Ayurveda is Sanskrit for "life-knowledge". Some think the holistic Indian Ayurveda is the oldest medical system known. It is a holistic, mind-body focused, integrated, physiotherapeutic medical system. At bottom or near bottom it aims at balancing five system-elements called sap [becoming], air [metal], fire, water and earth - all at work the body and mind.
The system elements are the same as in acupuncture. Their names are a little fluid, and ought not to be taken literally. There is "fire" in metabolism, and Tibetan medicine has "metal" where air is used. As for what physicists term "ether",
In 1887, an experiment was performed by Michelson and Edward Morley. The experiment yielded results that implied that the (physicist's) ether does not exist. This result was later on used by Einstein to refute the existence of the (physicist's) ether and allowed him to develop special relativity without it.
In the ancient system theory of Asia, though, 'ether' means "becoming", much as sap causes. In this system-anchored sense, "sap" forms, makes visible also. This system element has the key understanding: "What makes something appear where there was nothing before" and linked to growth". "Sap" may be introduced as a philosophical and figurative mention instead of ether, an otherwise more discredited concept far and wide.
Elements at play and work: Interactions: The five elements interact too, as nicely indicated in the theory of acupuncture by a circle that inscribes a five-pointed star. Interactions are possible along the circle, that is, from one star cusp to that of a nearby element. Possible influences move clockwise or anti-clockwise, which represents degeration - an imbalance at first, and if that is untreated, a disease or set of related diseases branching out.
Interaction between the five system elements are also had in ways that the five-pointed system-star illustrates. The clockwise turns at each star point is fit for health, and the anticlockwise turns can lead to derangements of mental and physical sorts if they are set to work for long.
There are subtle flows of life vitality (pranas) that may be regulated by such a main overview. And as mentioned, here is the basis of a group of related medical systems: Ayurveda and classical acupuncture.
Diagnosis: The most used diagnosis is that of ascertaining the pulses as in acupuncture. There are other, less known ways too.
Prevention: As for classical acupuncture diagnosis, the treatment system has potential for preventing diseases. This is, it is maintained, through its capacity to detect subtle imbalances in the "vitalities" and seeking to correct them. In other words - to see to that diseases do not manifest in the first place, or, secondly to "nip impending diseases in the bud" - while they are no big deals.
Treatments: (a) The aim is to balance or harmonise that subtle inner flow or dispension of prana, life vitality, chi - concepts mingle. But the aim of Ayurveda is, simply put, to achieve and maintain health. Use of plant-based medicines and treatments is stressed. Plant-based medicines are derived from roots, leaves, fruits, barks and seeds such as cardamom and cinnamon. (b) The means include needle therapy, pressure points, cookery, foods and herbs as classified. Attempts at cures depend very much on classifications here. Self-help may work if the generally advised treatment attemts fit and work well in an individual case. Self-help skills should be helped by lax training, and applied where just milder forms of regeneration are called for. Otherwise, outside the proper limits of self-care or family care, a competent doctor's diagnosis and advice should be had, remember. One is to play safe and also build from "good rules", allowing for some leeway too, and individual matters.
Getting to a healthy metabolic system, a good digestion and proper excretion is fit. Ayurveda also focuses on fit exercise, yoga, and meditation.
Effects of Ayurveda naturally depend on a well theorized and grasp in dealing with imbalances of subtle flows in the body and mind as a whole - on the competence of the doctor who uses ayurvedic pulse diagnosis, and on the remedies and measures that he or she comes up with. Selecting remedies depends on how they are classified according to the system. Some plants are "more or less" so, for example. That is, perhaps not purely this and not that, not "clearly belonging only to this group". One may allow for some leeway when it comes to putting all sorts of plants into a simple system, then.
Another matter is how fast or late the attempts at treatment come. Some diseases are considered incurable in the realm of Western medicine. General fatality of a disease has to be taken into account too, and how far things have come.
