Explore Ayurveda

Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine that originated over three millennia ago in the South Asian region, offers extensive insights about food and health based on certain unique conceptual as well as theoretical positions. Health is defined as a state of equilibrium with one’s self (svasthya) but which is inextricably linked to the environment. Ayurvedic principles, such as the tridosa (three humors) theory, provide the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm that can be applied in day-to-day practice. Classical Ayurveda texts cover an array of themes on food ranging from diversity of natural sources, their properties in relation to seasons and places and to their specific function both in physiological and pathological states. The epistemic perspective on health and nutrition in Ayurveda is very different from that of biomedicine and modern nutrition. However, contemporary knowledge is reinventing and advancing several of these concepts in an era of systems biology, personalized medicine, and the broader context of a more holistic transition in sciences in general. Trans-disciplinary research could be important not only for pushing the boundaries of food and health sciences but also for providing practical solutions for contemporary health conditions. This article briefly reviews the parallels in Ayurveda and biomedicine and draws attention to the need for a deeper engagement with traditional knowledge systems, such as Ayurveda. It points out that recreation of the methodologies that enabled the holistic view point about health in Ayurveda may unravel some of the complex connections with Nature.
Ayurveda is one of the oldest healthcare systems that evolved in the Indian Subcontinent. From the large number of literature spanning over three millennia on diverse aspects of managing health and wellbeing, both in Sanskrit and regional languages of the subcontinent, it can be deduced that it has had a dynamic and unbroken knowledge tradition . Contemporary Ayurveda has been formalized and institutionalized on aspects such as education, clinical approaches, pharmacopeia, and product manufacturing starting from late nineteenth century. In the post independence period in India, it has been recognized and legitimized as one of the formal healthcare systems of the country.
The term Ayurveda comprises two words – ayu (life) and veda (knowledge), thus, deals with various aspects related to health and wellbeing in their diverse aspects, such as happy life, sustainable happiness, and longevity . According to Ayurveda, there are three fundamental states of a being such as the physical (including physiological), mental, and the spiritual. Health is a balance of all these three states and their relationship with the outside world . This relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm is yet another fundamental tenet of Ayurveda. The “being” constantly interacts with the outside world through its senses (senses of knowledge and senses of action) and the cognitive functions. At the same time, the outside world is constantly influencing the being. Both the outside world and the being are understood on the ontological basis of the pancamahabhuta or the five element theory. The categorization in terms of the five elements, including earth, water, fire, air, and space corresponds to each of the five senses, viz. smell, taste, vision, touch, and sound, respectively . This is a fundamental precept of all knowledge traditions in the subcontinent. But in Ayurveda for ease of understanding of physiological and pathological aspects, the five elements are further grouped into three called the tridosa–vata (a combination of space and air), pitta (fire), and kapha (water and earth) . Body and mental types, metabolic processes, biological rhythm, seasonal variations, various other physiological and pathological processes, etc. are understood in terms of innumerable permutations and combinations of these elements and the tridosa in the body. According to Ayurveda, this forms the basis of understanding of materials (Dravya guna sastra), such as food or medicine, therapeutic approaches, and dietary or lifestyle changes, to stay healthy. Food classifications based on their organoleptic properties and their impact on psychological constitution of an individual is yet another interesting precept of Ayurveda.