A brief review of the history and current use of the world's oldest, continuously practiced healthcare system.
A brief review of its history and usage today
What is Āyurveda?
It is a complete system of healthcare and medicine that is
Likely the longest, continuously practiced system of medicine known today
A traditional and licensed medical practice in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka
Simple and complex, with a wide range of interventions from daily prevention to surgical intervention
Originating in and around India at least 5,000 years ago, Āyurveda holds several records including the oldest surviving text on surgery which is still in use today (the Suśhruta Saṁhitā, attributed to the Father of Surgery, Suśhruta).
Āyurveda has been well-known in the East for millennia and is used in various forms by around 1 billion people today. It is only in the last few centuries that its popularity has begun to increase in the West.
Is all Āyurveda the same?
Because Āyurveda is relatively new in the West, especially the English-speaking world, it has little to no regulation. This leads to plenty of opportunities for misinformation to spread under the banner of Āyurveda.
Āyurveda is often portrayed as the "sister science to Yoga" which further leads to confusion by emphasizing spirituality and mystifying its fundamental, scientific principles.
Āyurveda is a medical system with two primary goals:
To maintain the health of the healthy
To cure the diseases of the sick
To do this safely and efficaciously, Āyurveda is practiced as a complex healthcare and medical science in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Licensed Āyurvedic Doctors prescribe Āyurvedic medicines where needed, along with personalized diet and lifestyle advice.
The minimum requirements for training in India are 5.5 years of full-time, Āyurvedic medical study in the Bachelor's of Āyurvedic Medicine & Surgery degree program, from an accredited university. This is preceded by a national entrance exam and followed by national board exams. Graduates complete a one-year mandatory internship (365-day hospital rotation), leading to a total of about 8,000 hours of training.
Post-graduate study leads to an MD or MS (Master's in Āyurvedic specialty, not a "Medical Doctor" title) over three, full-time years. Further, a PhD in a specialty requires an additional three, full-time years. Tens of thousands of Āyurvedic doctors and experts exist in India today.
Outside India, training pales in comparison, which has lead to dilution. Over the past several decades this has grown into more and more confusion along with the increasing spread of misinformation. It has already put the integrity of the science at risk to benefit Western capitalism, materialism and consumerism through popular New Age cultural appropriation.
Adding to this is the misrepresentation of the complex science by professional groups who purport themselves as genuine representatives. Instead, they simply propagate diluted Āyurveda to benefit their constituents. Most notably, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) has done this for over 20 years and continues to subvert the integrity of Āyurveda today.
What can you do?
Anyone can gain benefits from Āyurveda as a healthcare system if they are ready to address the root cause(s) of dysfunction and work on targeted behavioral changes. Often times, this is much easier than one may think, and correct application can provide immediate, short-term relief in certain cases. Longer-term management with Āyurvedic medical Pañchakarma can prove to be a radical cure in a wide variety of diseases with the correct application, often only available in clinical settings in India.
If you or anyone you know is using Āyurveda or considering it, choose who you work with carefully.
Use of Āyurveda includes basic awareness, introductory education, professional training and personal healthcare for complex, chronic issues. Always research potential practitioners or centers thoroughly. Learn which questions to ask. Check their credentials from an accredited institution and learn about their practical experience.
Many of the most "popular" centers, schools and personalities in the US today are actually promoting agendas that are driven by financial priorities or ego. This is often done by highlighting marketable aspects of Āyurvedic treatments, approaches, herbs or formulations in an appealing way.
Learning about genuine, Āyurvedic medicine takes time and effort. Most high-quality information is only available in Sanskrit, Hindi or Malayalam (the state language of Kerala, in southern India). Much of the information in English that is written by anyone other than an Āyurvedic Doctor (BAMS or higher) is likely incomplete or misrepresentative of the full scope of the science.
If you want to support Āyurveda, take a grassroots approach and use your discernment before purchasing anything or following any advice. Be an active voice in your community to support the integrity of the world's oldest healthcare system by recognizing and respecting the experts in the field today globally.
Learn more about the major Indian institutions and their role in Āyurvedic medicine today.
Ministry of Ayush
Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences
All-India Institute of Ayurveda
National Institute of Ayurveda
Causes of disease in Āyurvedic medicine
Hundreds of diseases are described in detail in Āyurvedic medicine with specific causes, early indicators, presenting signs and symptoms, diagnostic testing measures and treatment.
Correct diagnosis of any disease depends on proper assessment and identification of the causes.
Correct management requires proper removal of all causes.
Āyurvedic medicine states that diseases generally have two main types of causes.
General causes, which may produce a wide range of diseases (sāmānya nidāna)
Specific causes, which produce a particular disease (viśeṣha nidāna)
The Charaka Samhita explains general causes of disease through a complex classification system in Cha. Sū. 11/37-43 that includes physical, mental and spiritual health.
1. Asātmyendriyārthasaṁyoga (asātmya indriya-artha saṁyoga)
Sensory dysfunction - due to overuse, underuse or misuse of any of the five sense organs (sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell)
2. Prajñāparādha (prajña-aparādha)
Action (expression) dysfunction - due to overuse, underuse or misuse of the three primary modes of action or expression, ie, verbal speech, physical action and mental thought
3. Kāla or pariṇāma
Time or constant change - continuous changes in external environments affect human health adversely (seasonal changes, etc)
Āyurvedic medicine, mental health & psychedelics
Descriptions of psychological disease in Āyurvedic medicine are largely overshadowed by physical diseases in classical literature. Only two major disorders are described in the main section on therapeutics, with others found scattered throughout the literature. Today, Āyurvedic scholars interpret this in several ways, that "Āyurvedic psychology" was either not directly considered within the scope of Āyurveda traditionally, or that is was not fully developed. Either way, this is a prime area in need of development today.
Because of this lack in classical literature, it is helpful to draw upon current resources. This well-designed graphic makes it easy to see many causes and presentations of psychological disorders. This structure correlates nicely to several descriptions and references in Āyurvedic medicine.
Cognitive Disorder Atlas
Credit & thanks to Lasse Damgaard
Research & Layout: Lasse Damgaard
Algorithmic Design: Lasse Hansen
From the author
About the atlas: The Cognitive Disorder Atlas is an attempt at summarizing the current neuroscientific literature on cognitive disorders. The atlas covers 100 cognitive disorders across a range of different areas - from vision and audition to spoken and written language; from movement and planning to deficits of awareness and delusions. The illustration is meant as a quick and intuitive overview of brain disorders for both students, professionals, and the curious - but comes with the caveat of sacrificing some details for the sake of simplicity. Three different versions of the atlas exist: a simplified version containing only disorders and linked brain areas, a fully explained version containing added summaries of each of the 100 brain disorders, and the summarized version presented here.
About the illustration: The illustration was made in R Studio using the packages ggraph and igraph, and finalized in Adobe Photoshop (adding the brain illustrations, path labels, and outer summary circle).
About the data: The data comes from an informal review of cognitive disorder literature, using snowball sampling from primarily wikipedia and articles identified from sciencedirect. Only disorders caused by lesions or other trauma were included (excluding disorders associated with normal cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's or dementia, as well as mental disorders such as depression or schizophrenia). Furthermore, to qualify for inclusion in the atlas, only disorders with at least two independent published papers describing symptoms and involved brain areas were included. A final list of 104 candidate disorders were reduced to 100, both for the sake of visual simplicity and to avoid repetition of very closely related disorders.
Click the image below to zoom.