Ayurveda - The Science of Life
Ayurveda is more than 5,000 years old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life,Veda = science or knowledge).
With the present conditions of pollution and stress and so on, Ayurveda has been enjoying a major resurgence throughout the world. The classical Ayurvedic medical texts date back thousands of years, with the first mention of its origins found in the Atharvaveda which contains 114 hymns and incantations described as magical cures for disease. There are also various legendary accounts of the origin of Ayurveda, e.g., that it was received by Dhanvantari (or Divodasa) from Brahma.
It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vital while realizing their full human potential. Providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses, Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
According to Ayurvedic theory, everything in the universe -- living or not -- is connected. Good health is achieved when your mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe. A disruption of this harmony can lead to poor health and sickness.
For followers of Ayurveda, anything that affects your physical, spiritual, or emotional well-being can cause you to be out of balance with the universe.
Recognizing that human beings are part of nature, Ayurveda describes three fundamental energies that govern our inner and outer environments: movement, transformation, and structure. Known in Sanskrit as Vata (Wind), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth), these primary forces are responsible for the characteristics of our mind and body. Each of us has a unique proportion of these three forces that shapes our nature. Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas. One dosha is usually more dominant. Each dosha controls a different body function. It is believed that your chances of getting sick are linked to the balance of your doshas.
For each element, there is a balanced and imbalance expression. An important goal of Ayurveda is to identify a person’s ideal state of balance, determine where they are out of balance, and offer interventions using diet, herbs, aromatherapy, massage treatments, music, and meditation to reestablish balance.
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."
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.
According to Ayurveda, your basic constitution is determined at the time of conception. This constitution is called Prakruti. The term Prakruti is a Sanskrit word that means, "nature," "creativity," or "the first creation." One of the very important concept of Ayurveda is that one's basic constitution is fixed throughout his lifetime. The combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha that was present in the individual at the time of conception is maintained throughout his lifetime. This is your base point. Notice that different persons can have different combination of Vata, Pitta and kapha as their basic constitution or Prakruti. This is how Ayurveda can explain the subtle differences between individuals and explains why everyone is unique and that two persons can react very differently when exposed to the same environment or stimuli. Your Prakruti is unique to you just as your fingerprint and DNA. Thus, in order to understand a person, it is necessary to determine his or her Prakruti. HolisticOnLine has developed a computerized diagnostic system that enables you to determine your Prakruti.
Ideally, your constitution remain fixed throughout your life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Every person is subjected to the constant interaction with his or her environment which will affect the person's constitution at any time. The body will try to maintain a dynamic equilibrium or balance with the environment. Your current condition is called your vikruti. Although it reflects your ability to adjust to life's influences and is always changing, it should match your prakruti, or inborn constitution, as closely as possible. If the current proportion of your doshas differs significantly from your constitutional proportion, it indicates imbalances, which in turn can lead to illness. Farther your Vikruti is from your Prakruti, more ill you are. Ayurveda teaches that your Vikruti can be changed by means of diet and meditation so as to approach your Prakruti or the state where you have perfect health.
The concept of Prakruti and Vikruti can be illustrated by reference to our body temperature. When healthy, we maintain an average body temperature of about 98 degrees. Although, different persons can have different base temperatures, it does not change much so long as the person is healthy. When we go outside on a winter day, our body temperature may go down slightly; but will pick right back up to the normal if we are healthy. Similarly, jogging on a hot day can temporarily raise our body temperature. When we are sick, or catch a cold, our body temperature will go up. This indicates that we are sick or outside our normal base condition. We may take medicine to bring the body temperature back to the normal range. In analogy to Ayurveda, our present temperature may be considered as Vikruti and the difference between the Prakruti (our normal temperature) and Vikruti (our present temperature) can determine whether any medical intervention is required. Just like an allopathic doctor will take your temperature and blood pressure routinely as the first step in diagnosing your condition, Ayurvedic practitioners will determine your Prakruti and Vikruti as the first step in diagnosing your condition.
Hence prior to embarking on a journey to perfect health and longevity, it is important that you understand your Prakruti and Vikruti and determine how far separated these are. Armed with this knowledge, we can map a treatment strategy. This is the basic premise of Ayurveda.
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:
|Element||Senses||Sense Organ||Action||Organ of Action|
|Ether||Hearing||Ear||Speech||Tongue, vocal cords, mouth|
According to Ayurveda, digestion is the cornerstone of health. Good digestion nourishes the body. Eating the proper foods will make a big difference in your well being. There are two aspects to the food and nutrition in Ayurveda. One is the physical food you eat, digest, and assimilate. In this process, the organs of your digestive system has a big role. The second aspect of it is what you consume through your mind-body. What you see, hear, taste, smell, feel, and think are all important for your well being and impact your health considerably. For example, stress plays a key role in the health. Ayurveda had recognized the importance of the environment in the total health. Remember, everything in your environment is composed of doshas that interact with your own doshas. You are affected by everything else which goes on in this universe as you are part and parcel of this cosmos. Thus we have the "big picture" or "holistic outlook" in Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda, as in other systems of Asian medicine, herbs are seldom used in isolation. Rather, they’re combined in standardized but individualizable formulas designed to balance and harmonize the properties of the constituent herbs.
