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What is Ayurveda? What is Ayurvedic medicine?

Ayurvedic medicine, or Ayurveda, is a system of natural medicine developed three to five thousand years ago in India. The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayur, meaning “life,” and veda, meaning “science” or “knowledge.” Thus, Ayurveda translates to “knowledge of life.” Ayurveda focuses on balance and holistic health.

In Ayurveda, wellness depends on the balance of mind, body, spirit, and the environment. When these things are out of balance, sickness results. Thus, Ayurveda often focuses more on maintaining balance to prevent disease rather than on treating disease.

Ayurvedic teachings state that the body is made up of five elements that make up the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth. According to the teachings, these five elements combine to create three unique types of energy within the body: vata (space and air), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (water and earth). These energies are called doshas.

Each person is said to be a mixture of the three doshas, but everyone tends to have one dosha that is stronger than the others. Each of these doshas is said to regulate different parts and functions of the body. When the doshas are imbalanced, Ayurvedic teachings say, a person feels ill or develops health problems.

Much of Ayurveda focuses on cleansing toxins to restore balance. This can be done through dietary changes, fasting, enemas, herbal medicine and teas, meditative exercise, massage, and body treatments. These are often tailored to what is believed to be a person's dominant dosha.

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine in India undergo state-recognized training. However, in the United States, practitioners are not licensed, and there is no national standard for training or certification. Ayurvedic products are regulated as dietary supplements by the FDA, and thus are not required to meet the standards of traditional drugs for safety and effectiveness. A 2008 study found that about 20 percent of Ayurvedic products contained toxic metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/182460, accessed 10/4/21).

Ayurveda is considered a supplement to traditional Western medicine by the Ayurvedic Institute and medical institutions like Johns Hopkins (www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/ayurveda, accessed 10/4/21). Both recommend talking to a conventional doctor first and that Ayurveda is only to be used in conjunction with traditional medical practice. Ayurveda is not considered a treatment for conditions as much as it is meant to be a preventative practice to promote overall good health.

From a Christian perspective, diet, exercise, and herbal remedies are well within the bounds of making use of and appreciating God's natural gifts. The Bible mentions uses of herbs like hyssop, myrrh, nard, aloe, frankincense, and other plants and plant products.

However, part and parcel of Ayurveda are Hindu ideas such as becoming one with the universe, elements ruling reality, and certain meditative practices. The word veda, seen in the word Ayurveda, refers to Vedic philosophy, which is not in tune with the Christian worldview.

A Christian must approach alternative medicine with discernment. Given that the health treatments of Ayurveda have roots in paganism and Hindu culture, it is wise to avoid such therapies.

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