According to Ayurvedic tradition health is the balance of elements air, earth, fire, and water-and ill. Ayurveda treats illness at its source, rather than at the level of symptoms, and helps an in individual to take responsibility for their own health and well-being.
Ayurveda is also known as 'Ashtanga Veda' (the word literally means 'Eight branches of knowledge') as it is divided into eight specialized branches.
Kaya Chikitsa (Internal medicine)
Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
Shalakya Tantra (Otorhinolaryngology)
Rasayana (Rejuvenating Therapy)
Vajikarana (Aphrodisiac therapy)
Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
Of these the Rasayana and Vajikarana deal with preservation and promotion of health and vigour. The remaining branches deal with the diseases.
The word ' kaya' (body) not only refers to the gross body of a person but to the subtle body as well. This natural alternative medicine recognizes that the body of a person is the product of the constant psychosomatic interactions. The imbalances in the three doshas of vata- pitta- kapha occur sometimes by the mind and sometimes by the body's dhatu (tissues) and mala (toxin deposits). Hence, the kayachikitsa branch of this system of herbal and holistic medicine, delves deep into ascertaining the root cause of the illness. Then only a suitable treatment is recommended to bring back mind and body into balance. Though the prescription might give an impression that the treatment is meant for the physical body, these in fact have a strong impact on mind and soul of a person.
The Charaka Samhita is the most important scripture on kayachikitsa. It discussed the basic principles of treatment (mentioned above), various types of therapies and purification or detoxification methods i.e. panchakarma. But, its thrust area has been diagnosis of a disease. Detail account of various methods of diagnosis, study of various stages of symptoms and the comprehensive management of debilitating diseases like diabetes mellitus, tuberculosis, asthma and arthritic conditions.
The section of Nidana Sthana of Charaka Samhita deals with etiology, pathogenesis and diagnosis of an illness. Six stages of the development of disease are enumerated as aggravation, accumulation, overflow, relocation, build up in a new site and manifestation into a recognizable disease (it is interesting to note that modern medical science can only detect a disease during the fifth or sixth stages of the illness). In kayachikitsa there is always an opportunity to stop the disease at each stage preventing its full manifestation. One of the significant methods of treatment under kayachikitsa is panchakarma. This is a method of reversing the disease path from its manifestation stage back into to its site of original development through special forms of emesis, purgation and enema etc. Another unique aspec kayachikitsa is rejuvenation called kaya kalpa. The term kaya kalpa means renewal of body. According to ayurveda the human body is made of seven types of dhatu or tissues-structures-plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and reproductive fluids. To prolong the youthfulness of the body kayachikitsa applies several physical and mental disciplinary methods with special medicinal preparations, to rebuild the body's cells and tissues after the initial process of detoxification, through panchakarma.
Contrary to the modern concepts surgery was pioneered by ayurveda in ancient India. It is a significant branch of ayurveda. The name of the sage-physician Susruta is synonymous with surgery. From his treatise Susruta Samhita we come to know that thousand of years ago sophisticated methods of surgery were practiced in India.
The original text of Susruta discusses in detail about an exhaustive range of surgical methods including about how to deal with various types of tumors, internal and external injuries, fracture of bones, complications during pregnancy and delivery, and obstruction in intestinal loop. Susruta was the first surgeon to develop cosmetic surgery. His surgical treatment for trichiasis can be to some of the modern operative techniques used for this eye disease.
The use of various surgical instruments is also described in the Susruta Samhita for the treatment. The instruments described were made from stone, wood and other such natural materials.
Shalya Tantra was popular because this could give fast relief as compared to the slow process of recovery from medicines or herbs. Charaka the best-known physician of ayurvedic medicine also recommended for Shalya Tantra in treatment of certain diseases, which required immediate attention like hemorrhoids.
This branch of ayurveda deals in details with the etiology, diagnosis, prognosis, prevention and treatment of diseases of head, ear, nose, eye and throat. The name of this branch was called Shalakya due to excessive use of ' Shalaka', which means a rod or probe. Though all the three main classics of ayurveda deals on this subject, Susruta Samhita describes more deeply about this branch. So much so that some of the classifications found in the Susruta Samhita are mot even traced by the modern medical science. It described five types of pterygium, and the prognosis it made about aveitis and glaucoma has not been improved since. In fact he is the first surgeon in medical history who systematically and elaborately dealt with anatomical structure of eye.
Susruta has discussed about 72 diseases of the eye. He has stipulated drug therapy for various types of conjunctivitis and glaucoma along with surgical procedures of the removal of cataract, pterygium, diseases of ear, nose and throat besides cosmetic surgery for traumatized nose and ear (rhinoplasty and auraplasty).
