– The perfect complement to conventional Medicine.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is Veda (knowledge) of Ayu (Life), the wisdom of Healthy Living.
Dating back to more than 5000 years ago, Ayurveda is a part of the ancient Indian Vedic system (oldest sacred scriptures of India). Ayurvedic literature is based on Sankhya Philosophy of Creation. The ancient seers perceived the close relationship between man and the universe and realized that the source of all existence is Cosmic Consciousness. Because of its spiritual background, Ayurveda may not be understood from a purely scientific or materialistic perspective. It has to be understood through its unique ways.
Ayurveda is looked upon as “the Mother of Healing sciences”. Ayurveda and Chinese medicine share similar concepts. Ayurveda was adapted by Buddhists and is also the basis of Buddhist medicine. The older Greek Medicine, used in Europe until seventeenth century (which is the basis of modern medicine) is very similar to Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is a well-diversified health and medical science. The oldest Ayurvedic scriptural book Charak Samhita includes a comprehensive treatise elaborating eight major branches of Ayurveda: Internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, toxicology, ENT, rejuvenation and revitalization. Sushruta was an Ayurvedic surgeon. “Sushruta Samhita”, has detailed description of plastic surgeries and advanced surgical tools.
Ayurveda is recognized by World Health Organization (WHO) as a Natural healing science and is gaining much popularity in US as “New Age Science”.
Concepts of Ayurveda
Ayurveda looks at the human being not as a physical being, but the combination of Body-Mind-Spirit and the harmony at all these three levels, is essential for true health. Mind controls the body, and body affects the Mind. Stress, anxiety, fear, worry and many psychological problems are manifested as physical problems. Ayurveda recommends Meditation, Pranayama, Visualization therapies to achieve mental peace and tranquility.
In our day-to-day “multitasking” life, our mind starts racing, causing anxiety and stress. In meditation, we learn to “do nothing”. Just sit and relax and observe our own breath (Prana – life energy). When the chatter from the outside and the inside stops, our mind becomes tranquil, calm and restful. It directs inwards and becomes one with inner wisdom and spirit.
Jane, the executive in the large company was eager to share her experience. “I was tired of everything. The projects and deadlines were beyond my control. My life was so stressful and I didn’t know what to do. I was diagnosed with having depression, chronic fatigue and panic attacks. Finally my friend convinced me to go for Meditation with her. I went everyday for few months. Now I meditate at home twice a day. It has completely changed my life. I learned to become mindful of each and every moment. Now I thoroughly enjoy my life”. As Buddha said, “we are what we think”. Thinking changes our emotions. Emotions direct our actions. Our actions change our destiny.
There are different ways of meditation, such as Vipashyana Meditation, Transcendental meditation, Pranayama Meditation, but the results are same. It makes mind very tranquil and increases awareness and mindfulness.
Another way of releasing stress and tension is Yoga. The meaning of Yoga is uniting Body and Mind. Divided into eight limbs, “Ashtanga Yoga” is a step-by-step journey from outer world of matter to the innermost world of consciousness. Mistakenly yoga is considered as Yoga postures called “Asanas”, but Asanas are only one part of Ashtanga yoga. Yoga has evolved into various types such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Ayyangar yoga, Bikram Yoga. These are all different versions of yoga focusing on different aspects.
Many people do yoga for different benefits. Some do for physical flexibility, others do it for mental relaxation or to alleviate different health problems such as back problems, neck problems, digestive problems, emotional problems etc. (There is one upcoming yoga conference in Houston TX, for studying yoga for different health ailments).
Human Body – The flow of Energies
Instead of looking at the body as a stationary physical structure, Ayurveda looks at it as a flow of natural energies. “Prana” the life energy is the most central and is the cause of our existence. Besides Prana, there are other three energies called “Doshas” Viz. “Vata”, “Pitta” and “Kapha”. This “Tridosha Vichar” (theory of three Doshas) is the foundation of Ayurvedic philosophy.
Though we consider different systems of the body, Ayurveda looks at it as a “whole” – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha being at cellular, organic and systemic levels. These Tridoshas control all the physiological and psychological functions of the whole body. According to Ayurveda free flow of these energies is health and any imbalance or obstruction is a disease. Instead of using “Blockers”, Ayurveda works by removing all the blockages, so the energies start flowing freely again creating health.
Vata controls movements and actions, respiration, circulation, coordination of senses, and absorption of nutrients.