Maintaining health: To stay healthy, a diet of "pure foods" (a sattvic diet) can be helpful. A fit way of living, being well in harmony with the seasonal changes and other natural cycles (balanced waking, sleeping, working, meditation etc.) matters too. Hygiene in central. Regular bathing, cleansing of teeth, skin care, and eye washing go into it.
Ayurveda has more ways of diagnosis in addition to taking the pulses. The condition of the tongue, speech and the appearance are into it too.. The ayurvedic expert also observes the breathing, speech and marma points (sensitive points, just like tsubos and shiatsu points) in the body.
Applied: In classical Sanskrit literature, the eight fields of Ayurveda include:
Education in Ayurveda: The Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) - under Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India - monitors higher education in Ayurveda. Over a hundred colleges in India offer degrees in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
From the 1960s, Ayurveda has become established as "alternative medicine" in the Western world. Moreover, Ayurvedic practices or terminology have also been adapted specifically for Western consumption, as with "Maharishi Ayurveda" in the 1980s.
Sound research: There is a risk of coming across unfounded claims on behalf of Ayurveda, as some bias may creep into findings. One needs to be alert to such a possibility at any rate, for "no significant scientific evidence has shown effectiveness of Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of any disease, although massage and relaxation are often beneficial and there are indications of health effects from some herbal products used". (WP "Ayurveda").
Some Ayurvedic products have been scientifically tested. Many plants used are potent antioxidants. One of them, Neem, appears to have beneficial pharmacological properties, for example. [Ibid]
Mainstream verdicts: "Insufficient evidence - not convincing - lack of high-quality trials - promising". "In India, research in Ayurveda is undertaken by the statutory body of the Central Government, the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS), through a national network of research institutes. A systematic review of Ayurveda treatments for rheumatoid arthritis concluded that there was insufficient evidence, as most of the trials were not done properly, and the one high-quality trial showed no benefits. A review of Ayurveda and cardiovascular disease concluded that the evidence for Ayurveda was not convincing, though some herbs seemed promising." [Ibid.]
Tendency so far: A system of health with "promising, insufficient evidence" of its general efficacy may be explored further. Researchers need to be very careful, guarded.
Hope to think well enough
Individual treatments can be attempted on the same ground - that of "get expert diagnoses, prescriptions or remedies, try out and see whether changes follow. The Swedish doctor Olof Lindahl and the statistician Lars Lindwall (1979) have came up with a cosy enough, well recommended method for trying out alternative treatments without control groups to compare with. After a determined period you see what changes have manifested, if any - good and bad. A bit of sharp thinking is to added to the findings. And to put the matters a bit drastically, consider:
Sharp thinking or odd thinking? A lesson is illustrated: You could have been on the brink of getting much worse or much better when you started your treatment. If you got much better, maybe the remedies helped, were ineffective, or harmful. Who knows? The same goes for feeling worse, or the same, after a treatment period. In single cases it is not statistically safe to say what is caused by what unless repetitions get into it, but you may get an inkling anyway. Even so, statistics is derived from many cases, not one or a handful of single and consecutive trials.
In general, at the very least some twenty cases is a help to determine the effects by statistal methods. The help that Olof Lindahl offers, is to study and compare many single attempts at cure, one after another. They mount up. In time you may see marked trends and build on some of them. So single cases are not wholly barred from statistical probing. It is a matter of finding a suitable method. Olof Lindahl has got one.
So that is why it is said: "Try and see". You need to know what to try, how, for how long. And you need to know "how to see" by handling long, consecutive treatments as a series - and then get a foundation to ascertain a bit, although tentatively, from tackling such series (sets) by regular statistical methods. Little by little, trends can seen, if any. And more conclusive research often takes off from initial "pilot studies", or qualitative designs. The method of Lindahl holds such promise.
The Other Side of the Coin
Ayurveda, 'life-knowledge', is many thousands years old medicinal system that focuses on health and wellness, and the system enjoys a major worldwide upsurge today. The goal is a long, well balanced life - as happy as can be - by attempts to harmonise mind, body, and spirit. Toward such a noble goal there is a range of means to consider: yoga, meditation, massage, herbal medicine, and diet changes, for example. And mano of the the means do have documented effects, medicinal effects. There should be no doubt about that.
