Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash
For Prediction Magazine’s Holistic Health Guide
© Cliona O Conaill
Ayurveda is more than just a type of healing, it is a way of life with its own philosophy and belief system. Its purpose is to help people live long and happy lives, enabling them to avoid illness by prevention and understanding the causes. It combines common sense approaches like healthy eating, exercising and detoxifying, with spiritual guidance. Although it is not necessary to accept all of the beliefs to have an Ayurvedic treatment, it may be helpful to have a basic understanding.
The word Ayurveda is an ancient Sanskrit word. “Ayu” means life and “Veda” means knowledge or science. So Ayurveda means knowledge about life or “wisdom of life”.
Ayurveda is the oldest holistic healing system known with origins reaching back over 4000 years to the Vedic civilisation of India.
There is a common misconception that the Vedas are religious Hindu books. In fact they are simply ancient books of knowledge like encyclopaedias or instruction manuals. They cover many different topics from politics and engineering, construction and economics to exercising, eating and even relating and sleeping. Hindus believe that the original four Vedas were written by the creator as guides for maintaining peace and harmony on earth.
“The essence of the Vedas is love, peace and eating properly. You don’t have to be a big scholar to understand them. But we have created our own rules. We have no idea who we are or what our constitution is, so it is no surprise disease is so common today,” says, Dr Partap Chauhan, Director of the Jiva Ayurvedic centre in Delhi, India.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, All is One, meaning that everything exists in relation to everything else and that the mind influences the body and vice versa.
“Thought processes have physical effects and disorders of the body cause psychological problems too,” writes Dr Shantha Godagama, Ayurvedic practitioner, author of The Handbook of Ayurveda and president of the Ayurvedic Medical Association UK.
This is why the whole person is treated, not just the individual symptoms.
Ayurveda seeks to find the root of the problem, which may be in the mind or soul despite its manifestation in the physical body.
Ayurveda’s philosophy of treating the whole person is diametrically opposed to how orthodox western medicine works with its one-pill-fits-all philosophy. Yet many Ayurvedic doctors have trained in Western medicine and some even prescribe pharmaceutical drugs if the situation requires it, for example antibiotics in India to kill parasites. Nowadays it is also accepted that Western methods of surgery are superior to Ayurvedic ones.
But it is not only allopathic medicine which has been incorporated into the Ayurvedic toolkit, it incorporates a wide range of healing systems including herbalism, homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga and meditation.
There are eight areas of specialism of Ayurveda: General medicine, toxicology, aphrodisiacs, ENT, paediatrics, spirituology, geriatrics and surgery.
As Ayurveda developed it incorporated many Buddhist principles into its primarily Hindu philosophy. The tenets, Do not kill (any form of animal or insect life), Do not steal, Do not lie, Do not drink alcohol and Refrain from Sexual misconduct are as important to Ayurvedic practitioners as the 10 Commandments are to Christians. Simplified, Ayurveda advocates moderation is all things following the Buddhist teaching of “the middle path.”
HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT
According to Indian tradition, 3000 years ago 52 wise men and meditators left their homes and went to live in the Himalayas with the aim of discovering how to eliminate disease and ill health from the world. They meditated together and received the wisdom of healing which became the basis of Ayurveda. This wisdom was written down and regarded as sacred.
Later Buddha (who died in 483 BC) added his teachings to the Ayurvedic system. Many Buddhist monks became Ayurvedic practitioners in India. More hospitals and monasteries were set up and Ayurveda spread to the Far and Middle East. So present day Ayurveda has its roots in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Ayurveda was the main medical system used in India until the 20th Century when, Western Medicine became the preference of those who could afford it and Ayurveda was considered archaic and simple. It fell into disuse and was almost lost until 1980, when the National Congress funded many Ayurvedic institutions. It now has a stronger footing than its Western counterpart and is used by around 60 percent of the population.
CONDITIONS BENEFITING FROM AYURVEDA
Ayurveda can successfully treat most kinds of problems except structural problems and cancer. “In the modern age, there are many so called incurable diseases: cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome. Western doctors don’t know why these problems are occurring, they find nothing in traditional tests. But in Ayurveda we can explain this in terms of physical energy,” says Dr Chauchan.
