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The term Ayurveda has been derived from a Sanskrit word meaning Science or knowledge. It is made up of two words —Ayus and Veda, in which Ayus is life while Vedas is Science or knowledge. Thus, simply put, Ayurveda implies the Science of life or knowledge of life. In the words of ancient scholar Charaka, Ayu implies to body, senses, mind and soul.

Ayurveda can be understood as a traditional system of medicine that makes use of various principles of mother’s nature to maintain a healthy composition and keep the body and the soul in equilibrium. It is an alternative form of medicine in the Indian subcontinent.

History of Ayurveda

As per historians, Ayurveda is a knowledge that has been verbally passed down through different generations. The ancient sages aimed to create a secret to long and healthy life and thus Ayurveda came into being after putting to use the inherent medicinal qualities of nature. While there is no documented evidence regarding the exact origin of Ayurveda, it is believed it originated more than 5,000 years ago. It is on account of circumstantial evidences that Ayurveda is assumed to be compiled first in Agnivesha Tantra, a text by Agnivesha, written during the Vedic times. It was then revised by sage Charaka later and renamed as Charaka Samhita. Another text that documents Ayurveda is Sushruta Samhita. These were the only formally compiled and foundational Sanskrit encyclopedias on the subject that were transferred verbally down the generations through Gurukul system until a script was brought into form.

Though formulated mainly in ancient times, middle ages also saw many additions in Ayurveda. During the medieval times, physician Vagbhata (7th century) was known for writing extensively on Ayurveda. Similarly, Madhav (8th century) wrote a 79 chapter long book Nidāna listing various diseases, their causes, signs and complications.

Ayurveda's Aim

There are mainly two aims of Ayurveda. First— to maintain health and mental well-being of individuals already enjoying good health. This involves specific nutrition, living habits, diet, exercises, hygiene and stabilizing techniques. It is important to follow these guidelines in order to increase immunity, remain disease-free and healthy. It also helps elongate the life span. The second aim of Ayurveda is to cure ailments. This entails diagnosing diseases and curing them using various Ayurvedic therapies and remedies and preventing their relapse.While both the objectives are inter-related, both have a common purpose — to maintain health and for this it becomes important to follow the Ayurvedic guidelines religiously and eradicate diseases from an individual's life.

The Tridosha System

The basic premise on which Ayurveda rests is that the whole of Universe consists five important elements — water, air, fire, ether and earth. These elements represent themselves in humans in the form of three energies, or doshas, namely, Vata, Kapha, Pitta. Vata entails ether and air elements. Its energy is seen as a force known to direct respiration, elimination, nerve impulses and circulation. Kapha entails earth and water elements. It is important for protection and growth. Its examples include the spinal columns, cerebral spinal fluid protecting the brain and stomach's mucousal lining. Pitta entails water and fire elements. It takes care of one's metabolism. It is also crucial for the metabolism taking place in organs and the tissue systems.

When the concentration of any of these exceed their desirable amount in the human body, there is an imbalance that eventually leads to an unhealthy mind and body. To balance the three doshas again and reach a healthier being, Ayurveda gives a specific nutritional and lifestyle guidelines to follow and reach that right balance. The central concept helps the Ayurvedic physicians evaluate the imbalance and suggest a cure accordingly.

Ayurveda uses eight ways to diagnose any disease. These include

Mootra (Urine), Nadi (Pulse), Mala (Stool), Shabda (Speech), Jinvha (Tongue), Druk (Vision), Sparsha (Touch) and the Aakruti (Appearance).

The Panchkarma Theory

If the toxins in an individual's body exceed beyond their normal levels, Ayurveda practitioners recommend the Theory of Purification, or the Panchkarma Theory. This is done to eliminate unwanted toxins from the body and help maintain balance of the basic elements.It is a specialized five-fold therapy that uses five main procedures — Eemesis or therapeutic vomiting (Vaman), Enema (Basti), Purgation (Virechan), Toxin elimination through nose (Nasya) and Detoxification or bloodletting of blood (the Rakta moksha).

Taste, Effect and Medication

According to Ayurveda, the taste of different herbs and foods have a specific physiological effect. It holds that the tastes that change after being digested (Vipaka) have more power. As per Ayurvedic theory, sweet (madhura) foods cool, oil, moisten, nourish and increase one's weight; salty (lavana) foods dissolve, warm, stimulate, oil, soften and increase the weight; sour (amla) foods oil, warm and increase the weight; bitter (katu) foods dry, purify, cool and decrease weight; astringent (kashaya) foods dry, cool and reduce stickiness; pungent (tikta) foods dry, stimulate, warm and decrease weight.

Ayurveda believes various materials that have vegetable, mineral or animal origin; contain medicinal values. These medicinal qualities of each has been identified to cure specific ailments in humans since ages. Most Ayurvedic medicines are made using a concoction of various herbs, either used singularly, or in a particular combination with other metals, minerals or ingredients having animal origin. Before using for Ayurvedic purposes, the animals, minerals and metals are well purified using suitable methods. A careful proportion is used to make a Ayurvedic medicament to cure the given illness and help an individual balance the doshas in their body.

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