For many of us, the understanding of Ayurveda is limited to herbal remedies and warm oil massages, but the science of Ayurveda has an astoundingly detailed scope of looking at a person’s total health and it includes everything from internal medicine to pediatrics to geriatrics, rejuvenation, surgery, and even sexual health. 

Ayurveda has eight major disciplines that are collectively known as Ashtang Ayurveda, or the Eight Branches of Ayurveda: 

  1. Kaaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  2. Baala Chikitsa (Treatment of Children / Pediatrics)
  3. Graha Chikitsa (Demonology / Psychology)
  4. Urdhvaanga Chikitsa (Treatment of disease above the clavicle)
  5. Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)
  6. Damstra Chikitsa (Toxicology)
  7. Jara Chikitsa (Geriatrics, Rejuvenation)
  8. Vrsha Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac therapy).

Let’s go into a little detail about each of these.

Kaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine)

The word ‘Kaya’ represents ‘Agni’—the digestive fire in the body. Kaya also means the body itself and so the digestive fire has been projected as important as the life of the body itself. It is responsible for the metabolism in the body. The imbalance in this ‘Agni’ principle is the cause for many diseases. The discipline of Kaya Chikitsa deals with the treatment of general ailments, like fever, diarrhea, cough, skin disorders, lung diseases, and bone disorders, by bringing Agni back in balance. 

Roots in Charak Samhita

The most important and authoritative works on the branch of Kaya Chikitsa, and for that matter the holistic science of Ayurveda, is the Charaka Samhita, put forth by the sage proponent of Ayurveda-Rishi Charaka. Charaka Samhita is the theoretical body of knowledge of the science of Ayurveda with a focus on Kaya Chikitsa. Charak Samhita deals with the aspect of medicine and non-surgical arm of Ayurvedic treatment including personalized diet, hygiene, lifestyle regimen and overall health. The treatise discusses the root cause of diseases, diagnosis, human anatomy, sense organs, physiology, modalities of the treatment and panchakarma (the five cleansing processes), basic principles and therapeutics in Ayurveda.

Baala Chikitsa (Pediatrics)

The root of Baala Chikitsa or Kaumarbhritya goes back to a sage by the name of Maricha Kashyapa who was one of the pioneers of the school of pediatrics within Ayurveda. His disciple Vriddha Jivaka helped document and encode his master’s knowledge of pediatrics within a well-known text called Kashyapa Samhita. 

Children or infants, unlike adults, cannot express their complaints. Their dosages are different from that of the adults and the medicines need to be tolerable for their bodies. These differences necessitated a separate field of medicine within the ambit of Ayurvedic sciences called Kumarbhritya or Baala Chikitsa. Bala Chikitsa is the pediatric offshoot of Ayurvedic science for healing that details disorders, treatments, and dietary recommendations, natural and herbal remedies for various diseases concerning children and infants such as digestive disorders, teething problems, bone health, and nutritional requirements, among others. In covering the overlapping subjects of gynecology and pediatrics, it also discusses the art of nursing, infertility, mental health of the mother and its influence on the infant’s well-being.

Graha Chikitsa (Psychology)

Graha Chikitsa is the psychic field of Ayurveda that deals with diseases and illnesses of the mind or diseases with psychosomatic roots. Psychosomatic disorders are ones that do not have visible symptoms but are rooted in factors related to mental health. This field talks about herbs and their applications as disinfectants and their abilities to bring positivity in the atmosphere. It talks about herbs, diet, use of specific mantras, pranayama or breathing techniques, meditation techniques and yogic therapies for healing the mind. 

Urdhvaanga or Shalakya Chikitsa (EENT)

If, like us,  you love Ayurveda, you may have often either heard of or experienced treatments like Netradhara, Karnapoornam, Gandoosham, or Shirolepa. What you may not know is that these treatments are part of a science called Shalakya Chikitsa. Shalakya Tantra deals with treating diseases and imbalances in body parts above the shoulders through holistic treatments, cleanses and herbal formulations. Shalakya Tantra is the EENT (otorhinolaryngology) and ophthalmology field equivalent of Ayurveda that deals with conditions of the eyes, ears, nose, lips, brain, central nervous system, skull and throat. This field is further divided into Nethrachiktsa (ophthalmology), Karnachikitsa (otology), Nasachikitsa (rhinology), Mukharogachikitsa (includes dentistry and laryngology), and Shirorogachikitsa (craniology). Shalakya Chikitsa finds elaborate mention in the works of physician and sage Sushrut in his most celebrated and trusted treatise on Ayurveda called Sushrut Samhita.

Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)

Sage physician Acharya Sushrut enumerates the first ever surgery procedure in the Sushrut Samhita, one of the oldest treatise in Ayurveda. For his contribution to the field, he is called the father of surgery in Ayurveda. In her book, Ayurveda Simplified, Dr. Nisha Manikantan, senior Ayurveda physician explains, “When surgery was in its infancy in Europe, Acarya Suśruta was performing Rhinoplasty (operation using skin flaps) and other challenging operations. The ancient Indians were the pioneers in many complicated operations like perforation of intestine, obstructed labour, how to perform prosthetic surgery to replace limbs, cosmetic surgery on the nose and elsewhere, caesarean section and even cranial surgeries.” These operations have been found to be performed 3000 to 5000 years ago. Sushrut is also known to have performed the first cosmetic surgery in India. 

Sushrut Samhita mentions more than 300 types of operations and 42 types of surgeries using 125 types of surgical devices like scalpels, needles, rectal speculums, and even tourniquets, Dr. Manikantan writes. His surgical treatment for trichiasis can be reckoned with some of the modern operative techniques used for this eye disease. Sushrut mentions that Shalya Tantra comes into the picture when Kayachiktisa has failed in its scope of treatment. He recommends Shalya Tantra for treatment of cysts or tumors, enlargement of lymph nodes, hemorrhoids, diseases of the breasts, removal of stones, rectal infections, among others. 

Shalya Tantra details pre-operative procedures, post-operative procedures, general procedures, energy points (marmas), and even anesthesia procedures along with the right type of instruments to use, bandages, or sutures to be used for the specific procedures.  Most of these instruments were made of stone, wood, bark, or thick leaves.

Damstra Chikitsa (Toxicology)

Damstra Chikitsa or Agada Tantra is the branch of toxicology in Ayurveda that deals with treatments and prevention of toxins in the body. It has a context of time to it. Before modernization took over and there was more wilderness around which humans lived, getting bitten or attacked by animals, birds, insects or worms was commonplace. So the studies of medicine evolved to provide a solution for deadly poisoning that resulted from these incidents, in the form of Damstra or Agada Tantra.  It dealt with poisoning from animals, plants, vegetables, or metals or man-made poison. But more importantly, this branch of Ayurveda also considered air and water pollution as a form of poisoning that needed to be purified for health and well-being of man, as contamination would often lead to mass scale epidemics. Ayurveda accords as much importance to purity of air, water, earth, and space as much as to the food, environment and quality of life. 

Rasayan/Jara Chikitsa (Geriatrics & Rejuvenation)

This branch of Ayurveda deals with diseases and illnesses related to aging, as well as science of longevity and rejuvenation. It deals with preventive healthcare, tips, treatments, herbal medicines (rasayana) to enhance quality of life and lead a healthy, happy life full of vitality and vibrancy. Jara chikitsa (jara meaning degeneration) also deals with degenerative disorders irrespective of one’s age. This Ayurveda branch talks about different types of rasāyanas like Ausadha Rasāyana (drug based), Āhāra Rasāyana (dietary), and Achara Rasāyana (behavioral discipline). Jara Chikitsa includes healing modalities to achieve longevity, better memory, youthfulness, brightness, positive emotions and virtues, strength, immunity and vitality. Rasayana works to improve dosha imbalances, rekindle digestive Agni and restore health with use of diet and herbal medication.  

The focus of Ayurveda is not just to mitigate symptoms but it also focuses on keeping illnesses away and rasayana chikitsa or rejuvenation therapy is one way Ayurveda achieves this goal of preventive care. 

There are three sub branches of Rasayana Chikita—Naimittika Rasayana (curative rejuvenation), Ajasrika Rasayana (promotion of health and a healthy lifestyle) and Kamya Rasayana (longevity, fertility and memory enhancement). 

