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The Eight Limbs of Ayurveda

In the last article of my #VEDA101 series, I answered the questions of “What is Ayurveda?” and “Why does it matter?”

As a little review, we talked about why Ayurveda is considered the mother of all present-day health and wellness modalities, along with the vast amount of benefits is carries. If you’re new to Ayurveda, I would suggest you read that article here first, though it’s not at all necessary to understand the concepts I am writing about in this one.

When we first start to learn about Ayurveda, it can come as a huge surprise to learn that it is actually a very thorough, systematic, and all-encompassing medical science.

The truth is, when we say “Ayurveda,” we actually are talking about “Astanga Ayurveda,” or the eight limbs of Ayurveda. And, believe it or not, within these eight limbs, it covers every single aspect of health-care, wellness, fitness, and disease prevention you can imagine.

These eight limbs are:

  1. Kayachikitsa

  2. Shalya Tantra

  3. Shalakya Tantra

  4. Balachikitsa

  5. Agada Tantra

  6. Bhutavidya

  7. Rasayana

  8. Vajikarana

The first limb of Ayurveda, Kaya Chikitsa, is a system of internal and external medicine used to treat both minor and chronic ailments. With a primary focus on the direct and indirect treatment of the Agni (digestive capacity), Kayachikitsa not only works to treat ill-health, but also provides the science of disease prevention. Recognizing that health is a continuous process, it helps the user maintain a balance of the three doshas via diet, lifestyle, and herbs.

Shalya Tantra, the second limb of Ashtanga Ayurveda, is the first form of surgery known to humankind. It deals with treatment of disease with surgery, as well as, the extraction of foreign bodies. Because of what all the other limbs have to offer, this limb remained reserved for classes of disease that cannot be cured with Kaya Chikitsa. Interstingly enough, a lot of the tools and techniques outlined in these texts are identical to modern day surgerical processes.

The next limb is Shalakya Tantra. Similar to a modern day ENT specialist, Shalakya Tantra, deals with the diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. Beyond that, though, it also outlines various diseases within the cranium itself. Because of the broad range of coverage, this limb is further broken down into more specific specialties, such as:

  • Nethrachikitsa, similar to modern day Ophthalmology, diagnoses and treats diseases of the eyes, including vision correction and surgery.

  • Karnachikitsa, similar to modern day Otology, diagnoses and treats diseases of the ears, inlcuding anatomical issues requiring surgical intervention

  • Nasachikitsa, similar to modern day Rhinology, diagnoses and treats diseases of the nose and sinuses

  • Mukharogachikita, similar to modern day Oral hygiene, Dentistry and Laryngology, diagnoses and treats diseases of the oral cavity and larynx

  • Shirorogachikitsa including various diseases of the cranium, such as headaches, migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, etc.

All in all, Shalakya Tantra deals with making sure anything above our clavicle is healthy and functioning properly.

The fourth of eight limbs is Balachikitsa. Deals with the nourishment, support, and maintenance of women and children, this limb can compared to modern day Pediatrics, Obstetrics, and Gynecology. It focuses on medical care for children from infancy through young adulthood, as well as, women from puberty onward. It also outlines the process and management of pregnancy and childbirth.

Agada Tantra, the next limb, has extensive knowledge regarding natural and manmade toxic substances and poisons in detail. This could be anything from plants and animal by-products to modern day pollution and mass contaminations. It also discusses the management of poisoning resulting from the bites of animals like snakes, insects, spiders, rodents. Beyond that, it even provides the signs, symptoms, and antidotes for each.

The sixth limb, Bhutavidya, is referenced as being akin to modern day mental, emotional, and behavioral health practices like Psychotherapy, Psychiatry, and Psychology. It deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of various psychosomatic diseases, such as insanity, OCD, epilepsy, etc. It even includes the potential for evil spirits or bad karma from past lives.

Rasayana concerns itself with methods for living a happy and healthy life until you’re 100 years old (yes, really). If the fountain of youth were to exist, it would be found within the advice of Rasayana. It does so by utilizing potent herbs and tonics that are proven to reduce the results of oxidative stress and slow down signs of aging. Because of this, it also encompasses Geriatrics, which is a specialty of medicine designed specifically for the elderly.

The final limb, Vajikarana, also relies on the use of potent tonics, but for a different reason altogether. Concerned with sexual health and performance, this limb deals with aphrodisiacs, fertility, and reproductive health. Because Balachikitsa has a heavier focus on women’s sexual health, this limbs is where the male aspect of fertility comes into focus.

As you can see, there are so many different aspects of heath and well-being that Ayurveda recognizes. In reality, people can specialize in a single limb of Ayurveda and study it for many decades. And, that's the beauty of Ayurveda and other Vedic concepts, there is always more to learn. It is both empowering and humbling all in one.

The next part of this series will start to break down the fundamental principles of Ayurveda in more detail for greater context.



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