Pitta controls digestion and metabolism, pH and body temperature, visual perception and skin complexion, thinking and understanding.
Kapha is responsible for building tissues and maintaining fluid balance, lubrication and stability, patience and calmness.
Diseases manifest at different locations with different symptoms, but the underlying cause could be imbalance of either of the Doshas. So, regaining their balance is the treatment. For example, thousands of teenagers suffer from Acne. The conventional treatment is the use of Tetracyclines. Ayurvedic diagnosis of Acne is Pitta imbalance. So bringing Pitta into balance by diet and herbs is the treatment.
Body Constitution – “Prakriti” the Unique Blueprint of each Individual
Body Constitution is another most important concept of Ayurveda and it unsolves the mysteries about many diseases. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are present in each individual, but in unique proportion, called “Prakriti or Body Constitution”. It is each person’s unique blue print, making his/her unique looks and likes, hobbies and personality. Each person has predominance of either of Doshas, revealing the qualities of Doshas in that person.
For example Vata people are generally slim and slender, very energetic, intuitive, and imaginative. They walk fast, talk fast and drive in the fast lane. They “change their mind” often. They love warm and humid weather. When Vata gets out of balance, these people may suffer from pain, arthritis, constipation, dry skin, anxiety, worry, depression, ADD, ADSD, PMS, PMDD, MS, and many more symptoms.
Pitta people are medium in built and height. They generally have sharp eyes, sharp nose and sharp tongue. They are very organized in their speech, work, and life. They are visionary, and are great leaders. They like sports or politics because “winning is everything” to them. Their slogan is “My way or the highway”. They love cool weather. When Pitta goes out of balance, they may suffer from irritability and anger, heartburn and ulcers, hypertension and skin infections, Acne, blisters, liver problems, ulcerative colitis, Crone’s disease etc.
Kapha people are loving, caring and nurturing. They generally are well built, with rounded features, and have sweet and easygoing personality. They are good listeners and like to follow others. They have strong endurance and stamina. Their slogan is “Don’t worry, be happy”. They like “Status quo” and tend to be couch potatoes. They like warm but dry weather. When Kapha goes out of balance, these people may suffer from congestion and sinus problems, allergies and migraine headaches, weight gain and lethargy, water retention and swelling.
In Ayurveda, during preventive measures or in Treatment plan, knowing person’s Body Constitution is a major consideration. Everything changes with respect to Body Constitution. Instead of asking a question “what is the disease”, Ayurvedic Doctors asks “who has the disease”.
As Prevention – Diet, and life style is modified according to Body Constitution. There is no “one size fits all” regimen. Each plan is “Custom Tailored”.
They are mainly two types – “Shodhana” and “Shamana”.
“Shodhana” is removing aggravated Doshas from the body and “Shamana” is modifying diet, and life style to maintain balance of Doshas. Shodhana is performed first and is followed by Shamana.
Main Shodhana treatment is “Panchakarma”
Panchakarma literally means “five therapeutic procedures” to purify the Mind/Body. It is a series of steps performed for 7 days tailored to different body constitutions. It involves three stages, Purva Karma (preparatory steps), Pradhan Karma (main procedure), and Paschat Karma (post Panchakarma steps).
In Purva Karma, aggravated Doshas or toxins are loosened from various tissues and mobilized towards the digestive system. Purva Karma begins with Abhyanga, an oil massage performed by two technicians simultaneously with synchronizing movements. During this step, whole body, from head to toes is massaged with herbal oil. Oil is also taken internally. The massage oil and oral oil help to loosen all the toxins in seven tissue layers.
Second phase called Pradhan karma, is actually the main step in Panchakarma, during which accumulated toxins are flushed out of the body, by using special herbs. In case of Kapha aggravation herbal emesis “Vamana” is performed. In Pitta aggravation herbal purgation “Virechana” is given and Vata aggravation series of herbal oil and cleansing enemas “Basti” are given. In cases of upper respiratory, Kapha aggravation herbal Nasal oil drops “Nasya” are used, and in cases of skin problems (Pitta aggravation) leeches were used or blood letting “Raktamoksha” was done (in particular spots).
(In US, during Panchakarma, Vamana and Raktamoksha are not performed).
Paschat karma is a third stage of panchakarma. It involves restoration of strong digestive enzymes and rejuvenation of tissues. This paschat karma is designed to nourish, strengthen, and balance the newly detoxified tissues. The aim is to establish increased energy level, strengthen the immune system, and increase longevity. It is done by taking strengthening herbs for a month.
