Ayurveda or the Science of Longevity is a sophisticated system of medicine practiced in India for over 2500 years. According to Ayurveda, the cosmos is composed of five basic elements: earth, air, fire, water and space. Certain forces cause these to interact, giving rise to all that exists in human beings. These five elements occur as the forces of the three doshas along with the seven dhatus (tissues) and three malas (waste products) within the human body.
Disease and diagnosis
When in equilibrium, the three doshas maintain health. However, when an imbalance occurs, they defile normal functioning leading to disease. An imbalance indicates an increase or decrease in one, two, or all three of the doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata or Vayu meaning wind, is composed of the elements air and space. It is the principle of kinetic energy, all responsible for bodily movement and nervous functions. Pitta, or bile, is composed of the elements fire and water. It governs enzymes and hormones and is responsible for digestion, body temperature, hunger, thirst, sight, and mental activity. Kapha, meaning phlegm, is composed of the elements of earth and water. It connotes the principle of cohesion and stability. It regulates Vata and Pitta, is responsible for maintaining body’s solid nature, tissues, sexual power, and strength. The attributes of each dosha help to determine the individual’s basic makeup and how to isolate which dosha(s) is (are) responsible for a disease. Ayurveda established a detailed system of diagnosis involving examination of pulse, urine, and physical features. After a preliminary examination by means of visual observation, touch, and interrogation, the ayurvedic physician undertakes an eightfold method of detailed examination to determine the patient’s type of physical constitution, mental status, and if there is an indication of any abnormality.
When a person is diagnosed with a doshic imbalance, either purification therapy, alleviation therapy, or a combination of these is prescribed. Before any action is taken, the patient is given oil internally and externally (with massage) and perspires to loosen and soften the dosha(s). Following this preparatory treatment (Purvakarma), purification involving the Five Action treatment (Pañchakarma) is administered in sequence. The patient might be given an emetic to induce emesis until bilious matter is produced which removes Kapha. Next, a purgative is given until mucus material appears which removes Pitta. Then, an enema, either of oil or decocted medicines, is administered to remove excess Vata. Head purgahon is given in the form of smoke inhalation or nasal drops to eradicate the dosha(s) that have accumulated in the head and sinuses. Leeches may then be applied and bloodletting performed to purify the blood. Alleviation therapy uses the basic condiments: honey, butter or ghee, and sesame or castor oil to eliminate Kapha, Pitta, and Vata, respectively. This therapy and Pañchakarma are often used in conjunction with one another.