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Ayurveda Medicines

What they are – How they work – Why you should use them

āyus, आयुस्  (life) + veda, वेद, (knowledge)

Ayurveda, the knowledge of life and longevity, has grown from the transmission and wisdom of the old sages (rishis) to a fully actualized and established medicine system and has earned its legitimacy through thousands of years of successful medical practice and advice. It aims to promote essentially something very noble and simple: a happy, healthy and peaceful life. Similar to Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda is a system of medicine that has at its very basis a profound framework and concepts which enable it to describe, understand and analyse complex connections and processes related to bodily functions and pathologies as well as the mind and emotions, in ways modern medical science is absolutely incapable of. It is obviously unnecessary to mention here that Western medical science is truly amazing and has made unbelievable technological progress in the last 100 years and nobody with a clear mind would ever deny the enormous contributions that allopathy has made and continues to make to the health and well-being of humankind. 

Well-known Ayurvedic Medicines

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What Ayurveda Medicines can do for you

While it is simply impossible to apply the hard science, measure, analyse and data-is-king mentality that western medicine and society so loves and depends on, to a complex axiomatic framework upon which Ayurveda operates on, it would be very foolish to dismiss its depths and its medical power for that reason. It is undoubtedly true that Ayurveda has countless of times healed illnesses where allopathy has failed in the same way as allopathy has saved lives in situations where Ayurveda would have probably not been able to do so.

In general, it seems fair to say that Ayurveda’s key strength lies in:

  1. Disease prevention
  2. Alleviation of chronic pain
  3. Healing of chronic illnesses

What is Ayurveda Medicine and how does it work?

Let us begin with a quote from the ancient Ayurvedic Physician Jeevaka:

“Nasti moolam anaushdham”

(“There is no plant which is not medicine”)

Ayurvedic medicines are mainly made from different parts of plants like roots, barks, leaves, fruits, flowers, twigs and seeds. These parts can be processed on its own and made into powders, pellets, tablets, pastes or added to specific formulations, oils and fermented tinctures. They are also combined with metals, minerals or gems (known as rasa shastra medicines) to create very potent formulations.
The unique way how each of these formulations is prepared is called “yoga”. There is whole branch in Ayurveda (Bhaishajya Tantra for plant-based medicines; Rasa Shastra for mineral medicine) dedicated entirely to medicine preparations. These texts explain in detail how to identify potent plants, how and when to harvest them, how to store the various parts and different processing methods to

  1. Enhance their medicinal properties
  2. Remove unwanted substances
  3. Neutralize toxic substances that are present in the plant.

Examples for commonly used poisonous substances in Ayurveda are datura, mercury, arsenic. All of these substances are known for its toxic qualities. After complex purification and production processes, these substances become very potent medicines that can treat a whole range of diseases.

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How do Ayurveda Medicines work?

Before an Ayurvedic Physician (vaidhya) prescribes a medicine, he or she takes into consideration the nature of the imbalance (dosha, dhatu, vikriti), the constitution of the patient (prakriti), the strength of his/her digestive system (agni, malas) as well as his/her age, the climatic condition at the place of residence and other factors. The illnesses that have manifested might be related to a variety of imbalances which influence the person’s physiology, sometimes on multiple levels, and the physician will have to analyse very carefully which area of imbalance needs to be addressed first and how. Since herbal medication work on many levels and affect different parts of the body, it is important to adhere to certain dietary limitations – salt, cold or heavy food for example – during the period of medicine intake and set a specific time for the medicine intake as well. With this said, it is not astonishing that people with the same symptoms almost never get the same medical prescription and advice. Ayurvedic medicine is highly personalized and targeted and there is no “one size fits all” approach – quite the opposite.
Each Ayurvedic medicine or formulation targets specific areas of the physiology like respiratory system, circulatory system, renal system or digestive system. Most of the medicines have also very specific target actions like shrotoshodana (vasodilation), lekhana (scraping), abhishandihara (removing congestion) and they affect a dosha in a particular manner, either increasing or decreasing it.
Other important actions are:

  1. Ama pachana: “burning” ama (digestig or removing toxins)
  2. Shodana: expelling excess dosha or mala (waste)
  3. Shamana: calming aggravated dosha
  4. Rasayana: nourishing and rejuvenating tissues

The Charaka Samhita, probably the most important ancient authoritative writings on Ayurveda (400-200 BCE), classifies and groups medicinal plants based on their functions. There is, for instance, a dedicated group of herbs which have diuretic functions. It is called mutrala, and tribulis terestris (gokshura) and durwa (bermuda grass) are part of this group. Another group of plants is called kushtagna gana. This group includes medicines that are often used in skin diseases. Examples here are turmeric (haridra), cutchtree (khadira), neem (nimba) and cheesewood tree (sapta parni). Then there is hridya gana, a group of plants that work on the heart, keeping it healthy and helping cure pathologies of the heart. Arjuna, shala parni and pushna parni are part of this group.