Apart from these complicated methods of treatment the three samhitas- Charaka, Susruta and Astanga Hridaya, recommended simple home remedies for minor problems like dryness of eye, migraine and mouth ulcers etc. which are being successfully administered even today.
( TOXICOLOGY )
Agada tantra or Toxicology branch of ayurveda described about various methods of cleaning the poisons out of the body as well as recommends antidotes for particular poisons. It deals with a wide range of natural toxins originating from wild lives (animals, birds, insects etc.), plants/herbs (belladonna, aconite etc.), vegetables, minerals (leads, mercury, arsenal etc.) and artificial poisons prepared from poisonous drugs. This branch also deals with air and water pollution, which are basically the causes of various dangerous epidemics.
The three samhitas described about this branch of toxicology, which also include description, and disadvantages of food of opposite qualities, drugs and food causing chronic poisoning symptoms. In ayurveda certain poisons are used as medicines after proper processing and quantification. Precious stones like diamond, ruby and poisonous minerals like lead and mercury were in use for this purpose.
This branch also has information regarding fatal doses of various poisons, which are resorted to in a view to administer those into an enemy's body system
This branch of kaumarabhritya deals comprehensively about prenatal, postnatal baby care and gynecology. With the view to achieve its ultimate aim of creating a healthy and disease free society ayurveda strives to make the baby from the time of its conception upto the time of its growth into an adult.
Kaumarabhritya has recognized that the mental and physical state of the mother has direct links with the health of the child. It has recommended particular diet, regimen, nutrition and conduct for women during and after delivery. So advanced was this science that thousands of years back Charaka described the growth and progress of fetus in minute detail. Even it mentioned about a technique called punsanvan vidhi for having a child of one's desired gender, intelligence and constitution. This branch meticulously dealt with the problem of infertility-its causes and treatment methods.
Apart from that kaumarbhritya deals with various disorders concerning children's health such as gastrointestinal diseases, teething disorder, rickets other than midwifery.
This branch of ayurveda specifically deals with the diseases of mind or psychic conditions, which can be caused by super natural forces. Different experts have explained the word bhuta differently. Some experts say that bhuta means ghosts and similar bad spirits who cause abnormal psychological conditions. Others say bhuta represents microscopic organisms such as virus, bacteria that are not visible to naked eye. Ayurveda also believes in the past karma as a causative factor of certain diseases. Bhuta Vidya deals with the causes, which are directly not visible and have no direct explanation in terms of tridosha.
In many cases illness is caused by the disturbance of mind, where rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) are supposed to be the contributing factors. These problems can be related to modern psychiatry.
Bhuta Vidya mention use of various disinfectant plants under the title of ' graha vidya dravya' for fumigation to make the atmosphere germ free. In addition to this herbs, diet, use of mantras and yogic therapies like meditation and pranayama to pacify the psychological disturbances of a patient.
Ayurveda in this branch of science explains the art of producing healthy progeny for the creation of a better society. Hence, deals with various diseases like infertility and conditions relating to weak shukra dhatu or the vital reproductive fluids of the body. Apart from prescribing a lot of effective formulations to provide nutrition to enhance the quality of this vital body fluids it specifically emphasized to lead a highly disciplined life.
This branch of ayurveda highlighted that celibacy is essential for good health. It helps increase the will power, intellect and memory in addition to a healthy body. The shukra dhatu has a direct link with ojas or the immunity of the body. Hence, vajikaran prescribed the therapeutic use of various aphrodisiacs and tonic preparations for enhancing the vigor and reproductive capabilities of men that also strengthens other body tissues ( dhatus) like muscles, fats, bones and blood.
All therapies in ayurveda aim to provide good all round health, so that people can engage in achieving the real goal of life-self-realization. The rasayana therapy increases the life force ( ojas) and immunity of a person and thus there is a regeneration of cells and tissues in the body. Rasayana is a therapeutic process to defer old age.
The sages of ancient times led long, disease-free, and vigorous lives with the help of rasayanas. Lord Indra is supposed to have given the knowledge of these panaceas to the sages.
Literally, rasayana means the augmentation of rasa, the vital fluid produced by the digestion of food. It is the rasa flowing in the body which sustains life. Rasayana in ayurveda is, the method of treatment through which the rasa is maintained in the body. Another connotation of rasa in ayurveda is that it is a herbal medicine, which maintains the life and health of the individual, and increases his bodily and mental vigor. herbal medicines are categorized according to whether they promote general health and longevity, sexual vigor, immunity. The three medicine categories are known in ayurveda as rasayana, vajikarana, and aushadhis, respectively. These categories are complementary to each other.
Rasayanas prepared from the herbs and medicinal plants of amalaki, haritiki, triphala, bhringaraja, ashwagandha, punarnava, chitraka and many other herbal medicines have been used from time immemorial and have been instrumental in giving long, disease-free, and vigorous lives to their users.