Myths and facts

MYTHS & FACTS ABOUT AYURVEDA

1. What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an art and science of healing through natural techniques with special herbs and oils. It literally means ‘to gather knowledge about life’.

2. How is it defined?

It is defined as one which informs to look after the welfare of all human beings in particular and beings in general with regard to their Physical, mental, sociocultural and spiritual well being.

3. What is its antiquity?

It existed right from the beginning of life on the surface of this globe, in some unsystematized form. A systematized knowledge of Ayurveda came into existence thousands of years before Christ (B.C).

4. What it is not?

Generally it is considered as a ‘herbal medicine’, folk medicine, belief system, traditional medicine, Alternative system or native medicine.

The notion that Ayurveda prescribes only medicines of herbal origin is a myth though it is true that herbs are a major source of majority of ayurvedic medicines. Ayurveda prescribes mineral products like gold, silver, diamond, copper, iron, sulphur, alum, mica, zinc, lead, tin and so on after thorough purification, trituration and turning them to Bhasmaswhich have not been proved yet as harmful. Apart from these minerals, many animal products like ghee, butter, animal’s urine, horns and skin, flesh – mutton, coral, pearl, conch etc. are also used as medicines wherever necessary. Therefore it is not only herbal medicine.

Folk medicine has its root in the community especially in rural folks. It is not based on any known foundational ideas and hence beyond one’s reasoning. Moreover it does not cover all the aspects of human health and disease. The scope of its coverage of the health problems both in respect of diagnosis and treatment of vast many disorders is very much limited unlike systematized Ayurveda. Hence it cannot be synonym of Ayurveda. Traditional medicine leaves an impression that it is based on pure Tradition handed down to generation from generation and practiced by certain family members. The scope of this also is just similar to folk medicine.

Cultural heritage may certainly contribute a lot in preventing many disorders, and in promotion of health while traditional or folklore practices may fail to recognize these positive aspects of health. Hence it cannot be a justifiable synonym to Ayurveda.

Yet another privileged class of our society prefer to call it a belief System. It probably means a system based on only belief and nothing else. It amounts to telling that Ayurveda works, if at all it works, because certain patients believe it and Ayurveda Physician also believes that whatever has been mentioned in any ancient literature is true and he also believes that Ayurvedic drugs act because they are stated to be useful in so and so conditions. This notion is not correct. Belief does act to certain extent. Faith and confidence are necessary to everybody in something of one’s own life events Ayurveda to, of course, respects belief, faith and confidence are necessary to everybody in something of one’s own life events. Ayurveda too, of course, respects belief, faith and confidence. But it does not mean that Ayurveda is far from reasoning, not amenable to logic. It advocates experimentation, repeated keen observation, logical reasoning and correct conclusion with regard to anything that is worth considering. It vociferously condemns random and thoughtless application of anything related to health science. Therefore it is not fair to equate Ayurveda with ‘belief system’ as believed to be.

To call Ayurveda an alternative system cannot be fully justified. Literally speaking any system for matter can be alternative to the other, in a world of multitudinal health care delivery systems. Ayurveda existed since more than 3000 years from now when there was no other system of medicine existed. Then it was never alternative to anything else. It was the only main stream system in India even today if all the original specialities of Ayurveda are revived with full swing and people at the helm of affairs act swiftly without any prejudice with a genuine concern, Ayurveda can play a role of mainstream health care system. It has all potency of not playing an alternative role.

Ayurveda can be a native medicine in the sense that it originated in our nation. However it does not deliver the actual root meaning of Ayurveda. No other term or phrase can be a sensible substitute for Ayurveda.

5. What is the literal meaning of Ayurveda?

It is composed of two terms viz., Ayu and veda. Ayu stands for life and veda means to know. Thus literally it means ‘to know about life’.

6. What is life?

Life ordinarily means the span of duration from birth to death. Span of life depends on the harmonious union of body, senses, psyche and senses disintegrate and fall apart from the psyche and supreme conscious. Life span is that duration of union of these four.

