Ayurveda: World's Most Ancient Medicinal System

In order to truly understand health, we have to go back to its roots. And that takes us back thousands of years ago to ancient India, where medicine was first invented.

This deserves a comprehensive introduction because it’s something which most people have never heard of. Ayurveda has only just begun to infiltrate the medical systems of the West in the past few decades. So what is it exactly? First, let’s break down the Sanskrit word itself, Ayur-veda. This word is composed of two parts AYUR and VEDA, which actually breaks down in Sanskrit to "the science of life" or "the science imparting the knowledge of life". Ayurveda has 8 main branches within it: internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, ENT, surgery, toxicology, geriatrics, and sexology.

Ayurveda is the oldest medicinal system in the world, dating back to over 6,000 years ago from ancient India. It incorporates diet, lifestyle, herbs, surgeries, yoga, meditation, and detox treatments as modalities of healing. Ayurveda is an essential understanding of life as we know it and our role in the cycles of life. It teaches how we can live in harmony with our own bodies, with nature, with the elements that run the universe and run ourselves. It treats every person as an individual. Meaning, there is no "cure all" or treatment that applies to all people. For example, today if someone has diabetes, there will be set medication given to them, that ALL diabetes patients follow. If that same patient went to an Ayurvedic doctor, they may be given a totally different healing regimen and herbs to take then the next patient who also has diabetes. This is because Ayurveda looks at what is inbalanced in the individual; it looks to address the cause of disease, not just treat the symptoms. And this varies from person to person. Only by evaluating the constitution of a patient's body (called prakriti) along with their current imbalance (vikriti), treatment can be properly given.

There is a written evidence of Ayurveda’s tradition for over 6,000 years, but keep in mind, it’s actually much older than that. Before its scriptures - the Vedas - were written, it was an oral tradition. It was passed on through memorization of Sanskrit poems, or shlokas. Ayurveda’s tradition stretches far, far, far back, even further than we could grasp. For example, historians found evidence of Shilajit (which is one of the most common mineral supplements of Ayurveda that promotes longevity) predating the Vedic civilization, showing that the people at that time used it as a preventative medicine in 2500 BC! There’s obviously something extremely special about Ayurveda, if it is still a living science that has withstood so much time. There is an immense wisdom and power behind the science, and now you will see why.

So, where did this intricate science come from?

The Vedas are the oldest scriptures humans have ever discovered, found in India. They are composed of the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. The science of Ayurveda actually comes from the Atharva Veda. As per the Vedas, Lord Dhanvantari emerged out of the milky ocean when the creation of the cosmos was happening, delivering the science of Ayurveda in the pot he was carrying. He is considered as such, the god of the Ayurvedic science. He passed this science on to humanity through sages and rishis that studied under him.

Depiction of ancient Sages learning ayurvedic wisdom from Lord Atreya (top) and Susruta, the father of plastic surgery (bottom). Image by colros.

To bring it to a little more of a ground-level (if you’re not so much of mystical person), the enlightened sages that studied under Dhanvantari, we do know for a fact actually were living in the body because there is evidence of their existence. The coolest fact about Ayurveda is the fact that this science was revealed in meditation. Sages like Charaka, Susruta, and Athreya were searching for a science to help alleviate suffering and illness of the society. They went to the foothills of the Himalayas to meditate for answers. These enlightened sages asked the cosmic intelligence to give them the answers and solutions for health, life, and longevity and had the entire science downloaded to them in the language of the gods, Sanskrit. Did you ever wonder who invented surgery? It was actually invented by one of the sages of Ayurveda, Susruta! He is known as the father of surgery even within allopathic medicine. In the Vedas, there were over 100 different surgeries mentioned, including cosmetic surgery! Every possible cure and solution for health was downloaded in meditation to these great sages, and has been proven to work for millions of people across generations.

The aim of Ayurveda is to promote health and longevity of human beings and to completely eliminate disease and suffering. An essential understanding of the human being, is that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm; whatever exists in the larger cosmos and the planet earth, also exists inside of the human body. We are made out of the same elements that everything else in the universe is derived from. Ayurveda is an extremely logical science actually; it follows cosmic principle. But, the one major difference between modern science and the Ayurvedic science is the acknowledgement of consciousness. Ayurveda understands the human as an amalgamation of body, mind, and consciousness, atman. This is a crucial factor in really establishing true health and harmony in the body; without acknowledging these 3 parts, we cannot achieve full health. Disease also manifests very powerfully from imbalances of mind and spirit.

We understand that disease always arises out of disharmony in the body. Anytime something is out of balance, disease or disorders manifest. Everything is about balance (the satvic state): about balancing our energies, the things that we put inside our bodies, the things that we do to our bodies, the things that we expose our bodies to, and having complete harmony within, so serious disease will not manifest. Only then will we experience perfect health, swasthya in Sanskrit. Within Ayurveda, health is not just about alleviating pain but actually improving the quality of our life. What is the purpose of our life? What is the goal of our life? What are we living for? This is all part of the Ayurvedic science. We need to know our purpose, live our purpose, work for our purpose…that is what we call Dharma. The dharma chakra: it is the reason that we took this birth, the reason that we live, the purpose of our life. Finding your dharma is essential to experience a happy and healthy life in Ayurveda.

Using diet, lifestyle, herbs, and natural therapies, Ayurveda continues to powerfully heal and change lives. It is a science of living in harmony with all of life and finding your peace and purpose in this lifetime. It treats people naturally, holistically, and individually. It is not something we can afford to stay ignorant of any longer. There is a reason modern society is suffering from rampant disease and mental illness. We have severed our connection with spirit and fail to acknowledge the basic energies that exist within all living things. It is time to get back to the roots of holistic medicine and start to heal ourselves. And by healing ourselves, we will heal the world.

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*If you're looking for where to learn Ayurveda, a summary of the best information within the Vedas relating to health in the human body are called the Samhitas. They are Sanskrit texts also put together by these enlightened sages -some of the founders of this science as we know it today- such as Charaka and Susruta. They compiled the Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hridaya/Ashtanga Sangraha. These are considered the Brihat Trayi: the 3 major books of Ayurveda.

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