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A Brief Introduction to Ayurvedic Medicine


Ayurveda, or “the science of life,” is a fabulous tool for maintaining health and general well being throughout life.

“The fundamental concept of Ayurveda is to maintain health. Ayurveda does not look at the disease. It looks at the host and his vulnerability,” says Dr. Bala Manyam, a neurologist and emeritus professor at the University of Southern Illinois. Ayurveda medicine, of which most of us have heard without knowing how it works, is one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine. Its origins, as well as those of practically all the spiritual practices and beliefs in India, dates to the Vedas.

As Doctor Manyam explains, within the principles of Ayurveda, healthcare is a highly individualized practice, based on the individual constitution, or prakruti, of each one of us (and resembling the theory of the four moods of Hippocrates in ancient Greece). Thus, the prakruti of each individual determines their physical, psychological and mental character, and therefore their vulnerability to illnesses. Understanding a little of these principles, which at first sight seem strange to Western, allopathic customs, can not only explain various manifestations in our bodies but also open a relatively simple possibility or keeping ourselves sane and balanced throughout our lives.

In Ayurveda, prakruti is defined by three “corporal energies” called doshas. There are three basic doshas, and although we each have characteristics of each one, the majority of people have one or two that predominate.

Pitta energy is linked to fire and it is believed that it controls the endocrine and digestive systems. People with pitta energy are considered successful, intelligent and quick. When pitta energy is out of balance it can cause ulcers, swelling, digestive problems, anger, heartburn and arthritis.

Vatta energy is associated with air and space and is linked to the body’s movements: breathing and circulation. It is believed that it predominates in joyous, creative and lucid people. When it is out of balance it can cause pain in the joints, constipation, dry skin and anxiety.

Kapha energy, associated with the earth and water, controls growth and strength and is associated with the chest, torso and back. It predominates in people who are considered strong and with a solid constitution and generally of a tranquil nature. But obesity, diabetes, problems of sinusitis, insecurity and bladder issues can emerge when our kapha is out of balance.

It is not difficult to determine which kind of dosha predominates in a person, according to the general descriptions of character that correspond to them, but in this link one can take a test to determine it with greater precision. Obviously, according to Ayurveda beliefs, factors such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather or problematic relationships can influence the balance between the doshas of persons. These imbalances, for their part, leave people vulnerable to illnesses.

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Ayurveda treatments – such as medication, aromatherapy, massages, music and personalized diets – aim to keep a person healthy, but not to cure an illness. The term Ayurveda in Sanskrit literally means “the science of life” (Ayur: life, Veda: science or knowledge). To maintain this balance, dozens of plants and herbs are used, depending on the dosha of each person, but mainly turmeric, olibanum (also known as frankincense), Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera), bitter melon (Momordica charantia), basil, triphala (a formula of three herbs consisting of Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica) and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and trikatu, a complementary formula to triphala that means “three peppers” and includes black pepper, piper longum and ginger.

It is important to bear in mind that in Ayurveda, as with other Oriental health practices, herbs are almost never used in isolation. Instead they are combined in standard but personalized formulae, designed to balance and harmonize the herbs’ constitutive properties. It is therefore crucial to not self-medicate and instead consult a professional practitioner of Ayurveda, and which, fortunately, are not difficult to find in practically any Western country. Organizations such as the Ayurvedic Trust have given their backing to the effectiveness of Ayurveda treatments with studies and articles based on scientific fact and published in very recommendable magazines: Ancient Science of Life and ASL- Musculoskeletal Diseases. 

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