Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Education

Ayurveda: the knowledge of life

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 01 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:0511402
  1. Thuli Whitehouse, F1 house officer in medicine (care of the elderly)1
  1. 1Frenchay hospital

Thuli Whitehouse describes how the principles of ancient Ayurvedic practice are applicable to 21st century medicine

Ayurveda is a form of complementary medicine that originated in India. It has been practised for over 5000 years and is the oldest known system of medicine. To become an Ayurvedic physician, students must undertake a five year degree followed by an apprenticeship.

Ayurvedic medicine uses many forms of treatment including herbal remedies, diet modification, massage, and meditation. Other types of complementary therapy such as homeopathy, herbology, and naturopathy have their roots in Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is more than a system of disease management; it is primarily a system for living day to day which is designed to help us live and eat in a way that prevents illness. With Ayurveda, it is assumed that each of us has a unique constitution, and this is our personal baseline for health. It therefore evaluates and manages each patient on an individual level. Thoughts, emotions, actions, diet, and external factors all affect an individual–s unique equilibrium.

Ayurveda describes three broad categories of constitutional type, called doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Each person is a unique mixture of these, but most have one dominant dosha. The doshas are described in terms of opposing qualities. For example, hot-cold, static-mobile, heavy-light.1

A standard consultation initially establishes the person's unique constitutional makeup, followed by a detailed life and medical history. This covers issues such as energy levels and sleep habits, emotional and mental stress, exercise routine, and environmental stresses. A detailed dietary history is always taken.2

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