Ayurveda is India’s traditional system of medicine. It has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word which means the "science of life" or the "practice of longevity." The teachings were originally conveyed orally to each new generation of doctors. Beginning in about the fifth to sixth century before Christ, the first written texts were created. These highly detailed and richly illuminated books, were written in Sanskriy by the famous physicians Charaka, Sushruta, and Vagbhata. Charaka listed 500 hundred remedies and Sushruta described over 700 vegetable medicines.
Ayurveda teaches the prevention of disease, the rejuvenation of the body’s systems, and the extension of one’s life span. Through faithful practices, Ayurveda promises the prevention of heart disease and the freedom from pain. It is an integrated approach which relies upon lifestyle changes and natural therapies. In India, Ayurvedic practitioners receive state-recognized, institutionalized training in parallel to their western physician training. Published studies have documented reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and reaction to stress, in individuals who practice Ayurvedic methods. Laboratory and clinical studies on Ayurvedic herbal preparations therapies have shown them to have a range of potential benefits.
Basis for Ayurvedic Philosophy
The premise of Ayurveda is that the entire universe is a singular absolute. Everything that exists in the vast external universe (macrocosm), also appears in the internal cosmos of the human body (microcosm). The human body consisting of 50-100 million cells, when healthy, is in harmony, self-perpetuating and self-correcting just as the universe is. The ancient Ayurveda text, Charaka, says, "Man is the episome of the universe. Within man, there is as much diversity as in the world outside. Similarly, the outside world is as diverse as human beings themselves." In other words, all human beings are a living microcosm of the universe and the universe is a living macrocosm of the human beings.
The Five Great Elements
Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five great elements or building blocks. These are earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence, and rigidity. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells, and tissues are manifestations of the earth. Earth is considered a stable substance.
Water characterizes change and represents the liquid state. Water is necessary for the survival of all living things. A large part of the human body is made up of water. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another. Water is a substance without stability.
Fire is the power to transform solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. In other words, it possess power to transform the state of any substance. Within our bodies, the fire or energy binds the atoms together. It also converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle. Fire transforms food into energy. It creates the impulses of nervous reactions, our feelings, and even our thought processes. Fire is considered a form without substance.
Air is the gaseous form of matter which is mobile and dynamic. Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions. It is a key element required for fire to burn. Air is existence without form.
Ether is the space in which everything happens. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Ether is only the distances which separate matter. The chief characteristic of ether is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration.
The five elements manifest in the functioning of the five senses of man. This allows the person to perceive the external environment in which he or she lives. They are also related, through the senses, to five actions expressing the functions of the sensory organs.
Like And Unlike
Anything that enters our body an act as food, nourishes the organism, can act as medicine, and gives balances. It can act as poison. The five elements may exert one, two, or all three of these effects.
Concept of Tri-Dosha
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the five elements combine in pairs to form three dynamic forces or interactions called doshas. Dosha means "that which changes." In Ayurveda, dosha is also known as the governing principles as every living thing in nature is characterized by the dosha. The three active doshas are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata is a force conceptually made up of elements ether and air. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space) affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, as in ocean, air can gain momentum and become forceful such as a hurricane.
Pitta is a force created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These forces represent transformation. They cannot change into each other, but they modulate or control each other and are vitally required for the life processes to occur. (For example, too much fire and too little water will result in the boiling away of the water. Too much water will result in the fire being put out.)
Kapha is the conceptual equilibrium of water and earth. Kapha is structure and lubrication. One can visualize the Kapha force as the stirring force to keep the water and earth from separating. For example, if we take a pot, fill it to the half with water and then add sand to it, the sand will gradually sink to the bottom of the pot. (It separates from the water). The only way to keep the sand in equilibrium with the water is by stirring the mixture continuously.
Chakras are a concept common to several disciplines of alternative medicine and traditional healing. A chakra is energy center and has several functions. It represents a particular organ, it controls parts of our being, and it links these two organs to the overall being.
The word chakra is a Sanskrit word that means wheel. The body has seven major chakras and a great many lesser chakras or energy centers. The major chakras recognized as focal points of the life-force. They are, from the lowest to the highest: the Root or Base Chakra, the Navel or Sexual Chakra, the Solar Plexus or Personality Chakra, the Heart Chakra, the Throat or Expressive Chakra, the Brow or Knowledge Chakra, and the Crown Chakra. Secondary chakras are in the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. There are hundreds of other areas of focused energy in the body. See the table below for a summary of the properties of the seven principal chakras.