The upsurge goes along with a knowledge that a part of Western medicine is largely drug-based, and drugs come with side effects and caveats in large numbers. They cause many deaths and make diseases worse too. It the medicine makes you dull, it may not be much good for you; there is that chance. Among the latest examples are antibiotics in large numbers; they serve to produce bacteria that are more resistent to antibiotics. Medicinal, prescribed drugs may not be good for a person in the long run either. It is often say they ameliorate or suppress symptoms, but does not always help in making the disease go away.
Granted that, an upsurge may have many causes, and Ayurveda has many strings to its bow.
As for the theory, this form of medicine speaks of doshas: Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, and Kapha dosha, and that several diseases relate to certain set imbalance in the three. Each person is said to host some dosha combination.
According to a 2015 report published by University of Maryland Medical Center, Ayurvedic medicine can help treat inflammatory, hormonal, digestive and autoimmune conditions.
Ayurvedic herbs, practices and recommendations, including yoga and/or meditation, have also been shown to be helpful as a home remedy for acne, relieving chronic constipation, fighting chronic fatigue syndrome, reducing pain and lowering obesity risk.
Reduces stress: Meditation, yoga, herbal treatments, and breathing exercises are some of the many techniques that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
3. Statistically significant evidence of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: -- In the 1970s, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study in conjunction with the Ayurvedic Trust - a public charitable health care organization in India - to test the effectiveness of Ayurvedic treatments in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The study found that such treatments were both safe and effective, providing symptomatic relief of arthritis with no harmful side effects.
So: Study the research evidence carefully before you form any firm conclusions. At times the terms "insufficient evidence" is aptly used, and at other times it may seem clownish - there is evidence that at least some facets of the Ayurveda healing system help.
A dosha may be understood as something of the type je ne sais quoi, (borrowed from French, literally "I don't know what"). It is "an indefinable quality that makes something distinctive or attractive," as when a woman has a certain je ne sais quoi about her.
Doshas or je ne sais quois try to categorise "things and stuff". A dosha is thus a mental categorisation, or an attempt at it, and that is how it is used.
Figure 1 serves to illustrate a generative (clock-wise) order of the system-elements (bhutas) in acupuncture. A generative cycle is shown by a clockwise move. The opposite, anticlockwise move is wrong for life or living.
Harmony between the five system elements equals subtle balancing. Harmony between the five elements in their various pathways (meridians) through the body is what acupunture treatment aims at.
In Ayurveda theory, three doshas are linked to the five system elements. Harmony between the three doshas is what depth-ayurvedic treatments aim at also.
Dr David Frawley on Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine:
Both systems . . . are recognized by the World Health Organization . . . The medicine of the coming century is bound to have a powerful imprint from both these two ancient currents of healing . . . particularly in the treatment of chronic diseases . . . Naturally, an attempt to connect these two important systems of medicine is already happening. Students of one system will usually have an interest in the other. . . . (Ibid. xi)
In any case, imbalance suggests disease, and balancing the life energies is much of what diagnosis aims at, and various forms of treatment seek to adjust.
Each human has his or her own temperament and characteristics, and may profit from modulating certain traits, including temperament, aligning to the environment. One means: "If found to be "low in vata", make some more of it by special foods, special ways of preparing food, herbal medicines (often composites), and treatments.
Ayurvedic treatment functions through sets of rules. They are individually applied. The sooner diagnosis and attempts at healing are done, the better - preferably before a budding disease breaks out, as long as fit "prevention is better than attempts at a cure." Pulse diagnoses have it in them to detect budding diseases. Understanding of one's dosha type and what may harmonise it, helps too.
Such preventive measures go into Ayurveda and other Asian therapy systems too.
