Ayurveda is an ancient medical practice native to India whose prevalence in the Western world finds foothold in the last three decades. While there is an obvious attraction to Ayurvedic medicine in the western world, one can always find skeptics who wouldn’t even consider educating themselves on the subject before rushing to judgment.
Is Ayurveda a Medical Practice?
No. Ayurveda is not a medical practice, which is in contrast to the prevalent notion in the West. Ayurveda is akin to ‘herbalism’. Herbalism is the ancient practice of finding natural cures for human maladies which goes back 60,000 years when the Neanderthal men depended on nature’s herbs to cure human sicknesses as well as attend to their animals’ health issues.
As civilizations started developing in China, Greece and India, the inhabitants started following different forms of herbalism, which is now known in India as ‘Ayurveda’.
Isn’t Ayurveda based on Science?
It is a common misconception in the western world that since Ayurveda is thought of as an alternative medicine, it is non-scientific. Often Ayurveda is thought of as an exotic practice enjoyed in health spas. The Sanskrit word Ayurveda is made of two words: Ayur, meaning life and Veda, meaning knowledge. In other words, Ayurveda is a logical and systematic arrangement of herbal knowledge; it’s the science of life which encompasses mind, body and spirit.
Ayurvedic Medicine in the Western World
As mentioned before, Ayurvedic medicine has become popular in the western world in the last two or three decades. Many universities now offer courses in alternative medicine practice and many people have begun to treat it as a mainstream career option.
The allure of Ayurveda is mainly because of its nature of treatment. There are two main aims of Ayurvedic medicine:
“It treats the symptoms of a disease and it helps individuals to strengthen their immune system. Ayurveda treats the body, mind and spirit of a person as a whole entity, and works on the basis that the mind and body affect each other, and together can overcome disease”.
In other words, Ayurvedic medicine believes in holistic healing. Unlike the conventional or western medicine which begins treatment only when a human body contracts an ailment, Ayurveda begins healing before any diseases take place. This is preventive medicine in its purest form.
Ayurvedic herbs can be found in almost every household in India. Hence, the children are surrounded by the preventive nature of the herbs right from the beginning, which lessens the intensity with which diseases are contracted. Let’s take a small example – in any western country chances are that someone suffering from the common cold will rush to the doctor or the nearest medical center for treatment. In Asian countries, you will seldom find people visiting the clinic just to treat the same condition. The Ayurvedic remedies for the same condition are: a pinch of turmeric mixed with a glass of milk, a teaspoon of honey and a few drops of lime juice.
It is true that people in Asian countries also suffer from major health problems but their focus is always on holistic cure rather than short-term solutions which western medicines provide. The preventive nature of Ayurveda, or rather its curative nature, is the prime reason why western researchers are increasingly allured by Ayurveda.
Ancient & Modern Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a transnational phenomenon in the 21st century whose wide range of perspective incorporates the economic, socio-political, anthropological, philosophical, pharmacological and biomedical responses.
In the recent past, a dichotomy between the classical (ancient) and modern Ayurveda was created. Ayurvedic experts, practitioners and researchers classify the ‘ancient’ Ayurvedic wisdom as the original. ‘Modern’ Ayurveda to them is that very same knowledge which has been exported from the East to the West, where it was modified. reinterpreted and then was re-imported to Eastern countries.
Yet, there are still many who feel that this is simply an ideological difference. Some would argue that the western world which is so attuned to giving importance to things based on its “provable” value backed by scientific research is trying to modernize Ayurveda too on the same grounds.
To any practitioner of Ayurveda, this is an unjustified and unimportant addition to Ayurvedic medicine because a healing system which is based on the natural healing processes endowed by Mother Nature itself cannot be confined into scientific proportions.
Nevertheless, the allure of Ayurveda remains a predominant factor in the acceptance of the same in the western world because of its natural and preventive healing measures.