Ayurvedic medicine began over 5000 years ago in the Himalayan Mountains of India. Legend holds that a great meeting of the wisest healers took place in a Himalayan cave, where they shared their healing secrets. Some of these men traveled thousands of miles, bringing their knowledge of medicinal herbs from their tribes. These healers combined their knowledge and called this new body of medicine Ayurveda. This name came from two Sanskrit words; “Ayus” meaning “life” and “Veda” which means “knowledge.” The translation is “knowledge of life” or “science of life.”
These traditions were passed orally from generation to generation. Each physician added to them as they developed new ideas. This continued until the first century A.D. when Charaka, an Ayurvedic physician, finally wrote them down. At that time Ayurvedic medicine had specialists in the areas of psychiatry, pediatrics, gynecology, ear/nose and throat, ophthalmology, surgery, virility and fertility.
Ayurvedic herbal medicine is probably the earliest organized medical system, pre-dating even traditional Chinese medicine. The Arabs had traded for Indian herbs before the birth of Islam. The ancient tombs of Egyptian pharaohs contained seeds from plants native to India. Eastern traders brought the knowledge of Indian herbs down through Tibet and into China. The Queen of Sheba, during the time of King Solomon, traded herbs and spices from India to the Israelites.
Ayurveda was practiced by many Arab physicians during the rise of the Greek and Roman empires. This knowledge was passed to the Greeks and Romans who helped spread it throughout Europe. Even after the fall of the Roman empire, Europeans continued to value Indian spices. They traded with Arab countries for them. This trade led to the discovery of America. Christopher Columbus was searching for a shorter route to India to trade spices when he landed in the New World.
Western science and medicine has been slow to accept the philosophy and ideas of Ayurvedic medicine, but many individuals in the West have recognized its value. More and more physicians are finding value in these ancient principles and their herbal formulas.
Philosophy of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine
The Ayurvedic philosophy of medicine is truly a holistic approach. Ayurveda is based on the philosophy that health is dependent upon a person living in harmony with their internal and external world. Traditionally, mental health was as important as physical health. It was taught that in order to live a healthy, productive life one had to balance their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Ayurvedic herbal medicine is the grandfather of modern preventative medicine. Ayurvedic physicians taught the importance of disease prevention for thousands of years. It was believed that the best medicine was to build up the immune system for a natural defense against disease and illness. The goal of Ayurveda has always been to maintain optimal health throughout life so that the individual can develop the necessary awareness of his or her connection with the life principle.
This goal is achieved through the balance of nutrition, herbal remedies, and mental and spiritual development. Traditional ayurvedic principles, including herbal supplementation, were started in childhood and continued for life. This helped promote a lifelong development of well-being.
Ayurvedic herbal medicine physicians recognize three major physiological (body) types. The three types, or Doshas, are the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The body type is determined by heredity and is often referred to as Prakriti. Physicians will often interview, observe, and use a technique called pulse diagnoses to determine a patient’s body type, which is often a combination; such as Vata/Pitta. After determining body type, the physician will determine any imbalances and what approaches may be needed to bring balance. This is often done through herbal supplementation or dietary changes.
Other treatments may include hatha yoga, acupuncture, massage therapies, aromatherapy and music therapy. The use of natural remedies and herbal treatments produces little or no side effects, commonly seen with pharmaceutical interventions. The prevention approach also reduces the need for many different treatments to offset the effects of drugs used to combat a particular illness or disorder. The natural approach to health and wellness is becoming much more popular, in lieu of drug therapies and surgery.
Herbs and herbal combinations make up a large part of ayurvedic medicine. Most ayurvedic herbal remedies are combinations rather than single herbs. These herbal formulas are based on centuries of knowledge. Ayurveda focuses on internal, organ, health; as opposed to the external, muscle and physique, health common in the western view of health. The herbal formulas are designed to support organ health and balance internal function. This approach balances internal health with the external environment.
Herbs in ayurveda are used to prevent and treat most conditions. There are herbal remedies for asthma, bronchitis, fever, intestinal disorders, and cold/flu treatment. Treatments designed to control blood sugar, improve energy levels, reduce pain and inflammation, and improve digestion are also a part of ayurvedic medicine. Infertility, erectile dysfunction, menstrual health, and sexual function are also commonly treated with herbs.
Many herbal combinations are designed to strengthen or heal organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. Others are beneficial to complete organ systems like the circulatory, respiratory, adrenal, reproductive, or digestive systems. The herbs, and herbal formulas, developed by ayurvedic physicians throughout its history are being accepted by western medicine and science. Studies and research are showing that these herbs are beneficial in many ways. Herbal remedies are becoming popular in the mainstream due to their relative safety and their availability without a prescription.
Ayurvedic herbal medicine is based on thousands of years of knowledge in natural medicine and herbal formulas. A balance between the individual and the cosmos is the foundation for this holistic health approach. Focusing on the health of the organs and organ systems, and not waiting for illness to take hold, but instead preventing it, make this a proactive approach to wellness. Physicians use their knowledge of the physiological types and the appropriate balances to develop appropriate herbal and dietary plans to regain and maintain that balance. Ayurveda is a body of medicine that takes an individual’s mental, physical and spiritual health into consideration and looks at wellness as the true indicator of health.