Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, and Healthy Soul: Introduction to Ayurveda

I can pinpoint the day when I realized, via first-hand experience, the importance of Ayurveda. This was in early April 2015 in the USA  and we used to live in New Canaan, CT at that time. I’ve attended a Rotary Club of New Canaan’s event that day. The guest speaker was a doctor from Columbia University’s Medical Center (In case you didn’t know, Columbia University, its medical college, it’s hospital and the corresponding medical research all are considered to be one of the world’s best). He was the head of a particular cancer research at Columbia at that time.

The topic: “Effectiveness of Turmeric in Fighting Cancer”.

Here’s a link from Columbia Surgery about turmeric and cancer research.

http://columbiasurgery.org/news/2014/03/26/turmeric-curcumin-and-cancer-what-s-research

That day he talked to us about the qualities of turmeric and how it works as an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and how effective it is in targeting cancer cells without killing the healthy cells. He also explained to us how they’re collaborating with an institute in Bangalore, India, to further the research in this field by understanding how Ayurveda works, like the role of herbs, roots, and spices in health management. He also mentioned how Indian households routinely use these ingredients in their cooking.

Immediately after his talk, I felt like a  min-celebrity as a number of attendees turned their heads towards me and started asking questions like how exactly do we use these herbs, roots, what is the right quantity of turmeric in cooking and how to preserve the same at home and so on. Needless to say, I was the only Indian in the audience. My only qualification to open my mouth in the presence of such an expert in that field was that I am from India and they assumed that I’d know about Ayurveda way of life.

And I do have hands-on experience with Ayurveda, not just myself, but most of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc. have the experience with this lifestyle. We may not realize that we practice Ayurveda and live and breath this method literally and figuratively, but we do.

Welcome to the world of Ayurveda.

Objectives Of Ayurveda (आयुर्वेद)

Etymology: The term ‘Ayurveda’ means “Knowledge of Life” in Sanskrit. ‘Veda’ comes from the root word ‘Vid’. ‘Vid’ means knowledge. ‘Ayu’ means life. Hence Ayurveda means “Knowledge of Life”.

The two main health objectives of Ayurveda are,

  1. स्वस्थस्य स्वास्थ्यरक्षणं (Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam): Translates to ‘To preserve the health of the healthy”

  2. This, in turn, is taken to the next step in Ayurveda as, “good health requires; healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy soul”, and

  3. अतुरस्य विकार प्रशमनाम्चा (Aturasya Vikar Prashamanacha): Translates to “To completely eradicate the disease and dysfunction of the body.

  4. This part of Ayurveda focuses on treating diseases; Therapeutics, patient’s regimen and treating the imbalances.

स्वस्थस्य स्वास्थ्यरक्षणं  (Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam)

The main objective of Ayurveda is to preserve the health of the healthy, and this method encourages the corresponding lifestyle by putting in practice an elaborate, but a very practical, effective, inexpensive and natural methodology, so that we maintain our health and prevent diseases.

To think about it, preventing diseases in an effective way that is also inexpensive and natural, is the best way of healthcare management. This will automatically reduce the burden on hospitals and the associated systems by minimizing the need for such services in the first place.

According to Vagbhata (considered to be one of the authorities of Ayurveda and a co-author of “Vaghbhata Samhita”), 85% of diseases can be cured without a doctor; only 15% of diseases require a doctor. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagbhata)

A few examples of how this system works in the Indian subcontinent.

  1. Farming: Organic farming has been the way to go for millennia and an associated economy was developed around the same. I encourage the reader to delve into the details like how farm animals are maintained and how their waste is used in fertilizers, and how the health of the soil is preserved, etc. This is not some ancient time, but it’s still in practice in the Indian sub-continent. (Unfortunately, this practice has come under attack from chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides in the last few decades resulting in ill health of those people consuming such food besides affecting farmers themselves adversely including monetarily).

  2. House decoration and festivals: It’s very common in India to use garlands of flowers like jasmine, marigold etc. to decorate their houses and even wear them during important ceremonies like weddings. Not just Hindus, but Muslims and other religions in India also use different types of flowers for different purposes. Have you ever wondered why? This is because బంతి (marigold) is known for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic properties besides being a vibrant looking and a beautiful colored flower. By the way, the use of marigold (from Mary’s Gold) is widespread around the world, not just in the Indian subcontinent. But this elaborate system of making Ayurveda type of holistic system a part of life is more pronounced in Indian region as compared to other regions.

Side note: If you ever wondered, how can we differentiate between science and superstition, this is how. By asking questions and by trying to find out if there is any logical reason behind a practice and if that said reason is still valid?

If we call ‘believing in something blindly’ as superstition, what should we call ‘disbelieving in something blindly”?  Are they not the same thing?

