Ayurveda: Medicine of The Future

Words: Dr SARIGA K T 

This is the edited version of the essay that won the First Prize in ThinkWellness360 Essay Writing Competition 2022 for Ayurveda Medical College Students. 

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word. It has beauty and wisdom — the quintessential element of India’s most pristine and ancient language. This allows for a great deal of precision in communication, juxtaposed by more than an element of organised prosody and musicality. The best part is: Ayurveda is a simple, sweet word; also, connotation. It holds profound knowledge and wisdom, as also brevity, thanks to how the padham [word] is formed and structured logically and purposefully. So, one may well: what are the prospects for such an old, traditional system of medicine that originated over 5,000 years ago that claims to maintain harmonious balance in our mind, body and spirit, and also achieve health and well-being, in today’s, or tomorrow’s, context?

To understand the import, one ought to comprehend several health issues that our present era carries and how Ayurveda would be beneficial — as a standalone line of treatment. There is, no doubt, that a medical system with ancient roots is valid and contributing to healthcare, not only in its place of origin, but also internationally, though not in its full form, while other ancient systems of medicine have become decrepit.

Gaps In Mainstream Medicine

Modern, or conventional, medicine has done much in every field of health and illness; it is the first and last word in emergency medicine too. The role of modern medicine in revolutionising our health scenario from an era where a major chunk of the human population would perish due to life-threatening, serious conditions, to our present era with increased longevity, reduced infant mortality, and other morbidities, is undeniable. Also, it has progressed to profound heights; yet, the attainment of overall, optimal health is not completely possible, as we all know that a number of diseases has not reduced, nor their degree of sequelae, or complications, have been completely distilled, or overcome.

When we focus on upadrava rogas [complications], or udarka [after-effects] related to several diseases, a complete ‘salvation’ from the clutches, or emergence, of existing as well as new disease pathologies is still a far cry. That science has advanced so far in a remarkable way through rigorous trial and error methods and constant redoing from one theory to another, is one thing, but the strain, or fear, of transformed disease pathologies that are cascading into new and powerful forms, also numbers, is still a major concern. This holds true, especially in the present scenario, where one couldn’t do much, but hold on to preventative aspects, when different variants of COVID-19 stormed and trembled the world. Just think of it — the struggle to lead and live a quality life without the constant use of a ‘smorgasbord’ of medicines, especially in [non-]communicable diseases, that may cause other discomforts, while respecting their efficacy in limiting them, is as yet a pipe dream.

Cure: A Distant Dream?

There is a common perception that modern medicine treats only the symptoms, which is, to an extent, correct; yet, this is the only ‘way to go’ for certain illnesses. Because, when there is no cure, treatment would certainly help to manage the disease.

So, what does ‘cure’ mean? There is an important verse in Ashtanga Hridaya about Shudha Chikitsa. That which alleviates one roga in the peril of causing another is not considered pure therapy. Though this is age-old wisdom, it still holds relevance in our era. Agreed, that, we are past the era of life-threatening infectious diseases, but the need today is to find a ‘cure’ for newer illnesses. Medicines, or therapies, that address not only symptoms, control the disease. Yet, the irony is profound: the ‘underlying cause’ may sound clichéd to sceptics, but the need is, doubtless, critical.

Need For Ayurveda

The WHO Global Report on Traditional and Complementary Medicine [2019] says that given the unique challenges of the 21st century, interest in T&CM is undergoing a revival. It is, therefore, possible to consider traditional medicine as an option for curative services with preventative care at the global level. One of the reasons for this holistic renaissance is a simple truth — one that was clearly visible, during the COVID-19 pandemic, even to the public. That there’s a health vulnerability in the individualistic sense in multiple dimensions of physical and mental health. And, amidst the orchestrated deluge regarding Ayurveda and its ‘unscientific’ methods, there emerged various possibilities of Ayurveda philosophy and treatments, supplemented by safe and evidence-based approaches to promoting one’s overall health. This reflects a definitive way of research in science and its advancement. Though it is difficult to develop a new path to merge Ayurveda concepts in terms of modern research protocols, because it involves several permutations and combinations, while comprehending a roga and rogi, the endeavour is worth pursuing, given the benefits that it could usher in for our well-being. This also celebrates the goal of science — to acquire systematic knowledge of nature, ratified and verified by high-quality experiments.

