But while we have the power to make sophisticated machines that can warn of a heart attack before it strikes and predict a cancer, disease seems to be a terrifying, all- pervasive lottery that can strike any one, anywhere. We can predict its onset, lessen the effects by early detection, treat it better with newer and more powerful medicines, but we can’t, it seems, do anything to prevent it from happening.
True? Not true! The power to be healthy is vested in the human physiognomy itself. Only, we have forgotten where that powerhouse exists and what switch connects us to it. Fortunately for us, our ancestors didn’t forget.
And even more fortunately, a few of them were wise enough to put down road maps, perhaps with the prophetic foresight that their progeny would lose their way to themselves.
Which is what the great physicians of Ayurveda did. They defined health care as the maintenance of health (and therefore the prevention of disease) as it’s the first and most important task, somewhat in contradiction to the popular concept and focus of health care as the treatment of disease. So here, we consider preventive medicine.
Preventive medicine. Isn’t that a basic contradiction in terms? Isn’t medicine something that you take after and because you have a disease or an ailment?
Not according to the original dictionary definition of the word, which says that medicine is ‘any substance such as a drug used to treat, prevent, or cure disease or improve health’.
So are you telling me that in Ayurveda, we have a system of medicine that says that it can actually prevent disease?
To answer that in one word - yes! The very first principle of Ayurveda is the promotion of health. ‘Swastaya Urjaskaram’ (safeguard the health of the healthy). It is only after this is done that Ayurveda looks at the treatment of disease ‘Aaturasya roga nuth’ (Treat the diseased).
I hope this is not the usual eat right – sleep well – be happy stuff.
Those are ultimately the overriding principles, but from them arises a very sophisticated system of health maintenance. According to Ayurveda, the state of being healthy is a state of harmony, of equilibrium. Therefore, being healthy is a constant, ongoing balancing act where the body is regularly ‘tuned’ into a balanced state. The starting point is maintenance of balance of the 3 Dhoshas in the body – vatha, pitha and kapha. Disease occurs when one or the other dosha becomes imbalanced.
So, it’s as simple as that? Figure out a person’s dosha type and then give him/her stuff to quell his/her dominant dosha?
Er, no. It’s actually far more complex than that. The imbalance of doshas is not only as a function of the dominant dosha in your body, but is also determined by factors like age, activity levels, season, even time of day. So for example, during the rainy season, the vatha tends to dominate. Similarly, when you are a child or in your formative years, the kapha dosha will be predominant.
So preventive medicine in Ayurveda is not a general regimen but has to be custom-designed to suit body types, lifestyle, age personality, time of year etc.?
Exactly! It’s like the human body, which is actually a constantly changing set of process where every second, something is growing, dying, being replaced, being depleted. In a correctly designed programme, your Ayurvedic doctor will recommend a regimen of diet, medicine and activities, which takes into account, your particular needs and state of health.
Currently, there is so much talk about immune systems and eating immunity boosting foods to help prevent even diseases like cancer. Does that have a place in Ayurveda?
Absolutely! Of the 8 limbs of Ayurveda, the 7th one developed to rasaayanas or tonics that boost the body’s immune systems. So an entire limb of Ayurveda concentrates on immunology in which there are different tonics to tone, nourish and bolster every vital organ and body tissue to make it immune or resistant to disease. Rasaayanas for lungs, kidneys, reproductive systems, even ones that boost intellectual powers – called Medhya raasayanas (Medha- intellect). In fact, currently clinical trails are on to gauge the effect of these rasaayanas on the mentally retarded and the initial results are very encouraging.
So that’s it? Balance my doshas, beef up my body’s immune systems and I will remain in the pink of health for the rest of my life?
Ah. I’m glad you asked because there are a few other parts of you that in fact are not considered immune systems at all. Yet they are perhaps the most important.
The human mind and spirit. The control room where all the decisions to be healthy or to fall sick are taken. If the equilibrium of any of these is distributed, all immune systems will automatically begin to shut down and if ignored, finally completely shut off. Therefore, Ayurveda says “Sama dosha, samagnischya (agni-digestive fire), sama dhatu (dathu- body tissues like blood, bone, muscle). Malahkriyaha (malah-bodily excretions), prasanna atman, indriya, manah swastah iti abhidiyate”. So, the balance of the doshas, the right intensity of the digestive fires, the proper functioning of the bodily tissues is only half the story. Along with it, the atma or the soul should be parsanna or happy, the senses (indriya) should be exposed to pleasing stimuli and the mind (manah) must be peace.
That’s a tough call in today’s world…..
Not really. It’s question of setting priorities and taking time off to look inwards, to review your life periodically.
How come there is so little awareness of this branch of Ayurvedic medicine and where do we begin to spread the word?
Maybe it is because the current focus of health care is more on the treatment rather than the prevention of disease. And like everything else, this awareness and reorientation of the way we look at ourselves and our bodies can’t happen overnight. It has to start with our children. Along with history, geography, and mathematics, they must learn that the power to be healthy is in their hands. Ayurveda recommends easy-to-follow daily regimens of food, sleep and activity that is so simple to follow but go so long in building health. If this is built into the curriculum along with yoga, meditation, diet etc, it will go a long way in building the nation’s health.
In conversation with Dr. C S Anil Kumar, BAMS, MD (Ay)
DNY Physician Consultant in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy,
Ass. . Professor, J.S.S Ayurvedic Medical College, Mysore,