshas to Dhatus
This is then expounded upon in the dhatus; seven tissue layers in the body, formed from digested nutrients and the waste products of metabolism eliminated by the body. These can be spoiled by eating the wrong diet. Unfortunately, there is no one proper diet that fits everyone in the Ayurvedic system, because everyone is one of the three doshas, which each have their own nutritional requirements and treatments.
From Dhatus to Srotas
The dhatus are affected by the srotas, which are the channels of circulation in the body. Srotas are not unlike meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine or the different physiological systems of Western medicine, but also contain subtle energy fields.
Layer on the Gunas
Preventative health is often based on choosing the right diet based on the gunas (cosmic laws) that bring out the desired elements and qualities for the specific doshas.
Gunas have the categories of:
Treatment comes from six forms that include:
reduction, tonifying and drying through herbs and foods,
oil application through massage,
sweating, and more
tonifying by restricting the flow of fluids (for symptoms like diarrhea or bleeding).
Many treatments include a prescribed yoga routine for both healing and maintenance.
Phew! That was a lot!…
While Ayurveda is difficult to accurately summarize briefly, it is indeed a crucial component that helps those of us who wish to adopt a deeper understanding of yoga.
If you appreciate that yoga isn’t just an exercise routine, but a way of living, you understand why many people accuse yoga students and yogis of being fanatical!
But what is so bad about living a balanced, healthy, long and happy life that guides us towards enlightenment? Is it because its a system so radically different and complete, that only those who fully throw themselves into it truly understand? While others just aren’t interested in trading their routine and conventions over to be a part of it!