Perfect Health

Words: Dr Rahul BANSAL

Unlike the allopathic — modern, or conventional — system of medicine, where the human body is considered a machine, which is nothing short of a reductionist approach, Ayurveda considers the human body as a continuum of nature with consciousness at its core. This all-inclusive percept, also precept, of Ayurveda and its willingness to putting the welfare of the patient above everything else is more than unique — it is a ground-breaking concept.

In order to substantiate the point, let us look at the definition of health as propounded by Suśruta:

Samadosha, samagnischa samadhatumala kriyaha I

Prasanna atmenindriya manaha swasthya ityabhidheeyate II

This, when translated, is as follows:

A person possessing:

  • Equilibrium of the doshas
  • Balanced condition of gastric fire [agni]
  • Harmonious working of digestion, assimilation and elimination processes
  • The best mood of spirit, senses and mind — all this cumulatively makes for perfect health.

Perfect Description

The definition, which is based on harmony of various energies in the body, is holistic in nature and is more practical than the definition of health given by WHO — “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social well-being and not merely the absence of disease, or infirmity.”

This definition health merely pertains to a state, while Ayurveda talks of harmony and equilibrium, which are dynamic in nature. The WHO definition does not give prominence to the spiritual dimension — which is appropriately included in the Ayurveda concept of health.

Prevention of disease is the primary focus of Ayurveda, Swasthasya swasthya rakshanam. This is a pristine Ayurveda concept — it means “preserving the health of healthy persons.”

“Ayurveda is primarily the science of positive health; it is only secondly the science of curing diseases.” [Positive Health Through Ayurveda, L P Gupta/L V Guru; pg 2].

No other healthcare system — in our knowledge — has the scope of giving advice on health promotion and disease prevention, based on the broad constitutional make-up of a person except, perhaps, Ayurveda.

The concept of prakruti is unique to Ayurveda, where every person is classified into one of the seven broad categories, based on their body/mind attributes.

Three Doshas

“Ayurveda teaches that each of us inherits unique properties of the three doshas at the time of conception. In Sanskrit, this personal balance point is known as prakruti — it has a significant influence on your emotional and physical tendencies throughout your life. When your prakruti — the natural proportion of doshas in your system is well-maintained — you are mentally and physically in balance.” [The Wisdom of Health, Dr David Simon, MD; pg 50].

Dr Deepak Chopra, MD, explains prakruti with the following words —

“The Ayurvedic body type is like a blueprint, outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system — by knowing your body type an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities and medical therapies should help you and which might do no good, or even cause harm… Body types make prevention specific; nobody is prone to every disease, yet most of us try to prevent as many as we can. If you try to prevent every disease without knowing your particular predisposition, you are searching in the dark.” [Perfect Health, pg 34]. This individualised concept of preventive medicine puts Ayurveda in a class of its own from allopathic medicine where preventive medicine corresponds to ‘one-size-fits-all.’

Ayurveda is unique in prescribing specific lifestyle changes, according to changing seasons [ritucharya], as also a 24-hour day and night cycle [dinacharya].

The following are some of the daily regimens prescribed by Ayurveda rishis to promoting health and preventing disease.

  • To get up, early in the morning: Charaka Samhita, Suśruta Samitha and Ashtanga Hridaya Sutra
  • Morning, drinking [ushapan] water: Ashtanga Hridaya Sutra
  • Mouth hygiene cleaning practices, for face and mouth cavity: Charaka Samhita
  • Scraping of the tongue: Suśruta Samhita
  • Gargling of mouth: Charaka Samhita.

Physical Exercise  

“Physical exercise should be taken after due consideration for age, physical capacity, place, time and food habits — otherwise it may invite disorders.” — Suśruta Samhita

Bath Regimen

Charaka says, “Bath purifies the body, promotes the virility and longevity, eliminates fatigue, sweat and dirt; induces body strength and is vitalising to the highest degree — Charaka Samhita.

Food Regimen [Ahara]

In our knowledge, nowhere is food discussed in such great detail and given so much importance as much as the great Ayurveda rishis.

Not only hundreds of food items have been detailed, according to their gunas [inherent properties], but also based on recommendations [including contraindications] for persons with different prakruti. Compared to this, the concept of classifying foods, based on calories, proteins, and vitamins, appear too basic.

Yet another unique concept of Ayurveda is pathya [desirable], apathya [undesirable] and virudha ahara [incompatible] foods. Though conventional medicine physicians make fun of such concepts, no serious efforts have been made, rather ironically, to either prove them, or disprove them.

It is interesting to note here that Hippocrates, ‘Father of Modern Medicine’ has given several ideas, similar to Ayurveda, including the famous maxim [which is, of course, somewhat incongruously attributed to him]: “Let thy food by thy medicine.”

It’s only recently that modern medicine is talking about ‘food-based’ dietary recommendations, rather than ‘nutrient-based’ dietary recommendations.

Both Suśruta and Charaka have laid great emphasis to the food choices in order to preserve health.

Charaka says, “A daily diet should be of such a quality which not only helps to maintain present well-being, but serves as a prophylactic against coming diseases.”

Validity Dynamics

A team of qualified scientists are doing ground-breaking research at molecular and genetic levels to studying the validity of basic concepts of Ayurveda. The results have started to come out and are supportive of Ayurveda concepts. This work is being supervised by Dr M V S Valiathan, MBBS, ChM, FRCS, FRCP, DSc, a noted cardiologist, who has also designed a new valve. He is the author of a well-known legacy series of the three pillars of Ayurveda — Charaka, Suśruta, and Vāgbhaṭa. A National Research Professor at Manipal University, Dr Valiathan, has been involved in comparative study of systems of medicine, especially Ayurveda, too.

Dr Valiathan has used the concepts of food, according to Ayurveda, with his family as well as students. The results, he says, have always been positive in preventing illness and helping recovery from illness.

He is also of the opinion that Ayurveda should be understood and accepted as a time-tested system of healthcare [not just medical care], and practitioners of preventive medicine and public health should learn and benefit from this great system of ancient, yet modern, healthcare.

Dr RAHUL BANSAL, MD, is Professor & Head, Department of Community Medicine, Subharti Medical College, Subharti Puram, Meerut, India. This article was first published [Ayurveda for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention], in Indian Journal of Community Health, Vol 26, Issue 02, Apr-Jun 2014, under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0. Dr Bansal lives in Meerut, India.

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