Ayurveda is as profound and sophisticated as traditional Chinese medicine and shares a great deal with it, particularly relative to the role of prana (chi in the Chinese system), with both viewing the human being as an intricate system of energy patterns, much like modern physics and its view of the universe. Both recommend herbs as their main healing modality, including special tonic and rejuvenating agents to improve longevity, immunity and higher awareness. Both are based upon ancient medical texts and have in-depth methods of diagnosis and treatment. The two are regarded as the oldest and most extensive natural healing traditions in the world.
Yoga and Ayurveda in India
Yoga in India is closely related to other traditional disciplines, particularly Ayurveda. When yoga texts speak of health, they employ the ayurvedic terminology of doshas (biological humor), Agni (digestive fire), the five pranas or types of vital energy, and related factors. Yoga by itself is not a medical system but a spiritual practice, such as is explained in the Yoga Sutras. Yoga has no disease theory or system of diagnosis of its own. For this, it has relied upon Ayurveda.
Ayurveda takes the yogic view of consciousness and applies it for healing purposes. It teaches a yogic way of life as an ideal means of both health and happiness. Ayurveda recommends the daily practice of yoga, not just asana but also pranayama and meditation, for the harmony of body and mind. If we are looking for a yogic system of medicine in terms of both diagnosis and treatment, we find that already beautifully structured in traditional Ayurveda.
The complication is that because of the suppression of Ayurveda during the colonial era when yoga spread worldwide during the 20th century, Ayurveda was not usually part of it. And while India at Independence brought Ayurveda back to some degree, it removed most of its connections to yoga in an effort to make it more acceptable to modern medicine.
The yoga and Ayurveda connection only became popular during the last few decades when various spiritual groups, starting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, began to emphasize it. Swami Ramdev has recently revived yoga and Ayurveda in a major way in India, making the connection widely known.
As someone who has worked in the field of yoga and Ayurveda for over 30 years, I am happy to see this extraordinary progress of Ayurveda, but it still has far to go to realize its full potential. Greater support is essential for Ayurveda to gain the recognition it deserves, and to encourage more people to follow and benefit from its life-changing practices.
Healthcare is the fastest rising cost in the world today. Drug-based medicine is unaffordable for poorer countries like India and problematical in the West, with numerous damaging side effects. Drugs should be the last rather than the first means of treatment, beginning with natural healing methods like yoga and Ayurveda instead. Special ayurvedic methods of oil massage and Pancha Karma, such as are popular in Kerala, can remove disease-causing factors before the disease even manifests.
India should not overemphasize drug-based medicine and be forced to return to Ayurveda later. The country should honor its own great tradition of natural healing through Ayurveda, which is helpful to everyone, just as it is embracing yoga. Ayurvedic medicine evolved in India and is considered to be the world’s oldest healthcare system. It is named for the Sanskrit word Ayurveda, meaning the “science of life.”
If that sounds like an all-encompassing definition, it is. Ayurvedic medicine is entirely holistic. Its adherents strive to create harmony between the body, mind, and spirit, maintaining that this balance prevents illness, treats acute conditions, and contributes to a long and healthy life.
Ayurvedic medicine (also known as Ayurveda) is India’s primary healthcare system. More than 90 percent of the continent’s population use some form of Ayurvedic therapy, including following its dietary principles, practicing traditional or “grandma’s medicine,” or seeking professional help from trained Ayurvedic practitioners. In the United States, Ayurveda is considered a complementary healthcare option, with many Americans employing Ayurvedic elements such as massage, meditation, or cleansing therapies.
Ayurveda is not a “one-size-fits-all” system. Instead, its regimens are tailored to each person’s unique prakruti (Ayurvedic constitution), taking into account his or her needs for nutrition, exercise, personal hygiene, social interaction, and other lifestyle elements.
Daily routines, called dincharya, and seasonal regimens, called ritucharya, are recommended. Following these individualized plans help users of Ayurveda attain robust physical health, as well as mental and spiritual harmony.
Ayurvedic medicine has a rich history. Originally shared as an oral tradition, Ayurveda was recorded more than 5,000 years ago in Sanskrit, in the four sacred texts called the Vedas: the Rig Veda (3000-2500 BCE), Yajur Veda, Sam Veda, and Atharva Veda (1200-1000 BCE).
Ayurvedic theory states that all areas of life impact one’s health, so it follows that the Vedas cover a wide variety of topics, including health and healthcare techniques, astrology, spirituality, government and politics, art, and human behavior.
Ayurvedic medical books, available by the eighth century BCE, provide not only procedural instructions but also a history of how Ayurvedic medicine evolved over time. Current knowledge about Ayurveda is primarily based on “the great triad” of texts called Brhattrayi, which consists of the Charak Samhita, Sushurta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridaya. These books describe the basic principles and theories from which modern Ayurveda has evolved.
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