Ayurveda: A Comprehensive View

In simple terms, Ayurveda is a medical system as well as philosophy that expounds ayu [life], how to achieve it, what is opposed to it, what is beneficial to it, and how to maintain it. It also specifies that it is one’s responsibility to protect one’s health. The literal meaning of ayu won’t do justice, since there is a clear definition for it. Acharya Charaka says ayus is also avastha, the conglomeration of the body, senses, mind, and soul. What is said to protect health, in Ayurveda terms, ought to be understood for health and well-being in all dimensions. This should not be considered as rhetoric, but a practical interpretation, as evidenced by numerous corresponding treatment principles and therapies that have been well organised in a meaningful manner in the Samhitas. The authenticity, or eternity, of Ayurveda, as Acharya Charaka, again, explains is — the nature of every dravya [aahara, aushadha, sareera, and manas; the substrate of roga and swasthya] in nature doesn’t change in its subtle form. Hence, the foundation of science that deals with it is also eternal, as is the knowledge of life, just as the instinct for survival is inherent in every sentient being in nature. This is also why it is said that the foundation, basic philosophy, and principles of Ayurveda never change, albeit new, advanced innovations and research studies are ongoing in the field. As long life exists, the knowledge related to Ayurveda will exist in one way, or another — in their pristine form.

Peculiarities Of Ayurveda

  • The fundamental theories
  • Panchabhoota Sidhantha and Tridhosha Sidhantha.

The two important principles of Ayurveda are panchamahabhootha and tridhosha theory, around which every dynamic of Ayurveda revolves. While the former describes dravya, the latter describes individuals; the two are related. Philosophically, it is through the five senses that an individual acquires knowledge about the outer world. Indriyas are the asraya for our perceptions of everything in this universe. Each indriya knows the dravya by each guna. This is, again, dependent on the dravya. They are called bhoothas. For example, akasha is the bhootha. It functions as the substrate for shabda guna. Thus, everything in the universe — aahara, aushadha, shareera, etc., — is made of these bhoothas and known to each individual by the gunas present in each indriya in their subtle form. Our sareera is also panchabhouthika. Inside it, various kinds of metabolic activities take place for maintenance of health. The panchmahabhootas function inside the body, or manifest in it, through the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha.

These are the fundamental forces that govern the functioning of our body and mind. In general, vata is associated with movement and change, pitta with transformation and metabolism, and kapha with structure and stability. One could, of course, get a critical ‘fix’ about the veracity of such theories. Yet, beyond the framework of facts and evidence, this should be viewed as philosophy — one that aids us in the analyses of concepts, definitions, arguments, and differences of opinion in order to determine not only literal, but also the actual meaning, or truths, that may have been observed in ancient times, where the tools and methods used for analysing and communicating information and knowledge were linguistically, culturally, and spiritually substantially different.

Prakriti & Bespoke Medicine

The prakriti of a person is that individual’s unique physical and mental constitution, determined by the balance of the doshas in the body. There are certain characteristics that are unique to each individual, and this is not difficult to observe, because it is common knowledge that everybody is different inherently — in other words, as unique, or distinct, as their fingerprint. Yet, the idea of understanding oneself physically and mentally — aathma vijnanam — helps us to avert rogas by ourselves. It also helps the Ayurveda physician in treatment.

Individualistic approaches in treatment plans are now widely recognised and used in modern medicine — for example, in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cancer, etc. The first step in Ayurveda chikitsa is to recognise the individual’s uniqueness in swasthya and vikara aspects. In addition to supporting physical health, the individualistic approach would also be beneficial for mental and emotional well-being. There are 16 types of subtle manasika prakritis explained in the classics. This is why it is said that Ayurveda treats the rogi, not just the roga.

Ayurveda & Genetics

It may seem paradoxical that one with limited knowledge would oppose the two terms. However, in recent times, there has been an increasing interest in the relationship between Ayurveda and genetics, more so when scientists are seeking to understanding the potential genetic basis for the unique physical and mental characteristics that are central to the Ayurveda concept of prakruti. For example, research has identified genetic variants that are associated with different doshas, suggesting that an individual’s prakruti may be influenced by their genetic make-up. Where prakruti is mentioned, the prakriti of a person is determined at the time of sukra arthava samyoga and, thus, janma siddha. And, when it comes to vikriti, the parallel term is the bheeja dushti, which is well articulated in the sareera sthana of different samhithas.

There have also been studies and promising results regarding the relationship between prakruti and gut microbes; the prospects can be incorporated in the management of various autoimmune diseases, besides Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Parkinsonism, and so on. As the field of genetics is advancing and various hope-filled treatment modalities are being considered, through different research efforts, the concept of personalised, or bespoke, medicine, which focuses on molecular and biologic specifications in individuals is not a new domain to embark upon. The fact remains — that neglecting the data documented [qualitative studies] from a medical system that’s been adopting such an approach as its initial tool for diagnosing and managing disease, because of its ancient origin, may not be wise, or conducive, to propelling our scientific temper.

