Ayurveda is gaining global attention and fame today, not only for its herbal wonders, but also for its preventative finesse. Realistically speaking, Ayurveda is beyond herbal shampoos, soaps and oil massages. It is a way of life. Apart from treating disease and preventing illness, certain timeless, also fundamental aspects, such as post-illness care and recovery, are also an essential part of Ayurveda.
Yathaa pinde tathaa brahmaande, yathaa brahmaande tathaa pinde — this is the concept of the macrocosm and microcosm. Both the universe and the human body are made up of the same basic elements — panchamahaabhoota, viz., earth, water, fire, air, space. Hence, all that is available in the greater universe constructs the smaller universe called the Homo sapiens. In the same way, any imbalance can also be repaired using substances available naturally. This is Loka purusha saamya siddhanta of Ayurveda.
The main aim, or purpose, of Ayurveda as propagated in one of the most celebrated treatises, Charaka Samhita, is — prevention first. Swasthasya swaasthya rakshaanam, aaturasya vikaara prashamanam — preservation of health and prevention of diseases is just as important. Popping a pill, or consuming various decoctions, does not achieve prevention.
It is a continuous process and it needs to be carried out every single day. Watching what we eat and what we do can give insights of our health status. Daily regime (dinacharya) and seasonal regime (rtucharya) are unique concepts of disease prevention through Ayurveda — they highlight what one needs to inculcate in day-to-day practice to stay healthy, as also dos and don’ts with regard to food and activities of each season (rtu) to avoid seasonal exacerbations, or incursion of disease.
The Ayurveda way of life
There are various factors that form an integral part of assessment in the Ayurvedic way of life. The most important among them are — a person’s body type (prakrati), metabolism (agni), imbalance in dosha causing the illness (vata, pitta, kapha), and the system involved in the occurrence of disease (dhaatu).
Agni (warmth) is what differentiates the living from the non-living. The source of energy in humans is derived from the food that one eats — while digestion, or metabolism, is a continuous process taken care of by the ‘digestive fire’ in the gastrointestinal tract, which, in turn, nourishes the body and releases energy that is responsible for all kinds of activities at gross and minute levels. Hence, aahaara (food) is taken as one of the three pillars of life, according to Ayurveda; the other two being nidraa (sleep) and brahmacharya (abstinence from anything bad, or untoward). The beginning of every disease except injuries at some point of time starts with impairment in one’s agni.
It is, therefore, imperative for us to maintain agni at its optimum level for good health. Assessment of one’s agni is foremost for any Ayurveda physician.
The treatment principle of almost all diseases in Ayurveda literature is keyed to treating this agni first and other treatment plans follow. If metabolism is maintained, the body’s capacity to heal naturally is accentuated. Also, for medicine, or food, to help the body rejuvenate, it has to regulate digestion and be readily absorbed by the body — the prime functions of agni.
Agni holds the key
What plays a role in maintenance of agni? The principal factor is the food that we eat. Eating balanced and the right kind of food in right amounts in accordance with one’s prakrati (body constitution), vikrati (disease state), desha (the place to which one belongs — traditional food), kaala (time — seasonal and day-to-day), saatmya (wholesome to the body) is important. Indulgence in wrong eating habits directly affects the agni and such continuous insults trigger imbalance in the tridosha (vata, pitta and kapha); it also paves the way for illness.
Knowing the body type gives an idea about dietary and lifestyle corrections required for maintaining equilibrium in the body. It also checks the progression of pathogenesis.
Treating disease through Ayurveda happens at multiple levels. It doesn’t stop at symptomatic relief, but it goes into identifying the causative factors, nullifying the same and reversing the damage, if any, to the body tissues such that recurrence is avoided, while paving the way for disease prevention in the future.
Care after recovery from illness is often neglected in the present dispensation. Yet another unique concept of Ayurveda is rasaayana, which covers care during convalescence. There are different kinds of rasaayana — everyday practices like consumption of healthy fats and micronutrients in the food for better nerve and brain health, drinking plenty of water for good, healthy skin, disease-wise rasaayana like Ashwagandha for neurological disorders, Guduchi (giloy) for arthritis and so on. Ayurveda as a medical science not only explains in great detail the benefits of different food items, it also promotes the use of food as medicine — for the prevention of disease and also treatment.
More than gut cleansing
It may be noted that inducing bowel movement by use of triphala, nityam, kayam, isabgol and other products with laxative effects causes only gut cleansing, but not detoxification. One wrongly understood concept of Ayurveda is Panchakarma. It is not just oil massages and relaxation techniques; it is a process of systemic detoxification to taking control over disease-forming entities, much before or after the emergence of a disease.
There is a misconception about the use of heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicines. These heavy metals have also been used in various other forms, most commonly in pipelines, vaccines, personal care products, fertilisers and pesticides. When metals are used in Ayurvedic formulations, they undergo an elaborate process of purification and are used in the right combinations such that the beneficial effects of such heavy metals are well received. Also, the caveat that needs to be emphasised is simple — such herbo-mineral preparations ought to be used judiciously. It is, however, worth mentioning that not all Ayurvedic formulations contain heavy metals.
Optimal health in Ayurveda focuses not only physical wellness, but also mental and spiritual well-being. It is, thus, holistic. Our body, mind and soul are so well interconnected that to feel healthy it is important for all the factors to be balanced. Ayurveda emphasises on the perspective, more so on a customised, individual-centric, or bespoke basis, because each of us is as unique as our signature, or fingerprint.