Skip to main content

Ayurveda: The Science of Living

Ayurveda, which means the science of healthy living, derives its name from the Sanskrit words, ayush (life) and veda (knowledge). It looks at healing in a holistic fashion. The physical treatment has overtones of philosophical and psychological approaches too. Any ailment in the body is viewed as a result of a combination of factors with special reference to the components of diet. It is here that Ayurveda recognizes that each individual is different and so treatment too should be customized.
The Ayurvedic principles are found in detail in Atharva Veda, one of the four Vedas of Hinduism.

How and when the science of Ayurveda came into being is difficult to say. According to mythology, Brahma, the creator, is said to have imparted the knowledge of medicine to Prajapati Daksha. Daksha, in turn taught the twins, Ashwinikumaras, who took the knowledge to Lord Indra, the king of heavens. Indra deputed Dhanwantri to take this science to the mortals. It is said that when the ocean was churned by the gods and demons in search of the elixir of life, Dhanwantri came out of it holding the bowl of nectar in his hands. Until the story of Dhanwantri, it is all from the realm of mythology. However, what gives it a realistic touch is the compendium left behind by Dhanwantri's disciple Sushruta. Sushruta was a renowned surgeon and his text, called the Sushruta Samhita, gives detailed instructions even on caesarean operations. Charaka was another bright doctor of yore who wrote a treatise on general medicine called the Charaka Samhita. Both the records continue to be the gospel for Ayurveda practitioners until today.

Method Of Treatment
According to ancient Indian philosophy, everything in this universe is composed of five elements or pancha bhutas: Prithvi or earth, Apa or water, Tejas or fire, Vayu or air, Akash or space. With this one premise, Ayurveda has struck the note of harmony with nature: man is a part of it and lives in harmony with it. Just as in nature the five elements exist in a balance, in human beings too they exist in a certain balance. When this balance is upset, there could be flood, cyclone, earthquakes or the like. Within the body, they come to be known as diseases.

These five elements are manifested in the body in three different kinds of humours or doshas. The doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is the combination of air and ether: it is what makes things move in the body. Pitta is the combination of fire and water: it transforms the outside elements into the inside elements of the body and creates energy from raw material available around us. Hence, activities such as digestion and other metabolic activities are caused by Pitta. Kapha is the combination of earth and water. Kapha is that which makes for both lubrication (mucus) and structure (bones, muscles, fat, joints, etc.).

According to Ayurveda, any disorder occurs due to the imbalance of the Vata, Pitta and Kapha components. It is believed that though in a healthy person the humours are in balance, one of the three humours has a tendency to dominate. Therefore, an individual is most prone to those diseases that are caused by the excess or reduced percentage of that particular humour.

For example, if Vata is in excess, the person will be more susceptible to depression or nervous disorders. Pitta disorders create indigestion and stomach problems. Those who are prone to cold have obviously fluctuating levels of Kapha.

Stress, high intake of tea and coffee, alcohol and nicotine increase Pitta in the body. It is also increased by eating hot, spicy foods, chillies, tomatoes, spinach and onions. Sunstrokes also happen due to rise in the Pitta levels. Some of the symptoms caused by excess of Pitta in the body are hyperacidity, skin diseases, burning sensation, fever, infections, ulcers and liver disorders.

Similarly, a high intake of sugar, fat, oily and fried foods, ice cream, meat, dairy products and nuts may result in increased Kapha levels. Some of the symptoms caused by excess of Kapha in the body are asthma, cough, cold, congestion in the chest, anorexia, and obesity.

Of course, these are only generalizations: a thorough diagnosis involves a lot more. One also has to take into account the various dhatus-the tissues that maintain and nourish the body. The dhatus are seven in number, namely, rasa (food juices), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscles), medas (fatty tissue), asthi (bone), majja (bone marrow), and shukra (semen). Like the doshas, the dhatus too needs to be in balance. Besides, there are the malas, which are the wastes produced by different metabolic activities.

