Ayurveda – “the oldest science available in the earth”

As part of our rotations, or “postings,” as they’re called at Manipal University, we had the opportunity to observe treatments in the Department of Ayurveda at Kasturba Medical Center.  Ayurveda, an ancient and traditional Indian medicine, is used with one basic intention– the prevention of illness.  The word “Ayurveda” translates directly to “life science,” and has been the primary medical practice of many Indians for thousands of years.  Currently, approximately 65-70% of India’s population (particularly those from rural areas) rely on Ayurveda for their primary health care needs, as it is rooted in Hinduism and they have complete faith in this medicine.

There are two models of Ayurveda: maintaining health through appropriate lifestyle choices, and treating diseased individuals.  According to Ayurveda, disease occurs when there is an imbalance between the three systems, or doshas, of the body.  These systems are nervous (vata), venous (pitta), and arterial (kapha).  Ayurveda does not focus on bacteria as the cause of disease, but instead is integrative, and includes a holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to medicine.  Many patients seek Ayurvedic treatments directly, but some are referred from allopathic practitioners, and others turn to Ayurveda once allopathic medicine has failed.  While therapists generally execute the treatments, physicians are responsible for completing consultations and  determining the diagnoses and lifestyle changes or treatments required.  Ayurvedic physicians attend medical school, just as other doctors do, then go on to complete a 1-year specialization, and they are licensed to practice by the state.  Ayurvedic and allopathic physicians collaborate to ensure patients utilizing both forms of medicine do not suffer from any interactions between their medications and herbal preparations.

Visual representation of possible imbalances in the doshas of the body.

Visual representation of possible imbalances in the doshas of the body.

There are a variety of treatment modalities used in Ayurvedic medicine, many with the main purpose of detoxification of the body.  Modalities chosen are specific to the dosha imbalance or disease within the patient.  Most treatments involve the use of herbal mixtures, including liquids, oils, and powders, and may cost as little as 100 Rs. (~$1.65) for one treatment.  Patients are also responsible for paying separately for the herbal preparations, which range in cost, but are generally around 150-300 Rs. (~$2.50-5.00) and last for several treatments.  Research on the effectiveness of various ayurvedic treatments is continuously being conducted, as well as to test for possible heavy metals within the herbal preparations and determine the side effects from both short- and long-term use.

Treatments available at KMC's Dept. of Ayurveda

Treatments available at KMC’s Dept. of Ayurveda

While at the Department of Ayurveda for our postings, we were able to observe a variety of Ayurvedic treatments, and discuss the treatments with a doctor who specializes in herbal pharmacology.  In addition to massage (with oil or powder), and stream treatments (both time spent in a steam box, and a direct steady stream of steam applied to an arthritic joint), below are some of the treatments we witnessed and learned about.

Basti: medicated enema used to treat excess vata, and helps to treat musculoskeletal issues, neurological issues, and mental conditions.

This herbal mixture is ground into powder and boiled in water before being used for the basti

This herbal mixture is ground into powder and boiled in water before being used for the basti

Dhaara: warmed, herbal liquids or oils are used on various parts of the body to treat various ailments.  In shirodhaara, a steady stream of warmed oil flows onto the forehead to treat headaches, stress, insomnia, and several other issues.  Dhanyamla dhaara involves the rhythmic pouring of warmed liquid over the whole body of a patient, for relief of general body aches, arthritis, and other disorders of the nervous system.


Treatment table used for dhanyamla dhaara

Netra tarpanam: dough rings are placed around the eyes, and a warmed, herbal oil is poured inside while the eyes are kept open.  The oil stays on each eye for 7 minutes, followed by a 10 minute rest.  This is used as treatment for tired eyes, irritation, poor or blurred vision, and other disorders of the eye.

Jalaukavacharanam: leeches are applied to affected area for up to 3 hours.  Generally only one treatment is required, but it may be repeated if necessary.  It is used to treat skin conditions (such as psoriasis), pain conditions, and gouty arthritis.


Leech tank in the Department of Ayurveda


Jalaukavacharanam for treatment of gouty arthritis in a young patient after allopathic treatments provided no relief.

Our time in the Department of Ayurveda was very interesting and informative, and it was fascinating to experience a different approach to the maintenance of health and the treatment of disease.  As nurse practitioner students, it was especially worthwhile to see a holistic approach to disease, and the incorporation of the idea that disease is not just a physical issue, but one that effects the mind, body, and spirit.

Posted in Global Health, India Scholars 2015, Nursing

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