Ayurveda, which originated in ancient India more than 5,000 years ago, is probably the world's oldest system of natural medicine. When translated, its name means "science of life," and it stems from the ancient body of spiritual teachings known as the Vedas. Some medical historians believe that Ayurveda was also the original basis for Chinese medicine.
Ayurveda is an integrated system of specific theories and techniques that use diet, herbs, exercise, meditation, yoga, and massage or bodywork. The goal of Ayurveda is to achieve optimal health on all levels: physical, psychological, and spiritual.
In India, Ayurveda involves the eight main branches of medicine: pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, ophthalmology, geriatrics, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), general medicine, and surgery. An estimated 80% of the Indian population uses Ayurveda, although it is often used in combination with conventional medicine. There are more than 250,000 Ayurvedic practitioners in India, and some hospitals are based solely on this approach to medicine.
Ayurveda made its way to the West mainly through Europe, where it still has a strong presence today. However, in modern times and particularly in western countries, the practice of Ayurveda is less focused on its spiritual roots than on its use as a form of complementary or alternative medicine.
Ayurveda is practiced in the West by healthcare professionals who are licensed in a variety of disciplines, such as MDs, osteopathic physicians (DOs), naturopaths, acupuncturists, nurses, massage therapists, and chiropractors. It is also practiced by lay people who are not licensed, but who function as health counselors, educators, or consultants. To practice this discipline, the standard length of training in India is five years, but there are no agreed upon standards in the West.
The West offers two major currents of training and practice. The first is offered by a diverse variety of teachers and practitioners, many of whom are either from India or were trained there. The second consists of devotees of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian spiritual teacher who introduced transcendental meditation (TM) to the West. In 1980, this group coined the term "Maharishi Ayur-Ved," which incorporates TM as part of an Ayurvedic approach.
Ayurveda relies heavily on the individual's willingness to participate in lifestyle and behavior changes.
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