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The History of Ayurveda

The meaning of ‘Ayur’ is life, and ‘Veda’ means knowledge, so Ayurveda means ‘knowledge of the science of life’. Ayurveda theory evolved from a deep understanding of creation. The great rishis or seers of ancient India came to understand creation through deep meditation and other spiritual practices. The rishis sought to reveal the deepest truths of human physiology and health. They observed the fundamentals of life, organized them into an elaborate system, and compiled India’s philosophical and spiritual texts, called Veda of knowledge. These Ayurvedic teachings were customarily passed on orally from teacher to student for over 1000 years.

Ayurveda was derived from the most cherished scripture of India; the Vedas. The four Vedas are the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Ayurveda is ancient knowledge that indicates the very measure of life, advising on the appropriate and inappropriate, happy and sorrowful conditions of living, and recommending practices auspicious for longevity.

It is central to Ayurveda that the functioning of all creation, the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, can be understood as the interactions of three fundamental energy complexes (erroneously called doshas).

The three energies are vata, pitta and kapha – signifying the dynamic or mobile, energetic, nonmaterial aspect of nature; the transformative, intelligence aspect; and the structural, physical aspect respectively. Vata governs respiration, circulation, elimination, locomotion, movement, speech, creativity, enthusiasm, and the entire nervous system. Pitta governs transformations such as digestion and metabolism, vision, complexion, body temperature, courage, cheerfulness, intellection and discrimination. Kapha governs growth (anabolic processes), lubrication, fluid secretions, binding, potency, patience, heaviness, fluid balance, compassion, and understanding in the organism. All have physical expressions in the body.

Ayurvedic medicine, as practiced in India, is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Three ancient books known as the Great Trilogy were written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago and are considered the main texts on Ayurvedic medicine—Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya.

Key concepts of Ayurvedic medicine include universal interconnectedness (among people, their health, and the universe), the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (dosha), which are often compared to the biologic humors of the ancient Greek system. Using these concepts, Ayurvedic physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, and diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations.

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