What is Ayurveda and Where Did It Come From?

Did you know…

…that the ancient Indians knew 5000 years ago that the kidneys (adrenals) were responsible for the presence of belly fat?

…that the science of Ayurveda has been passed down from teacher to student for over 5000 years?

…that Ayurvedic practitioners were performing cosmetic plastic surgery 5000 years ago? How did they have the tools, training and expertise at their disposal?

All of these questions lead to interesting contemplations, or perhaps just more questions. Regardless, I will share here what I have learned thus far.


Ayurveda is an integrative practice of preventative and reactive medical science. The focus is on understanding the individual’s constitution and tailoring medicine with this in mind.  There is an interesting article regarding Women, Social Status and Ayurveda in Nepal, which I have linked below.  I highly recommend it if you are interested in not only rural medicine, but it also gives insight into the way Ayurveda has been practiced over the years and how it is integrating with our Western model of medicine.  The quote below accurately describes the Ayurvedic thought:

The “ecology” and “economy” of the body and person in Ayurvedic thought fundamentally differ from the mechanistic and compartmentalized biomedical model of the body. As it is widely practiced in South Asia, Ayurveda regards the patient’s daily practices, social relationships, and environmental surroundings to be integral to diagnosis and treatment (Langford 2002; Nichter 1981, 2001; Sharma and Dash 1998; Zimmermann 1987). [1]

The science of Ayurveda was passed down orally from teacher to student for thousands of years. As the dark ages began, prior to 1500 BCE, the knowledge was written into texts, called the Vedas – Rig, Sama, Yaju and Atharva.  The Artharva Veda is the fourth Veda and its emphasis is on Ayurveda.

Our understanding of ancient cultures is growing and this information was probably known globally, in several different cultures at a much earlier date.  In fact, we are learning that there was a fairly advanced civilization 11,000 years ago, due to the find of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.  The Smithsonian writes a piece here, but I might also add that Graham Hancock has been writing about these ancient cultures for years.  Only recently have more mainstream outlets picked up on this wonderful find, seen here at archive.org in the New Scientist on page 32 . Imagine the things we have yet to learn!

But, I digress.

The science of Ayurveda was rewritten in the Caraka Samhita between 1500 BCE – 200 CE. The Vedas were written in succinct prose, with exact syllable count.  This was done to ensure authenticity, but unfortunately it also made the texts less clear if one were to study the contents without being initiated into the priestly caste.  Caraka took the information and made it accessible for the new age of scholars in India.

Ayurveda was again expanded during the Buddhist period of 300 BCE to 700 CE by Vagbhata. The most important texts of this time were the Ashtanga Hridyam and the Ashtanga Samgraha.  At this time Indian universities were flourishing. They were said to hold as many as 10,000 teachers and students in Taxshasila (in modern day Pakista) and Nalanda (in modern day Bihar, India).  Sadly, both were burned down by Muslim invaders.  It is said that due to the enormous amount of manuscripts contained within the walls of Nalanda, including medicine, astronomy and mathematics, the area burned for 6 months.

The knowledge of medicine was vast. There were surgery techniques written in the Sushruta that weren’t discovered in Europe until 1500 years later.  Amazingly, doctors in Tucson, AZ are still using this technique today.

Ayurveda over the last 1300 years has mostly remained underground due to the invasions of the area by Muslims, Moguls, and then the British. It seems, just as Yoga has made a comeback over the last 100 years, Ayurveda too has been making an emergence.  This has been escalate and supported by the Indian government since the Independence of India in 1947.

Ayurveda today has been transformed into a preventative health option, as well as working with complex chronic conditions caused by lifestyle such as asthma, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, as well as chronic skin disorders. [2]  Please see Dr. Andrew Weil’s site, from the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine center, for more information. (Hey Tucson, I’m all about you today!)

Thank you again for following along. We are learning as much as you are.  Please know that if you find yourself frustrated with anything presented, this is a normal reaction.  I too get annoyed and frustrated with learning and absorbing new information. One step at a time.  Baby steps and we all can move forward with a strong sense of self-empowerment.

Om Om.

[1] https://www.fau.edu/anthro/documents/Women_Ayurvedic_Doctors.pdf

[2] http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/wellness-therapies/ayurvedic-medicine/


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