7. What according to ayurveda are to be known about life?

There are two faces of life. One is negative, the other is positive. Happy and wholesome long life is expected to be ideal on positive side while unhappy, unwholesome short or long life is negative aspect of life. It is not just sufficient to livelong .How one lives is all the more important. The life should be enjoyable and also should be useful to the family and to society at large. To be useful to the society, to enjoy a reasonably respectable life in the society, life should be wholesome. Ayurveda wants us to know the causes, characters/features in respect of both negative and positive aspects of these two basic ingredients of life.

8. What is its scope?

Original scope of Ayurveda was far and wide. The major divisions of Ayurveda depict the same. It encompasses the health care of Animals, plants and human beings as shown here under:

Major Divisions of Ayurveda

Garayurveda Vrikshayurveda Ayurveda

(Related to health (Related to health care of plants) (Related to human beings) Of domestic animals Like cows, horses, Elephants etc.) Ancient literature on former two are lost to a great extent and not so much in vogue. However efforts are being made here and there to revive the same. Human Ayurveda is mostly prevalent and practiced to a large extent.

9. Are there any specialized branches of Ayurveda?

Yes. There are 8 specialised branches. The concept of specialization is nothing new to medical field in India. But the basis of specialization is somewhat unique when we consider the period during which this concept of specialization evolved. below mentioned are the 8 branches.

Kayachikitsa, Graha Chikitsa, shalya chikitsa, jara chikitsa (Rasayana), Bala Chikitsa, Urdhwanga chikitsa, Damstra Chikitsa, (Shalakya Tantra) (Visha Chikitsa) Vajikarana.

Kayachikitsa : This is meant for general health problems Like fever, diarrhoea, cough, cold, asthma, indigestion, Skin disorders, neuromuscular disorders, arthritis and such other innumerable disorders Which are commonly encountered. It can be compared with ‘Internal medicine’ of modern medical science. This branch is mainly developed by the followers of sage Atreya and hence it is also called ‘Atreya Tradition’.

Shalya Tantra: The sages came across some peculiar disorders where medical management was not found sufficient to cure the disease. A variety of swellings, abscess, piles, fistula in ano, fractures and dislocations, massive ascites, stones in urinary System, abnormal foetal presentation, harelip etc.

Bala Chikitsa: Bala Chikitsa, also known as kaumarbritya can be referred to as ayurvedic pediatrics. Bala Chikitsa not only deals with diagnosis and treatment for children, but also extends to the wellness of a child right from the time it is in the mother’s womb. It involves gynecology as well. This branch deals with health care system of children. From the health point of view children belong to a very special category. They Are tender both physically and mentally. There immunity system is not properly matured and hence defensive mechanism is weak in many respects.

Graha/ Bhuta Vidya:This is ordinarily translated as demonology which does not convey the real message. Bhuta` simply means anything that has physical existence. This probably refers in the said context, to a variety of viruses and also for some neuropsychological disorders. The cause of such disorders are not clearly known and also needs a different kind of management Therefore, to deal with such ailments a separate branch was established. For lack of proper understanding, loss of heritage in this respect this branch is not so much developed and not in extensive application in day to day practice.

Urdhwanga Chikitsa:This is also called Shalakya Tantra, which mainly deals with disorders of eye, nose, ear, throat, buccal cavity including teeth-lips and head. As the head is the seat of many delicate sense organs like nose, ears and eyes, disorders also are of peculiar nature unlike general disorders. They need to be handled very delicately.

Visha Chikitsa: Ayurveda developed in agrarian civilization. Population in olden days was thick in rural and forest areas. There was every likelihood of people knowingly or unknowingly eating , tasting or using any form of herbs, fruits, roots, leaves, barks, seeds , latex of plants available nearby which proved harmful to their health. They are surrounded by rabid animals, poisonous snakes, scorpions, bees, flies, and mosquitoes and so on.

