The word "Ayurveda" is a compound of āyus "life" and veda "knowledge", and would translate as the "Science of Life". Ayurveda deals with the measures of healthy living, along with therapeutic measures that relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony.
Definition of Ayurveda in brief
Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing which evolved among the sages of ancient India some 6000 years ago. There are several aspects of this system of medicine which distinguish it from other approaches to health care.
Mainly Ayurveda focuses on establishing and maintaining balance of the life energies within us, rather than focusing on individual symptoms.
Ayurveda is a complete medical system which recognizes that ultimately all intelligence and wisdom flows from one Absolute source. Health is manifested by the grace of the Absolute acting through the laws of Nature. Ayurveda assists Nature in by promoting harmony between the individual and Nature by living a life of balance according to her Nature’s laws.
Ayurveda describes three fundamental universal energies which regulate all natural processes on both the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. That is, the same energies which produce effects in the various galaxies and star systems are operating at the level of the human physiology - in your own physiology. These three universal energies are known as the Tridosha.
Finally, the ancient Ayurvedic physicians realized the need for preserving the alliance of the mind and body and offers mankind tools for remembering and nurturing the subtler aspects of our humanity. Ayurveda seeks to heal the fragmentation and disorder of the mind-body complex and to restore wholeness and harmony to all people.
The Specialisation of Ayurveda
During this legendary time in Vedic history, circa 6000 BC to about 1500 BC, Ayurveda was not yet very specialized or systematic.
Between 1500 BC and 700 BC, the system of Ayurveda (along with other trends in Indian philosophy) began to differentiate into eight specialties and two schools;
Atreya, the school of physicians and Dhanvantari, the school of surgeons.
Simultaneously, Ayurveda underwent a revolution in scientific thinking, and the ancient teachings came under intense scrutiny, each concept and prescription subject to thorough tests of efficacy. The various, widely scattered teachings were also compiled at that time into Samhitas (writing collections), of which three confirmed authentic works exist today:
The Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridaya. These and other collections were later translated into languages, such as Arabic, and disseminated widely.
Starting in the eleventh century, battered by repeated incursion by Muslims, Ayurveda began to decline, and today, it is only just emerging from its medieval period. Now, it is fully supported by the Indian government and is gaining an ever increasing popularity in America and Europe.
Important Ayurvedic Teachers
The Ayurvedic tradition has numerous innovators and teachers. Three of the most significant are:
Dhanvantari of Benares (c. 1500 BC)
Nagarjuna (c. 500 AD)
Vagbhatta of Sind (c. 342 BC)
Dhanvantari of Benares is considered to be the reincarnation of Vishnu and considered to be the guiding sage of Ayurveda. He established Ayurveda as a specific healing art and is the spiritual founder of the Dhanvantari school of surgeons.
Nagarjuna, a famous Mahayana Buddhist sage, authored a commentary on the Sushruta Samhita.
Vagbhatta of Sind is the author of the Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita, a commentary on the Charaka Sushruta Samhitas with a synthesis of other works by other prominent Ayurvedic authors. He is responsible for introducing a number of new herbs and surgical techniques into the previously orthodox Ayurvedic schools.
The Eight Branches of Ayurveda
Classical Ayurveda recognizes eight main branches:
Kayachikitsa: Internal medicine. Treatment of the entire being, mind, body and spirit are the goal of this branch of Ayurveda. It contains a comprehensive list of infectious diseases and herbal medicines, as well as describing the practice of Pancha Karma.
Shalakya Tantra: Head and neck diseases. This branch of Ayurveda is roughly equivalent to today's specialty of Ophthamology and Otorhinolaryngology, essentially eye, ear, nose and throat medicine. Surgical techniques as well as herbal treatments for conditions such as cataracts are included.
Shalyatantra: Surgery. As mentioned earlier, surgery had a very important place in Ayurvedic medicine. The specialty of Shalya covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, surgical treatment of conditions such as bowel obstructions.
Agadatantra: Poisoning and Toxicology. Classification and treatment of toxins of all sorts, including air and water pollution, are dealt with in this branch of Ayurvedic medicine.
Kaumarabhritya: Pediatrics. All topics relating to children, including prenatal and postnatal health and childhood diseases, are addressed in Kaumara Bhritya..
Rasayana: Rejuvenation. Rasayana is used to prevent diseases and ensure long, healthy life. It is concerned with healthy diet and codes of behavioral conduct.
Vajikarana: Aphrodisiacs. These medicines, which also act as rejuvenates, increase sexual potency and efficiency.
Bhutavidya: Psychology. Literally meaning "knowledge of ghosts", Bhutavidya is concerned with the treatment of mental problems using herbs, diet and yoga.
Even though Ayurveda has been around for 5,000 years, it is not outmoded. Its very practical, time-tested principles are perfect for today's seekers of prevention-oriented self-care.