Panchakarma procedures have been tried successfully around the world and even show promising results in clinical trials. Many studies show increase in energy, appetite, and mental tranquility and decrease in diastolic blood pressure, blood cholesterol as well as chronic pain and stress.
There are many positive testimonials from cancer patients who have tried Panchakarma. Many of them needed smaller doses of chemotherapy and experienced fewer side effects. The blood count improved quicker than patients who did not do Panchakarma.
Panchakarma can be successfully used as preventive measure in conditions like heart problems, cancer, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, arthritis, MS, allergies, asthma, Depression, stress, insomnia, anxiety, ADD, SAD, digestive disorders, and many more. (Please read an article from Dr. Andrew Weil’s book “8 weeks to Optimum Health – page 146-148”. and the testimonial from my client who had MS)
Shodhana is followed by Shamana –mainly diet and life style modification and taking herbs. Instead of counting calories, Ayurveda utilizes different tastes and subtle qualities of food to modify diet. Here are few testimonials from my clients describing how they felt by changing diet.
Tom, a computer programmer, got rid of many of his symptoms by changing his eating habits. “ I had bad digestion and used to feel very heavy and bloated. My tongue was white and I had bad breath. I was eating hamburgers and donuts and ice cream a lot. After seeing an Ayurvedic Doctor, I realized that my Constitution is Kapha and I was eating Kapha increasing foods- too much sweet, salty stuff and heavy, oily and cold, causing all the problems. When I started eating light and warm foods such as toast and baked or broiled vegetables, chicken or fish, with lots of spices, all my problems went away”.
John has typical Pitta Constitution. His mother brought him to me for his chronic Acne problem. He said “I play tennis and I am out on tennis court a lot. Every summer my face breaks out and I get acne on my face and back. I feel so irritable and get mad when things don’t work my way. My mother took me to an Ayurvedic Doctor. She explained to me that my Body Constitution is Pitta, and summer is Pitta time, I play in the afternoon, which further increases Pitta, so I should play tennis in the morning instead, and avoid Pizza, and all the junk food. I thought it was a joke but I did it any way. Now I believe what that Doctor was saying was true. Keeping my body cool by cooling foods like fruit and vegetables and not going out in Sun, cleared up my face”.
Mary, a flight attendant is born Vata Constitution. “My schedule is very irregular. Constant flying makes me anxious, constipated, and fatigued. I had severe PMS and body aches and pains. I thought it is so healthy to eat salads and fruit and cold drinks. But when I did that, I felt worse. My friend convinced me to go see an Ayurvedic Doctor, when she explained to me that I am Vata, and I am supposed to Vata balancing foods, like soups, stews, sautéed vegetables or chicken and fish and herbal teas. In few days after changing my eating habits I started feeling calmer, had no PMS, I had regular BM, and in few months I felt like I got my life back.
Wrong foods cause many health problems and right foods treat those problems. During conventional treatments the diet is mostly ignored. The reason for many acute symptoms becoming chronic, could be wrong eating habits. Past Surgeon general’s Quote that “No disease can be treated unless supplemented by right diet, but 90-95% of the diseases can be prevented by right diet alone” is very true. Ayurveda had been advocating this for thousands of years.
Eating three meals a day at regular time, getting up before sunrise, meditating in the morning, exercising every day in the evening, going to bed before midnight, are few of the recommendations of daily life-style. These simple things go long ways to improve health.
Ayurveda is a treasure of Medicinal herbs. Before the invention of modern pharmaceutical drugs, whole world relied on Medicinal herbs for treating many diseases. 25 % of the current pharmaceuticals are originated from natural herbs e.g. Diditalis, Reserpine
Many of the Ayurvedic herbs have been tested in scientific research labs and have been proven medicinally to be very potent. For example:
Turmeric is a natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-carcinogenic
Ginger is anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, digestant
Triphala (Popular Ayurvedic formula) reduces retinal hemorrhages in diabetic and hypertensive retonopathy, is a natural laxative and a rejuvenative.
Kutki – is hepatoprotective
In short, Ayurveda has very different view of looking at Health and healing. It is more holistic and universal. It offers many noninvasive therapies, which should be practiced along with conventional treatments. There are various centers in different parts of India which offer authentic treatments, like Panchakarma, Meditation, Yoga, Marma therapy, Ayurvedic massage, Ayurvedic nutrition therapy and many more. Visiting those centers and observing those treatments first hands will be a unique experience.