In the last article on the roots of healing, I discussed how over the eons, the art and science of healing, as it becomes ingrained in a society’s way of being, becomes more systematized and formalized.
One such system, and the oldest system of medicine on the planet, is Ayurvedic Medicine. In the last article, Ayurvedic Medicine: The Oldest System of Medicine, Part 1, I talked about its origins and roots.
Today I will continue with the discussion, with Part 2 about Ayurvedic Medicine.
(Please note: After today’s column, I – and the Low Density Lifestyle website – will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. So this is the last article until Tuesday, Aug. 31).
As I mentioned in the previous article, Ayurveda stems from the Vedas, the ancient classical sacred texts of Hinduism. It is a medicine based on balance, and is a medicine of the body, mind and soul. It is closely associated with the other Hindu disciplines of yoga and tantra, which together are seen as the three paths of Vedic knowledge.
Ayurveda believes that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality.
When people think of Ayurveda, they often think of the three Doshas: vatta, pita and kapha. According to Ayurveda, these three Doshas (literally that which deteriorates) are regulatory principles that are important for health, because when they are in a balanced state, the body is healthy, and when imbalanced, the body has diseases.
The three doshas stem from the five great elements: Prithvi – earth; Aap – water; Tej – fire; Vaayu – air; and Akash – ether. Ayurvedic principles hold that all of these compose the Universe, including the human body.
In addition, Chyle or plasma (called rasa dhatu), blood (rakta dhatu), flesh (mamsa dhatu), fat (medha dhatu), bone (asthi dhatu), marrow (majja dhatu), and semen or female reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) are held to be the seven primary constituent elements of the body.
The doshas are comprised of the different elements. Vata is air and space, or wind; pitta is fire and water, or bile; and kapha is water and earth, or phlegm.
The Ayurvedic doctor uses a number of diagnostic approaches in order to determine the right diagnosis and understand which of the doshas is most predominant. This will then help the doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
This is actually standard protocol in any system of medicine, and what separates a system of medicine from just an approach or modality.
In a system of medicine, the doctor first makes a diagnosis, and from there determines what the best treatment principles and course of treatment is.
The difference between Ayurvedic, and any other traditional system of medicine, and modern/Western medicine, is that with Ayurvedic, diagnosis and treatment is both an art and science, and as an art it is known that sometimes the body will work in mysterious ways.
Whereas with modern/Western medicine, diagnosis and treatment has had the art taken out of it, and has become a technological science that attempts to reduce things down to absolutes, which then allows no room for the mysteries of healing.
In fact, in the modern/Western way of medicine, the mysteries of healing are best to be avoided at all costs.
And so, with diagnosis for the Ayurvedic doctor, the patient is to be questioned and all five senses are to be employed. Ayurvedic texts recommend a tenfold examination of the patient.
The qualities to be judged are: constitution, abnormality, essence, stability, body measurements, diet suitability, psychic strength, digestive capacity, physical fitness and age. Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.
The study of the vital pressure points, or marma, is of special importance – it is the trauma science described in Ayurveda. There are 107 different spots described and located on the body surface which produce different signs and symptoms. With respect to the underlying anatomical structures, the symptoms vary according to blunt or penetrating trauma. The severity of the symptoms and signs also depend on whether the injury is exactly on the marma point or slightly around it.
Treatment includes diet and herbs; herbs may be a misnomer, because the Ayurvedic herbal pharmacy includes vegetables, animals and minerals.
In regards to the vegetable part of the herbal pharmacy, warming herbs such as cardamon, cinnamon, tumeric and pepper are very popular. They are said to strengthen the digestion.
Animal products include milk, bones, and gallstones. And minerals used include sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate and gold.
Some minerals employed by Ayurvedic medicine are toxic, but traditionally the toxicity of these materials are believed to be reduced through purification processes such as samskaras, which involve prayers as well as physical pharmacy techniques.
At least one scientific study has looked at the process of purification of toxic substances in Ayurveda with lab mice. The study looked at aconite, which is used in Ayurvedic pharmacy formulations, and is an extremely lethal substance in its crude and unprocessed form.
The study compared aconite in its crude and unprocessed form, versus aconite in the form where it is processed by way of the samskaras, which involve prayers as well as physical pharmacy techniques.
Unprocessed aconite was significantly toxic to mice (100% mortality at a dose of 2.6 mg/mouse) whereas the fully processed aconite was absolutely non-toxic (no mortality at a dose even 8 times as high as that of crude aconite).
Other treatment approaches include: the application of sesame oil to the body, known as snehana, abhiyanga and shirodhara; sweating, known as swedana; and panchakarma, which is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five treatments.” This is a process used to clean the body of toxic materials left by disease and poor nutrition.