Ayurvedic medicine, which is also known as Ayurveda, is credited as being the world’s oldest comprehensive medical system. It originated in India thousands of years ago.1 Estimates vary on its age; some say it’s as much as 6,000 years old. This holistic approach to medicine is said to have been practiced “on the periphery” of U.S. medicine since the 1960s and has become increasingly recognized by the Western mainstream.2
The Sanskrit word Ayurveda translates as life (Ayur) science or knowledge (Veda). Ayurveda embraces a mind-body connection and focuses on preventing disease through a balanced body, mind and spirit.
According to International Society for Ayurveda and Health, the Ayurvedic definition of health is as follows:
Health is in balance when all three dosas (bioenergy) and agni (metabolic process) are in balance, and excretions are in proper order. When atman (soul), senses, manah (intellect) are in harmony with internal peace, the svastha (optimal health) is achieved.
Ayurveda is considered a way of life as well as a system of medicine.
How does Ayurveda treat, prevent disease?
In India, Ayurveda is considered the primary form of medicine and practitioners customize treatments to individuals. In the U.S., Ayurveda is considered complementary healthcare—a non-mainstream approach that works along with conventional Western medicine. It may be used as a secondary therapy to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety, asthma, autoimmune conditions, eczema, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.
Common Ayurvedic medicine techniques include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Maintaining a diet appropriate for your dosha (i.e., your mind-body type)
- The use of herbs
- Breathing exercises
Techniques may be administered by a practitioner and also integrated into an individual’s daily life. As Western medicine has specialty branches, so does Ayurveda. They include internal medicine; surgery; eye, ear, nose and throat; obstetrics/gynecology; pediatrics; psychology and pscyhiatry; toxicology; and rejuvenation/geriatrics and virilification/sexology.
How to find an Ayurvedic practitioner
At this time, there are not licensed Ayurvedic practitioners in the United States, though individuals practicing Ayurveda may be licensed in other healthcare fields. You may ask your doctor for a referral or suggestions for finding a trustworthy practitioner. Look for individuals trained at accredited Ayurvedic medical schools.
To help ensure safe and coordinated healthcare, communicate openly with your traditional and complementary healthcare providers. Tell them prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking, including herbs and supplements, as well as what other treatments you are undergoing.
This article offers only a broad overview of Ayurveda. If you want to learn more, start with the sources used for this article, which are listed below.
1UConn Health Center. Complementary and Alternative Supportive Care. “About Ayurveda.” N.D. http://casc.uchc.edu/ayurveda/
2Goldman, Erik L. “Ayurveda in America: How India’s Ancient Health Sciences Can Heal American Medicine.” Holistic Primary Care. Feb. 18, 2011. http://holisticprimarycare.net/topics/topics-o-z/traditions/1097-ayurveda-in-america-how-indias-ancient-health-sciences-can-heal-american-medicine.html
Better Health Channel. “Ayurveda.” Last reviewed May 2012. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Ayurveda
Chopra, Deepak. “What is Ayurveda?” The Chopra Center. N.D. http://www.chopra.com/ccl/what-is-ayurveda
Goldman, Erik L. “Ayurveda in America: How India’s Ancient Health Sciences Can Heal American Medicine.” Holistic Primary Care. Feb. 18, 2011. http://holisticprimarycare.net/topics/topics-o-z/traditions/1097-ayurveda-in-america-how-indias-ancient-health-sciences-can-heal-american-medicine.html
The International Society for Ayurveda and Health. “About Ayurveda.” N.D. http://www.ayurvedahealth.org/links.html
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction.” Last updated Aug. 2013. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm?lang=en
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s in a Name?” Last updated July 2014. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam
WebMD. “Ayurvedic Medicine.” Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on Sept. 22, 2014. http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/ayurvedic-treatments
UConn Health Center. Complementary and Alternative Supportive Care. “About Ayurveda.” N.D. http://casc.uchc.edu/ayurveda/
Weil, Andrew. “Ayurvedic Medicine.” DrWeil.com N.D. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00454/Ayurvedic-Medicine.html