Once upon a time, long, long ago in India, there was a huge battle between the gods (good) and the demons (evil). Both sides were fighting for the nectar buried at the bottom of an ocean. They churned the seven seas, using a big mountain as the churning tool, with a cobra wrapped around it to rotate it. The mouth of the poisonous cobra was in the gods' hands, and the tail in the demons' hands. From the massive churning of these mighty oceans emerged 14 precious objects. One of them was Dhanvantari, the god of Ayurveda. In one hand he held the amrit, the nectar for immortality and health, and in the other hand a leech, used for detoxifying the blood, and blood-letting. Thus, the beginnings of Ayurveda.
The basic philosophy of Ayurveda (and yoga, which is the sister science to Ayurveda) acknowledges that we are all the part of one basic source of cosmic energy, which formed the universe and its material elements. A brief explanation of the theory of creation of the physical universe illustrates our connection to all of life.
Before creation is manifest, it is held in a potential state known as prakriti, which is composed of three forces, called gunas: sattva (purity), rajas (activity), and tamas (solidity, inertia). These forces are held in perfect equilibrium until the urge for creation, hence differentiation in its myriad forms, occurs.
The first stage of manifestation of the physical universe comes through cosmic intelligence, or mahat, also described as divine mind, which contains the seeds of differentiation. All creation is a process of division, allowing the various creatures and objects to manifest.
Collective intelligence then fragments into individual intelligence (buddhi), and then ego (ahamkara). From ego, basic energies, latent in prakriti and cosmic intelligence, take form. These are the divided into three groups of five: the five senses (sound, touch, vision, taste and smell), the five sensory organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose), and the five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). These five basic elements form the entire inorganic world of mountains, rivers, soil, etc. The five elements, along with mind, senses and sensory organs, form the entire organic world of animals, plants and all living beings.
This philosophy explains how we are all part and parcel of basic elements of the universe, bringing us close to nature and natural things. This is the reason why changes in climate affect our body systems, body temperature, moods, thoughts, etc.
Our bodies are complex machines that run on cosmic energy, or life force. In a living body, the mind and soul are considered inseparable and are active in disease and in health, according to Ayurveda. The life force in a live body is the same cosmic energy that is the source, or root, of the whole creation. When the body ceases to live, the life force again becomes one with the enormous cosmic energy field to take a different form again.
Ayurveda explains the theory of reason behind every creation, the purpose of life and death, and the theory of karma, with emphasis on maintenance of equilibrium in all energies for internal and external balance. This is a unity in diversity (diversified attributes and properties of different substances) contributing to creation and maintenance of equilibrium within the body (physical form), mind (metaphysical form) and soul (the cosmic consciousness). Coordinating their functioning is our biological clock, which regulates our lifespan, functions, well being, diseases, death, changes and growth from childhood to adulthood and old age.
Ayurveda is a health science that emphasizes the maintenance of health and prevention of stress and diseases through proper understanding of its in-depth philosophical underpinnings. Whenever disorder presents itself, however, Ayurveda is fully equipped with numerous diagnostic techniques and treatments, which include herbs, herbo-mineral preparations, diet and lifestyle guidance, detoxifying and cleansing panchakarma therapies and psychological counseling. Ayurveda has fully developed the following eight branches of medicine:
Internal medicine (kaya chikitsa)–treatment of diseases such as fever, arthritis, colitis, heart diseases, etc., as well as diseases of systems (urinary, immune, digestive, etc.).
Medical astrology (graha chikitsa)–knowledge of planets and stars, their positions and how they affect body and mind functioning.
Diseases of organs situated in the head and neck region (urdhwanga chikitsa)–includes the upper respiratory region, such as ear, nose and throat diseases and all body parts above the shoulders.
Surgery (shalya chikitsa)–one of the advanced branches of Ayurveda, with profound knowledge of surgical instruments and procedures, including reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries.
Pediatrics (bala chikitsa)–the branch of medicine dealing with infant and children disorders.
Science of toxicology (danshtra chikitsa)–diseases and treatments of toxins, poisons, foreign substances (snake bites, scorpion stings, metal poisoning) and also accidents, burns, etc.
Old age (jara chikitsa)–diseases and treatments for geriatrics, such as rejuvenating therapies, tonics, etc.
Sexual disorders (vrusha chikitsa)–diseases and treatments (including aphrodisiacs), related to sexual disorders, male and female reproductive systems, infertility, etc.
These eight branches are associated with other branches of medicine such as gynecology, embryology, social and preventive medicine, and complementary medicine such as use of herbs, minerals, medicinal plants and spices, and gemstones. Ayurveda has been practiced in India and neighboring subcontinent countries for thousands of years. All remedies are scientific, logical and time-tested for their effects.
In bringing our bodies back into balance, Ayurveda makes use of natural remedies that work quickly without the side effects associated with chemical compositions. The principle behind the Ayurvedic system of health maintenance and healing modalities is to set a balance and equilibrium within and around us, and to keep harmony between human beings, cosmic energies and the natural elements in the universe. This is the secret of health and energy from Ayurveda.
- Written by Dr. Aparna Bapat, B.A.M.S.
Aparna Bapat, B.A.M.S. (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery), is a senior faculty member and Academic Dean at the Sai Ayurvedic College and Ayurvedic Wellness Center.