Ayurveda is a medical system that has its roots in the ancient cultural and religious traditions of India but continues to grow, flower and flourish within the observation & experience of its practitioners. This is a process that has taken place over the last five thousand years, straight through to the present day.
Ayurveda is a tool to deal with, assess and ultimately balance ones health in all aspects of life which includes ones physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health as well as how we integrate our own well-being into the greater social welfare. Additionally, Ayurveda considers the seasonal variations year to year as well as the health of the environment as a whole. This holistic attitude allows Ayurveda to tap many facets of an individuals life as apertures for treatment while remaining grounded in natural, observable principles that are easily shared with the patient as lifestyle recommendations, dietary programs and herbal formulas.
Throughout history, India has been a melting pot of philosophy and spiritual traditions. Ayurveda draws inspiration from many of these traditions and in turn breathes life back into the traditions it supports.
Let us begin with the historical context of Ayurveda and then proceed to introduce several important philosophical concepts that contribute to understanding Ayurveda within this greater Vedic Tradition.
THE VEDIC CONTEXT
The earliest written texts of Vedic Philiosohy were known as the Rig Veda, The Samaveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. These texts were comprised of many important philosophical understandings of the natural world that form the basis of Ayurveda. Most knowledge of antiquity was communicated in such a way as to communicate to the entire mental, emotional and spiritual being of the recipient. This was achieved by encoding the knowledge in special forms of Mantra & Song. The study of these four Veda's and the many ancillary texts that make up "Vedic Knowledge" is a vast, incredible philosophical, historical and spiritual pursuit in and of itself. My purpose here is to illustrate that although Ayurveda is a standalone "Vidya" (defined as living body of wisdom) in and of itself, its origins are as diverse as nature itself.
THE MAIN TEXTS OF AYURVEDA
Following the Vedic origins of Ayurveda, there were several important physicians that practiced, taught and codified Ayurveda far more specifically than we find in the poetic hymns and mantras of the Veda’s. The texts that were produced by these physicians were known as the Caraka Samhita, the Sushruta Samhita, the Ashtanga Hridayam, the Ashtanga Samgraha, the Madhava Nidanam and the Sarangadhara Samhita. The first three of these are referred to as the Brihat Treya and are regarded as the most important foundational texts of Ayurveda.
THE FOUR PURSUITS OF LIFE
One such concept is that of the four pursuits of life. These pursuits are:
1) Dharma, the pursuit of Purpose
2) Artha, the pursuit of Wealth
3) Kama, the pursuit of Pleasure
4) Moksha, the pursuit of Spirituality
In general, what's important here is the sustained ability to pursue these aspects of life and for the journey itself to be unobstructed. As such, Ayurveda aims to support this process primarily through the health of the body. Additionally, through consultation, it can be extremely useful to understand which pursuits we are over-emphasizing and which we are under-emphasizing.
THE THREE PILLARS OF WELL-BEING
Another important concept is that of the three pillars of well-being which are:
1) Proper Digestion, which includes assimilation and elimination
2) Proper Sleep, both quantity and quality
3) Proper Creative Expression, which includes everything sexual health to the means with which we create an impact on the world.
As a practitioner, I like to look at these as broad brush strokes of my patients overall health & function. Eating, sleeping and creative self-expression are all essential components of a healthy body, mind & spirit. If each of these areas of life is healthy, then they act as a tripod that supports your health and well-being.
THE CAUSE OF DISEASE AND SUFFERING
Ayurveda explains in great detail how disease and suffering arise to begin with. There are three primary causes of disease which serve once again as broad concepts that each have their own process of analysis and consideration.
1) The first cause of disease relates to time and is known is Kala-Parinama.
It literally means time-transformation. For the purposes of Ayurveda, Kala-Parinama relates to how we live according to periods of time such as the time of the day, the changing seasons, and the different time periods of life. A child in spring has different needs than an elder in fall. Ayurveda defines these time periods with great detail and gives insight into the best way to adjust to each new phase throughout the year and throughout ones life.
2) The second cause of disease is called Prajnaparadha which is defined as failure of the intellect.
Prajna means wisdom or intelligence. Aparadha refers to a mistake or misunderstanding. This is referring to suffering caused by not following your own better knowing. It’s the doing something you know you shouldn’t do moment. This includes the knowing that comes from listening to the wisdom of how the body responds to a particular experience or substance. A major aspect of working with a practicioner of Ayurveda is defining a detailed roadmap of how your body and mind are likely to respond to any given food, substance or situation. The wisdom is planted initially by the practicioner into the client like a seed but flowers and fruits in the mind and heart of the patient.
3) The third cause of disease is called Asatmyendriya-asamyoga which means the unharmonious conjunction of the senses with their object of desire.
The five senses are the gateways into the body from the outside world. The interaction of each of our senses with the outside world leaves an impression that effects our not only our body but also our mind and ultimately our consciousness. Unharmonious sensory intake can include disagreeable tastes, shocking images, unpleasant smells and so on. Sensory addictions also play a roll in how our senses affect and relate to our mental wellbeing. An Ayurvedic practicioner takes into consideration the entire lifestyle of each patient in order to understand how certain qualities have accumulated in the system, have lead to disease or suffering and how best to balance these qualities while identifying and removing that which is effecting wellbeing through the senses.
Health & Wellness or the lack thereof is the summation of all the factors of life that make up the human experience. Disease and Suffering is largely a product of how an individual is interacting with their environment. By understanding how wellbeing arises and where disease begins, an Ayurvedic Practicioner begins with a very wide lens in an effort to truly see each client as an individual constellation of causative factors and possible solutions.