3. Food and Cooking: The region that I come from, cooking is a very simple process. The concept is minimal processing of the food and very simple and straightforward way of cooking. For ex: You want to make Tomato rasam. Take a few fresh tomatoes, boil in water along with salt and turmeric, add rasam spice mix and then add tadka for rasam (Tadka: Heat ghee and add mustard seeds, red chili and hing). That’s it. No pre-processing. No post-processing. No sweat. Takes a max of 10 min. Consumption of fresh fruits and raw vegetables, sprouts, beans, and pulses is encouraged. The best gift that we give to each other during our festivals is a bowl of sprouts with a fresh banana and a betel leaf along with turmeric. The concept of wishing good health to each other by actions, not just by words is a part of Indian way of living. Aside: Here’s a good article by a student of Ayurveda discussing the most important ingredient of food: “Prana”.

http://www.sandiegocollegeofayurveda.com/food-processing-prana

  1. Yoga: Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences and I’ll cover how Yoga is also an integral part of Indian way of living contributing to healthcare management, in my future articles.

  2. Jyothisha: I’ll elaborate on why Ayurveda practitioners also were needed to have the basic understanding of Jyothisha in future articles.

We can go on discussing more examples of Ayurveda way of living in India and how it became part of our lives at every point. The point is, Ayurveda is not out there in medical colleges, nor is this knowledge secret, nor it is a privilege of medical students alone. Yes. The next part that I am going to introduce and elaborate about in my later articles is a privilege of Ayurveda practitioners. But not the first objective which covers 85% of your healthcare management as Vaghbata mentioned. This is a common knowledge without needing any degrees, not even formal elementary school education is needed. Who says that Vedic knowledge is limited to guru kulas?

अतुरस्य विकार प्रशमनाम्चा (Aturasya Vikar Prashamanacha)

In case, if we’re afflicted with a disease, Ayurveda not only focuses on treating the disease but also has got a path and method to rejuvenate the person and restore health. Ayurveda uses two levels of disease management;

a)  For layman and self-care using at home remedies and,

b)  For practitioners and healers by providing the instructions on medications, tools, and the necessary training.

There are two ways in which therapeutics is used in Ayurveda.

a) Using medicines, known as ‘Dravya Chikitsa’.

b)  Treatment without medicines such as ‘achara rasayana’ (behavioral medicine) where people are encouraged to live with good conduct both personal as well as social. This is known as Bhava Chikitsa.

Ayurveda doesn’t focus on just treating the diseases. But it’s a life science. It teaches people as to how to live in harmony with our body, mind, and soul so that we maintain our health and prevent diseases. Towards that cause, Ayurveda advises on smallest things regarding personal hygiene and social conduct. This system acts as a guide and narrates how one should live their life at various stages from balyavastha (infant) to vridhavasta(old age). In fact, Ayurveda way of life begins even before one’s birth by giving guidance for the healthy sexual life for the married couples and health of the woman that prepares them for a healthy child.

In case you’re wondering if this whole thing sounds too good and too modern and in case thinking if I am like those few people who are over-enthusiastically claiming that ‘all of this is already in Vedas including Java, C++, and Boeing”. No. I don’t belong to that category. By the way, let me be clear. Not everything that is now known to the mankind or innovations of the new age like Electrical Engineering and so-called modern medicine was in Vedas. Don’t look for clues on how to use your new Mac in Vedas.  But the foundational philosophies, along with elaborate practical systems that passed the test of time, that a human needs to lead a happy and a full life are in Vedic Sciences.

Now the question becomes, “how old is Ayurveda and are we blindly following some 2500 years ago practice or has it evolved at all?” In my next article, I am going to discuss how Ayurveda has evolved over thousands of years, through medieval ages and to the current day. I’ll also cover how this system benefited from the exchange of ideas and knowledge from other countries including the Islamic nations. I am also going to point out the criticism about a particular technique in this method and the causes of the decline of Ayurveda and it’s subsequent rejuvenation.

Please note: Fortunately, Ayurveda methodology, techniques, including internal medicine, surgery, the guiding philosophy are all well documented since 400-200 BCE and more commentaries on this medicine were written throughout the history. `Very important part of that documentation survived despite the invasions. In fact, Islamic writers gave due credit to the Indian experts in Ayurveda and Jyothisha in their writings. Persian-Arabic’ contribution to the spread of this knowledge from east to west is undeniable. Not only that, this knowledge transfer was bidirectional and Ayurveda also gained and learned from other countries and evolved accordingly.

Stay tuned for my next article:

“History and evolution of Ayurveda from ancient times to the current day and beyond”.

Here’s part 1: “History of Ayurveda: Part 1: Ancient Times”

References:

  1. One reference that I used, my responses to the assignments from a basic course, that I am currently taking, is something that I cannot share with you as is. But all the information that I shared here including the technical terms and what they mean is available in public domain via Wikipedia and other similar articles which I cross verified. So this is public knowledge.

  2. The secondary reference is my personal experience having born and raised in India. But this is something most of us know intuitively because of the way we’re taught at home about this system without the corresponding stress of homework, assignments, exams or the modern badges of honors, degrees.