Eight branches of Ayurveda (Ashtangas of Ayurveda)
Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, is gaining popularity in the modern world. Nowadays, increasing numbers of people are turning to the eastern medical systems in attempt to identify and find a cure to their health problems. Ayurveda, coined “the mother of all healing systems”, is said to be a fully developed medicinal art with numerous unique and exclusive medicinal therapies and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments and diseases.
The name ‘Ayurveda’ is derived from Sanskrit and comprises of two concepts; ‘ayus’, meaning ‘life’ and ‘veda’, meaning ‘science’, hence, ayurveda literally translates to ‘the science of life’. The earliest literature of this traditional medicine system is believed to be traced back to the Vedic period in India.
Ayurveda Hitopadesha – Upaveda of Atharvaveda was written in form of rhymes and contained one million Shlokas (rhymes) in just one thousand chapters. As a result of the decline in intellectual level and life span of human being, Ayurveda was re-written into eight sections, and is now conventionally known as Ashtanga Ayurveda.
Despite the eight branches of treatment of the system, the basic mode each discipline is the same; preventive and curative approaches to dealing with health. Ayurveda gives more importance to the preventive aspect of medicine, thereby insisting more on the positive side of habitual practices (Dinacharya / daily routine) to prevent diseases as opposed to treating the negative side of health, the diseases after they have become a problem.
‘Kaya’ means ‘the living human body’, which comprises of both body and mind. Kayachikitsa is the branch of Ayurveda which deals with internal medicine and treatment, where ‘Kaya’ means ‘agni’ and ‘Chikitsa’ means ‘treatment’. All Ayurvedic therapeutics is based on the concept of Agni, which is unique to Ayurveda, being responsible for biotransformation. This Kaya provides the energy necessary for all bodily activities. We derive energy from the food we eat and air we breathe. Biological Kaya transforms this energy to the energy, which can be utilized by our cells, whereas the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, etc. we eat, are bio -transformed by this Kaya to the bodily substances. As long as this Kaya is in balance, all bodily activities can be conducted at ease. Any disturbance in this Kaya causes imbalance in the homeostasis and disturbs physiology, which is nothing but the disease. Ayurvedic therapeutics devotes to correction and maintenance of biological Kaya through the techniques of Mantra, Mani & Aushadhi. Only the therapy which considers the above mentioned concepts of Ayurveda can be characterized as being Ayurvedic practices (medicine).
‘Shalya Tantra’ deals with things such as Yantra (Tools), Shastra (Instruments), Kshara (Alkalies) and Agni (Fire) to remove the Shalya (things that cause discomfort to the body and the mind) from the body. Shalya is of two types, namely; shaarir (within the body – Unhealthy teeth, Hair, Nails, imbalanced doshas, dhatus and mala, abscess, tumor, fetus, etc.) and agantuj (outside the body – thorns, stone pieces, iron pieces, dust particles, worry, etc.). Shalya Tantra is the branch of ancient Indian surgery that describes the pre-operative procedures, general procedures, post-operative procedures, marma’s (vital points) and anesthesia in detail. The description of the types of bandages, Shastra (sharp instruments), Yantras (blunt instruments), and Sutures (stitches) is described in this branch.
‘Shalakyatanthra’ deals with the health and disease of the head and neck portions of the body. This includes Nethrachikitsa (Ophthalmology), Karnachikitsa (otology), Nasachikitsa (rhinology), Mukharogachikitsa (oral hygiene, Dentistry and Laryngology), and Shirorogachikitsa(diseases of the cranium). Of these, ophthalmology is the most widely practised sub-speciality. In this field, a total of 76 eye diseases have been described with classification such as Vartma gata roga (i.e. dieseases of the lids), Krishnagata roga (Diseases of cornea) and so forth. Special treatments exist for the healing of the head and neck organs, to include; Nasyam, Dhoomapnam, Gandoosham, Kabalam, Shirodhara, Shirovasthi, Anjanam, Tharpanam, Pratisaranam. Ayurvedic ophthalmology is seen to be highly effective in many degenerative ailments as well as infectious diseases. There are several methods advised in the classical textbooks of ayurveda regarding proper care and prophylactic measurements for eyes.
