Ayurveda: India’s Ancient Medicine

The name Ayurveda was given to the ancient healing tradition of India. It is derived from the words ayus (life) and veda (knowledge) and is often translated as the “science of life.” It aims to bring about a union of physical, emotional, and spiritual health–a state of harmony with the universe.

Ayurveda has always held the plant kingdom in high esteem. Here, the role of plants is exalted. According to Ayurveda, health is a state of balance between the body, mind, and consciousness.

Ayurveda classifies medicinal plants into multiple groups according to their actions. One of these is the rasayana group. Rasayana herbs are said to slow aging, be revitalizing and restorative and prevent disease. They increase the resistance of the body against stress. They also can be taken over long periods of time without causing side effects.

Ayurvedic medicine has many adaptogenic herbs in its pharmacopoeia that normalize numerous physiological functions, improve vitality and enhance the body’s ability to adapt to stress and heal itself. These herbs can be used generally to help cope with stressful situations, improve compromised immunity and prevent the physiological afflictions of stress. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine also recognize the contribution of rejuvenating rasayana herbs to restoring balance to the body’s systems.

Ayurveda had a strong influence during the formation of traditional Chinese medicine, which in turn influenced Ayurveda’s further development. Other systems of medicine such as Tibetan and Islamic (Unani-Tibb) traditions were strongly influenced by Ayurveda as well. The Buddha (who likely lived during the fifth century BCE) was a follower of Ayurveda, and the spread of Buddhism into Tibet was accompanied by an increased practice of Ayurveda there. Translations of Ayurvedic texts also influenced early European medicine.

Adapted from Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, by David Winston and Steven Maimes (Healing Arts Press, 2007).

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