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Ayurveda: Alternative Medicine From India

For the past few decades, the field of medicine has been largely influenced by the medical philosophy of the Western world. The emphasis of Western medicine has been predominately curative, relying on chemical preparations and invasive surgery as means of treatment. In contrast, Eastern medical and therapeutic philosophy focuses on the more metaphysical side of human illness and treatment. Its practice is hinged on the use of a variety of methods ranging from the use of medicinal plants and herb, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, pulse reading, and other alternative healing methods. These methods are now gaining acceptance even in modern societies, in a large measure, due to the increased awareness about the healing arts of China and India. There are volumes of literature on traditional Chinese medicine.

But what also deserves wide recognition is the folk remedies and traditional practices in India which are also ancient and effective, at least, according to those who have tried them. Ayurveda, a healing system native to India, is a centuries-old practice that has recently been given attention by Western science. Like traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda practitioners adhere to a particular medical philosophy that regards illness as an imbalance in the body and influenced by internal and external factors, similar to the Chinese principles of yin and yang. Ayurveda also takes into consideration a patient's emotions and state of mind alongside the study of infections that make the body sick. It places a high importance on the patient’s sense of taste and diet.

In Ayurveda, it is believed that the healing of a person must take into consideration three elements found in nature: air, water, and fire. Each of these elements has a deep philosophical background. These elements also govern the major functions of the body. Ayurvedic theory rests on the belief that the balance of the three elements is the basis of health. Any imbalance, blockage, or weakening in these elements causes illness. It is the task of the Ayurveda practitioner to determine and restore the patient’s elemental harmony. In other words, an infection or ailment is the result of an imbalance in the patient's natural internal or elemental harmony. These imbalances can be caused by internal or external factors, and may be aggravated or alleviated by the patient's emotional state and, in some cases, mental health. The primary concept of Ayurveda is that the restoration of imbalances in the body requires a very personalized concept. Treatment can involve the use of natural oils, minerals, herbs, metals, and even animal ingredients.

Similar to how herbal medications are administered in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda medications are given base formulas that are modified by the physician according to the patient's needs. This process makes getting a treatment for an infection different from Western medicine, where the formulas are constant and only the dose is altered based on the patient's metabolism and constitution. As mentioned earlier, diet and taste play a central role in Ayurveda. However, unlike Chinese medicinal doctrine, the taste and quality of the food plays a much larger role in traditional Indian healing arts. Different tastes correspond to different conditions in the body. These tastes are taken into account by an Ayurveda physician before prescribing an appropriate treatment. For example, food with a bitter taste is generally considered to cool the body, dry out moisture, and work to remove toxins. This concept also extends to the herbal and animal ingredients that are used in Ayurveda medication. Ayurveda also prescribes a particular form of massage known as “Panchakarma” for the treatment of emotional distress. This practice is highly similar to acupuncture except that no needles are used.

The strokes, presses, and body manipulations used in Panchakarma supposedly stimulates energy flow throughout the body, a process that is necessary to ensure good health. Problems arise when the energy flow is disrupted, clogged, or stalled. Massage is often prescribed in conjunction with a diet plan and herbal remedies to relieve problems such as sinusitis, conditions associated with stress and anxiety, and other problems that Ayurveda practitioners see as symptoms of emotional disharmony rather than just purely physical ailments.


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