Introduction to Ayurveda

by Zachary Lingh
(Torrance, CA, USA)

Although the Indian subcontinent is believed to have been inhabited about 500,000 years in the past, agricultural ways of life began to evolve about 25,000 years ago. Mother Nature at its pristine, magnificent state was probably the only doctor that the early humans were accustomed to.

Although the early settlers didnt have to worry as much about disease as they did about animals and natural disasters, they knew that that the Earths environment held the key to their health and longevity. They were aware that disease was not just about a defective organ or an injured limb; it was about the deterioration of the human being as a whole. To get rid of this dis-ease, the only thing they needed to do was to coax or encourage the body to heal. This was the philosophy of holistic healing method that came to be called Ayurveda.

The word Ayur means longevity (and Ayus means life) in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the language originally used by people of the Indus Valley Civilization who lived more than 6000 years ago. It is plausible that this ancient culture was connected to the former Dravidian cultures that inhabited the Indian subcontinent after it split from the African subcontinent.

The Vedas were the texts or manuals of wisdom that were written by the masters on various subjects such as religion, mythology and medicine. The Vedas are among the oldest texts to be passed down generations via oral traditions and later by means of writing. Ayurveda describes methods by which one can enhance or lengthen our life it explains the methods and the science that may be studied in order to achieve a long, fruitful, healthy life. Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine and early European medicinal methods have all been influenced by Ayurveda.

Why should we learn about Ayurveda?

The World Health Organization, in its Global Burden of Disease (GBD) studies has determined that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death all over the world. Infectious diseases are a close second followed by various cancers. The surprising fact is that all three of these major contributors to mortality around the world are preventable if people follow a natural immune boosting system such as Ayurveda!

What exactly is Ayurveda?

The human experience of wellness depends on the balance of the body, mind and soul. Ayurveda transforms these three elements of our existence into one whole entity which refuses to harbor disease in any way. It is a paradigm shift, one that moves us towards prevention instead of the typical attack and aggression of conventional medicine which suppresses our natural immune systems and leaves our body and mind vulnerable to further deterioration. Healing is not the state of waging wars with bodies; it is the ability to appease and protect the self (body, mind and soul) while enabling the intelligent and amazingly capable being to heal itself.

The purpose of Ayurveda is to guide us through life so that we can live our lives free of disease. Its guiding principle is that our mind has more influence on our bodies that we are aware of. To be free of disease, we have to be centered and balanced emotionally so that our awareness can bring stability to the body. In essence, to be completely healthy, we have to resolve our deepest fears and anxiety so that our body can return to the state of equilibrium at which disease will not exist any more.

Most people in the Western world had not heard of Ayurveda until recently. However, this form of medicine has been practiced in India from the time of its origins, maybe as early as 20,000 years ago. Even today, in many parts of the country, Ayurveda clinics compete with Allopathic hospitals for their share of patients.

Ayurveda may be called alternative medicine in many parts of the world, but in India, that is a misnomer. All of the native cultures around the world have had some form of herbal remedies along with incantations and ceremonies to soothe the patients soul and spirit. Similarly, Ayurveda is the science of using natures bounty consisting of herbs, roots, flowers, leaves and seeds to aid the body in its healing process. Along with this form of herbal remedy, Ayurveda also encompasses the emotional and spiritual illness to enable a three-fold cure, one that will make long lasting changes in the patients life.

Is there a spring of eternal youth? How do we prevent the natural deterioration of our health?

The Universe is a self-sustaining entity. A forest fire may kill thousands of trees, but within a few years, new growth surfaces. A tsunami may destroy thousands of acres, but within a year, the land is more fertile than ever! Just as the Earth balances itself, our nature also has the innate ability to transform or sustain ourselves, even after great catastrophes. However, this ability can be thwarted by our own foolishness or self-abuse; eating the wrong foods, not moving as much as we need to and not resolving our emotional issues as they crop up. To have a strong emotional structure, we need a strong spiritual base. Spirituality does not mean religion. Rather, it is a means of finding your purpose, accepting it and living by it.

As we are part of the Universe, Ayurveda treats us as elemental energies which encircle our body, mind and spirit. These major forces which make us who we are may be described as Vata (wind), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (Earth) forces. These delineations are mainly used for determining the basic type of personality and behavior patterns in the person who needs to be healed. Instead of treating all human beings as identical blood and organs-in-a-frame entities, Ayurveda tries to determine the human as a whole and create a three dimensional picture of the patient before commencing any healing programs.

Ayurveda terms the three energies which govern a human beings likes and dislikes as Doshas, roughly meaning unfavorable conditions. Once the doshas of a person are known, Ayurveda can then determine the steps necessary to find a balance of the three Doshas. When the digestive system, metabolic system and the excretory system are functioning properly, the human body is considered to be balanced and healthy.

Where can we avail of Ayurvedas benefits? Does this mean we have to travel to India and find some crazy witch doctor? No. There are a plethora of Ayurvedic resorts in most countries around the world. Many of these resorts take you back to nature and allow time so that you can relax and take therapeutic massages and herbal oil baths. The food will be organic and prepared without many spices or stimulants so that your mind will be relaxed and your spirit at peace.

A few days in such an environment can make you feel and look better. Your body will feel cleansed and lighter. By following the daily practices as advised by the Ayurvedic doctor, one can achieve that sense of balance wherever they are in the future. For those who cannot travel, there are many other avenues on the internet to get the information you need and to start your own plan for continued wellness.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as the old saying goes. In the quest for the fountain of youth, Ayurveda wins the race.