Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system. The Sanskrit words, “ayur” and “veda” translate to “life” and “knowledge”, respectively. Thus, it means knowledge of life. It came about more than 5000 years ago and was part of Vedic culture. The knowledge had been passed down through oral tradition and is still widely practised across India.
The school of thought is that illness manifests in our bodies due to imbalances in our consciousness, (e.g. stress, negative emotions etc.) and so it can be cured by lifestyle changes, herbal remedies and yoga (union between mind, body and consciousness). Within the body there is balance and that is the natural order – that’s how our bodies are supposed to function. If an imbalance occurs, like high blood pressure caused by stress, then there is disorder. Health = order; disease = disorder. The main goal of this naturopathy is to prevent disease and promote good health.
Ayurveda is believed to be an alternative and holistic approach to conventional medicine and schools in India and across the globe have gained institutional recognition, but it has not yet gained this status in the United States.
Those who practice Ayurveda believe everyone is made of five basic elements; space, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements are uniquely combined in each person, but generate 3 basic life force energies known as doshas. They are Vata (space and air); Pitta (fire and water); and Kapha (water and earth). These are combinations of the five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation – sort of like a genetic code. It is believed that your health is dependent on your dosha and addressing your bodily needs according to your dosha will lessen your chance of getting sick or developing health issues. There are many websites where you can find out your dosha. Below is a brief outline of each dosha and guidelines on how to balance them.
Vata is the energy of movement — governs basic bodily functions such as breathing, blinking, heart rate etc.
- Keep warm
- Keep calm
- Avoid frozen or raw foods
- Avoid extreme cold
- Eat warm foods and spices
- Keep a regular routine
- Get plenty of rest
Pitta is the body’s metabolic system — governs digestion, absorption, nutrition, metabolism etc.
- Avoid excessive heat
- Avoid excessive oil
- Avoid excessive steam
- Limit salt intake
- Eat cooling, non-spicy foods
- Exercise during the cooler part of the day
Kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure — governs muscle growth, body strength and weight. It also maintains immunity.
- Get plenty of exercise
- Avoid heavy foods
- Keep active
- Avoid dairy
- Avoid iced food or drinks
- Vary your routine
- Avoid fatty, oily foods
- Eat light, dry food
- No daytime naps
At an Ayurvedic centre, treatment would usually start with a toxin purification process, followed by a customised diet, ayurvedic massage and some use of herbal concoctions. A practitioner would create a customised treatment plan, taking into account your unique physical makeup, your dosha and how they are balanced. The cleansing process – called panchakarma – would rid you of toxins and undigested food, through methods like enemas or laxatives, as a build up of these in the body can cause illness.
Allopathic medicine (fancy talk for conventional med), is centred around treating symptoms of a disease and primarily uses drugs and invasive procedures, like surgery, to purge the body of a disease. Although much of the world still predominantly relies on allopathy to cure their ailments, more and more people are leaning towards herbal and naturopathic remedies – according to the World Health Organization. This may be due to the increase in blood toxicity that results from certain therapies and drugs. Ayurveda tends to focus on prevention rather than cure, but the practice encourages maintaining mental and physical health and building up your own natural defence system.
Now it is probably wise to mention that Ayurveda cannot be used to cure every sickness. It is sometimes referred to as ‘integrative’ or ‘complimentary’ medicine, which is to say it can be used in conjunction with western medicine and treatments. Sometimes we notice differences or imbalances in the body that a doctor cannot cure or recognise. In cases like this, it might be beneficial to try a naturopathic remedy like Ayurveda and see if it can relieve any unease you may feel. Remember that your progress toward mind and body balance is related to how well you stick to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Always talk to your doctor before you try Ayurveda treatment.