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Ayurveda 

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical science which originated around 3000 BC. Early Ayurveda was alchemy of mythology and science, steeped in as much mysticism as it had scientific basis. Originally passed on from teacher to student by word of mouth, Ayurveda was scripted into ancient Indian texts known as the Vedas. The name Ayurveda is derived from 'Ayus' and 'Veda'. The English translation of ayus is “life”, while Veda is a Sanskrit word which means “knowledge” or “science”. 

Elaborately detailed Ayurvedic texts were written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Over centuries Ayurveda flourished and was used by rich and poor alike in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. 

Today this ancient medical science finds new relevance in the modern world - increasingly hostile to its inhabitants. Our modern existence often ignores the principles of natural living and is saturated with pollution, stress and unhealthy lifestyles. In comparison Ayurveda is quite literally an instruction manual for man's natural & harmonious existence with the environment. Comprehending this natural philosophy of living enables one to become a "self-healer". 

Modern medical science relies on system and organ specialties and often ignores the environment as a holistic whole. Vedic principles, however, seek natural balance within the body and it's harmony with the environment - humans are considered integral with their habitat and not as separate from the natural world. 

Maintaining a balance within the body and mind, and with the external environment, is one of the objectives of Ayurveda. Living in harmony with nature and according to natural principles promotes both physical health and peace of mind. Tuning in to your body's signals of distress in time helps to maintain health, increasing your productivity and contentment. Ayurveda does away with sophisticated equipment or expensive consultants. Maintaining one's health is based on a simple understanding of your body and the quality of food you eat. 

Objectives: Ayurveda's primary objective is to maintain one's health while curing of diseases is a secondary objective. Ayurveda seeks to maintain a positive state of health at the outset, achieved on a daily basis through attention to diet and lifestyle. In this manner diseases do not find root for attack or growth. 

An Ayurvedic patient is considered a 'purusa', not merely a body. Purusa encompasses the total combination of body, mind, senses and soul. An Ayurvedic doctor must achieve complete health for a patient, not merely suppress or alleviate physical symptoms. From a physician's perspective the basis of Ayurvedic healing is a personal relationship with, and compassion for, the patient. Healing may not be achieved without this personal connection between the patient and physician. 

Ayurveda uses the Five Element Theory - Pancha Mahabhutas - to describe Earth, and everything within it, as different combinations of the five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. The Pancha Mahabhutas theory classifies not only all earthly objects but also natural cycles like the seasons. It is a powerful system to understand how man interacts with his environment.  

The five elements (mahabhutas) have attributes that impact the body and mind. All matter is a mixture of the five elements, but has one dominant element that defines it. The balance and nature of elements is never static - temperature (agni), dryness (vayu), humidity (jala) etc. are in a natural state of flux. Severe weather can occur when this combination becomes volatile or extreme - thunderstorms, hurricanes, floods or drought. 

Human Composition: Humans are one of the many living organisms on Earth and are essentially made up of the same elements that form all of the other entities on Earth. Death returns our bodies to the earth, water, fire, air and space. A person maintains the combination of elements already present in the body by respiration and nutrition - absorbing those elements found in the natural world. The “five element” theory explains the connection between humans and the rest of the natural world. Thus foods and herbs can help to heal the human body. Flora can repair and regenerate humans because they share an elemental basis.  

Ayurveda creates two distinct classifications of a person, one relating to the body and the second to the mind. One's nature, or Prakriti, is determined by this combination of body and mind classifications.  

In Sanskrit, dosha is defined as “that which contaminates”. Doshas are pathogens or disease-causing vectors. An imbalance of vata, pitta and kapha doshas cause disease in the body. Dosha specifically refers to three biological energies - vata, pitta and kapha. The Sanskrit definition of a Guna is a characteristic, an influence or impulse. 

Knowing your Dosha and Guna gives an understanding of your basic physical and psychological nature. Knowing your prakriti helps you to tailor a personalised diet and lifestyle that can help prevent disease and physical disorders, and obtain peace of mind. This knowledge helps maintain balance with your surroundings and is the key to health. One's elemental nature or dosha is unchangeable. However the mind can play a role in re-shaping your nature through acquiring positive qualities, and minimizing negative mental characteristics. 

Three qualities - the Gunas : Guna may be defined as a characteristic or quality. A guna may also be an influence or impulse. All cosmic matter is said to be made up of three gunas. Just as our bodies contain all of the elements, our minds have each of the gunas. The three basic gunas/qualities are: Sattva (knowledge, purity) , Rajas (action, passion), and Tamas (inertia, ignorance). 

In the human context, guna refers to the mental nature and personal character. Whether a person is sattvic: gentle, calm, tolerant and patient, or rajasic : greedy, passionate, impulsive, exploitative, materialistic and focused on sensual gratification, or tamasic : slothful, ignorant, deceitful and insensitive - is governed by the gunas. 

As the mind is intimately connected with the body, increasing contact or consumption of rajasic or tamasic things creates an imbalance in the mind and distresses the body. This manifests as disease and illness in many forms. If one's dosha is imbalanced it disrupts the mind guna. 

Modern status: Ayurvedic physicians coalesced into professional associations in the 20th century. Ayurveda is now a statutory, recognised medical system of health care in India. CCIM - The Central Council of Indian Medicine - governs the system. Ayurvedia practitioners In India undergo 5 1/2 years of studies and one year of internship in Ayurveda Medical Schools upon which they qualify for a professional doctorate degree called Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery [B.A.M.S.]. 

Western Hemisphere Practice: Due to medical practice rules & regulations in the West, Ayurvedic treatments are commonly practiced as massage therapy and as dietary / herbal nutrition. The National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine in the US is an institute that carries out Ayurvedic research. 

As regards intellectual property rights - some western (US & European) Pharmaceutical companies and Academic Institutions have conflicted with their Indian counterparts and traditional practitioners of Ayurveda over the IPR's of certain natural products newly researched in the West. Indian practitioners have known about the pharmacology of these products for centuries and thus claim precedence on their patent rights. 

Criticisms - Scientific studies / standards : Primary critcisms relate to the lack of rigorous scientific studies or clinical trials of many ayurvedic products. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that "most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were." 

Safety issues : There is laboratory evidence that the use of certain ayurvedic medicines involving herbs, metals, minerals, and other materials results in serious toxicological and metabolic risks. 

JAMA - the Journal of the American Medical Association - published a research study where it was found that significant levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic exist in over 20% of Ayurvedic medicines made in South Asia for sale in the US. JAMA concluded that, if consumed according to the manufacturers' prescriptions, these substances "could result in heavy metal intakes above published regulatory standards". Similar studies conducted in India have confirmed this. 

"Miracle Cures”: critics also debate the safety of those Ayurvedic medicines that claim to be "Miracle Cures". This is because "miracles" are subject to theological rather than scientific inquiry. 

Ayurvedic wisdom originated within the Vedas as a way of life - an intimate connection with nature and spirit. It then evolved into medical aspects which took priority over the spiritual forms of healing. As Ayurveda becomes globally commercial - it's spiritual aspects may recede. However there is an increasing body of physicians who weave Ayurveda's spiritual therapies most effectively into the medical realm - with spectacular results. 

Ayurvedic science and medicine is ancient, but continues to endure with a relevance and wisdom for human beings across the ages. It has offered curative hope to people and civilizations over centuries. It's gentle wisdom embraces an intimate knowledge of the spirit and it's temple, the body. Today, scientific advances have finally begun to keep pace with this ancient healer of men.


 

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