By Dr. David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
Ayurveda is the natural healing system of India and its civilizational field of influence going back to Vedic times several thousand years ago. Ayurveda is one of the oldest, most intricate, and elaborate forms of traditional medicine in the world, and one with the greatest continuity and authenticity.
Ayurveda has grown, changed and transformed over the centuries addressing the needs of all aspects of society for physical and psychological health and well-being. Ayurveda is not just a system of disease treatment but a system of positive health for disease prevention and promotion of longevity. It begins with the principles of right living in terms of behavior, values, and life-style practices, starting with diet and exercise. On that basis, Ayurveda has clinical methods to treat disease that can be very powerful and specific, but which do not disturb our organic equilibrium.
Ayurveda provides rules of daily and seasonal regimens to help us adjust to the movement of time. It has additional health regimens for different stages and ages of life. It has special practices for men and women, young and old. It shows us how to adapt ourselves to the great movement of life. Through Ayurveda we can promote positive health, immunity, creativity and higher awareness.
Ayurveda can be described as the “yogic system of medicine”. It takes the principles and practices of Yoga, which was originally a sadhana system or spiritual path, and extends them into the realm of health and disease treatment. Traditional Yoga follows the healing approach and background of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda uses the methods of Yoga as healing therapies, not only for the body but also for the mind.
Traditional Yoga, such as portrayed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is primarily a system of meditation, aimed at reaching a state of samadhi or complete mental peace, well-being and calm. The eight limbs of Yoga form the basis for Ayurvedic psychology and it treatments for the mind. Daily meditation remains one of Ayurveda’s most important recommendations for health and well-being for everyone. Yet the asana component of Yoga is also very helpful as a way of exercise for healing the body. Asana is the best exercise for us to do, as it relieves stress and strain from the body, aiding in deep relaxation and detoxification.
Revival of Yoga and Ayurveda Today
Today there is a new revival of Yoga and Ayurveda in India and their expansion throughout the world. This began over thirty years ago when Ayurvedic teachers and schools first arose in the
West under the influence of Indian teachers. Since then numerous books have come out on Ayurveda in many different languages, with Ayurvedic clinics and treatment centers becoming available in most major cities on all continents.
India’s great gurus are continuing to promote Yoga and Ayurveda and expand its reach, both inside the country and to the world overall. Ayurvedic products have become one of the largest businesses in India today. This is necessary to bring the benefits of Ayurveda, its foods and herbs, to everyone, as they are the foundation for a healthy daily life.
Ayurveda and Drug Based Medicine
Today one of the biggest challenges to all countries is soaring medical costs, which now consume a significant portion of the budget of both countries and families. The predominant drug based medicines are failing to produce positive health or to handle chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.
From the standpoint of Yoga and Ayurveda we would not say that such drug based medicine is wrong or unnecessary, but it should not be the first line of treatment. It should only come in when natural therapies have been unable to work. First we should look at dietary changes, herbs, life-style changes, Yoga and meditation to improve our health. Much of this is preventative but it can also promote a deeper level of treatment, particularly for chronic diseases and psychological conditions that are plaguing many people in our stress filled way of life.
This Yoga and Ayurveda healing model needs to be developed further at theoretical and practical levels, in light of both modern science and our changed living circumstances in the high tech era that have a new set of challenges. We must create new Yoga and Ayurveda approaches that can be part of our modern daily lives and seasonal renewal practices. There is abundant knowledge in the tradition that can be easily adapted to this necessity
In India there needs to be more scientific research into Ayurveda, but the mode of research should be reformulated according to the Ayurvedic view of life. This may begin with research into the effectiveness of Ayurvedic herbal preparations, such has already been occurring. But it should extend into research into the effectiveness Ayurvedic therapies as a whole, their integral application including diet and behavioral changes. It should examine Ayurveda’s potential, not only to treat disease, but to prevent disease and to maintain positive health.
Ayurveda’s role in public health is crucial in this regard. It is important to introduce Ayurvedic life-styles into families and communities and carefully note the improvement in the quality of life as well as the reduction of disease that Ayurveda naturally brings.
To promote Ayurveda effectively requires a larger budget for Ayurveda, which currently receives only about three percent of the medical budget in India, and nothing of the medical budget in the western world. Above all, it requires a recognition of Ayurveda as a medicine its own right instead of combining it with other natural disciplines as it is in the Ayush (Indian government) formula of Ayurveda, Yoga, Siddha, Unnani and nature cure, or the western model of combining Ayurveda with other treatment modalities, rather than as a stand-alone system of medicine.
Expanding Yoga and Ayurveda
Yoga in all of its aspects should be combined with Ayurveda for its application as a healing practice, which is the real tradition of Yoga. Yoga and Ayurveda should be a unified system, not Yoga with nature cure, which is a vaguely defined modern discipline, as Yoga has been in the Ayush formula. Yoga and Ayurveda always work best together. There is no separate tradition of yogic healing apart from Ayurveda.
The Yoga and Ayurveda connection deserves more examination on many levels. I have addressed this in my own work, exploring how asanas relate to doshic factors, how pranayama can be used to balance the doshas, and how concentration and meditation promote inner healing and right judgment to guide us to well-being on all levels. We can combine traditional Yoga and Ayurveda to create a positive system of psychological treatment, emotional healing, counseling and behavioral medicine.
The basics of Yoga and Ayurveda should be introduced into the schools, starting at a young age, teaching natural living, harmony with nature, and understanding our own spiritual nature. Ayurvedic concerns should be bought into the diet for school children, making sure that the food is full of prana, nutrition and is easy to digest. Yoga asanas should be brought into school exercises, developing and sustaining flexibility from a young age.
Not only is asana an important therapy in itself, so is pranayama. Daily pranayama can help mitigate against many diseases, strengthening the heart, lungs, nervous system and digestive system, as well as promoting immunity and providing greater vitality.
We must not only teach our children how to breath properly, we must learn to do so ourselves. For this to occur we must create healthy air to breathe. In this regard Yoga and Ayurveda bring us back to an ecologically sustainable way of life, which is necessary to protect our planet and to protect a healthy future for everyone.
Meditation should also be brought into the schools as a separate subject to support the learning process overall. Students should be required to develop the power of concentration, not simply to memorize facts. They should learn how to calm the mind and senses, particularly today when we are subject to so much sensory overload through our new technology that disturbs the nervous system.
In India, Yoga and Ayurveda are particularly relevant for dealing with diabetes, which has become an epidemic throughout the country. A new Yoga protocol for treating diabetes was created for International Yoga Day in 2015. A new Ayurvedic protocol for treating diabetes was created for Ayurveda Day in 2016. While Yoga helps us develop a calmer form of activity, Ayurveda complements this with a more balanced form of nutrition.
The Way Forward
Yoga and Ayurveda are being adopted worldwide. India can develop standards and deeper practices to make sure that this adaptation is true to the authentic traditions of these great dharmic disciplines. This requires that the highest level of teaching and practice is promoted in India. It also requires that the Ayurvedic medicines and products coming out of India are of the best quality.
The world today looks to India for its wisdom of consciousness and understanding of cosmic intelligence. Yoga and Ayurveda help us bring this into our daily lives.
Ayurveda can function as an important component of India’s soft power, cultural diplomacy and civilizational outreach to increase its benefits for India and the world. Its potential influence and relevance to all should be emphasized.