Ayurvedic treatment has three main aspects: removal of the cause, purification and palliation of the Three Principles, and rejuvenation.
1. Removal of the Cause
Disease is produced because of the Law of Cause and Effect, which is the Law of Action and Reaction. Any action which you perform is bound to have some reaction on your organism. Unhealthy actions cause a disequilibrium of the Principles, which is their effect, and until these causes are removed such actions will continue to produce their effects. Your physician cannot effect a cure for you. Physicians exist to expedite the healing process, to help make conditions in the organism more favorable for the re-establishment of normal equilibrium. The surest way of doing this is to remove the situation which caused the disequilibrium, because thereafter the disease will no longer be able to progress. For example, if a man has arthritis because of vitiation of vata due to excessively frequent unsatisfying sex, curtailing his lust will ameliorate his condition better than any other therapy.
2. Purification and Palliation of the Three Principles
Once the cause can no longer act on the patient, the devitalized products of the malady must be removed. There are five major methods of purification, collectively called panchakarma: emesis, purgation, enema, bloodletting and nasal medication. Of these enema is specific for vata, purgation for pitta, and emesis for kapha. Enema, because it controls vata, which is the main cause of most diseases, is regarded by some authorities as 50% or even 100% of successful treatment These purificatory procedures are also used to prevent disease. In spring, for example, emesis is indicated so that the kapha which accumulated during the winter is expelled from the body before it has an opportunity to cause disease. Likewise, purgation is used in summer to remove accumulated pitta, and enema in autumn to control vitiated vata. Pancha Karma should usually be performed under expert supervision, for when these techniques are improperly administered they may themselves cause imbalance in the Three Principles and induce disease. Also, because of feebleness, season, or age, some patients are not fit for these purificatory measures.
After purification, or instead of it in those people who cannot withstand it, palliative treatment is indicated. Animal, vegetable and mineral products, both alone and in combination, are used to help balance the Principles. Medicated oils, used internally and externally, are the best palliatives for vata; clarified butter is best for pitta; and honey is best for kapha. As a group the palliative medications, which are usually herbal compounds, are aimed at increasing the power of the digestion. The strengthened digestion then girds up the body to expel the morbidity on its own.
Therapy may be internal or external, and the choice of one or another mode is usually made according to the location of the malady. Massage with medicated oils, which is used both to prepare a patient for purification and as an independent therapy, is one such external treatment. It has been raised to the level of a fine art in the South Indian state of Kerala, and is very useful when the vata Principle resists ordinary treatment because it has been vitiated all throughout the body. In such cases massage therapy is accompanied by internal medication.
Internal treatment has three components: the medication, its vehicle, and the diet. The texts say, "Fasting is the first medicine," and it should especially be employed in acute diseases in which there are many accumulated toxins. Fasting is prohibited in diseases like tuberculosis which are characterized by wasting of the body. A total fast is ordinarily prescribed only for two or three days. Thin rice gruel is given thereafter, followed a few days later by soup of mung beans or meat, and finally by a return to more normal food, in smaller quantity than usual. The diet prescribed is most often one which is antagonistic in Taste and "temperature" to the Principle which is in excess. For example, the diet in a disease caused by excess pitta should be cool, liquid, and bereft of spices and oil. Rice and mung bean soup is an ideal regimen in such a condition. Specific diets are described for most diseases, and many diseases can be cured by changes in diet alone.
"Vehicle" is a concept unique to Ayurveda. Its purpose is threefold: to enhance the effect of the medication; to prevent any possible side-effects; and to promote quick, thorough absorption.
Butter and honey are common vehicles for diseases of vata; for pitta, clarified butter or sweet fruit juice; and for kapha, honey or warm water. The medicine is mixed thoroughly with its vehicle before being taken.
Because herbal medicines are the most commonly used Ayurvedic treatments, some people believe that Ayurveda is purely herbal medicine, which is untrue. Ayurvedic texts describe the activity and uses of hundreds and hundreds of herbs, and provide explicit directions for their collection, preservation, preparation and use. Climate and soil characteristics affect a plant's inherent qualities to such an extent that an herb grown on a rainy plain may exert different effects on an individual from the same species of herb grown on an arid mountainside. Herbs are often potentiated by grinding them repeatedly in a small quantity of their own expressed juice or with the juices of other plants.
Sadly, much irretrievable herbal lore which had been passed down verbally from guru to disciple for centuries has been lost because it was never written down. Even today, gurus who cannot find fit disciples will allow their knowledge to die with them rather than permit it to fall into unworthy hands. Much other plant and mineral lore is so perfectly hidden in obscure passages from the Vedas and other texts that without a key, available only through a knowledgeable guru, their meaning must remain forever locked up.
3. Rejuvenation and Virilization
Ayurveda is said to have eight limbs. Of these internal medicine, surgery, eye-ear-nose-throat, gynecology and obstetrics (which includes pediatrics), and toxicology are the five which have identical parallels in modern medicine. Ayurvedic psychology is part of the wider topic called demonology, the treatment of spirit possession. This is really the province of Tantra, but since Tantra and Ayurveda are identical in origin an differ only in emphasis some information on demonology is also included in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda's last two limbs have no real parallels in today' medical science. Both rejuvenation and virilization are concerned with the nourishment of all the tissues which make up the body This is especially true with the semen (and its female equivalent which is the culmination of the body's nutritive processes and is the origin of the body's aura. Rejuvenation if properly done need only be done once in a lifetime, but usually it needs to be performed after every illness to enhance the system's immunity. Virilization must be done repeatedly as long as semen is being depleted. The substances used in these therapies undergo complex preparations, and strict regulation of diet is necessary for the duration of the therapy.
Extracted from The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda by Dr Robert E Svoboda, published by The Ayurvedic Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico Text © 1980,1994 Robert Edwin Svoboda.
Dr Robert Svoboda B.A.M.S.