‘Kumara Bhritya’ deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to Pregnancy, childbirth (delivery) and the diseases of children (paediatrics). Kaumarabhritya is a comprehensive study about the prenatal, postnatal baby care as well as different ailments under the branch of gynaecology. It aims to achieve a healthy and disease free society and strives for the wellbeing of a child right from their conception. The detailed explanation of the procedures and methods of Bala Chikitsa or Kaumarabhritya can be found in the classical writings of Vagbhata, Ashtanga Samgraha and Ashtanga Hridaya. This branch is not only concerned about the physical health of mother and child, rather, it also deals with the mental and psychological requirements of a mother and her newly born child. Despite being an ancient science, Kaumarabhritya has documented that the mental and physical state of the mother has direct effect on the health of the child. It has recommended a specific diet, routine, nourishment and conduct for women before, during and after delivery. It has been very clearly mentioned that the perfect health of a mother is mandatory for the healthy upbringing of their child. Kaumarabhritya also describes the growth and progress of foetus in minute detail and even consists of minute details of a technique called punsanvana vidhi, for having a child of one’s desired gender, intelligence and constitution. As a science of paediatrics, Kaumarabhritya includes minute details of various disorders concerning children’s health such as gastrointestinal diseases, and teething disorders. It gives various natural and herbal remedies to the regular ailments of a newly born child and deals with the art of nursing and healthy bringing up of infants, purification and bettering of mothers’ milk, any characteristic deficit traits as well as the influences of malignant stars and spirits on an infant. Apart from this, it also describes an ideal diet for a newly born to a 16 year old. Other than gynaecology and paediatrics, this branch of science also thoroughly deals with the problem of infertility, its causes and treatment methods.
‘Agada Tantra’ deals with the treatment of poisons, which may be animal oriented, plant oriented or derived from ores, as well as the elimination of both natural and artificial toxins from the body. It also considers and provides treatment for chronic poisoning symptoms as a result of a poor lifestyle, to include the negative effects of drugs and bad food habits.
Agada Tantra recognises poisons as being natural and artificial. The natural poisons can be classified as being inanimate (Sthaavara), to include poisons of plant and/or mineral origin or those found within the earth, or animate (Jangama), to include the venoms of animals such as snakes, scorpions, insects etc. Artificial poisons are those that are prepared by combining different inanimate and animate poisons.
‘Bhuta Vidya’ deals with diseases that are obtained or inherited from apparently unknown reasons. It mainly deals to manage psychological disorders of human beings. In modern terminology, it can be considered as idiopathic disease in which the exact cause of disease is unknown.
A whole branch of Ayurveda specifically deals with diseases of the mind (including demonic possession). Besides herbs and diet, yogic therapies (breathing, mantras, etc.) are employed as a part of the healing process.
‘Rasayana’ is the therapy which promotes rejuvenation in a healthy person and cures the illness of a diseased person.
Jara (wrinkles on skin) Chikitsa is also called Rasayana Chikitsa or rejuvenation therapy as it aims to revitalize the body tissues for a youthful being. Rasayana Chikitsa, however, is not only for people of old age, but also used as a preventive method against diseases and unhealthy body changes. It enhances the immune system, arrests aging and assists in maintaining a good mental and physical condition, including sound memory and physical strength. It gives luster, glow and complexion to the skin, facilitates for youthful energy and nourishes blood and body tissues.
Prevention and longevity are discussed in this branch of Ayurveda. Charak says that in order to develop longevity, ethics and virtuous living must be embraced.
‘Vajikarana’ deals with sexual aspect, consisting of medications for diseases related to fertility and reproduction, to include; spermatogenesis, aphrodisiacs, etc. They serve as good aphrodisiacs and induce an immediate sense of pleasant excitement, along with increased fertile seminal secretions and an increase in the strength and stamina of the person.