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Principles of Ayurveda

M.A.Sc.Ph.D. (Ayurveda)

Ayurveda is a science of life. It not only deals with the disease curing process but also lays great emphasis upon the maintenance of positive health of a normal healthy person.

Man has eternally endeavored to keep himself free from three types of miseries, namely physical, mental and spiritual. Therefore the history of medicine is as old as the history of mankind. According to the Indian tradition, the four primary objectives of human life are Dharma to perform religious rites, Artha to acquire wealth, Kaama to satisfy the worldly desire and Moksha to attain salvation. Good health was considered to be the sine-qua-non for the achievement of these objectives.

It will be seen from the definition of Ayurveda as Science of Life that Ayurveda lays emphasis upon leading a life, which is full of happiness, which implies an individualistic attitude, and leading a life, which will be useful to the society as a whole. Social medicine which is treated as a new concept in the modern systems of medicine is nothing but reminiscent of what has been preached and propounded in Ayurveda more than 2500 years ago.

Ayurveda is divided into the following branches:

  1. Kaayachikitsaa Internal medicine
  2. S`halyatantra Surgery
  3. S`haalaakyatantra Treatment of disease of head and neck
  4. Agadatantra Toxicology
  5. Bhoota Vidyaa Management of diseases caused by evil spirits and other mental diseases
  6. Kaumaarbhritya Tantra Pediatrics
  7. Rasaayana Geriatrics & Rejuvenation Therapy
  8. Vaajikaran`a Science of Aphrodisiac

According to some scholars Panchakarma Chikitsaa is also a branch of Ayurveda.

Ayurvedic science developed around these eight specialized branches but there are no watertight compartments.

Before considering the fundamental principles of Ayurveda, it is important to see the different philosophical thoughts of India under which all sciences including Ayurveda are centered. There were six Dars`hana_s on which all the ancient Indian Sciences such as Ayurveda, Astrology, Astronomy, Architecture, and Grammar were based. For example physical and chemical activities take the help of Nyaaya and Vais`heshika Dars`hana_s according to Ayurveda. To explain the process of the creation of the universe and that of man, Ayurveda depends on Saankhya Dars`hana. According to Ayurveda, the universe is composed of 25 elements.

The first important fundamental principle of Ayurveda is the PanchaMahaabhoot Theory.

A man has five senses through these sense, he perceives the external world in five different ways. The sense organs are five, eyes, skin, ears, tongue and nose. Through these sense organs, the external object is perceived and absorbed in the human body in the form of energy. These five senses are the basis on which the entire universe is classified in five different ways; and they are known as Pancha Mahaabhoota_s. They are named as Aakaas`haVaayuAgniJala & Prithvi. Ordinary water does not contain the Jala Mahaabhoota element alone; but it is composed of all the Pancha Mahaabhoota_s.

The elements devised by modern science are many, but in Ayurveda they can be classified into five categories of Mahaabhoota_s. According to Ayurveda the body of an individual is composed of the five Mahaabhoota_s. Similarly other things of the world are also composed of five Mahaabhoota_s. In the human body these five Mahaabhoota_sare explained in terms of DoshaDhaatuand Mala and with reference to drugs, they are represented in terms of RasaGun`aVeerya and Vipaaka.

In the normal body of a living being these substances remain in a particular proportion. If due to some reason the equilibrium is disturbed, the body tries to restore it by itself; by eliminating some of the Mahaabhoota_s, which are in excess; or take in some which are in shortage. This shortage of Mahaabhoota_sis replenished through the ingredients of food, drink, air, water etc. The exogenous Pancha Mahaabhoota_sare converted into endogenous Mahaabhoota_sthrough the process of digestion and metabolism.

During the process of death the role of Mahaabhootais important. The Mahaabhootahave gross and subtle forms. The five categories of subtle Bhoota_s inside the body impregnate the five senses and thereafter they get detached from these five senses and death occurs. The dead body loses the five senses and is composed therefore only of the five Mahaabhoota_s.

According to Ayurveda, the human body is composed of three fundamental elements; called DoshaDhaatuMalaDosha governs the Physico-chemical and physiological activities of the body. The Dhaatu_senter into the formation of the basic structure of the body cells; thereby performing some specific actions Mala are substances, which are partly utilized in the body and partly excreted, in a modified form after performing their physiological functions. These three elements are said to be in a dynamic equilibrium with each other for maintenance of health. Any imbalance of their relative preponderance in the body results in disease and decay.

The three Dosha_sare VaayuPitta and Kapha and they are composed or Mahaabhoota_s. All the Dosha_shave all five Mahaabhoota_sin their composition. However Vaayu Dosha is dominated by Aakaas`ha Mahaabhoota. In PittaAgni Mahaabhoota is predominant and Kapha has Jala and Prithvi Mahaabhoota_s in predominance. The Dosha_sare most important for health as well as for treatment. When they are in their normal state they sustain the body and any disturbance in their equilibrium results in disease and decay.

