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Introducing Ayurveda

Ayurveda - Text 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 elements called sap [ether], 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 should not be taken literally. There is "fire" in metabolism, and Tibetan medicine has "metal" where air is used. As for "ether", there is none in the world of physics, where it is an outdated concept. In the ancient system theory of Asia, though, it is reckoned with, but with a completely different understanding, as "what makes something appear where there was nothing before" and linked to growth" "Sap" may be introduced as a figurative mention instead of ether, but most professionals take to "ether", an otherwise discredited concept.

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.

Doshas, elements. Source: Wikipedia
Fig. 1. Interrelated, key points assembled and summarised graphically. The three fields that border on the centre, represent three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha.

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 he or she comes up with. And 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". 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 uncurable 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:

  1. General medicine, or bodily diseases
  2. Treatment of children
  3. Treatment of mental troubles and problems
  4. Anti Aging (and rejuvenation)
  5. Aphrodisiacs

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, sv. "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.]

Conclusion so far: A system of health with "promising, insufficient evidence" of its general efficacy may be explored further. That stand is warranted, or justified. Research has to be very careful.

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:

  • "I am much worse. Maybe the cure has not been in vain."
  • "I feel much better. Hopefully my remedies have not failed me."
  • "I feel about the same, thanks to my remedies, perhaps or perhaps not."

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.

Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha

A dosha is translated or understood as a "light bodily fluid". Fig. 1 shows that

  • Vata percolates air and ether
  • Pitta percolates fire and in part water
  • Kapha percolates earth and in part water

That is their interrelation.

Harmony between the five system elements equals subtle balancing.

Harmony between the doshas is about the same, and so indicates health, at least within.

Imbalance suggests disease.

Each human has is 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 such norms.


A Theoretical Problem

System elements in a generative order
Fig. 2. Acupuncture system-elements are interrelated in that one leads to the other in a cycle. Socalled doshas are suggested.

Figure 2 shows a generative order of the system-elements (bhutas) in acupuncture. 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. The opposite, anticlockwise move indicates how "slimy air" (sleet, slush, snow) applied to "earth" could form frost. These are as poet's understanding of terms that are a bit floating at bottom. "As above so below".

In this outline, a dosha is understood as the wise combination of every other element along the circle. The elements are similar, but their order is different from the one in figure 1.

Moreover, there is no such thing as dosha areas fit for "fluid elemental substances" here. So far so good. However, if we conceive of doshas as interrelatednesses of every second system elements, they can be shown as lines of influence between the elements (bhutas) that "percolate doshas" thus.

It is one way of explaining it, one way of explaining doshas as interrelatednesses.

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.

One can support this simple enlargement of doshas, by pointing to the dosha blends 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 dosha blends. So there is such 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.

- Tormod Kinnes

Ayurveda, Ayurvedic system, Literature  

These books on Ayurveda cover much ground, are well received by the public, as indicated by Amazon reviews of them, and are acceptable in the Ayurvedic community as far as I know:

Frawley, David. Ayurvedic Healing: A Contemporary Guide. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2000.

Frawley, David, Subhash Ranade and Avinash Lele. Ayurveda and Marma Therapy: Energy Points in Yogic Healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2003.

Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine. Reprint ed of the 2nd, enl. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2010.

Lad, Usha, and Vasant Lad. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. 2nd ed. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press, 1997.

Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda. The Science of Self-Healing: A Practical Guide. Reprint ed. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2009.

Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Paperback ed. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Lindahl, Olof, and Lars Lindwall. Laegevidenskaben i nyt perspektiv (Medical Science in a New Perspective). Copenhagen: Reitzel, 1979.

McIntyre, Anne. The Ayurveda Bible: The Definitive Guide to Ayurvedic Healing. London: Godsfield, 2012.

Reddy, Kumuda. Putting Chronic Fatigue to Rest: Treating Chronic Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Maharishi Ayurveda. College Park, MD. Samhita Productions, 2002.

Sharma, Hari. Awakening Nature's Healing Intelligence: Expanding Ayurveda through the Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

Sharma, Hari, and Christopher Clark. Ayurvedic Healing: Contemporary Maharishi Ayurveda Medicine and Science. 2nd ed. London: Singing Dragon, 2012.

Tentative (?) findings: a link:

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