Eating Habits and Ayurveda
Most cures in Ayurveda are effected through the administration of food items and the withdrawal of some. The understanding of food in all its aspects is called rasa. Herbs, flowers, and leaves are also used to make medicines that have a special effect on the human body. An earache, for example, is not treated as a pain with an analgesic; it is treated with the modifications in diet to bring the Vata element into balance.

Naturally then, food has been analysed in great detail in Ayurveda. First, food is categorized based on the pancha bhuta combination. In this system, sweet food means a combination of earth and water; e.g., wheat, sugar, milk, rice, dates, etc. Sour food is a combination of earth and fire; e.g., yoghurt, lemon, tamarind, etc. Salty stuff means water and fire; e.g., sea salt, rock salt, kelp, etc. When fire and air come together, it is pungent; e.g., onion, radish, ginger, chilly, etc. That which is bitter is a combination of air and ether; e.g., bitter melon. Astringents are a combination of air and earth; e.g., plantain, apples, etc.Food is also categorized based on the heat it generates in the body after consumption. Some foods act as coolants: those that taste bitter generally do. Sour, salty, and pungent food generally produces heat.

Raw foods and juices are helpful in that they are cleansing and energizing. Sprouts are especially wonderful because they contain large amounts of enzymes and nourishment, which help in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Some of the spicier sprouts help to destroy and eliminate ama or toxins in the system. Fenugreek sprouts can even help in cases of seminal debility. However, in general, raw food is very cold and hard to digest in the Vedic sense as it releases its prana or nourishing life-giving energy in the upper portion of the body between the mouth and the stomach. This gives quick, short-term energy, but not long-term tissue building nourishment.

Well-cooked grains, beans, and vegetables release their prana in the colon. This provides long-term tissue-building energy. However, these energies cannot be released from complex carbohydrates without the assistance of enzymes. A clean intestinal tract is also essential for proper absorption. Triphala ("the three fruits"), which is used in Ayurveda, is one of the best colon cleansers because it strengthens and tones the muscle action of the colon. It does not cause laxative dependency by doing the work for the colon. It does not cause laxative dependency by doing the work for the colon. Ayurvedic cooking uses certain herbs and spices to help stimulate the body to produce its own digestive enzymes.

Some Ayurvedic Treatments
Udwordhan: This is for those who want to lose weight. A restricted diet of varadhi kashayams is given, followed by special 'upward' massages with herbal oils and powders in order to reduce body fat.

Nasyam: Nasyam is prescribed for a series of ailments ranging from headaches and sinus to mental and paralytic disorders. It involves removing the vitiated Kapha (phlegm) from the head and neck by pouring herbal oil and juices into the nose.

Snehapanam: This is for various stomach and skin diseases it involves the internal consumption of herbal oils, starting with an amount of 30 ml. Depending on the digestive capacity of the patient and the seriousness of the ailment, the quantity of oil is slowly increased to a maximum amount of 250 ml.

Sirodhara: This is for problems of insomnia, fatigue, paraplegia, and bad memory. It involves the pouring of medicated oil on the forehead in a continuous stream, which improves the power of the sensory organs.

Sirovashti: Sirovashti is prescribed for those with nervous, mental and speech problems, and also for facial paralysis. It is a specialized treatment, where a 'cap' made of urad dal (lentil) powder is fixed on the head (sometimes it involves tonsuring). Medicated oil is poured into the cap from a hole on top until the oil comes out from the nose.

Kwatha & Mathura Vasti: This is for arthritis, paralysis, nemiplegia, as well as gastric problems. It involves the intake of kashayams and oils so that the impure wastes are removed.

Tharpanam & Pudapakam: This is for eye diseases. It involves the pouring of herbal juices and medicated ghee (clarified butter) into the eyes for strengthening the optic nerve, as well as the intake of herbal medicines at night.

Vamanam: This is for various stomach ailments, as well as leprosy, leucoderma and psoriasis. It involves the intake of various herbal medicines and a strict diet.