These three Dosha_spervade all over the body, however there are some elements or organs of the body in which they are primarily located e.g. intestines and bones are the primary seat of Vaayu; blood and stomach are the primary seat of Pitta and thorax and joints are the primary seat of Kapha. Each of these three Dosha_sare divided into five types. These five divisions represent only five different aspects of the same Dosha and they are not five different entities in the body.

Vaayu: Is responsible for all locomotive functions in the body such as propulsion of food, urine, Faeces, semen etc., and respiration, speech.

Pitta: Is responsible for most of the transformation (Paachana) processes, digestion, conversion of external substances into bio-substances, blood formation, vision, memory etc, are the functions of Pitta

Kapha: Moistens food, which helps in digestion, perception of taste, nourishment of sense organs, energy etc. are dependent on Kapha.

During different seasons of the year these Dosha_sundergo certain changes, which cause ill health. To maintain health precautionary measures can be taken. Certain procedures can be adopted to promote positive health.

Concept of Sapta Dhaatu_s:

The basic tissue elements of the body are known as Dhaatu_sDhaatuis that which assists the body or which enters into the formation of the basic structures of the body as a whole. These are 7 in number RasaRaktaMaamsaAsthiMedaMajjaa and S`hukra. (Sperms in males and ovum in females).

These seven Dhaatu_sare composed of the five Mahaabhoota_sPrithvi Mahaabhoota is predominant in Maamsa and Meda DhaatuJala Mahaabhoota is predominant in Rasa and Rakta Dhaatu. The hemoglobin part of blood is mainly composed by Teja Mahaabhoota. The bone (Asthi) is composed of Prithvi Mahaabhoota and the marrow inside the bones, is produced by Aakaas`ha Mahaabhoota. It is true in case of Dhaatu_salso that, all Dhaatu_sare composed of all the five Mahaabhoota_s but there is always the dominating Mahaabhoota.

These Dhaatu_sare the seats, which are affected by Dosha_s. So as long as the Dhaatu_sare in a state of equilibrium health remains. Dhaatu_sare the first targets attacked by the Dosha_sDhaatu_sare the principle constituents in the disease process (Pathogenesis).

Digestion and metabolism:

Food, which, comes from the external world into the body, is to be broken up, absorbed and assimilated. A heterogeneous substance has to be made homogeneous. The factors responsible for these activities in the body are known as Agni_s. They represent various types of enzymes in the gastro-internal track; in the liver and in the tissue cells themselves. When the Dosha_sare in equilibrium, the Agni_s function normally. Impaired Dosha_slead to impaired functions of the Agnis.

The concept of Agni, which refers to the manifold functions ascribed to Pitta is comprehensive. It includes chemical agencies responsible for Aahaara Paachana in the Kosht`hacorresponding to gastro intestinal digestion, which leads to separation of Saarabhaaga. (Nutrient fraction) of the Aahaara from Kit`t`ahbhaaga (undigested residue of the food) and metabolic events to energy synthesis. In addition it Comprehens photo and chemosynthetic processes. Paachaka Pitta is also known as Jaat`haraagniKosht`haagniAntaraagniPaachakaagni and Dehaagni. It is located in its own place in an area between Aamaas`haya and Pakvaas`haya which, directly participates in the digestion of food and at the same time, lends support to and augments the functioning of the remaining Pitta_s present elsewhere in the body. Paachakaagni also contributes to the seven Dhaatvagni_sand Bhootaagni_sJaat`haraagni is responsible for digestion. The food ingredients comprise of six tastes namely sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent. They undergo different types of changes through the gastro-intestinal digestion and the food ingredients are broken into their smallest possible particles, so that they are made absorbable through Villi, gastric and intestinal Mucosa.

Mahaabhootaagni are five in number. They help the transformation of the external heterogeneous Mahaabhoota_s into internal homogeneous ones.

Dhaatvagni_s or enzymes are located in the tissue elements of the body. They help in the assimilation and transformation of the nutrient material received after Bhootaagnipaaka into substances homologousto tissue elements. During the processes of assimilation through the help of these Agni_s certain waste products such as phlegm, bile, excretafrom ear, eyes, mouth etc are produced.

Ayurveda lays a great deal of emphasis on all these Agni_s and hence Agni is treated as synonymous with the physical body. Before starting the treatment of any disease, the defects in thee Agni_s are located and efforts are made to correct them. Most medicines used in Ayurveda contain substances, which stimulate the functioning of these Agni_s.

During the transformation process of Dhaatu_sDhaatvagni_splay an important role. From the nutrient material of the previous Dhaatuthree ingredients are formed by action of Dhaatvagni:

  1. Stationary Dhaatu
  2. Nutrient material for next Dhaatu(Poshakaams`ha) and
  3. Mala i.e. waste product. This transformation process is a serial process (Kramaposhan`a). Conversion of a Dhaatufrom nutrient material from previous Dhaatuis made by three different methods. These three methods or processes are explained as Nyaaya (theories). They are KsheeraDadhi, as milk is converted into-Dadhi similarly nutrient material from previous Dhaatuis converted into subsequent Dhaatu. There are KhaleKapota and KedarKullya or theories regarding this process.