Ayurvedic herbs are used for many reasons: to maintain overall health; to boost immunity; support mental clarity and focus; to calm the nerves; to improve digestion; to protect the body from toxins and support the detoxification process; and to support innate healing processes.
The following six herbs have long histories of traditional use in Ayurveda, and they are increasingly popular with American consumers:
The name Ashwagandha is from the Sanskrit language and is a combination of the word ashva, meaning horse, and gandha, meaning smell. The root has a strong aroma that is described as “horse-like.” It’s roots have been medicinally used for thousands of years. In classical Ayurveda, the described properties of Ashwagandha include: Medhya (promotes intellect and cognitive development), Balya (increases strength and recovery), Rasayana (rejuvenator or life-extending substance) and Nidrajanana (promoter of sleep). Today, Ashwagandha is best known for it’s ability to promote energy and stamina without stimulating the heart. As a body-balancing herb, it also addresses insomnia. Preliminary research suggests Ashwagandha may suppress stress-induced changes of dopamine receptors in the corpus striatum, which may play a role in the development of chronic anxious behaviors Ashwagandha may also have a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) mimetic action, which could account for some of its sedating and anticonvulsive properties. This would be in accord with its historical use for insomnia and anxious neurosis Ashwagandha has also been shown to increase production of thyroid hormones T4 and T3 while simultaneously increasing hepatic glucose-6-phosphatase activity and reducing hepatic lipid peroxidation in animal models As we learn more about the co-morbidities between hypothyroidism, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes, Ashwagandha may one day play an important role in the management of these inter-related conditions. Most commonly, Ashwagandha is dispensed in doses of 500 mg once or twice daily, before meals. Maximal responses are generally seen within 2-4 weeks of regular use.
This edible gourd should be every physician’s “go- to” plant for the 16 million or more Americans with high-normal glucose readings or ‘boderline diabetic/metabolic syndrome patients. Preliminary evidence suggests bitter melon’s hypoglycemic action can be explained through several independent mechanisms: for one, it has been shown to increase peripheral glucose oxidation as well as glucose tolerance and insulin signaling in induced insulin resistance models (Sridhar MG, et al: Br J Nutr. 2008;99(4):806-12. Basch E, et al. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003;60:356-9). It also decreases hepatic gluconeogenesis, while increasing glycogen synthesis. Bitter Melon increases insulin output from the pancreas, and it also provides a unique compound called polypeptide-P, which is an insulin mimetic with a similar structure to bovine insulin (Krawinkel MB, Keding GB. Nutr Rev. 2006;64(7 Pt 1):331-7). Compounds produced by this intriguing gourd have been shown to reduce triglyceride levels in a dose-dependent manner in animal trials (Jayasooriya AP, et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;72:331-6). Though we don’t yet have human data corroborating this effect, the animal studies suggest that bitter melon may have a role in reducing cardiovascular risk, particularly in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Bitter melon products are typically standardized to their constituents, momordicosides and charantin, and usually dispensed in 500-600 mg doses, twice daily, following meals. As it does have an insulin mimetic action, it may be necessary to adjust the dose of concurrently prescribed hypoglycemic drugs.
Also known as Tulsi, this plant is actually considered sacred by many people in India. As such, it can be found growing in temple gardens, where the rich fragrance opens respiratory passages and some say, help the spirit soar. Holy Basil’s key compounds, including eugenol and caryophyllene, are similar to those found in oregano (Origanum vulgare) and it shares the anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic actions typical of the oregano family (Padalia RC, Verma RS. Nat Prod Res. 2011;25(6):569-75. Godhwani S, et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 1987;21:153-63). This plant is also native to West Africa. In Sierra Leone, it is called ‘Fever Plant.’ The various fixed oil compounds found in the plant have shown extensive antimicrobial and antifungal activity against a variety of pathogens including Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. In classical Ayurveda, Holy Basil was used as an anti-tussive, to clear “excess dampness in the lungs.” Recent human trials have validated this, the data showing that this herb can increase lung capacity as well as reduce labored breathing. It has also been shown to significantly reduce several measures of stress in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) patients. Holy basil can be taken in capsule, tea and in liquid forms. It is dispensed in 600-700 mg doses, twice daily, before meals. Allow 2-4 weeks for optimal results.