Figure 2 shows an arrangement of the system-elements (bhutas) in acupuncture and behind the dosha theory of ayurveda. Some additions to their common labels (names) are offered, and should sum up significant parts of what the elements are held to do or influence. For example heat + earth forms some form of figurative "brick" in a generative cycle. An opposite, anticlockwise move indicates how "slimy air" (sleet, slush, snow) applied to "earth" could form frost in turn. Terms that are used, may vary, but there is an understandable core in all of them, theoretically.
Now, if we conceive of idoshas (a freshly coined term) as five interrelated extractions of every second system elements, they can be shown as lines of influence between the elements (bhutas) that "percolate doshas" thus.
However, others do not think of five idoshas at all, and consider just three doshas. That may work all right! Here is a definition of the three doshas from Wikipeda:
Five idoshas, theoreticallyThe three doshas are extracted from the five great elements (butas) in acupuncture and ayurvedic acupuncture. We may consider the interrelatedness of the elements and form alternative viewpoints from them. The current founding thoughts in the matter are, simply:
Vatha: from air and etherVatha is interconnectedness of air and ether. (WP, "Dosha" > 1st ill.) However, to divide the water element in two, as is done for the other two doshas, is it really feasable?
Now, to enlarge on the Vatha dosha and bring in basic acupuncture theory again, here are Grandmother—Child relations from the acupuncture texts:
In the words of Sharon M. Smith, "The Ke' [control] cycle prevents the Sheng [Generating or Creative] cycle from getting out of control," and "The Grandmother controls the Child's growth." (1998, 7). In this light is fit to say the influences in the list above are consolidating. There is not a one-to-one correlation between consolidators (represented by dotted arrows in fig. 2.) and doshas, but a 3/4 correlation for two doshas, and a neat correspondence for Vatha. Two theoretical idoshasare left out though. These influences too are considered acupuncture theory, at any rate.
Acupuncture basics include the Mother-Child influences:
The Mother-Child influences are had by pairing the elements next to each other all the way round the circle in the right way. Clockwise is generative, also called a "Generating cycle or Creative cycle" - as long as its influences are not overmuch or too little or too incompetent. Against it, anticlockwise moves may turn destructive. (Ibid. 5-6)
"Fire, Earth, Metal [Air], Water and Wood [Sap] are expressed within the human body in five organ systems: heart/small intestine, spleen/stomach, lung/large intestine, kidney/urinary bladder, and the liver/gallbladder, respectively," says Dr Yi Song.
The five elements in acupuncture interconnect in the same way as the postulated and possible idoshas, to coin a new word. Gladdening? When three are said to work well, five may work better, as they are seem more fit to the system-anchored great elements than the three doshas that in part are founded on a divided water element. A divided element, can it be?
The assumption that a theory rests on assumptions
We could use acupuncture-rooted looks into the basic systemics - and since it is philosophy we talk about here, just like the philosophies that are the roots of the sciences, we have to be clear and say: It is all based on assumptions. There is nothing like basic assumptions to form a branch of science or a healing system. 'Guess' is another way of saying 'assumption'.
Three assumptions that govern very much in science:
It is human all right to trust in theories from well built assumptions. There are books on that topic also. 'Paradigm' is a central term. "In science and philosophy, a paradigm is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns . . . for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field," according to a Wikipedia article. Professor Charles Tart finds, "Every action we undertake and every thought we have rests on an assumption – and usually many assumptions (1975, 61)." He goes on to elaborate on nearly eighty basic assumptions in psychology. Assumptions cover how the universe is, what a human is like, how the relationship between mind and body is, about consciousness, about death, about human personality and its development, and much more. Here is one: "[Some] Philosophers are the ultimate authorities about the nature of knowledge (Ibid. 90)." Who are they? Adi Shankara is often called a philosopher . . . (Tart 1975, 59-112). (Also see Kuhn 1970; WP, "Paradigm"; Philosophy of science")
Basic theory - formed from deeper assumptions - help us consider how profitable or wise it might be to consider doshas as five interrelatednesses of elements, as it is done in acupuncture. It helps us consider other this as well.
