Topic Overview

What is ayurveda?

Ayurveda, or ayurvedic medicine, is a healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000 years. Ayurveda emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices (such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes) and the use of herbal remedies.

Ayurvedic medicine is holistic, which means viewing the body and mind as a whole. Ayurveda not only treats a person's physical complaints, but it also changes lifestyle practices to help maintain or improve health.

According to ayurveda, the five elements of nature (space, air, fire, water, earth) combine in the body as three components (doshas) known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. These doshas relate closely to the basic elements of nature and to specific functions of the body. A balance of these doshas is thought to be required for optimal health.

  • Air and space represent Vatta. Vatta controls muscle and joint movement, breathing, and heartbeat. Also, Vatta controls anxiety, fear, pain, and other functions of the nervous system.
  • Fire and water represent Pitta, which is thought to control such bodily functions as digestion, metabolism, intelligence, and skin color. Pitta governs the emotions of anger, hate, and jealousy.
  • Earth and water represent Kapha. The physical structure of the body and the immune system are governed by Kapha. Emotional responses thought to be controlled by Kapha include calmness, forgiveness, love, and greed.

The doshas, which are determined at the time of conception, also relate to an individual's physical makeup and personality. A person with a Vatta makeup tends to have a small, thin build. The Pitta body style is more of a medium, muscular build. The Kapha appearance is usually bigger and well-developed. Most people are considered to have a combination of doshas, with one type usually being predominant.

In ayurvedic medicine, it is thought that if an imbalance occurs in any of the three doshas, illness results. Ayurvedic medicine treats illness in many ways, including dietary changes, herbal remedies, and exercise. According to the ayurvedic philosophy, you can also use yoga, meditation, or counseling to treat disease.

What is ayurveda used for?

Some people use ayurvedic practices to maintain health, reduce stress, and improve flexibility, strength, and stamina. Practices like yoga and meditation can be helpful for people with diseases such as asthma, high blood pressure, and arthritis.

Ayurveda stresses proper diet for maintaining good health and treating disease. Herbal medicines are prescribed based on the person's dosha type.

Is ayurveda safe?

Ayurvedic practices such as yoga and meditation can be safe ways to promote health. If you have a long-term illness, you may be able to combine ayurveda with conventional medical treatment.

Ayurvedic herbal medicines, like conventional medicines, may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with other medicines or herbs you are taking. Some ayurvedic medicines may contain high levels of heavy metals, which may be harmful to your body.

Talk with your doctor about any complementary health practice that you would like to try or are already using. Your doctor can help you manage your health better if he or she knows about all of your health practices.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • Sodhi V (2013). Ayurveda: The science of life and mother of the healing arts. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 248–254. St. Louis: Mosby.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine

Current as ofMay 26, 2016