Ayurveda, or Ayurvedic Medicine, is a system of Hindu traditional medicine of Vedic origin which is native to the Indian sub-continent and is a form of alternative medicine.
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word for life-knowledge. Literally defined, it is the compilation of the word “ayur” meaning “life” and “veda”, meaning “to know through experience”. The essence of the meaning of both ayur and veda can be explained simplistically as “I know through experience, therefore I acquire this knowledge”, as well as the root meaning of to live and to survive.
As a result, everything which allows one to understand how survival is maintained is considered in Ayurveda. Some have termed it “biological knowledge” – however, it wasn’t a specific term to define medicine as such, but it was the fact that it related to the knowledge of life. Therefore, probably the most correct way to define Ayurveda in terms of modern concepts, is to look at biology and the study of life. Ayurveda is what is known as a canonic medicine – meaning it has a regulated structure. Before regulated structures were common practice and utilised by universities and schools, medicine was only ever practiced on a one-to-one basis, doctor-to-patient. Ancient times saw the use of canonic or schooled medicine and “barefoot doctor” medicine, in countries such as India and China, and across Europe.
The interaction between environments and people has always been an integral concept in medicine, such that ancient doctors included both consideration of the environment and the pathology itself when undertaking a diagnostic process. An example of this can be seen in an ancient medicine reasoning – if a person had been “invaded by wind”, i.e. attacked by excessive cold, when that same person had been pathologically attacked by a cold, the disease could be seen as attributable to both internal and external factors. Both types of factors could then be addressed.
Ayurvedic science, by its very nature, was then able to easily and quite rapidly evolve to understand that people were different, and that they had different physiologies. This then meant that they had different pathways they could take to be healthy – and that what made one person healthy could contribute to disease in another. Ayurveda was able to make use of implementing foods, lifestyles and medications as treatment, basing many therapies on body typology.
The word for constitutional body type is “Prakriti”, which is a Sanskrit word and describes one’s real physiological shape and function. The three Prakritri defined in Ayurveda are Pitta, Vata and Kapha.
“Pitta” means heat, or easily warmed up, sometimes over-reactionary, and prone to inflammation. So Pitta as a type of body is one which is fiery and easily inflamed. This constitution, because of the tendency towards inflammation, is prone to auto immune diseases, and certain kinds of allergies, psoriasis, inflammatory skin diseases, etc.
“Vata” means to be similar to air, almost ethereal. Ayurveda identified this body type as being elongated, with a tendency for higher neurological function, and sensitivity to foramental variation and weight. As a result, Vata shouldn’t carry excess body weight, is poorly suited to large variations in climate – both high humidity and dryness, and cold temperatures versus heat. This constitution is more ethereal, delicate, and more frail.
“Kapha” is a slower and lower reactivity. This body type is one of a person who tends to accumulate and deposit more fat as a reserve, as well as more muscle as an energy providing system. Kapha has a higher longevity, but slower system reactions. For this constitution, a slow pulse, slow reactivity, slow metabolism and even slow gastric emptying are considered typical and natural in Ayurveda, and therefore not to be treated in this type.
In Ayurveda, the most important factor in determining pathology is how healthy the person is, in order to be able to defend themselves from any internal or external pathogens. Everything is based on how healthy the body is, and the health parameter to determine this measure of health is how pure or how clean the system is. As a result, a whole system for assessing the above was developed.
Over thousands of years and countless experiments, Ayurveda grew to decide that most of the weaknesses in the body are caused by toxicity. The study of toxicity and how to make the body pure was one of the key components of Ayurveda – referring not only to the body, but both body and mind. For example, one area delving more in-depth into this differentiation is “Bhuta Bidya”. Bhuta vidya means to study the spirits (Bhuta = spirit, vidya = to study). In present day, this would be referred to as psychology. The belief in Ayurveda was that achieving a pure mind was very important to achieving this state of internal coherence.
This is similar to modern day’s studies of the theories of stress, and how it influences heart and mind functions. Neurological studies all agree that cortisol levels are enhanced by a specific recognition, or the cognition of stress. In Ayurvedic terms, such phenomenon makes the mind become “impure”.
When one considers the pathophysiology, the pathology occurring when interpreting a pathological stage, the alteration of a normal homeostasis, and both internal and external factors which influence all of these, what is created is “healthology” – a knowledge of what is health. This principle, in modern day, remains the same as originally used in Ayurveda.