Ayurveda (Sanskrit ayus,”life”; veda,”knowledge”), ancient Indian system of traditional medicine, writings about which date from about 2500 BC. It is still widely practised in India, and is becoming increasingly known outside Asia. The theory that informs ayurveda is wide-ranging, involving philosophy and spirituality, as well as science and medicine. Traditionally, ayurveda stresses the importance of self-care and practitioners claim that sessions help maintain health and prevent illness, although they can also help a wide variety of health problems.
Ayurveda is based on the idea that the mind, body, and environment are part of an all-encompassing field of energy and intelligence that creates and sustains life. Followers of ayurveda believe that perfect health is possible through connection with this field. Ayurvedic treatments therefore tend to focus not only on an individual’s physical, mental, and spiritual condition, but also on astrological influences and on social and environmental factors, such as the weather and seasons.
Ayurveda teaches that humans and our environment are made up of five elements referred to as air, fire, water, earth, and ether (or space). Each of these corresponds to one of our five senses. They combine to give rise to three main physiological tendencies, or doshas, known as kapha, pitta, and vata. These relate to the levels of energy (prana) affecting the body. Each dosha is most evident in specific organs of the body: kapha, for example, predominates in the lungs and chest.
The detection of imbalances in our doshas is one of ayurvedic medicine’s main ways of diagnosing ill health. It is claimed that, while all three doshas are found in everyone, their relative proportions vary from person to person. The doshas influence a person’s emotional and physical characteristics, as well as their lifestyle and habits. Under the ayurvedic system, the predominance of vata dosha makes a person slender, intuitive, energetic, and prone to mood disorders and constipation. Pitta dosha promotes a medium build, reddish hair and ruddy skin, and proneness to anger, acne, heartburn, and ulcers. Those predominant in kapha dosha are more pale and relaxed, and prone to obesity and allergies. For each type of dosha, there are recommended diets, which can be general, such as eating hot foods in the cold season, or very specific; herbal medicines; cleansing treatments; exercises; and lifestyle choices.
India currently has several hundred ayurvedic hospitals. Training in ayurvedic medicine can take up to five years of full-time study. Those few ayurvedic practitioners who practise outside Asia tend to work within well-established Asian communities. However, since the 1980s there has been an increased interest in ayurveda in the West. A small number of ayurvedic associations and institutes are now operating in the United States and Europe, offering training, treatment, and information.
“Ayurveda,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005
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