Aragahaswedam: This is for gynaecological problems, slip disc, and chronic back complaints. For this, the patient is massaged with medicated oil and is then made to sit in hot water mixed with herbal leaves and powders.

Pizhichil: This is well known for the rejuvenation of old people, as well as a preventive for premature ageing. It is a very popular treatment involving various medicated oils, which are rubbed vigorously all over the limbs until the whole body perspires. This treatment is prescribed once a year.

Branches Of Ayurveda
  • Therapeutics
  • Surgery (Shalya Tantra)
  • Treatment of diseases of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, oral cavity and throat (Shalakya Tantra)
  • Knowledge of mental diseases and diseases of supernatural origin (Bhuta Vidya)
  • Knowledge of infantile disorders and care of young children (Kaumarabhritya)
  • Toxicology (Agada Tantra)
  • Knowledge of tonics and processes of arresting process of mental and physical decay (Rasayana)
  • Knowledge of aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana)
Research Centres
Gujarat Ayurveda University:
This university is the only statutory university exclusively devoted to Ayurvedic studies and research in India. There is an Ayurveda graduation course as well as postgraduate course in Ayurvedic medicine. There are also special diploma and certificate courses in Ayurveda for foreign nationals. For this, an International Centre for Ayurvedic Studies has been established.

Two Ayurvedic specialities of the university hospital are Pancha Karma and Kshara Sutra (alkaline thread cauterisation). There is also an Ayurvedic dental clinic.

The Ayurvedic pharmacy produces various medicines required by the hospitals and research centres.

The university provides admission into the following courses:
  • Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery (B.A.M.S.)
  • M.D. (Ayurveda) Doctor of Medicine
  • Ph.D. (Ayurveda)
  • Diploma Course in Ayurveda
  • Introductory Course in Ayurveda
  • Certificate Course in Self health Care by Ayurveda
  • Certificate Course in Panchakarma
  • Certificate Course in Kshara Sutra
  • M.Sc. Medicinal Plant
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Medicinal Plants
  • B. Pharmacy (Ayurveda)
  • D. Pharmacy (Ayurveda)
  • M. Pharmacy (Ayurveda)
  • Diploma in Yoga and Naturopathy
  • Certificate Course in Yoga

Further information can be obtained from: International Centre for Ayurvedic Studies Post Bag No. 4, Jamnagar 361 008 Gujarat (India) E-Mail: Website:

Or Officer-in-charge, International Centre for Ayurvedic Studies, Gujarat Ayurveda University P.O. Box No. 4 Jamnagar 361 008 Gujarat India

Banaras Hindu University (BHU):
The Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS) at Banaras Hindu University imparts education in all the disciplines of Modern Medicine and Ayurveda at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The institute offers a unique opportunity of interdisciplinary research between Ayurveda and Modern Medicine. For further information write to: Registrar, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi - 221 005, India E-mail:

National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur:
Established in 1865 by Maharaja Ram Singh, the ruler of Jaipur state, the National Institute of Ayurveda is affiliated to the University of Rajasthan. The institute also undertakes research projects. The institute's pharmacy is engaged in the manufacture of medicines required for outpatients' department as well as research purposes. The institute offers a 5½-year course in Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (Ayurvedacharya) besides postgraduate diplomas in nine disciplines. For further information write to: National Institute of Ayurveda, Madhav Vilas Palace, Ajmer Road, Jaipur 302 002

The Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal:
Founded in 1902 by Vaidyaratnam P. S. Varier, an outstanding physician and a man of vision, the Arya Vaidya Sala has grown into a full-fledged manufacturing unit with branches in several major cities of India. Its manufacturing units are located at Kottakal and Kanjikode in Kerala. For further information, write to: Managing Trustee, Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal, Kerala 676 503, India

The following are some of the Arya Vaidya Sala branches:
  • Kozhikode, Kallai Road;
  • Palakkad, Vadakkanthara;
  • Ernakulam, Mahatma Gandhi Road;
  • Thiruvananthapuram, Statue Road;
  • Chennai, 877 Poonamallee High Road;
  • Coimbatore, 52 Rajaji Road;
  • Kannur, Pillayar Koli Road;
  • 76 South Extension Part I, New Delhi 110 049;
  • Calcutta, 22 Russia Road East, 700 033 (2nd lane) Opposite Bhavani Cinema;

