The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine

A Concise Bulletin Point Introduction to Ayurvedic Medicine by Scott Gerson, M.D., M.Phil. (Ayurveda), Ph.D. (Ayurveda)

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The supremacy enjoyed by conventional medicine for the past century has been declining for some time. The reasons for this are familiar to most of us. They include a lack of drug efficacy, short- and long-term adverse drug effects, the alarming increase in antibiotic resistance, and of course, skyrocketing cost. Even more disturbing is the burgeoning evidence that conventional medicines are not as effective as claimed and perform poorly in chronic, immunologic, and degenerative disorders. In addition, the "doctor-patient" relationship is often unsatisfactory, sometimes appalling. Besides, there is a too-narrow focus on symptoms, each specialist addressing only their particular terrain, very little mention of curative approaches, and the almost total neglect of nutrition and other lifestyle factors in dealing with human disease.

Ayurveda defines health not only in terms of balanced physiology of the physical body, but also as a state of harmony and contentment in every aspect of life. Thus, not only is it a medical approach to health, but Ayurveda can also be the foundation for the spiritual evolution of humankind. Below are selected "bullet point" axioms to explain what is Ayurveda.

Ayurvedic philosophy is largely based on five fundamental principles:

  • The first is prakriti, or distinctive constitutional type, which reflects the uniqueness of each individual. This is indispensable for both diagnosis and treatment. One's prakriti is determined at birth by the proportion of three fundamental bio-energies, known as the three doshas. One is born with a unique proportion of the doshas but then deviates from this.

  • The second is dosha samya, which is the internal equilibrium of the mind and body. The re-establishment and maintenance of this equilibrium promotes the innate power for self-healing. The prime objective of Ayurvedic medicine is to restore the balance of the three doshas back to their original birth proportions through lifestyle changes, the rational use of natural and herbal medications and dietary regimens and with specific physical and mental therapies.

  • Third, central to the Ayurvedic worldview is the realization that the world we see and experience with our senses is the consequences of a hidden, subtler aspect of Nature not perceivable by the senses. Woven deeply into the very fabric of reality is Paramātman, the Supreme Self, which creates the tangible as well as the intangible dimensions of life. Ayurveda acknowledges the inter-connectedness of these dimensions and bases its system of medicine on this understanding.

  • Fourth, another principle concept in Ayurveda is that of internal hygiene, or preservation of a toxin-free physiology. This is because one of the earliest stages of disease involves the obstruction of the body's various channels (shrotas) by accumulated impurities. Normally, the body can cleanse itself without assistance; however, these innate functions often become dysfunctional due to modern dietary, environmental, and emotional stresses. Panchakarma therapies are designed to loosen and eliminate accumulated impurities in the shrotas to create a profound internal cleansing.

  • Finally, there are daily and seasonal regimens. Ayurveda strongly believes that chronic, degenerative diseases, for example, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune, and cardiovascular diseases are often the result of, or aggravated by, unwise or even self-destructive lifestyles. Lifestyle is the amalgam of one's habits, customs, and the manner in which one performs common activities of living. Ayurveda teaches how to live in harmony with Nature. Sound practical advice is offered on lifestyle--modifying the patient's diet, improving sleep patterns, encouraging exercise, for example.

The Main Aspects of Ayurvedic Healthcare

Ayurveda focuses on achieving optimum health rather than suppressing disease.

Ayurveda targets the underlying root causes of the person's disorder rather than focusing exclusively on symptoms (i.e., giving blood pressure lowering, sugar lowering, or anti-inflammatory drugs). Health is the body's natural default condition to which it will return if the obstacles are removed. The famous sloka from The Charaka Samhita, which eloquently expresses the aim of Ayurveda and is memorized by every Ayurvedic student past and present, comes to mind: Swasthyasya swasthya rakshanam aturasya vikar prashamanamcha, "To maintain the health of the healthy and to eliminate diseases of the diseased." All Ayurvedic treatment aims at creating balance and up-regulating inner healing or dosha samya. Treatment is created from without, healing from within.

  • Ayurveda recognizes the spirit, mind, and body as being inseparably interconnected. It has always accepted that virtually all diseases have physical, emotional, and environmental factors.

  • Ayurveda views the patient as a unique individual rather than a living specimen of a particular disorder. Unlike conventional doctors, upon meeting you we do not see you as another "case" of asthma, diabetes, arthritis, or cancer. Ayurvedic physicians, for the most part, shun disease names and labels. Every person is treated according to his or her own unique doshic imbalances, signs, and symptoms.

  • Depending on the training and expertise of the physician, diagnostic methods may include both traditional techniques, such as pulse and tongue diagnosis as well as standard conventional medical tests and biochemical measurements.

  • The foundation of Ayurvedic therapy is "lifestyle reform". This embraces changing a person's diet where necessary, encouraging the correct form and amount of physical exercise, optimizing breathing and flexibility through yogic methods, improving sleep quality, and regular deep detoxification. The value of this latter measure is that it reduces the probability of the disorder recurring.

  • Ayurvedic medicine utilizes an extensive, evidence-based, and time-tested range of more than 1,200 safe and natural herbal and herbo-mineral medicines.

  • Each and every patient is educated on the nature of their disorder, taught self-healing methods and techniques, and apprised of the pros and cons of each treatment option. Ayurvedic patients are required to participate in their healthcare path. Patients are not maneuvered into a passive, subordinate position of "victim-hood".

  • Ayurvedic medicine relies exclusively on natural approaches. The use of unnatural and man-developed substances, such as conventional drugs or chemical modifications of existing natural products, is rejected. Similarly, lifestyle reform only adopts techniques which are simple and natural which do not require technical or costly man-made equipment.

  • Ayurveda accepts that disorders which have developed over months and years are not likely to be cured rapidly. Suppressing symptoms sometimes can be accomplished quickly, but restoring harmony takes time. Change occurs only gradually in nature. Patients learn that restoring optimum health is a medium-term process and maintaining it is long-term.

One final thought . . .

Whereas conventional allopathic medicine is largely occupied with the suppression of unpleasant and distressing symptoms, Ayurveda is more directed at correcting the underlying causes and contributory factors. The two medical paradigms, if appropriately and wisely implemented, can truly complement each other. By combining both medical systems in an integrative approach, the probability of cure is increased.

Scott Gerson, M.D., M.Phil. (Ayurveda), Ph.D. (Ayurveda) is one of the world's leading physicians and researchers in Ayurvedic Medicine and is well versed in all modalities of integrative medicine. He has served as an advisor to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the NIH, the National Cancer Institute, and many other institutions. He is the medical director of The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (est. 1982). Dr. Gerson is a Clinical Assistant Professor, Dept. of Family and Community Medicine, New York Medical College, and an Associate Professor at Tilak Ayurved Mahavidyalaya, Department of Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine).  Dr. Gerson sees private patients in Lake Mary, FL, and NYC. Contact: (407) 549-2800;;

Article originally written and shared via The Planetary Gazette December 2018 and reposted here for your reading pleasure.