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Ayurveda is a powerful ancient healing science, yet remains shrouded in mystery; here is an overview of Ayurvedic constructs and benefits
Ayurveda is an ancient healing science that stems from the Vedic culture. It is a system of medicine that evolved in India over 5,000 years ago. Accomplished teachers taught their disciples in an oral tradition. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). It’s the science of life which helps in understanding how the body works and helps in maintaining good health. Ayurveda is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
According to Ayurveda, the body is a crystallization of the mind. Impaired agni (the digestive fire) and indigestion are at the root of all diseases. The first aim of Ayurveda is to protect and maintain the health of the human being throughout the lifespan. The second aim of this science is to cure the diseases which are developed in the body of a human.
Difference between Western Medicine and Ayurveda
Western allopathic medicine currently tends to focus on symptomatology and disease, and primarily uses drugs and surgery to rid the body of pathogens or diseased tissue. Many lives have been saved by this approach. In fact, surgery is encompassed by Ayurveda. However, drugs, because of their toxicity, often weaken the body. Ayurveda does not focus on disease. Rather, Ayurveda maintains that all life must be supported by energy in balance. When there is minimal stress and the flow of energy within a person is balanced, the body’s natural defense systems will be strong and can more easily defend against disease. [Source] Dr. Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute also reminds us that Ayurveda isn’t a substitute for western medicine. If you need urgent surgery or are dealing with a disease where the growth is rampant, allopathy and surgery are always better options. Ayurveda can be a complementary healing modality where it can help rebuild a patient’s body after surgery or being treated with drugs.
Ayurveda Practice in India versus the United States
When you look at the history of the country, Ayurvedic medicine thrived until India began to experience political conflict and invasion, notably by the British Empire. After gaining independence from the British, Ayurveda found its place as a major medical system once again. Even today, India has full-fledged Ayurvedic hospitals where doctors spend years training and treating patients for different kinds of diseases. Some of the Ayurvedic doctors I have studied with completed their training in both western medicine hospitals as well as Ayurvedic hospitals. Classically, Ayurvedic Medicine was conceptualized and practiced as eight major clinical subspecialties of medicine and continues to be taught today in India. They include:
- Kaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine)
- Baala Chikitsa (Pediatrics)
- Graha Chikitsa (Psychology)
- Urdhvaanga or Shalakya Chikitsa (Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat)
- Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)
- Damstra Chikitsa (Toxicology)
- Rasayan/Jara Chikitsa (Geriatrics & Rejuvenation)
- Vrsha or Vājīkaraṇa Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac Therapy)
In the US, the concept of Ayurveda might be new to a large majority. Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Depending on where you live, your awareness levels might differ. I understand that how one practices Ayurveda in the west is very different from the way it’s practiced in India. It’s more educational in its approach in the US and often understood as a lifestyle management tool. A lot of people incorporate it for stress management, lowering anxiety, battling insomnia, and to deal with digestive issues…including but not limited to Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple), when he was alive, Ricky Williams (a football player), and actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts.
In Ayurveda and other CAM therapies, it’s believed that we enjoy good health when our mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe.
When something upsets this balance, we get sick. What can upset this balance? Think poor diet & lifestyle, genetic or birth defects, any injuries, age, your emotions, and change in seasons. Going to bed late, eating a snack at 1am, surviving on 3 hours of sleep, or not exercising are examples of living against the rhythm of nature. Notice how birds and animals return home after sundown. Some animals hibernate during winter to rest and replenish. It’s just us humans that break the circadian rhythm, dishonor nature, and idolize the hustle culture and erratic living. As a result, we fall sick.
What is good health according to Ayurveda?
According to classical Ayurvedic texts, a state of health exists when the following factors are in balance:
- The digestive fire (agni)
- The bodily humors or tridoshas (vata, pitta, kapha)
- The three waste products or malas (urine, feces, and sweat) are produced at normal levels
- The five senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, & smell) and their corresponding organs are functioning normally
- The body, mind, and consciousness are harmoniously working as one
A few key points to note
- According to Ayurveda, the mind also plays a critical role in our overall health. The mental disorders first manifest in the mind and later distress the body. In fact, mental ama (toxins) and unresolved emotions can lead to disease in very concrete ways. For example, unresolved anger can accumulate in the liver and impair its functioning; unprocessed grief can disturb the lungs; and chronic anxiety can upset the health of the colon. Beyond these, there are countless other ways that imbalances in the mind can manifest as physical disease.
- Ayurveda emphasizes that Prakriti or constitution, which is unique to every individual, is also responsible for the health and disease patterns in different people. Health is order and disease is disorder. There are three main doshas in Ayurveda called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The doshas, or some combination of them, can be identified in various seasons, times of day, climates, landscapes, plants, and animals. All three doshas are present in each one of us. But the ratio between vata-pitta-kapha varies a great deal from one person to the next.
- Knowing both your Ayurvedic constitution and your current state of imbalance is incredibly helpful. This knowledge will allow you to adjust the most basic components of your day—like how you exercise or when you eat—to better support your overall well-being.
- Everything that we experience, be it a physical substance, a thought or emotion, has certain qualities (Ayurvedic gunas). The ancient texts of Ayurveda identify 20 qualities (10 pairs of opposites) that can be used to describe every substance or experience. There are gunas associated with each element, dosha, symptom, food, yoga pose, mood, etc. They are extremely important because the foundation of ayurvedic treatment is to identify the out-of-balance guna and apply its opposite.
- Ayurveda follows the principle of “like increases like.” If you have a stomach ulcer or suffer from heartburn, the foods that Ayurveda recommends will be Pitta-balancing and it will alleviate these conditions. The foundation of Ayurvedic treatment relies upon recognizing when gunas have become excessive or deficient, as this is known to cause doshic imbalance and lead to disease. Ayurveda applies the opposite qualities to return to balance.
- If you believe Ayurveda is about mom and grandmas’ herbal remedies and warm oil massages, you are limiting yourself in experiencing the oldest healing system of the world. By now you know that it’s a medical system. It’s a lot more than golden milk for pains and aches, massaging the gums with clove oil when toothache becomes crippling, or using Ajwain for gas and bloating. Ayurveda is more than online dosha quizzes and khichadi cleanses. Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle, and the use of herbs.
If you choose to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner or Ayurvedic doctor, they will tell you both your Ayurvedic dosha and your imbalance. They will help you map out what diet and lifestyle to follow and if you need any herbs at all. Ayurveda reminds us of the importance of living in tune with nature, eating seasonally and trusting our body. If we can eat and live mindfully based on what we need in the now versus following trends mindlessly, we might be able to prevent illnesses and maintain good health.
If you are looking for advice from a trained ayurvedic coach, contact me here.
[Disclaimer: The purpose of our articles is to provide information. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concerns, please consult a trained health professional. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.]
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