Ayurvedic Resorts
Kerala, in the southernmost tip of India, is noted, among many other things, for its Ayurvedic resorts that draw a large number of tourists every year. The treatments provided by these resorts have become so popular that the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation has started a 'Monsoon Rejuvenation' Package that combines sightseeing tours with Ayurvedic massages and treatment. The Ayurvedic treatments are considered most effective after the karkadam or monsoon months because during this period the body has less heat and hence is most responsive to treatments.

The treatments are variously divided into rejuvenative, preventive, and curative. The most common rejuvenative therapy is the herbal oil massage, where two oils are selected according to one's body constituency. The massage tones up the whole body and, if followed by a steam bath (in water mixed with herbal powers), it makes one feel fresh and invigorating. Most Ayurvedic regulars have this massage once a week and swear by its rejuvenative qualities.

Sahyadri International Ayurvedic Centre, Thripunithura:
The Sahyadri International Ayurvedic Centre, situated at Thripunithura near Cochin, has a huge range of clientele from Europe who come for every ailment from migraines and sinus to fractures, arthritis and even cancer and heart diseases. The centre now plans to start a 50-bed hospital and a resort-type Ayurvedic complex, near the Chembakava River, in the style of a health spa. Equipped as they are with their own herbal garden and research centre, they have an impressive range of treatments and remedies.

For further information, write to:
Sahyadri International Ayurvedic Centre,
Aradhana Apartment,
Government Hospital Road,
Thripunithura 682 301

Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort, Palakkad:
Kerala's unwavering climate, natural abundance of forests teeming with herbs and medicinal plants and the cool monsoon season (June to November) are best suited for Ayurvedic treatments. These are practised in their pristine form at the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort at Palakkad district of Kerala. The resort is full of herbal gardens and organically cultivated fruit and vegetables spread across over 50 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens with water bodies all around. There are 30 luxury villas; all are named after a birth star according to the Malayalam calendar and you can check into a villa that matches your star. All the villas are fully air-conditioned and luxuriously furnished with satellite TV, phones, and attached bathrooms with bathtub. And yes, there is even a cyber centre for checking e-mail and logging onto your favourite websites. For active visitors, there are nature paths, swimming pool, and facilities for tennis, badminton, yoga, and meditation.
For further information, write to: Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort
District Palakkad,
Kerala 678 551

Kairali Ayurvedic Health Spa, Khajuraho:
Kairali's branch at Khajuraho integrates culture with health in the same manner in which it is practised in Kerala. It is a unique and exclusive Ayurvedic Health Spa right opposite the airport on five acres of beautifully landscaped garden. For further information, write to:
Kairali Ayurvedic Health Spa,
Opposite Khajuraho Airport,
Madhya Pradesh

Kairali Ayurvedic Centre, New Delhi:
Set up in 1989, Kairali Ayurvedic Centre is situated in Mehrauli at a distance of 2 km from the Qutab Minar. Over the years, the centre has been rendering invaluable solutions for ailments like arthritis, spondylitis, rheumatism, obesity, paralysis, general fitness, rejuvenation and detoxification programmes and many more. For further information, write to:
Kairali Ayurvedic Centre,
120 Andheria Modh,
New Delhi 110 030

Helpful Hints
Some helpful hints on how to eat and what to eat, to remodel your life so that you are in sync with nature, the Ayurvedic way:

  • Eat fresh and hot, easy to digest food.
  • Eat similar kinds of food at each meal. That is some foods contradict themselves in temperature and taste. Avoid doing that.
  • Maintain a gap of four hours between two meals.
  • Be aware of your act of eating and munch well.
  • Fruits should make separate meals.
  • Drink water an hour before a meal or an hour after.
Indian Ayurvedic Medicine