Concept of Agni & Ama

In Ayurveda, the concept of agni refers to the digestive fire, or metabolism. Agni is responsible for proper digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients in the body. The primary aim of chikitsa is to maintain agni in its proper state and form. Not only treatment aspects, but also in swasthavritha, it is imperative to look into various dinacharyas and rithucharyas, because all the kriyakrama revolves around the Samrakshana of Agni. If only one has proper agni deepthi, it is possible to maintain health; otherwise, this may lead to the formation of ama, which, in simple terms, refers to toxic substances that accumulate in the body as a result of poor digestion, or metabolism. Symptoms of ama can vary; it may also include digestive issues, such as bloating and constipation, as well as fatigue and impaired immune function. It may also contribute to chronic health problems, such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, etc.

Roga Darsana

According to Ayurveda, roga develops due to dosha vaishamya at different levels and degrees. Any disharmony in life’s circumstances, food and regimen, culture, thoughts, and environment — including weather and place — play a significant role in it. The moola karana of roga, as the classics attribute, are keyed to three major factors — heena yoga, mithya yoga and athi yoga of kala, atrha, and karma [the disjunction of time, senses, and deeds]. Here, every aspect of a disease’s pathology is explained. This is why, in order to avoid roga, one has to dodge prajnaparadha [unwholesome regimens, physically and mentally, while thinking rationally of their consequences and after-effects, understand oneself, and adhere to satvritha. Though all of these are primarily prevention-related, roga is viewed in five ways for curative purposes: its cause, prodromal symptoms, symptomatology, upasaya and anupasaya, besides pathogenesis. The chikitsa also includes nidana parivarjanam and samprapthi vighatanam. 

Swasthavritha

Whenever we speak, or write, about Ayurveda, the foremost thing no one skips is the importance given to the preventative aspect of disease. There is a general apathy, though, by the public and also physicians towards this prime element in modern medicine and Ayurveda, alike, as following certain rules and regulations may seem inconvenient in a world full of temptations. The thought and ideology of disease prevention is actually multidisciplinary — maintaining health, overcoming disease and also reducing complications. This isn’t something to be taken for granted. Yet, the lazy attitude towards it was shaken as the COVID-19 tempest brought the world to its feet. It became evident to people that maintaining health and immunity were indispensable in helping us not to fall victims to life-threatening diseases and complications. In Ayurveda, emphasis is given to swasthavritha in various chapters of the Samhitas. There is also exhaustive information about dinachaya, rithucharya, rathricharya, arthavacharya, garbhinicharya, soothikacharya etc. The verse, Samkshepatha kriyayogo nidana parivarjanam, links the significance of averting the risk factors in various communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Rasayana & Vajeekarana

This is an area often forgotten when it comes to treatment. Rasayana and Vajjeekarana Chikitsa help in reducing the complications of disease and also preventing their recurrence.

Ayurveda & Mental Health

Mental health is a significant aspect for our overall well-being. It is often overlooked in traditional medical systems. In Ayurveda, it is recognised as an integral part of swasthya — as the mind and body are interconnected. Each dosha is associated with certain psychological and emotional traits and understanding one’s prakruti can help the individual manage their emotions and behaviour. For example, vata is associated with movement and change; it is also often linked to anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health issues. As a result, practices that promote relaxation and stability, such as warm temperatures, nourishing foods, and relaxing activities, may be beneficial for people who have vata prakruti. On the other hand, pitta is associated with transformation and metabolism and often linked with anger, irritability, etc. Hence, practices that promote calmness and clarity, such as cooling and eating light foods, may be beneficial for individuals with predominantly pitta-prakruti.

Besides addressing imbalances in the body, Ayurveda also recognises the importance of imbalances in the mind. It is obvious that practices, such as yoga, pranayama, and meditation are promoted for mental clarity and calmness.

Conclusion

The future of Ayurveda is bright, in spite of the glut of criticism about its authenticity and scientific foundation — for a variety of reasons. Ayurveda is a medical system that has stood the test of time, where many others have faltered.

Extensive research and studies are being conducted in the field of Ayurveda with promising results in the prevention and curative aspects of health.

The uniqueness of Ayurveda, in terms of its individualistic approach, in the management of diseases in multidimensional contexts and its concepts of prakruti, ama, agni, and so on, open a roseate vista to exploring and adding valuable information in healthcare.

The gap between treatment and cure is decreasing as traditional medical systems are now being internationally accepted, promoted and encouraged for further qualitative research. This augurs well for them to be incorporated, and integrated,  with conventional medicine for the overall benefit of humanity.

Dr SARIGA K T, BAMS, is a Second Year PG Student at Government Ayurveda Medical College, Pariyaram, Kannur, Kerala, India.

1 thoughts on “Ayurveda: Medicine of The Future

  1. Vimal Vijayan says:

    A good article, what with all the concepts of Ayurveda being wholly, also seamlessly, integrated. Keep up the good work.

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