A system of self-care that originated in India more than 5000 years ago, Ayurveda is becoming very popular all over the world, with hundreds of healers incorporating it into their practices and thousands of people using its well-tried principles and therapies to improve their well-being.
The Vedic word ayurveda has two root words--ayu and veda. Every root word in the Vedic tradition has its own definition--thus, ayu has its own definition and so does veda. Literally and concisely, ayu means "life" and ved means "science." According to this translation, ayurveda means "the science of life." But the Vedic texts expand on these definitions to offer us a more complete understanding, and our ayurvedic expert Vaidya Rama Kant Mishra has explained some of these expanded statements.
What is the real meaning of ayu or life according to the fundamental principles of ayurveda? Sharirendriya sattwa atma samyogo ayuhu, goes one verse. Sharir means physical body; indriya means senses. Sattwa refers to the combination of mind and heart-overall psychological strength, and atma means soul or spirit. When all of these-body, senses, heart, mind and spirit-are in proper balance and function in a harmonious, coordinated manner, that is true life-"the living body."
Veda means science-not a science that changes its theories and its findings every few years but ageless, eternal knowledge built on siddhantas, fundamental unchanging principles. Veda refers to guided knowledge: it is not just theory, but also a roadmap for how to derive practical benefit from the knowledge.
A longer definition of ayurveda
Another longer definition of ayurveda goes: ayurhitahitamvyadhe nidaanamshamanam thathaa vidyate yatra vidhwadhihi tatra ayurveda uchyate. This verse takes us to a deeper level to understand what ayurveda is.
Ayurveda provides us with a complete understanding of what is life-sustaining and what is not, not just for the physical body, but also our mind, heart, senses and spirit. This includes descriptions of the kind of diet, lifestyle and behavior that is optimal for well-being, the ideal environment, and the herbal rasayanas that are good or bad for each of these aspects of health. There is great detail on each of these modalities-what to eat, when to eat and how to eat are a part of dietary recommendations, for example. The texts also include recommendations for nurturing relationships and living as part of the human community.
If an individual does not have this knowledge or has the knowledge but does not implement the knowledge, then, say the texts, the person becomes susceptible to imbalance and disorders. When a person goes to an ayurvedic healer, the healer's first job is to find out why the person has the symptoms he or she has. Two persons can exhibit the same symptoms, but the etiological factors behind the symptoms in each case may be entirely different. The ayurvedic healer goes beyond symptoms to discover the underlying cause of the imbalance, so that there can be ultimate resolution of the imbalance, not just an appeasement of symptoms.
Nidaanam refers to both the etiological factors behind the symptoms and the diagnosis itself. The ayurvedic diagnosis is based on etiological factors. Vaidya Mishra explains it thus: "If a fire alarm begins beeping in your home, you would try to find out from where the smoke is coming. In ayurveda, healers try to do the same thing. If a person comes to a healer saying 'I have a headache,' we do an ayurvedic pulse assessment and ask careful questions to find out the real imbalance that is creating the headaches. What is the person doing in terms of his or her diet or lifestyle to create the imbalance? What is the source of the smoke? Ayurveda does address the symptoms, but it does so by addressing the cause of the symptoms, unlike modern medicine, which sometimes pulls out the battery from the alarm to stop its beeping, and destroys Nature's signaling system in the process."
Ayurveda also discusses the ways to pacify aggravated doshas or imbalances--the tools to create balance in the imbalanced body, mind, senses or spirit.
Says Vaidya Mishra: "The soul is the source of life--"jivatma"--the vibrational power of Nature in us that is indestructible. When the soul gets out of communication with the body or heart or mind or senses, disease results. When the soul is connected to the mind, body, heart and senses, it provides perfect guidance, and the result is health and well-being. Ayurveda teaches a person how one can enhance the communication between the soul and the body, heart, mind and senses, so that one can live perfectly in tune with the rhythms and laws of Nature, making no mistakes that lead to imbalances and disease."
The two objectives of Ayurveda
Ayurveda has two main objectives:
Swasthasya swaastha rakshanam, which means "keeping the healthy person healthy." Prevention is the primary and most important goal of ayurveda.
Vyadhakanam vyadhi paramokshaha, which means "for the person who does not have this knowledge of how to stay optimally healthy or does not implement the knowledge, and thus gets out of balance, ayurveda teaches that person how to get rid of the imbalance."