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DEFINITIONS

Āyurveda

A holistic health care system that prioritizes the individual’s role and responsibility for personal health through proper living and prevention. It includes scientific practices, protocols and methods to remove, alleviate and manage acute and chronic health disturbances from their roots. It originated in the Indian subcontinent where it continues to be the longest continuously practiced health care system known today.

Global Āyurveda

Āyurvedic knowledge that has been transmitted outside of India and Southeast Asia. Three broad “lineages” include Pharma Āyurveda, New Age (Westernized) Āyurveda and Indic Studies Āyurveda. Each of these focuses on a particular component or perspective of Āyurveda, failing to convey the full scope of Traditional Āyurvedic Medicine (TAM).

Indic Studies Āyurveda

A third, independent line of global Āyurveda originated in the context of the then-new scholarly discipline of Indic Studies in the early nineteenth century, when Orientalist scholars began to take interest in Āyurvedic literature. While the first scholarly documentation on Indian medicine in the form of botanical encyclopedias was not concerned with the conceptual framework of Āyurveda, these scholars were interested in preserving, or even reviving, knowledge of Āyurveda as a historical and philological discipline. … This work, however, seems never to have been directed at making practical use of the knowledge gained from the texts in regard to the more theoretical aspects underlying Āyurvedic medicine. However, scholarly editions and translations of Sanskrit medical works have been important contributions to formalized Āyurvedic education and research. 

Modern Āyurveda

Within the Indian subcontinent, the style of Āyurveda characterized by:

  • a tendency toward the secularization of Āyurvedic knowledge
  • its adaptation to biomedicine
  • attempts to formulate a unitary theory based on doctrines found in the classical Āyurvedic texts

Modern Āyurveda coincides with the rise of professionalization and institutionalization in India with nineteenth-century revivalism of Āyurveda. 

New Age Āyurveda

Zysk defines its characteristics as follows (Zysk 2001; Reddy 2000):

  1. Attributing a remote age to Āyurveda and making it the source of other medical systems

  2. Linking Āyurveda closely to Indian spirituality, especially Yoga

  3. Making Āyurveda the basis of mind-body medicine

  4. Claiming the “scientific” basis of Āyurveda and its intrinsic safety as a healing modality

Another important characteristic of New Age Āyurveda (which it shares with some forms of modern Āyurveda in urban settings) is a shift in self-representation from reactive medicine that cures ills to preventive medicine that offers a positive lifestyle index.

New Age Āyurveda is particularly prominent in the United States, and increasingly in Northern Europe. Furthermore, it has been re-imported into India in the shape of “wellness” tourism that caters both to foreign tourists and urban, middle-class Indians.

Thus paradoxically, despite its emphasis on spirituality, New Age Āyurveda has given rise to a new commercialized form of Āyurveda, emphasizing wellness and beauty as fundamental components of good health. Its commercial offerings encompass a range of cosmetic and massage treatments provided in beauty salons and spas, over-the-counter products (mostly cosmetics and nutritional supplements), and do-it-yourself or self-help literature (i.e., guides on beauty treatments, nutrition, and fitness). Selby (2005) describes how Āyurveda, twinned or even merged with yoga into “Āyuryoga,” has become a branded commodity in North American spa culture.

While the unprotected name “Āyurveda” is used freely in this context, it is not used to denote a real connection with premodern Āyurvedic knowledge but often rather seems to stand for vague notions of “exotic” or “Eastern” self-cultivation. Thus we may find a spa offering a full-day treatment entitled “Āyurvedic Bliss,” which in this case mean “Luxury Spa Pedicure, Aromatherapy Salt Glow Body, Exfoliation and Hot Stone Back Massage,” treatments that are not found in classical Āyurvedic texts. As Sita Reddy (2004) has pointed out, images of the “exotic East” play a crucial role in certain sectors of the marketing of Āyurvedic products or treatments.

Pharma Āyurveda

Focuses on the Āyurvedic pharmacopoeia, beginning with the dissemination of Āyurvedic botanical and pharmaceutical lore in the sixteenth century. The study of Āyurvedic pharmacopoeia has developed into a full-blown scientific discipline as well as into a hugely profitable pharmaceutical industry in a global market. In line with the ideologies of modern Āyurveda, interest groups concerned with Āyurvedic pharmacopoeia stress the “scientific” bases of Āyurveda and promote a secularized discipline stripped of its religious and spiritual connotations.

Traditional Āyurvedic Medicine (TAM)

The proposed name for the complete, authentic practice Āyurveda according to the World Health Organization.

References

Vellela, J. (2019). Foundations of Ayurveda: Essentials of Professional Ayurveda. Delaware: AYU Council.

Wujastyk, D. (2008). Modern and global Ayurveda: pluralism and paradigms. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

Advancing Traditional Āyurvedic Medicine (TAM) in the West

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