Jara Chikitsa:This is that branch of Ayurveda which takes care old age problems and preventions of premature ageing, Now a days Geriatrics is gaining momentum in western countries. Old age people are being considered unproductive and burden on the society. Western culture does not permit youngsters conscience to provide moral shelter to the old parents and grandparents, The family system is weak where emotional bondage of souls of different generations has lost priority over other economic considerations.

Vajikarana Chikitsa:Another specialized branch in which almost every aspect of health and and any prolonged ailments is covered. Married life is one such important aspect of any one`s life. Normal sexual life is not only an answer to the natural urge. It is not merely an instinctive physiological necessity but also distinctly purposive. Begetting children is to fulfill the desire to continue the progeny to pass on the cultural heritage, to maintain socioeconomic status and so on.

10. What are its aims ?

Ayurveda is based on the ideology prevention is better than cure and hence, aims to:

a) Prevent diseases and promote good health.

b)Cure all ailments.

11. What does Ayurveda prescribe for prevention ?

A brief answer to this question is difficult. Preventive measure in Ayurveda is more of a life style nature than therapeutic nature. A specific vaccination or inoculation or drug to a specific disease as a preventive therapy is outside the purview of Ayurveda concept. Ayurveda holds that it is the responsibility of every individual to follow certain style of life intended to prevent many diseases. In fact, preventive measure as a lifestyle commences from a pregnant mother.

12. What is health ? How is it defined ?

Health is a state of equilibrium of bio- humours or bio-energies called vata-pitta – kapha, Certain normal qualities, functions and locations are attributed to each of them. Health is a product of normalcy of these attributes of bio-energies.

13. How is health assessed ?

It is assessed by the following:

  1. A good complexion-normal luster.
  2. A normal voice.
  3. Absence of any sort of discomfort feeling.
  4. Weight and compactness of the body.
  5. Strength enough to do daily routine.
  6. Desire to consume food on time regularly.
  7. Digestion of the consumed food on time.
  8. Getting sleep regularly on item.
  9. Absence of unhealthy dreams.
  10. Feeling fresh immediately after awakening.
  11. Normal nature calls such as flatus, urination, defecation and normal sexual life.
  12. Overall normalcy of mind, intellect and senses.
14. What is Ayurveda’s other aim and how is it being achieved ?

The second aim that Ayurveda follows is achieved by using medicines from not just herbs alone but of minerals as well. Animal origin, diet and regulating other life activities influencing the health of the body and the mind.

15. What are the principles of treatment in general ?

The aim is to bring back normalcy in 3 bio energies which are in a state of imbalance. This is achieved by 3 methods. They are :

  1. Avoidance or to keep away from causative factors
  2. Elimination of morbid materials
  3. Promoting the disease resistance power.

The first one helps in reducing morbidity and to arrest further change to the bio energies and vital tissues.

The second one helps to remove the morbid and clear the passage to medicines and diet so as to enable them to reach their proper destination and to act quickly with lower dosage and also helps to retain them in the body until a desired time.

The third one improves the resistance power of all the tissues and also prevents the further formation of morbid material.

16. What is elimination therapy and what are they ?

Elimination therapy is ordinarily considered as panchakarma. But these two are not identical. Emesis, purgation, Medicated enemas of two kinds and nasal therapy are called as panchakarma ( five kinds of therapies). Emesis, Purgation, enemas of certain drugs, some nasal therapy and blood letting fall under elimination therapy.

Before applying elimination therapy the body is prepared to sustain the violence of elimination therapy, It is so prepared that the patient will not suffer dehydration even after emesis and purgation. The preparations of the patient also means that the morbid materials lodged anywhere in the body are brought to alimentary canal or near the elimination passage before the actual therapy is adopted.

17. Is it true that Ayurveda gives violent treatment before commencing any healing therapy?

No. As described earlier elimination therapy appears to be violent but the reality is that the body is prepared to prevent any such violent effect on the body. However, there are drastic measures that are performed under the supervision of a duly qualified and experienced physician. If everything is done properly, according to the texts it will not adopted for ‘all and sundry’. This is not required for many. In such cases direct palliative therapy is administered.

