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ĀYURVEDA

The following explanation is an excerpt from the Foundations of Āyurveda, Volume 1, Essentials of Professional Āyurveda.

Āyurveda is a systematic, scientific body of knowledge which encompasses holistic, natural medicine, disease prevention and complete health care.

It includes a large, complex body of knowledge based on constant natural laws. It contains full instructions for holistic, personalized health care, disease management, regenerative treatment principles and health promotion with the ambitious goal to live the healthiest life possible in both quantity and quality.

It includes instructions from pre-pregnancy planning to inevitable death and is considered the longest, continuously practiced health care system known today.

From a very practical perspective, Āyurveda can be considered a life-long owner’s manual. Following its instructions, one can promote their capacity to experience a long, happy and meaningful life.

Classically, Āyurveda is defined in several ways. This variety of definitions allows its key purposes and applications to be described effectively to specific audiences.

Current definitions of Āyurveda are still in their nascent stages in English and other non-Indian languages. Expect these definitions to undergo continuous refinement as the profession develops.

ĀYU Council defines Āyurveda as:

“Āyurveda” is 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.

As the practice of Āyurveda is often more appropriate when localized to the people, place and time, ĀYU Council also defines American Āyurveda (Āyurveda, 2019). 

“American Āyurveda” is the specialized practice of Traditional Āyurvedic Medicine (TAM) that is customized for the people of the United States today. It is a natural extension and development of Traditional Āyurvedic Medicine (TAM) which has been practiced continuously for several thousand years primarily in India. TAM is highly customized for people of Indian ethnic origin living within the Indian subcontinent. Over the course of TAM's history, it has been adopted by foreign cultures and adapted to their needs. Unani medicine is a good example of one such system.

Additionally, a few significant distinctions within Āyurveda have become better defined as practices grow and expand. Often, these are based on varied traditional practices and geographical locations, particularly within the Indian subcontinent. 

In the introduction of Modern and Global Ayurveda, Frederick M. Smith and Dagmar Wujastyk define these significant phrases (Wujastyk, Smith, 2008).

“Modern Āyurveda” is here understood to be geographically set in the Indian subcontinent and to commence with the processes of professionalization and institutionalization bright about in India by what has been called the nineteenth-century revivalism of Āyurveda (Leslie 1998; Brass 1972; Jeffery 1988). Modern Āyurveda is characterized by a tendency toward the secularization of Āyurvedic knowledge and its adaptation to biomedicine, and at the same time by attempts to formulate a unitary theory based on doctrines found in the classical Āyurvedic texts.

“Global Āyurveda,” on the other hand, refers to Āyurvedic knowledge that has been transmitted to geographically widespread areas outside of India. Here we may differentiate three broad “lineages” of Āyurvedic globalization: the first is characterized by a focus 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.

The second lineage of global Āyurveda is identified in the more recent trend of a globally popularized and acculturated Āyurveda, which tends to emphasize and interpret, if not reinvent, the pholozhipical and spiritual aspects of Āyurveda. This type of Āyurveda has been dubbed “New Age Āyurveda” (Zysk 2001; Reddy 2000). … 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. 

“New Age Āyurveda” (Zysk 2001; Reddy 2000). Zysk defines its characteristics as follows:

  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 “Āyurvyoga,” 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.

ĀYU Council defines professional Āyurveda as (Āyurveda, 2019):

“Professional Āyurveda” is the practice and application of Āyurveda by a qualified professional using targeted, therapeutic intervention to produce a positive health outcome.

A strong foundation creates a healthy profession.

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