Ayurveda Information

Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world's oldest medical systems. It originated in India and has evolved there over thousands of years. In Sri Lanka, Ayurveda is considered complementary and alternative medicine. This Ayurveda Information for Sri Lanka will introduce you to Ayurveda's major ideas and practices:

Key Points
What is Ayurvedic medicine?
What is the history of Ayurvedic medicine?
What major beliefs underlie Ayurveda?
What is each dosha like?
How does an Ayurvedic practitioner decide on a person's dosha balance?
How are plant products used in Ayurvedic treatment?
In Sri Lanka, how are Ayurvedic practitioners trained and certified?
Are there concerns about Ayurvedic medicine?

Key Points
The aim of Ayurveda is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This is believed to help prevent illness and promote wellness.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, people, their health, and the universe are all thought to be related. It is believed that health problems can result when these relationships are out of balance.
In Ayurveda, herbs, metals, massage, and other products and techniques are used with the intent of cleansing the body and restoring balance. Some of these products may be harmful when used on their own or when used with conventional medicines.

What is Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurvedic medicine is also called Ayurveda. It is a system of medicine that originated in India several thousand years ago. The term Ayurveda combines two Sanskrit words--ayur, which means life, and veda, which means science or knowledge. Ayurveda means "the science of life."
As with other medical systems, it is based on theories of health and illness and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. Ayurveda aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit (thus, some view it as "holistic"). This balance is believed to lead to contentment and health, and to help prevent illness. However, Ayurveda also proposes treatments for specific health problems, whether they are physical or mental. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, and this is believed to help reestablish harmony and balance.

What is the history of Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurveda is based on ideas from Hinduism, one of the world's oldest and largest religions. Some Ayurvedic ideas also evolved from ancient Persian thoughts about health and healing.
Many Ayurvedic practices were handed down by word of mouth and were used before there were written records. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves more than 2,000 years ago, are thought to be the first texts on Ayurveda--Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. They cover many topics, including:

Pathology (the causes of illness)
Surgery (this is no longer part of standard Ayurvedic practice)
How to care for children
Advice for practitioners, including medical ethics

Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care in Sri Lanka, although conventional (Western) medicine is becoming more widespread there, especially in urban areas. About 70 percent of Sri Lanka population lives in rural areas; about two-thirds of rural people still use Ayurveda and medicinal plants to meet their primary health care needs. In addition, most major cities have an Ayurvedic college and hospital. Ayurveda and variations of it have also been practiced for centuries in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Tibet. in the late 20th century.

What major beliefs underlie Ayurveda?
Ideas about the relationships among people, their health, and the universe form the basis for how Ayurvedic practitioners think about problems that affect health. Ayurveda holds that:
All things in the universe (both living and nonliving) are joined together.
Every human being contains elements that can be found in the universe.
All people are born in a state of balance within themselves and in relation to the universe.
This state of balance is disrupted by the processes of life. Disruptions can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination. Imbalances weaken the body and make the person susceptible to disease.
Health will be good if one's interaction with the immediate environment is effective and wholesome.
Disease arises when a person is out of harmony with the universe.
Constitution and Health

Ayurveda also has some basic beliefs about the body's constitution. "Constitution" refers to a person's general health, how likely he is to become out of balance, and his ability to resist and recover from disease or other health problems. An overview of these beliefs follows.
The constitution is called the prakriti. The prakriti is thought to be a unique combination of physical and psychological characteristics and the way the body functions. It is influenced by such factors as digestion and how the body deals with waste products. The prakriti is believed to be unchanged over a person's lifetime.
Three qualities called doshas form important characteristics of the constitution, and control the activities of the body. Practitioners of Ayurveda call the doshas by their original Sanskrit names: vata, pitta, and kapha. It is also believed that:
Each dosha is made up of one or two of the five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth.
Each dosha has a particular relationship to body functions and can be upset for different reasons.
A person has her own balance of the three doshas, although one dosha usually is prominent. Doshas are constantly being formed and reformed by food, activity, and bodily processes.
Each dosha is associated with a certain body type, a certain personality type, and a greater chance of certain types of health problems.

An imbalance in a dosha will produce symptoms that are related to that dosha and are different from symptoms of an imbalance in another dosha. Imbalances may be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle or diet; too much or too little mental and physical exertion; or not being properly protected from the weather, chemicals, or germs.
In summary, it is believed that a person's chances of developing certain types of diseases are related to the way doshas are balanced, the state of the physical body, and mental or lifestyle factors.

What is each dosha like?
Here are some important beliefs about the three doshas:

The vata dosha is thought to be a combination of the elements space and air. It is considered the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing, and the mind. Vata can be thrown out of balance by, for example, staying up late at night, eating dry fruit, or eating before the previous meal is digested. People with vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin, neurological, and mental diseases.
The pitta dosha represents the elements fire and water. Pitta is said to control hormones and the digestive system. When pitta is out of balance, a person may experience negative emotions (such as hostility and jealousy) and have physical symptoms (such as heartburn within 2 or 3 hours of eating). Pitta is upset by, for example, eating spicy or sour food; being angry, tired, or fearful; or spending too much time in the sun. People with a predominantly pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to heart disease and arthritis.
The kapha dosha combines the elements water and earth. Kapha is thought to help keep up strength and immunity and to control growth. An imbalance in the kapha dosha may cause nausea immediately after eating. Kapha is aggravated by, for example, sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet foods, eating after one is full, and eating and drinking foods and beverages with too much salt and water (especially in the springtime). Those with a predominant kapha dosha are thought to be vulnerable to diabetes, gallbladder problems, stomach ulcers, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
How does an Ayurvedic practitioner decide on a person's dosha balance?
Practitioners seek to determine the primary dosha and the balance of doshas through questions that allow them to become very familiar with the patient. Not all questions have to do with particular symptoms. The practitioner will:

Ask about diet, behavior, lifestyle practices, and the reasons for the most recent illness and symptoms the patient had
Carefully observe such physical characteristics as teeth, skin, eyes, and weight
Take a person's pulse, because each dosha is thought to make a particular kind of pulse
How else does an Ayurvedic practitioner work with the patient at first?
In addition to questioning, Ayurvedic practitioners use observation, touch, therapies, and advising. During an examination, the practitioner checks the patient's urine, stool, tongue, bodily sounds, eyes, skin, and overall appearance. He will also consider the person's digestion, diet, personal habits, and resilience (ability to recover quickly from illness or setbacks). As part of the effort to find out what is wrong, the practitioner may prescribe some type of treatment. The treatment is generally intended to restore the balance of one particular dosha. If the patient seems to improve as a result, the practitioner will provide additional treatments intended to help balance that dosha.

How does an Ayurvedic practitioner treat health problems?
The practitioner will develop a treatment plan and may work with people who know the patient well and can help. This helps the patient feel emotionally supported and comforted, which is considered important.
Practitioners expect patients to be active participants in their treatment, because many Ayurvedic treatments require changes in diet, lifestyle, and habits. In general, treatments use several approaches, often more than one at a time. The goals of treatment are to:

Eliminate impurities. A process called panchakarma is intended to be cleansing; it focuses on the digestive tract and the respiratory system. For the digestive tract, cleansing may be done through enemas, fasting, or special diets. Some patients receive medicated oils through a nasal spray or inhaler. This part of treatment is believed to eliminate worms or other agents thought to cause disease.
Reduce symptoms. The practitioner may suggest various options, including yoga exercises, stretching, breathing exercises, meditation, and lying in the sun. The patient may take herbs (usually several), often with honey, with the intent to improve digestion, reduce fever, and treat diarrhea. Sometimes foods such as lentil beans or special diets are also prescribed. Very small amounts of metal and mineral preparations also may be given, such as gold or iron. Careful control of these materials is intended to protect the patient from harm.
Reduce worry and increase harmony in the patient's life. The patient may be advised to seek nurturing and peacefulness through yoga, meditation, exercise, or other techniques.

Help eliminate both physical and psychological problems. Vital points therapy and/or massage may be used to reduce pain, lessen fatigue, or improve circulation. Ayurveda proposes that there are 107 "vital points" in the body where life energy is stored, and that these points may be massaged to improve health. Other types of Ayurvedic massage use medicinal oils.
How are plant products used in Ayurvedic treatment?
In Ayurveda, the distinction between food and medicine is not as clear as in Western medicine. Food and diet are important components of Ayurvedic practice, and so there is a heavy reliance on treatments based on herbs and plants, oils (such as sesame oil), common spices (such as turmeric), and other naturally occurring substances.
Currently, some 5,000 products are included in the "pharmacy" of Ayurvedic treatments. In recent years, the Sri Lankan government has collected and published safety information on a small number of them. Historically, plant compounds have been grouped into categories according to their effects. For example, some compounds are thought to heal, promote vitality, or relieve pain. The compounds are described in many texts prepared through national medical agencies Sri Lanka.
Below are a few examples of how some botanicals (plants and their products) have been or are currently used in treatment. In some cases, these may be mixed with metals.
The spice turmeric has been used for various diseases and conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and wound healing.
A mixture (Arogyawardhini) of sulfur, iron, powdered dried fruits, tree root, and other substances has been used to treat problems of the liver.
An extract from the resin from a tropical shrub (Commiphora mukul, or guggul) has been used for a variety of illnesses. In recent years, there has been research interest in its use to possibly lower cholesterol.

In Sri Lanka, how are Ayurvedic practitioners trained and certified?
Practitioners of Ayurveda in Sri Lanka have various types of training. Some are trained in the Western medical tradition (such as medical or nursing school) and then study Ayurveda. Others may have training in naturopathic medicine, a whole medical system, either before or after their Ayurvedic training. This training can take up to 5 years.
Consumers interested in Ayurveda should be aware that not every practitioner offering services or treatments called "Ayurvedic" has been trained in an Ayurvedic medical school. Services offered at spas and salons, for example, often fall into this category. If you are seeking Ayurvedic medical treatment, it is important to ask about the practitioner's training

Are there concerns about Ayurvedic medicine?
Health officials in Sri Lanka and other countries have expressed concerns about certain Ayurvedic practices, especially those involving herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials. Here are some of those concerns:
Ayurvedic medications have the potential to be toxic. Many materials used in them have not been thoroughly studied in either Western or Indian research. In Sri Lanka, Ayurvedic medications are regulated as dietary supplements (a category of foods; see box below). As such, they are not required to meet the rigorous standards for conventional medicines.
Most Ayurvedic medications consist of combinations of herbs and other medicines, so it can be challenging to know which ones are having an effect and why.
Whenever two or more medications are used, there is the potential for them to interact with each other. As a result, the effectiveness of at least one may increase or decrease in the body. For example, it is known that guggul lipid (an extract of guggul) may increase the activity of aspirin, which could lead to bleeding problems.
Most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were.


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