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Well-known Ayurveda Medicines

  1. Ashwagandha
    Also known as withania somnifera, ashwagandha is an amazing adaptogenic herb. It can balance the nervous system and nourish muscle tissue. Given under the right circumstances, it strongly balances vata and with this, balances the nervous system and relieves stress. It is a member of the class of rejuvenating and strengthening herbs and it can be used as a single herb in the form of capsules and tablets or as part of different formulations like kashayams (decoctions), lehyam (herbal pastes) and arishtams (fermented liquids).

  2. Triphala
    Triphala actually means three (“tri”) fruits (“phala”). It is a mixture of three dried fruits, namely amalaki (emblica officinalis or amla), bibhitaki (terminalia bellirica or baheda) and haritaki (terminalia chebula or harad). It is what we in Ayurveda call a tri-doshic rasayana. This means, it is able to not only regulate all three doshas in the body (vata, pitta and kapha), but also has rejuvenating properties. Triphala can be taken in powder form or in capsules. Besides before mentioned qualities, it also improves digestive functions by promoting regular bowel movements and improving fat metabolism. It is also an immune booster, an antioxidant and helps with hair growth.

  3. Dhanwantaram Gulika
    Known also as vayu gulika, dhanwantaram gulika is often used to correct the movement of vata (vata anulomana) and to balance kapha. It is frequently prescribed for bronchial complaints, gas, bloating, menstrual pain and nausea.

  4. Dashamularishta
    Dashamula stands for “10 roots” and it is indeed 10 roots from 10 different plants that are used to make this fermented liquid medicine. It is often used to correct digestion and improve metabolic functions by increasing agni. It has anti-inflammatory properties and analgesic effects. Ayurvedic physicians often prescribe it to alleviate arthritis, back pain and slipped discs and it is one of the key medicines in post partem care.

  5. Chyavanprash
    Like ashwagandha, chyavanprash belongs to the group of rasayana or rejuvenating medicines. It is a complex mix of more than 40 different medicinal ingredients and amalaki, ghee and honey are its main components. Along with its anti-aging and immune boosting properties, it is also a respiratory tonic, commonly taken during rainy season prophylactically to prevent respiratory problems, cold and flue.

Misuse of Ayurveda Medicine

“Half knowledge is worse than ignorance.”

This saying by Thomas B. Macaulay can be very much applied to Ayurveda as well as to Chinese Medicine in the widest sense. Many people seem to believe that by just reading a few books on the subject, they can self-diagnose their constitution, imbalances and diseases and make correct decisions related to their diet, or, even worse, prescribe their own herbal medications. And just because “herbs are from mother nature” they seem to also believe that there won’t be any negative effects to the intake of herbal medications. This is not the case. In the absence of a Vaidhya or Ayurvedic Physician, self-medication is almost always done without even the slightest understanding about the complex state of dosha and agni and without taking into consideration specific circumstances necessary for the intake of the herbal medicines. Needless to say, this is foolish and should be avoided at all costs.

Improper manufacturing practices

The lack of precise quality control and improper manufacturing practices have tainted Ayurveda’s reputation, in particular when it comes to Rasa shastra, the practice of adding metals, minerals or gems to herbal preparations. Cases have been reported of heavy metal poisoning through toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, or mercury in Ayurvedic medicines and particular in bhasmas (ash products). The purification processes for herbo-metallic preparations called samskaras and shodhanas are complicated and the preparations are rarely submitted to in-depth toxicity studies. In the wrong hands, these preparation practices are hazardous to health but when done properly, they produce medicines that work miraculously. It is therefore very important to know Ayurvedic medicine suppliers, who have the highest production standards in place and the Indian government must further improve their controll of manufacturers of Ayurvedic medicines.

How should I use Ayurveda Medicines?

The analysis of your state of health starts by diagnosing the unique state of your doshas and in order to restore health and prevent the development of diseases, your doshas have to be balanced first. This can be achieved by Ayurvedic purification and rejuvenation procedures, dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal medications and various Ayurvedic treatment methods. It is also important you understand your personal constitution (prakriti) and your imbalances (vikriti) as well as the factors that stabilize and disturb your constitution. Once all this is understood and excess dosha removed from your body through various purification methods, you can actively take practical, and often easy to execute steps like dietary changes, lifestyle and environmental changes and the intake of Ayurvedic medicine to further improve your health or maintain your health. All of this is best discussed with a qualified Ayurvedic doctor. They are able to diagnose the state of your doshas, analyse the root causes of the imbalances and devise a strategy with you.

Amrtasiddhi offers Ayurvedic consultations as well as authentic Ayurvedic programs that are individually tailored to your needs. We determine your personal constitution and current imbalances and design your individual treatment plan accordingly. You can have complete confidence in the profound knowledge of our Ayurveda experts.

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