TURMERIC (Curcuma longa) is one of Ayurveda’s true treasures. Consumption of the bright yellow rhizomes of this plant was first advocated in millennia past by yogis who claimed it enhanced flexibility and joint integrity. In recent years, a vast amount of research has been done on Turmeric’s main components curcuminoids and curcumin. These compounds have been shown to provide many diverse benefits for human health, including preservation of brain function, high antioxidant activity, regulation of inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer prevention. Curcuminoids have been used throughout history for their anti-inflammatory effects. Recent research has shown that they may suppress inflammatory pathways at multiple sites. Turmeric-derived compounds suppress production of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), prostaglandins and leukotrienes while preserving the protective cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1). This means Turmeric can provide a nice anti-inflammatory effect without the gastric complications sometimes seen with other anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin. Turmeric also reduces thromboxane synthesis, meaning that it can reduce vasoconstriction as well as platelet aggregation. Turmeric has shown unparalleled antioxidant activity. It is interesting to note that routine consumption of Turmeric can significantly increase vitamin E plasma levels within 90 days. Although much more data is needed to corroborate the suggestion that Turmeric is a cancer preventive, early-stage studies have shown extensive chemopreventive value. It is also a potent growth inhibitor in several tumor cell line studies (Read, A Golden Wonder: Turmeric Compounds Trigger Apoptosis in Lymphoma, Lower LDL Cholesterol from our Spring 2007 edition). Due to poor bioavailability, it is best to use standardized Turmeric extracts, which are available at 95% curcuminoid content. Conservative dosing starts at 600-700 mg once or twice daily, after meals. Some trials have used doses as high as 2-3 g/day in chronic conditions. However, higher doses can cause minor GI complaints.
A common element in many Ayurvedic protocols, Triphala is not one plant, but three. The Sanskrit word actually means “three fruits,” (tri = three, phala = fruit), and it represents the combination of Emblica officinalis, Belleric myrobalan and Chebulic myrobalan. This standardized combination has existed in Ayurveda for thousands of years, and as such, it is considered as a single entity. Use of Triphala is based on a key tenet of Ayurvedic theory, that disease is most able to take hold when digestion is compromised. As such, two major formulas were created to normalize digestion and prepare the groundwork for overall wellness: Triphala and Trikatu (which we will discuss next). Triphala provides detoxification and digestive correction by promoting peristalsis and providing organ specific anti-inflammatory action in the lower GI tract. Today, Triphala is most commonly used for those with GI complaints such as bloating, sluggish digestion, food sensitivities, fatigue after meals, or chronic constipation. The Triphala ‘cocktail’ challenges modern scientific investigative methods, since the unique compounds within each fruit seem to take on different attributes when combined, which may not be replicated when the fruits are analyzed separately. In fact, the therapeutic dose of each ingredient can be significantly reduced when formulated together in equal amounts. Triphala is best used in capsules, standardized to 50% tannins, and at a dose of 500-600 mg before each meal (15-20 minutes prior is sufficient). Taken consistently, results are generally seen in as little as two weeks. However, it may take as long as 4-6 weeks to obtain the full therapeutic effect.
A complimentary formula to Triphala, Trikatu means “three peppers” or “three pungents.” It is a combination of Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Indian Long Pepper (Piper longum) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). While Triphala lends a hand to the lower GI tract, Trikatu has its primary effects in the upper GI tract, where it enhances the “digestive fire” necessary for the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients. Ayurvedic practitioners consider Trikatu a “warming formula,” used to awaken Agni (digestion) and destroy Ama (accumulated waste & toxins). According to Ayurvedic theory, poor quality food and inconsistent eating habits can create a dullness to the upper GI, which, if uncorrected, will result in further deviations from overall health. Specifically, it can lead to unhealthy food cravings. This creates a feedback loop, since the poor food choices driven by the cravings reinforce the digestive dysfunction. Today, we use Trikatu to enhance bioavailability of nutrients, drugs, and supplements, possibly through increasing the production of digestive enzymes and/or enhancement of first pass hepatic metabolism. Trikatu also seems to promote the assimilation of food through the intestines and normalizes gastric emptying, thereby reducing the tendency toward flatulence and distention while improving overall energy levels and nutritional status. Trikatu was shown to reduce LDL and triglycerides levels in rabbits fed high-fat diets. It also increased cardioprotective HDL levels. Trikatu is best taken in capsule form, and is standardized to gingerols and piperine. Similar to Triphala, Trikatu is usually taken with meals. If used consistently, it gives results in as little as two weeks, though the most significant therapeutic results may take 4-6 weeks. The ancient roots and modern branches of Ayurveda span the very corners of time itself, and it remains a driving force in the world of natural healthcare. It was one of the earliest systems of recorded medicine in the world, and it shows no sign of waning. In fact, it seems to be on the rise in the US and many other parts of the world. Today’s practitioners, who are open to its complementary nature and its innate ability to see patients as whole people, will find this ancient system of medicine and its well-documented herbs to be profoundly effective.