Ayurveda-The Science of Life
Ayurveda is the knowledge of life and tells us how to live a healthy life. Before we discuss how to go about it, we need to appreciate the difference between being ‘disease free’ and ‘healthy’. The opposite of ‘healthy’ would be ‘unhealthy’ and the latter is not necessarily synonymous with being diseased.
Have you not on some days awakened in the morning, after a fitful sleep, feeling sick? There are bags under your eyes and no sparkle in those days. You suffer from a feeling of incomplete bowel evacuation. Vague aches and pains dog you throughout the day; you shout at your children more than you need to, argue with peers for no rhyme or reason and are, by and large, unhappy.
Such symptoms cannot be classified into any known disease syndrome if guided by today’s medical system. But you are certainly not well and are definitely not in a state of positive health.
When patients come with such complaints, what does modern medicine have to offer? In the past it would have been vitamins and tonics, whereas the current trend is to prescribe the popular anti-stress drugs. Do you know that Ayurveda, our very own ‘made-to-order’ indigenous system of health, has given us several tricks to follow that will prevent us from ‘feeling unwell’?
Two quotations will help us in understanding what Ayurveda has to say in this regard. Charaka, the great physician of Ayurveda, says “The mind, soul and body form the three pillars, on which not only a human being’s existence rests, but also that of the world.” Sushruta, an ancient Ayurveda scholar having honor as the first surgeon of the world, has given a unique definition of health. He says ” Balanced Dosha, healthy Agni, a good state of tissues and their metabolic end-products lead to a balanced state of the senses, mind and spirit, all of which lead to health.”
It is said to rest on the tripod of body, mind and spirit. To be healthy, not only the body but also the mind needs to be kept fit; hence, the currently fashionable theme of ‘environment friendliness’. Thus, ways are described that will help us live a healthy life in constant tune with nature.
Ayurveda is often erroneously associated with herbs only. In actual fact it has a huge canvas that includes among other things, Yoga and Panchakarma. Diet and digestion are the pivots on which most of its theories are based – both in physiology (normalcy) as well as in pathology (disease). The basic philosophy of Ayurveda is based on the Panchamahabhoota (five basic elements) theory. From this theory evolves the concept of the controlling forces or the Doshas which act on the tissues, the Dhatus, giving rise to various metabolic products, i.e. Mala.
The character of all these are governed by what we eat, how we live and in which environment, and what is our mental state. And so, modifications in any of these can make us ‘unwell,’ not necessarily diseased. As an extension, if we remain unwell for too long, then our tissues (Dhatus) can lose their strength and become susceptible to foreign attack like infections, making us disease-stricken.
An important concept of Ayurveda is that each individual is genetically different – this gives him or her a very specific constitution (Prakriti) and also a very individual way of interacting with the environment. Thus, each person knows best what suits his or her body and what does not.
Ayurveda tells us of the framework in which we can modify our lifestyles to optimize our bodily functions. These things are described as Ritucharya (ways and means to be followed in different seasons) and Dinacharya (ways and means to be followed from morning to night). If, for some reason, some illness does occur, then Ayurveda describes remedies based on herbs, minerals and other therapeutic procedures like Panchakarma.
Nobody likes to age, but it is the law of life. Ayurveda teaches us how to age with dignity and grace. The Rasayana group of herbs prescribed therein is a fascinating resume on the secrets of life itself.
Ayurveda emphasizes the role of mental health in maintaining physical health. Today, we agree that there is a definite link between the mind and the body. Within the framework of psycho-neuro-immunology, we can re-interpret the ancient stanzas of Ayurveda and contribute new knowledge to the science of medicine.
We find that, nowadays, Ayurveda is making a feeble yet persistent attempt at a comeback. But, there is a word of caution. Blind faith in Ayurveda is not the answer. People are turning towards Ayurveda not only for therapy, but also for providing the lead to research.
Now, it is for the researchers engaged in the extensive researches in different aspects of Ayurveda to answer these following questions:
1) Can we develop a formula to live a healthy life using the philosophy of Ayurveda?
2) Can we personalize our lifestyle so as to avoid disease altogether?
3) Can we master the art of living?
The probable answers of all the questions are “Yes”. How? Extensive researches are going on to standardize these things so we can get some concrete answers in near future.
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar BAMS, MD (Ayurveda) Dr. Suhas is a classically trained Ayurvedic Physician and Gold Medalist from prestigious Pune University. A Rig Veda Brahmin by tradition and accomplished Clinician.