Ayurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, originated in India several thousand years ago. The term “Ayurveda” combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda means “the science of life.” Ayurvedic medicine aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit; thus, some view it as “holistic.” This balance is believed to lead to happiness and health, and to help prevent illness.
Ayurvedic medicine also treats specific physical and mental health problems. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, thus helping to reestablish harmony and balance. Ayurvedic medicine, as practiced in India, is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago, are considered the main texts on Ayurvedic medicine—Caraka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.
The texts describe eight branches of Ayurvedic medicine:
- Internal medicine
- Treatment of head and neck diseases
- Gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics
- Mental outlook
- Care of the elderly and rejuvenation
- Sexual vitality.
Ayurvedic medicine continues to be practiced in India, where nearly 80 percent of the population uses it exclusively or combined with conventional (Western) medicine. It is also practiced in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan. Most major cities in India have an Ayurvedic college and hospital. The Indian government began systematic research on Ayurvedic practices in 1969, and that work continues.
Constitution – prakriti
Ayurvedic medicine has several key foundations that pertain to health and disease. These concepts have to do with universal interconnectedness, the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (doshas). Interconnectedness. Ideas about the relationships among people, their health, and the universe form the basis for how Ayurvedic practitioners think about problems that affect health. Ayurvedic medicine holds that:
- All things in the universe (both living and nonliving) are joined together.
- Every human being contains elements that can be found in the universe.
- Health will be good if one’s mind and body are in harmony, and one’s interaction with the universe is natural and wholesome.
- Disease arises when a person is out of harmony with the universe. Disruptions can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination of these.
Constitution (prakriti). Ayurvedic medicine also has specific beliefs about the body’s constitution. Constitution refers to a person’s general health, the likelihood of becoming out of balance, and the ability to resist and recover from disease or other health problems. The constitution is called the prakriti. The prakriti is a person’s unique combination of physical and psychological characteristics and the way the body functions to maintain health. It is influenced by such factors as digestion and how the body deals with waste products. The prakriti is believed to be unchanged over a person’s lifetime.