According to most people, Ayurveda is merely Indian folk medicine, with herbal preparations as its core component. However, Ayurveda is an elaborate healthcare science with multiple specializations, like surgery, pediatrics, toxicology, and even energy medicine!
Let’s dive deep into the world of Ayurveda and witness the tremendous wealth of wisdom it contains.
Ayurveda is a complex healthcare system that branches out into multiple branches and sub-branches.
There are eight primary branches or specializations in Ayurveda, namely-
- Kaya chikitsa (Ayurvedic General Medicine)
- Kaumaryabritya (Ayurvedic Pediatrics)
- Bhoot Vidya (Ayurvedic Metaphysical Practices)
- Shalakya (Ayurvedic Needle Treatment)
- Shalya (Ayurvedic Surgery)
- Agad Tantra (Ayurvedic Toxicology)
- Rasayana (Ayurvedic gerontology and anti-aging treatment)
- Vajikaran (Ayurvedic fertility and aphrodisiac treatment)
Let’s see what these branches are.
Kaya chikitsa (Ayurvedic General Medicine)
Ayurveda believes that Agni, or the digestive fire, is the central force that drives our metabolism. Digestion is the grand gateway for nutrition as well as pathogens. Good digestion eliminates pathogens and segregates nutrition. And weak digestion works the other way round. Therefore, a weak digestive fire is a fundamental cause of any disease that spreads throughout the body.
The word kaya has a very deep and scientific meaning. Let us explore the Ayurvedic depths of the word kaya.
There are two types of processes happening inside the body – anabolism, and catabolism. Anabolism is the building up of body tissues. And catabolism is the process of breaking down old tissues. These two processes together form the metabolism and help to replace or rejuvenate all the tissues of our body in a few years.
Kaya is the term that represents the metabolism of the body. The weak digestive fire produces more toxins than nutrients. These toxins spread throughout the body via general metabolism.
Chikista means treatment. Therefore, kaya chikitsa is the branch responsible for the treatment of any disease that prevails throughout the body and has a generalized presence.
Kaumaryabritya (Ayurvedic Pediatrics)
The word kaumaryabritya means taking care of a child. (kumar – child, britya – to serve). However, this is not exclusively Ayurvedic pediatrics. It takes care of:
- Overall female health (Gynaecology)
- Female and male fertility problems
- Healthy fertilization
- Formation of the child in the womb (gestation)
- Childbirth (obstetrics)
- Growth and development in children
- Children's diseases and their treatment.
Therefore, gynecology, obstetrics, etc. form subbranches of kaumaryabritya. And this integration makes so much sense because these branches (Gynaecology, Fertility Science, Obstetrics, and Paediatrics) are closely related to each other.
Bhoot Vidya (Ayurvedic Metaphysical Psychological Treatment or Energy Medicine)
The Sanskrit word “bhoot” means “an entity.” And it can mean any entity or a substance that commands an independent existence. According to Ayurveda, the physical manifestation of a living entity starts with intellect, ego, and mind. And any entity that contains an independent intellect, ego, and mind is a "bhoot.” Interestingly, this “bhoot" may or may not have a physical body!
Bhoot vidya is the body of knowledge that deals with “bhoot,” its abnormalities, and treatment. It focuses on the treatment of these three subtle layers of existence – intellect, ego, and mind. Therefore, bhoot vidya shares the aim of modern mental medicine.
Bhoot vidya has multiple sub-branches that deal with different realms or stages of mental disorders. Some of them are-
Aswasaha Chikitsa – Counseling/Psychotherapy
Satvavajay – Gaining control over the mind through meditation, mindfulness, fasting, etc.
Mantra – Sound Energy Medicine
Mani – Astrological treatment
Tadan – Shock therapy etc.
Havan – Fire sacrifice
Bali – similar to Exorcism
These are a few of the numerous sub-branches of Bhoot Vidya. Energy medicine is also an integral part of Bhoot Vidya.
Shalakya (Ayurvedic Needle Treatment)
The word Shalakya means “from the needle.” Shalakya tantra is a special system of treatment using needles. This science is the source of modern acupressure and acupuncture treatments.
Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine, and many other traditional healing systems agree that there are energy meridians and pools (chakras) across the body. Any kind of obstruction to these energy points may lead to disorders.
Needle treatment helps to stimulate these points, remove metabolic obstructions, and release blocked energy.
This branch is also called Urdhvanga (for the upper body parts). The upper parts of the body, especially the head region, have a very complex and dense mesh of nerves, blood vessels, muscles, etc. Needle treatment was the choice of treatment for all the head disorders, as surgical interventions may cause more damage than healing.
Shalya (Ayurvedic Surgery)
The word Shalya refers to any kind of foreign particle capable of creating an obstruction or wound in any part of the body. Kidney stones, tumors, and dead fetuses also fall under the category of harmful foreign substances.
At most times, the body effectively eliminates unwanted substances through various excretion pathways. But sometimes it is not able to. Shalya is an Ayurvedic surgery that aims to remove all harmful foreign substances from the body.
Ayurvedic surgery was highly refined. The ancient vaidyas used surgical instruments made of gold and silver (noble metals) to prevent undesirable chemical reactions with the body tissues. The Sushrut Samhita mentions 4 distinct categories with 108 types of basic surgical instruments for different procedures. The details of surgery that you find in ancient texts like Sushrut Samhita are dumbfounding. I hope to see a revival of this branch soon.
Agad Tantra (Ayurvedic Toxicology)
The Sanskrit word “gad” means disorder/poison. And “agad” refers to something that removes poison-an an antidote. Agad tantra is the toxicology of Ayurveda. It contains detailed descriptions of venomous plants, animals, insects, toxic minerals, metals, etc. Agad Tantra also contains an elaborate classification of poisons, their symptoms, effects on the body, and treatments.
This branch had multiple sub-branches, for example, specializations for the treatment of snake poison, rat poison, rabies, poisonous plants, etc. For example, snake specialists formed a distinct category of wandering healers called Sapera, or the famous snake charmers of India!
Rasayana (Ayurvedic gerontology and anti-aging treatment)
The word Rasayan means “the one that brings juice to the body” (ras – juice, ayan – to bring). Rasayana majorly focuses on preventive and rejuvenating therapies. This branch aims to promote overall health and retard the aging process.
Rasayana also has a signature category of herbs called the Rasayana herbs. These herbs have a special property that normalizes all metabolic functions. Some of the very well-known Rasayana herbs are Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Brahmi, etc.
Vajikaran (Ayurvedic fertility and aphrodisiac treatment)
This branch derives its name from horsepower. The word "vaji” means strong or excited. This is also a synonym for a horse in Sanskrit. Vajikaran is a specialization that aims to improve libido, fertility, and overall sexual performance. It also offers recommendations to cure aversion to sexual interaction – a very comprehensive science!
The bottom line is that Ayurveda is an elaborate and sophisticated healthcare science and not just folk medicine. Besides, its knowledge has been tried and tested for thousands of years. Let us rediscover this science in all its grandeur.
I hope that this information helps everyone to appreciate the depth of Ayurveda. In the next blog, let us explore one of the fundamental concepts of Ayurveda – Dosha.