Ayurveda is an ancient science that focuses on a holistic lifestyle. Teaching in Ayurveda, unfortunately, is excessively focused on the past. Science in the past 3000 years has added a lot to our understanding of holistic living. There is a crying need to bring modern thinking into the Ayurveda fraternity.
Ayurveda recommends that treatment should commence when the disease is at the early stage. It emphasizes on lifestyle, diet, procedures, and medication. It emphasizes further on rest, fasting, and reassurance.
The Ayurveda code of health is not a code for asceticism. As mentioned earlier, the stress is on personal hygiene, nutrition, diet, procedures, and medication. All these seek to correct imbalances in the human body, which are the root causes for any disease. The emphasis is further on elegant attire and ornaments, social relations, physical activity, sexual enjoyment, agreeable company, and more. Clearly, psychological well-being of an individual was regarded as a valuable aid to healing. There are separate chapters on rejuvenating drugs and sexual enjoyment which, culturally and to some sections of society, would appear to be out of tune with Hindu morality. Ayurveda propagates holistic lifestyle.
Ayurveda stresses on aligning treatment with the personality of an individual. This aspect of treatment is called Sattva avajaya treatment (Sattva means “mind,” and avajaya means “bringing under control”). The effort of the physician is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
The human personality, according to Ayurveda, is determined by not just the physiology but also the psychology of an individual. The brain, nervous system, hormonal secretion, and the individual’s personality all together make up an individual’s personality. Three types of personalities are identified in Ayurveda. These are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
Personality type is associated with the nature or Prakriti of the person. Each personality type is further subdivided into subtypes. There are seven types of Sattvik personalities, six types of Rajasik personalities, and three types of Tamasik personalities. Treatments are modulated according to the personality type and subtype of the individual.
The most practiced aspect of Ayurveda treatment today continues to be medicine based. Ayurveda medicine contains 75–80% plant products, 10–15% animal products, and the balance 10% is metal and mineral based.
Yoga was originally an integral part of Ayurveda. Today it is separately studied and practiced. I regard this to be a major flaw of Ayurveda as practiced today. As we will see in a subsequent chapter, this dissociation has enabled Yoga to innovate, experiment, and flourish. It is now increasingly accepted as an adjunct to the healing process.
Sushruta Samhita is one of two key compilations of early Ayurveda medical practices. This is said to have been compiled in the first millennium BC. The exact date of this work has not been determined. Various dates from 1000 BC to 500 BC have been attributed to this work. It is a compilation of surgical practices popular around that time.
Sushruta divides Ayurveda into eight divisions. These are surgery, diseases of head and neck, internal medicine, diseases caused by supernatural forces (these are ailments for which the clinical pattern has not been established), children’s diseases, poisoning, rejuvenation therapy, and finally therapy that enhances sexual potency.
According to Charaka (100–200 BC) “health is the personal experience of physical, mental, and spiritual contentment”. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Ayurveda as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The focus of Charaka and subsequent Ayurveda philosophers was on self-control and lifestyle. This system presents a comprehensive set of recommendations to treat lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Ayurveda recommends that an individual, to stay healthy, should eat food and undertake such activities that are appropriate to his or her personality and lifestyle. The individual is recommended not to resort to excessive sensory pleasures. Deviations will have adverse implications on health.
Ayurveda regards an individual as composed of five natural elements—fire, water, air, earth, and ether (space). These elements combine in the body and manifest themselves in certain physiological ways that have a direct bearing on individual health.
Body function is expressed through doshas. Three doshas are mentioned in Ayurveda—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each is responsible for a specific body function. Vata controls movement, and is responsible for circulation, respiration, elimination, and nerve impulses. The dosha is associated with the natural elements air and ether.
Pitta is the second dosha and controls body metabolism. This dosha is associated with water and fire. Finally, we have Kapha dosha, which is responsible for growth and protection. This controls cerebral and spinal fluids and the mucosal lining of the stomach.
An individual personality type would have a mix of all three doshas, with one or two dominating influences. Dosha proportions determine physiological and personality traits such as likes and dislikes. Vata dosha personalities will prefer hot weather to cold, while Kapha dosha personalities will prefer spicy foods, etc. Vata personality types are said to be creative, quick learners, slender and tall, have high energy in short bursts, impulsive, etc.
Pitta types are strong, well built, have sharp minds, are focused, aggressive, competitive, passionate, etc., while they are quickly irritated, uncomfortable in hot sunny weather, have good management capability, tempestuous behavior, and are likely to suffer from heartburn and acidity.
Kapha people are easygoing, relaxed, affectionate, physically strong, slow learners but with outstanding long-term memory, excellent health, good immune system, calm, susceptible to colds and respiratory problems, etc. Kapha dosha is responsible for growth of new tissue.
There are seven types of constitutions defined in Ayurveda. These arise by a combination of doshas. The seven constitutions are Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata Pitta, Vata Kapha and Pitta Kapha. The constitution of an individual is determined by the physical and physiological characteristics. A healthy individual should show a balance of the three doshas.
Dosha imbalance could be either due to overexpression or under expression of an individual dosha. Expression of a dosha is individual based and will be seen to vary from person to person. Dosha imbalance leads to disease.
One or more doshas could start overexpressing themselves, accumulate or spread themselves in a part or whole of the body and manifest themselves in the form of a symptom of a disease.
Ayurveda stresses on a daily regimen that promotes hygiene. This regimen changes with the season. The regimen should be in tune with the Prakriti or genetic makeup of the individual. Prakriti, Ayurveda believes, is set in a person at the time of conception. It does not change during an individual’s lifetime. The thinking on genes and gene expression as understood today can be seen to have parallels to this Ayurveda philosophy.
Ayurveda treatment is supported by dietetics, activities that promote mental health, medicinal plants, and pharmacological interventions. All these are taken together to determine Ayurveda treatment. They seek to restore a dosha imbalance. This is done through measures that promote holistic lifestyle.
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