The human body is a diverse combination of tissues intricately woven together in a delicate balance that must be respected and honored if it is to be healthy. Ayurveda is a science of life which treats the person as a whole, and as such, it treats all the diverse tissues of the body in a way that is both effective and respectful. Consequently, ayurvedic medicine employs a vast array of treatments each specially catered to the particular disease and the part of the body in which it is present. The delivery of treatment to the right part of the body is very important, as even the herbs with the right potencies can be ineffectual without proper delivery. In Ayurveda, the method of delivery, or vehicle, is called the anupana, and there are a variety of anupanas employed to deliver the power of herbs and minerals to the right places. Here we will explore the five basic vehicles, water, raw sugar, ghee, oil, and alcohol.
Water is the simplest and most common vehicle and is often used in a preliminary step of a formulation only to be later combined with a more potent vehicle. In general, water delivers the potencies of the herbs to the plasma of the blood, and is used both hot and cold depending upon the circumstances and desired effect. Generally in ayurvedic treatments, hot water reduces vata and kapha, while cold water reduces pitta. The temperature of the medium greatly affects the metabolism and the manner in which the herbs are digested. For example, contrary to what one might think, fever reducing herbs should always be taken with hot water, as fevers result from a depression of the central digestive fire which causes it to rise to the surface of the body. Cold drinks and food further suppress this fire and perpetuate the cause of the fever, while warm and hot things kindle it back to health.
Herbs are also boiled in water to extract and concentrate their essences by a process known as decoction. Decoctions are then combined into concoctions and mixed in other mediums to create more complex formulations like medicated ghee, milk, oil, and aristas, i.e. medicated wine
In ayurvedic medicine, raw sugar is a very common medium for rejuvenative tonics, due to its inherent nourishing. It is the medium in the famous Chyawanprash and other similar rasayanas. It delivers the herbs to the plasma and the blood, and increases the tonic effect of herbs. It rejuvenates the plasma and the blood, relieves heat, and protects tissues, while encouraging the digestive power of the tissues.
Ghee is perhaps one of the best anupanas in ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of pitta and vata, but is light and easily digested so as not to contribute to the buildup of excess kapha. Ghee enhances the ojas, which is the subtle essence of all tissues and is responsible for vitality and immunity. It also increases the digestive power of the small intestines and liver without aggravating pitta, making it a particularly powerful aid for the treatment of pitta related conditions which generally stem from these two organs. Although ghee is fatty it does not clog the liver as other oils and fats do, but actually strengthens it. Ghee is food for the bone marrow, nerve tissue, and brain, and encourages the intellectual digestive fire of perception and understanding. The penetrating and nourishing effects of ghee have won it a central role in many ayurvedic treatments.
Ayurvedic oils are known worldwide for their healing, nourishing, and rejuvenating effects. There are many classic formulations of oils which utilize herbs from all over India in all the varieties and combinations of oils which are found on the sub-continent. There are cooling, heating, nourishing and grounding oils all of which ayurvedic medicine employs each according to its potencies. The variety of different oils allows them to be used in ayurvedic treatments for all three doshas. In general, oils work on the plasma, blood, and muscle tissues of the body. They increase the digestive power of these tissues by providing essential vitamins and minerals in a rich medium of nourishing fats and fatty acids. Though they are too heavy for the liver to digest, and so cannot reach subtler tissues, they are very effective vehicles for the treatment of the skin, blood, lungs, and colon. They are a powerful and often relaxing medium of application.
Ayurvedic medicine employs alcohol as an anupana in its famous aristas, or medicated wines. Alcohol is a very powerful medium that reaches deep into the subtle channels and tissues of the body and mind. It works primarily on the nerves and as such is great for the treatment of vata, where its heating and calming effects enhance nerve supportive herbs. However, its power is not to be abused as it can also do great damage to the body, particularly the liver.
These are just a few of the many mediums which Ayurveda employs to administer treatment. Ayurvedic treatments are as vast and varied as the conditions which they treat, and consequently there are many more anupanas which are employed. These five constitute the primary mediums of most classic ayurvedic formulations which have served the science of life for many millennia.