Ayurveda (आयुर्वेद Sanskrit: ayu—life; veda—knowledge of) is a comprehensive system of healing that is more than 5,000 years old and based on a holistic approach rooted in Vedic culture. Its conspicuous use of the word veda, or knowledge, reveals its role in early Hinduism and describes its hallowed place in India.

Traditonal Āyurveda speaks of eight branches: kāyāchikitsā (internal medicine), shalyachikitsā (surgery including anatomy), shālākyachikitsā (eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases), kaumārabhritya (pediatrics), bhūtavidyā (psychiatry, or demonology), and agada tantra (toxicology), rasāyana (science of rejuvenation), and vājīkarana (the science of fertility).

Apart from learning these, the student of Āyurveda was expected to know ten arts that were indispensable in the preparation and application of his medicines: distillation, operative skills, cooking, horticulture, metallurgy, sugar manufacture, pharmacy, analysis and separation of minerals, compounding of metals, and preparation of alkalis. The teaching of various subjects was done during the instruction of relevant clinical subjects. For example, teaching of anatomy was a part of the teaching of surgery, embryology was a part of training in pediatrics and obstetrics, and the knowledge of physiology and pathology was interwoven in the teaching of all the clinical disciplines.

The vast majority of Ayurvedic therapies are herbal compounds. Some alchemical preparations start to enter the ayurvedic pharmacopieia towards the end of the 1st millennium AD in works such as those of Ugraditya (8th century AD) and Sarngadhara (14th century AD). It also provides therapies for the treatment of various vegetable and animal toxins like scorpion, spider and snake venom. It has a whole science of toxicology called agada-tantra as one of the eight branches of traditional Ayurveda.

The Ayurvedic idea is that the organism adapts to the environment and its food, climate etc. This principle of adaptation is called satyma. Through introducing small amounts of a food or medicine, the organism can adapt to it and learn to resist it.

The Five Qualities

It could be said that the simple essence of ayurveda is knowledge and awareness of the qualities of nature – called gurvadi gunah. By understanding the qualities inherent in the environment, in foodstuffs, in activities, etc., one gains an appreciation of their effects on the individual constitution through the principle of similarities; i.e., that similarities cause increase while dissimilarities cause decrease. Thus hot qualities in the environment or diet will increase hot qualities in the body.

The gurvadi gunah are listed in Vagbhata's Ashtanga Hrdayam as:

    - Guru (heavy) – laghu (light) - Manda (slow) – tikshna (quick, sharp) - Hima (cold) – ushna (hot) - Snigdha (unctuous) – ruksha (dry) - Slakshna (smooth) – khara (rough) - Sandra (solid) – drava (liquid) - Mrdu (soft) – kathina (hard) - Sthira (stable) – cala (mobile) - Sukshma (subtle) – sthula (gross) - Vishada (non-slimy) – picchila (slimy)
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