Ayurveda is a holistic system of medical science and is the oldest healing science which is almost 5000 years old. Ayurveda contains two Sanskrit words: Ayu which means life or lifespan and Veda meaning knowledge (The Science of Life). This system of medicine was shaped in the ancient lands of India. Hindu Vedas consider Ayurveda as a gift of Gods to mankind which was communicated to the saints and sages of India through deep meditation. Veda Vyasa, one of the greatest sages of India is considered to have written the Vedas for the first time. These Vedas have topics on health and the use of various herbs to cure the diseases.
The four main Vedas are Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda (Ayurveda which means The Science of Life is a subsection of the Atharva Veda). In the beginning only Brahmins learnt the principle of healing and were considered as physicians. However, with time this changed and people from other castes also learned this art of healing and the specific term vaidya was brought into use for these practitioners.
Around 1500 B.C. the use of ayurveda increased for treating various diseases and it was divided into eight specific branches of medicine. In addition Atreya- the school of physicians and Dhanvantri- the school of surgeons originated. The Chinese, Tibetans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanistanis, and Persians came to India to learn ayurvedic principles of healing and treatment. Ayurvedic texts were translated in Arabic and these were used by physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Sempion, to establish Islamic medicine. Besides this, Ayurveda became popular in Europe as well and it formed the foundation of the European tradition in medicine. Paracelsus, the father of modem Western medicine (1600 AD) has also adopted from ayurveda (in the system of medicine that he practiced).
In the past few centuries ayurveda went through a period of decline in India (specifically during the period of British rule). During this period it became the second option for treatment used mostly by traditional spiritual practitioners and the poor. After independence, ayurveda started to gain importance again and several schools have been established since then.
Ayurveda is based on the fundamental principle that to prevent and treat illness, maintaining a balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies, is essential. Even today ayurvedic medicine maintains its holistic approach to health and treatment of diseases. The branches of modern ayurveda include:
- Principles of preventive healthcare for the entire family (kulam svastyam kutumbakam).
- Treatment of addictions (sangakara chikitsa).
- Purification and rejuvenation treatments (panchakarma chikitsa).
- The ayurvedic approach to diet and weight loss (sthaulya chikitsa)
- Musculoskeletal system treatments (vatavyadhi chikitsa).
- Promotion of self-healing and resistance to disease (svabhaavoparamavaada).
- Male and female infertility (vajikarana).
- Beauty and cosmetic treatments for men and women (saundarya sadhana).
Since the mid 70’s the popularity of ayurveda has steadily increased in the developed nations (USA and Europe). In these countries it is included in the alternative and complementary therapies and is often used along with conventional (prescription) medications for treatment of chronic illness such as joint problems and skin problems. People from these developed countries have been coming to ayurvedic schools to learn its principles of healing and treatment.