Ayurvedic Medicine (Ayurveda)
What is Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurvedic medicine evolved in India, and is considered to be the world’s oldest holistic (whole-body) healthcare system. It is named for the Sanskrit word Ayurveda, meaning the “science of life.” Its adherents strive to create harmony between the body, mind, and spirit, maintaining that this balance prevents illness, treats acute conditions, and contributes to a long and healthy life.
It originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and remains one of the country’s traditional health care systems. Its concepts about health and disease promote the use of herbal compounds, special diets, and other unique health practices. India’s government and other institutes throughout the world support clinical and laboratory research on Ayurvedic medicine, within the context of the Eastern belief system. But Ayurvedic medicine is not widely studied as part of conventional (Western) medicine. This fact sheet provides a general overview of Ayurvedic medicine and suggests sources for additional information.
In the U.S., Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
The Ayurvedic Concepts
Ayurveda is not a “one-size-fits-all” system. Instead, its regimens are tailored to each person’s unique prakriti (Ayurvedic constitution), taking into account his or her needs for nutrition, exercise, personal hygiene, social interaction, and other lifestyle elements.
Daily routines, called dincharya, and seasonal regimens, called ritucharya, are recommended. Following these individualized plans help users of Ayurveda attain robust physical health, as well as mental and spiritual harmony.
For followers of Ayurveda, anything that affects your physical, spiritual, or emotional well-being can cause you to be out of balance with the universe. Some things that can cause a disruption include:
- genetic or birth defects
- climate and seasonal changes
How your body works to keep you healthy and your unique physical and psychological characteristics combine to form your body’s constitution, or prakriti. Your prakriti is believed to stay the same for your entire life. However, how you digest food and eliminate waste can influence it.
Every person is made of a combination of five basic elements found in the universe:
These elements combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas. They control how your body works. The three doshas are:
- vata dosha (space and air)
- pitta dosha (fire and water)
- kapha dosha (water and earth)
Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas. One dosha is usually more dominant. Each dosha controls a different body function. It is believed that your chances of getting sick are linked to the balance of your doshas.
How is Ayurveda different from modern medicine?
- In Ayurveda, every individual is unique and there is no diet or lifestyle routine that works for everyone.
- Prevention is key. Ayurveda focuses on providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain physical and emotional health.
- Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.