18. Is Ayurveda preaching and practice based on any literature?

Yes. Both teaching and practice are totally based on literature which are of proven authenticity.

19. Whether they are ancient or modern?

Both. Number of ancient literature are still available dating from 600 BC or earlier to earliest part of modern era (16th century A.D) Even modern Ayurveda literature are based on original thoughts and concepts found in ancient texts. The ancient literature which are followed even today are (1) Charaka Samhita (2) Sushruta Samhita (3) Astanga Hridaya Sangraha (4) Madhava Nidhana (5) Sharangadhara Samhita (6) Yogaratnakara (7) Bhava Prakasha (8) Rasa Ratna Samuchchaya (9) Kashyapa Samhita.

20. Is it true that Ayurveda believes that diseases are caused by Bhoota-Preta and sins of past life?

To say that Ayurveda believes only in such causes as states above is a part of total mis propaganda about anything that is Indian. Indian communities believed in such things only during past few centuries for want of proper dissemination of real knowledge embedded in ancient authentic Sanskrit literature belonging to an enlightened era even Before Christ (B.C.) . The ancient Ayurvedic literature reveal that the causes can be hereditary (genetic), congenital, accidental, erroneous food and drink habits or wrong way of life style, excessive or improper use of one’s own sense organs, seasonal abnormalities, polluted air.

21. Is it a fact that there are only three types of diseases namely vata, pitta and kapha ?

Vata, Pitta, and kapha are the names of bio energies only and not the names of diseases. These 3 bio energies are chiefly responsible both for health and ill health. They are the technical terms indicating functional units of bio energies. There are more than 1000 diseases which are named and described elaborately.

22. Ayurveda describes rigid die tic and other regimen. Hence people are afraid to take Ayurvedic medicines. Is it so ?

Strict regimen (dietary and others ) should form a part of management aspect of any disease in general. Certain dietary restrictions are necessary and this fact has been recognised even by modern medicines. Salt restriction in oedema, gout, renal disorders and sugar in diabetes, of fat oedema, gout, renal disorders and sugar in diabetes, of fat and fried substances in obesity, biliary and pancreatic stones etc. may be quoted here as exemplary ones, which are advisory to be followed even in modern medicine.

23. Does Ayurveda superstitiously believe that some disease like chickenpox, smallpox, measles, etc.are due to provocation of goddess,Devi/Amma?

Ayurveda does not believe in such superstitions. Masurika, Romantika, Sheetala (chickenpox,measles, smallpox) are described in ancient texts like Charaka samhita and Sushruta Samhita where no such reference to goddess or Amma is found. This alleged superstition appears to have started only after 16th century A.D. The present day Ayurveda does not describe to this.

24. Does Ayurveda advocates pure vegetarianism?

Ayurveda, being health Science does not take any side. It considers the effect of food articles of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian stuffs on the health of the body and mind. Both good and bad effects of vegetarian food articles on the bodily elements bio energies are very well described of course with as much details those in vogue, in the socio cultural scenario of their contemporary period were critically analysed by the seers from taking health point of view and remained neutral leaving the choice to the consumers.

25. How does Ayurveda views alcoholic drinks?

The practice of drinking was very much prevalent even in ancient India. Royal families, army men were frequent drinkers very commonly. Ayurveda describes the mode of preparation of various type of alcoholic beverages, mode, place, occasion of consuming such drinks. Meanwhile it also describes the advantages and disadvantages of such beverages from the health point of view.

26. Whether Ayurveda prescribes any dress code?

Certainly yes. The dress should be neat, tidy, clean, without folds or wrinkles, attractive but not destructive, suitable to the occasion, season, region and the community. It does not speak anything about the form of dress. It recommends cotton, woolen or silk clothes according to necessities and ability.