Bhutas, doshas and dosha-blends
If the arrangement of systemic elements (bhutas) is as figure 2 portrays, the table is set for a more nuanced classification of such as foods, herbs and yoga postures. This is indicated by this: two (red) lines of influence missing in the figure so far. Perhaps we should make room in our heads and minds for two more so-called doshas thus, and perhaps not. It would depend - among other things - how well the current practice works.
One can support this simple enlargement of doshas by pointing to a current need for dosha blends. Dosha blends are in common use. One thinks of vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, vata-kapha in addition to the three, vata, pitta and kaphu. The systemic arrangement in figure 2 allows for a more stringent perception linked to a system model, but the two vacant lines across the midfield cannot well be aligned to three dosha blends. So there is a difference. I would not say whether the dosha blends can be well aligned with the bhuta "trickles" that are called doshas above and represented by red lines across the mid-area of the figure.
Finally a confession of liking: In the course of time I have come to like many sides to the ayurvedic approach of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That's how it is.
These books on Ayurveda cover much ground, are well received by the public and are acceptable in the Ayurvedic community as far as I know:
Frawley, David. 2000. Ayurvedic Healing: A Contemporary Guide. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Frawley, David, Subhash Ranade and Avinash Lele. 2003. Ayurveda and Marma Therapy: Energy Points in Yogic Healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. 2010. The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine. Reprint ed of the 2nd, enl. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh, and Michael Tierra. 2008. Ayurvedic Herbs. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Kuhn, Thomas. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd, enlarged ed. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Lad, Usha, and Vasant Lad. 1997. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. 2nd ed. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.
Lad, Vasant. 2009. Ayurveda. The Science of Self-Healing: A Practical Guide. Reprint ed. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Lad, Vasant Dattatray. 2002. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda.. Vol 1. Albuquerque, NM The Ayurvedic Press.
Lad, Vasant Dattatray. 2004. Secrets of the Pulse: The Ancient Art of Ayurvedic Pulse Diagnosis. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Ayurvedic Press.
Lad, Vasant. 1999. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Paperback ed. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Lindahl, Olof, and Lars Lindwall. 1979. Laegevidenskaben i nyt perspektiv (Medical Science in a New Perspective). Copenhagen: Reitzel.
McIntyre, Anne. 2012. The Ayurveda Bible: The Definitive Guide to Ayurvedic Healing. London: Godsfield.
Namikoshi, Toru. 1981. The Complete Book of Shiatsu Therapy. Tokyo: Japan Publications.
Puri, H. S. 2003. Rasayana: Ayurvedic Herbs for Longevity and Rejuvenation. London: Taylor and Francis.
Reddy, Kumuda. 2002. Putting Chronic Fatigue to Rest: Treating Chronic Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Maharishi Ayurveda. College Park, MD. Samhita Productions.
Ros, Frank. 1994. The Lost Secrets of Ayurvedic Acupuncture: An Ayurvedic Guide to Acupuncture. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Serizawa, Katsusuke. 1976. Tsubo: Vital Points for Oriental Therapy. Tokyo: Japan Publications.
Sharma, Hari. 1999. Awakening Nature's Healing Intelligence: Expanding Ayurveda through the Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Sharma, Hari, and Christopher Clark. 2012. Ayurvedic Healing: Contemporary Maharishi Ayurveda Medicine and Science. 2nd ed. London: Singing Dragon.
Smith, Sharon M. 1998. The Five Element Acupuncture Handbook. 2nd ed. Columbia, ML: S. M. Smith.
Svoboda, Robert E. 2004. Ayurveda: Life, Health, and Longevity. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Ayurvedic Press.
Tart, Charles, ed. 1975. Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper Colophon.
Thomas, Helen. Nd. Effortless Ayurvedic Living: A 21st Century Guide to the 3,000 Year Old Science of Health and Longevity From Ancient India. Santa Rosa CA: Helen Mary Thomas [2013?]. Online.
Tentative (?) findings: a link: www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-research/index.html
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