© 2009 Scott Gerson, M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda)
Ayurveda is a system of healing which evolved on the subcontinent of India approximately 4000 years ago. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word derived from two roots “ved” which means knowledge and “ayur” which means long life or life cycle. Thus Ayurveda is a medical system which promotes longevity through knowledge of natural rhythms and cycles. It emphasizes that all beings come out of nature and that we are an integral part of a whole universe. Ayurveda seeks to establish harmony between the individual and the environment and in this way harness the fundamental energies of nature to promote a balanced physiology. The unimpeded rhythmic flow of these fundamental life energies allows the individual to prevent, and when necessary, treat disease.
The ancient Indian seers and sages used disciplines and practices to expand their consciousness and deepen their understanding of all aspects of human existence. These sages had a yearning for the truth and sought to manifest this truth in their daily lives. Ayurveda is a mixture of what was heard from divine sources through intensive meditation and what is remembered from the teachings of these original sages. Ayurveda is primarily a science of daily living which evolved from the philosophical and religious realizations of these early sages. Revised and reformulated over the centuries by many schools of physicians throughout India, the surviving fragments of this divine knowledge has been preserved in a corpus of medical treatises and commentaries which we call Ayurveda.
Modern Ayurveda utilizes many therapeutic tools to achieve health. The preeminent of these therapies is meditation and yoga. Meditation is the fundamental therapeutic strategy because it promotes the flow of intelligence from the universal source to the individual. Properly and regularly enjoyed, meditation and yoga bring balance to the mind which promotes a compassionate heart, a strong will and a refinement of discrimination. One develops disinterest for unhealthy cravings and desires and interest in a useful and peaceful life.
A second approach to health in Ayurveda are the concepts of dinacharya and ritucharya. These are simple daily and seasonal routines to be followed to promote hygiene, beauty, and
health. Historically, these hygienic themes actually preceded meditation and yoga in
Ayurveda. These regimens involve the timing and measure of our eating, sleeping, and other behaviors to put us “in synch” with the natural rhythms of our environment. Agitation and disease result when one becomes “out of synch” with these natural rhythms. Centuries ago the ancient Ayurvedic sages recognized, through meditation, these natural rhythms in their own consciousness and saw that their physiologies were under the same laws as the rest of the universe. They then revealed to mankind practices and preparations to maintain harmony
between Man and the universe.
Thirdly, Ayurveda emphasizes a system of dietary recommendations. Foods are classified into groups based on taste and other primary qualities and diets are given to individuals according to their constitutional body type with additional consideration given to the season of the year. Although in Western medicine the concept of constitutional typing is very new and only superficially understood, Ayurveda has accumulated a great body of detailed knowledge about this over many centuries.
A fourth approach in Ayurveda is its purification and cleansing therapies known as panchakarma. Panchakarma involves a series of massages and other physical therapies which remove impurities from the body’s various tissues and channels. According to Ayurvedic medical theory, one of the earliest stages of disease involves the accumulation of toxins in different areas of the body. These therapies loosen and eliminate these toxins and create a clean internal environment.
A fifth area of health promotion is through the use of specific herbal and mineral preparations, carefully gathered and prepared according to Ayurvedic tradition. The earliest reference to the use of medicinal herbs was in the Rigveda probably composed between 1500 and 1000 B.C. A little later, in the Atharvaveda, the descriptions of the use of medicinal plants becomes more detailed. As Ayurveda emerged fully in the first century B.C., these botanicals came to range from simple spices used as food supplements to sophisticated herbal/mineral preparations requiring much time and specialized knowledge.
There are many additional treatment strategies in Ayurveda including aromas, oils, exercise, yoga, massage of vital (marma) points, color therapy, use of gemstones, chanting and even prayer. One is reminded of a famous anecdote from Ayurvedic lore. Jivaka was a candidate for admission into the medical faculty at Taxila, the most prestigious institution of ancient India. Along with other worthy candidates he appeared before the “dean” who happened to be Atreya, the greatest of Ayurvedic vaidyas. All the candidates were then told to go to a nearby forest and collect as many plants as they could find which had no therapeutic use. Only after several days did Jivaka return empty-handed, stating “I could not find any plant, or any thing, which does not have medicinal value”. Among the candidates he alone was selected for admission to the faculty. In fact Ayurveda teaches us that everything in our environment affects us in some way and therefore has healing potential! It provides us with guidelines to interact with our environment in the most healthy, fulfilling way possible.
Today, there are approximately 200 Ayurvedic medical colleges in India, which is the only place to obtain an authentic and complete education in this discipline. The majority of the colleges are sponsored by the Central Government of India; the remainder are private institutions. All of the programs are four to five years in duration and require passing a standardized examination in order to receive the Bachelor in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (B.A.M.S.) degree. Other respected degrees which indicate accredited training in Ayurvedic Medicine are the Fellowship degrees, Masters of Philosophy in Ayurveda (M.Phil., Ay.), and finally the prestigious Doctor of Philosophy in Ayurveda (Ph.D., Ay.). There are currently several institutions of Ayurvedic medical training outside of India which are in various stages of assessment for accreditation by the Central Government of India including those in the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, and The United States.
Scott Gerson, M.D., Ph.D. (Ayu)
Director, Basic and Clinical Research
Medical Director, Clinical Services
The National Institute Of Ayurvedic Medicine
375 Fifth Avenue 5th Floor
NY, NY 10016
Dr. Gerson is currently the only physician in the United States with full training in both Ayurvedic Medicine and conventional medicine. He is a consultant for the National Center For Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH, is a clinical associate professor at New York medical College, conducts basic and clinical research, and sees private patients in NYC.
Ayurveda Table of Contents