Don’t worry. The first time I tried to say the word Ayurveda, I too had to twist and contort my tongue. The word is pronounced AYE-YOUR-VAY-DA, with the accent on the VAY. The word comes from the combination of ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning knowledge. So Ayurveda is literally “the knowledge of life,” how to live life in the best possible way. It is a back-to- basics, natural approach to living—a complex mix of oral and written instruction, philosophy, mythology, spirituality, and scientific knowledge. It is highly evolved folk medicine and tradition—simple yet profound, mundane but also magical.
Ayurveda is one of the four Upavedas, or secondary teachings, rooted in the oldest spiritual texts of ancient India, the Vedas. Widely considered to be humanity’s most ancient healing science, these millennia-old texts address all aspects of healing and well-being for both the body and mind. Much of this tradition of Ayurvedic medicine and philosophy was transmitted orally, from teacher to student, although today we are blessed with several seminal texts that form the basis of classic Ayurvedic medicine and organize the principles of its philosophy. These texts and practices date back to somewhere between 450-1500 BCE and include the Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Ashtanga Hridayam, Ashtanga Samgraha, Madhava Nidanam, and the Sarangadhara Samhita.
Ayurveda originated in the early Indus Valley civilization, and eventually gained great prestige, spreading out all over India, Sri Lanka, and even into Tibet, China and Nepal. In fact, it formed the basis for many forms of traditional medicine practiced in these countries in later years. Sadly, the colonization of India brought an abrupt end to Ayurveda’s thriving, with the colonists denouncing Ayurveda as a backward, inferior folklore to be replaced with western medicine. Luckily, Ayurveda continued to be practiced beneath the radar of colonists in rural areas and in monasteries. Today it is undergoing a huge resurgence in India and North America as well as many other Western countries, as we look to combine the science and technology of traditional Western medicine with Ayurveda’s holistic, preventative healing arts. Its renaissance is even more understandable here in the United States, as healthcare costs surge and many of us seek prevention as a means of empowerment as well as beginning to look more toward nature-based healing.
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