Naimittika Rasayana is a curative discipline that examines and uses herbal drugs, formulations and their potency to speed up recovery from existing diseases or illnesses. 

Ajasrika Rasayana is dedicated to the science of wellness and includes everything from diet, herbs, dairy, exercise and practices to lead a spiritually, mentally and physically optimal life. It details the goodness and benefits of everything that the nature provides for enhancing human health. 

Kamya Rasayana is the discipline that deals with the biochemistry of desire (kama), it also talks about the science of prana or life force, memory and intellect and how these can be improved along with increasing lifespan. 

According to Ayurveda, all life is made out of the five great elements called the Panchamahabhutas that form the three fundamental bio energies governing multiple life functions. These three bio energies are called Doshas-pitta dosha (fire and water), vata dosha (air and ether) and kapha dosha (earth and water). In an individual usually any one or two of them predominate and form the basis of our unique physio mental constitution called Prakruti. Rasayana therapy aims to address the imbalances in these doshas to restore and rejuvenate our body and mind.

Vrsha or Vājīkaraṇa Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac Therapy)

This branch deals with promotion of sexual health of men and women and improvement in fertility. It focuses on the health and illnesses of reproductive or genetic organs.  It is a branch that talks about sex, virility, potency, strength, excitability, techniques, regimen, diet, herbal medicines, and treatments to take care of reproductive organs, and diseases such as sexual dysfunctions, infertility, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction. 

The herbs and medicines administered under the Vajikarna sciences have qualitative and quantitative properties. For example, to increase sperm count, medicines called Sukrala are recommended that include Aśvagandhā, Musalī, Śarkarā, Śatāvarī; to improve ejaculation ingredients called ŚukraRecaka are administered that include milk, specific type of meats, fruit pulps or amalaki; fruits like jatiphala constitute ŚukraStambhaka medicines that help in increasing the time of intercourse; and Sukrasosaka herbs like haritaki are the ones that help control excessive semen production.

Eight Limbs of Yoga and Ayurveda

The roles of yoga and Ayurveda in achieving holistic wellness are intertwined. The science of Ayurveda goes hand in hand with yoga and the classical texts on both Ayurveda as the science of life and longevity and yoga as a state of union, complement each other. The goal and aim of Ayurveda is to enable this union. Both yoga and Ayurveda have their origins in the ancient Vedic texts and have been codified in the form of Ashtang Yoga and Ashtang Ayurveda.

Ayurveda talks about the holistic ways to be healthy and remedies to various illnesses using herbs and other natural ingredients. Yoga is a science that helps in generating good health, contributes to longevity and maintains intrinsic discipline through which total happiness and peace can be achieved. 

Ashtanga Yoga translates to eight-limbed yoga and has been encoded in one of the most exquisite, authoritative, insightful, and time tested works on yoga —Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. According to Pantajali, the journey from impurity to purity—which is the union with the highest self—involves the following eight steps or components. These are 

  • Yama, or the moral codes
  • Niyama, self-study and self-purification
  • Asana, postures
  • Pranayama or breathwork
  • Pratyahara or sense control
  • Dharana or focused concentration
  • Dhyana or meditation
  • Samadhi or state of bliss.

Both yoga and Ayurveda are based on the fact that our body is made up of five principal elements, the Panchamahabhootas. A balance in the combination of these elements leads to a healthy life whereas any imbalance in them causes illnesses.

Yoga and Ayurveda also help us in understanding the various functions of our body and the effect that different foods and medicines have on our bodies and minds. Both believe that physical well-being is directly proportional to the psychological well-being of the body. A normal daily routine in both these sciences includes regular practice of pranayama, exercise, and meditation along with the use of various herbs depending on the body type (Kapha, Vata and Pitta) and Ayurvedic Panchakarma or body purification process, of which yogic processes are also a part of overall well-being. 

Ayurveda is the science of life which helps in understanding how the body works and helps in maintaining good health. And Yoga is the practical aspect of this science. Yoga is central to a healthy routine prescribed in Ayurveda. It works as an excellent stress buster and prepares the mind for meditation.

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