Next a very important fundamental principle is PrakritiAyurveda basically considers every individual as unique. Ayurveda treats the individual and not the disease from this angle Prakriti is very important.

Dosha_s namely VaayuPitta and Kapha pervade all over the body. They regulate the functions of each and every tissue cell and they are present in each and every one of them. When the sperm and the ovum unite in the uterus of the mother to form a zygote, the doshas present in and outside produce certain features which are known as Prakriti. The Dosha_spresent in them and outside produce features in all the Dosha_s are in a state of equilibrium, then it gives zygote. If certain rise to a healthy Foetusand the child born, leads a very healthy life. If the Dosha_sare very much in a disturbed state, then it either prevents conception or does not allow the zygote to grow or results in malformation. If however one or two of these Dosha_sare moderately in excess, they give rise to a peculiar type of physical constitution and psychic temperament of the individual who is born with it. These characteristic features of the body and mind remain with the individual throughout his life. It never changes.

Primarily Prakriti is of seven types:

  1. Vaata
  2. Pitta
  3. Kapha
  4. Vaata-Pitta
  5. PittaKapha
  6. VaataKapha and
  7. Sama

For Ayurvedic treatment, knowledge of Prakriti is very important. A person of Vaata Prakriti is very, much likely to get Vaatika type of diseases. In him diseases of other types do not give much trouble and are easily curable. To prevent the occurrence of diseases, the individual having Vaata Prakriti, should always avoid such of the factors as would aggravate Vaataand must resort to Vaataalleviating food, drinks and regimens. Similarly while administering medicines, other things being equal, a Pitta Prakriti patient is to be given cooling medicines and Kapha Prakriti patient heat increasing medicines. While determining Prakriti the mind is also given importance. The Prakriti_s are said to be SaatvikaRaajas and Taamas. The concept of mind in Ayurveda is important. Ayurveda considers diseases as both physical and mental. In both categories the mind plays an important role in causing the disease. Psychic factors exercise control over the physiological functions of the body and vice-versa. Therefore, even for the treatment of some physical diseases certain psychic measures are prescribed in Ayurveda.

Perception of any sensation is dependent upon mind (Maanas). Mind is also called as Antkaran`aChittaBuddhi etc. The mind is said to be located both in the heart and the brain.

Drug Composition: –

Like other things in the Ayurveda universe, a drug is composed of 5 Mahaabhoota_s. The Bhautika composition of drugs is ascertained by a physical examination as well as taste.

Kapha is dominated by Prithvi and Jala Mahaabhoota. If a disease is caused by aggravation of Kapha Dosha then the individual should be given drugs, which have less of Prithvi and Jala Mahaabhoota. There are many other factors, other than Mahaabhootatheory, which are taken into consideration while selecting a drug. They are attributes (Gun`a), the potency (Veerya), the taste that comes out after the material is digested (Vipaaka) and the specific action (Prabhaava). All these factors inside the drug are mostly interconnected and interdependent, because they represent, different aspects of Mahaabhoota_sof which the drug is composed.

Rasa or taste: 

Rasa or taste is ascertained by tongue and also by the effect of the drug and diet, on the body of an individual. Rasa are six in number sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter, astringent. Sweet and saline taste increase Kapha and reduce Vaata, bitter, pungent and astringent increase Vaataand reduce Kapha. Pungent, sour and saline taste increases Pitta, sweet bitter and astringent tastes reduce Pitta.

In drugs there are 10 pairs of Gun`a_s (attributes). These attributes are both physical and pharmacological in nature. Effects of Gun`a_s supersede the effects of Rasa in a drug.

In a drug many Gun`a_s are in existence. But the most active Gun`a, which helps in curing and preventing the disease, is called as Veerya.

There are 2 varieties of Veerya. During the course of digestion, ingredients of the drug and food undergo three different stages of changes because of enzyme reaction. These stages are called as Avasthaapaaka. Products of Avasthaapaaka undergo further change because of enzyme reaction in tissue cells. These carry three tastes sweet, sour or pungent; these after tastes are called as Vipaaka. Some drugs act on the basis of their tastes, some on the basis of their attributes, some on the basis of their potency, and some on the basis of their Vipaaka. Actions of some drugs do not belong to any of these categories. They have specific actions to cure diseases, which cannot be explained on the basis of taste etc. This specific action is called as Prabhaava. Two drugs may be similar in RasaGun`aVeeryaVipaaka but their action might vary from one another because of Prabhaava.

H.O.D. Department of Ayurved, Pune University.

Last updated on February 9th, 2021 at 07:28 am

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