More specifically it can treat:
Neurological complaints like Numbness, Paralysis, Neuralgia.
Painful conditions like Arthritis, Migraine, Headaches.
Stress Related ailments like depleted immune system, low Energy, Depression, Anxiety,
Digestive concerns like Wind, Gastritis, Indigestion.
Hormonal issues like Hot flushes, Period problems
Joint disorders like arthritis and rheumatism.
THE FIVE ELEMENTS
In Ancient and medieval philosophy, the four elements: Air, Earth, Fire and Water were the source of all matter. Ether, translated as life force or energy, was added later by Indian medical teaching and is considered to be the sum total of these four elements.
Air is a metaphor for movement and the catalyst activating the other elements, Fire symbolises a transformational force, which produces heat and light; Water represents the realm of emotion. It is flowing and nurturing; Earth is a metaphor for practical, heavy and solid matter.
THE THREE DOSHAS
The elements blend into Ayurveda through what is known as the three Doshas or three types of energy, because they are formed from these elements. These doshas are called vata, pitta and kapha. Every human being is composed of a combination one or two predominant doshas. Ayurveda calls this Prakriti, our original form.
Vata is formed from air and space, and is related to the nervous system. It dictates our movement, thinking and action. Pitta, formed from fire and water deals with metabolism, digestion, absorption, while Kapha, formed from earth and water, deals with moisture, fat or phlegm.
Doshas dictates character, temperament, emotional make up and body type. They govern the biological, psychological, emotional and mental mechanisms of the body, mind and spirit. Each dosha even has a predisposition to certain ailments. Disease is a result of an imbalance in the doshas. People tend to be a combination of two or more doshas but sometimes there are vata/pitta types or pitta/kapha with equal attributes of two of the doshas. It is rare for someone to be perfectly balanced between the three.
There are positive and negative attributes to each Dosha. Do you recognise yourself in the descriptions below?
Vata-dominant individuals, physically, tend to be ethereal, thin and gain little weight, they are also dry skinned and small boned, with small eyes. They are active and athletic with a high sex drive. Vata people are naturally vibrant characters, they are enthusiastic, creative, alert, decisive and imaginative.
They are quick learners, but don’t remember as easily. They are prone to insomnia due to anxiety and worry. They often work in the media, as they enjoy the quick succession of information. They have the ability to earn money quickly but tend to fritter it away. They are often quite spiritual people an are interested in the esoteric.
Other Vata Characteristics:
Tendency to constipation
Prone to depression
Original and creative
Dislike of cold.
Typical Vata Health Problems
Vata types are prone to heart and nervous system disorders, anxiety, tension, depression, migraine and IBS. Excessive Vata can lead to dehydration causing premature ageing and dry lips, eyes and skin with a darker than usual skin tone, dark yellow urine and a hacking cough.
Too little Vata can cause heaviness, sluggishness and poor circulation.
Pitta types are of usually medium build, with smooth skin, thin hair and small eyes. They are often considered the happy medium both physically and emotionally. They have a good appetite but don’t gain weight easily. They have more bodily warmth than Vata types, and perspire a lot. They have good leadership qualities, but don’t enjoy hard work and can be judgemental and angry. They often go grey early and men often go bald. They can also be aggressive, jealous, egotistical, passionate and dominating.
Other Pitta Characteristics:
Moderate sex drive
Interest in scientific and technical matters
Typical Pitta Health Problems
Pitta types out of balance can have poor digestion, heartburn, IBS, diarrhoea, ulcers, gall bladder and liver problems. They are also prone to headaches, poor eyesight, skin complaints, excessive perspiration, anxiety and irritability.
Kapha-dominant individuals are generally heavily built, with big bones, they are often overweight and gain weight easily. They have thick, shiny, oily hair, big eyes and strong nails. Their dominant nature is slow, thoughtful and lethargic. They sleep well and can easily oversleep. They tend to hold onto their reserves of energy, money and stamina as opposed to using it. They enjoy being lazy but are capable of doing physical hard work. Sometimes people who start life as vata-dominant become kapha-dominant as they get older and become well off and comfortable. In love, they are less passionate and more romantic with a low sex drive, but can be clinging and greedy.
Other Kapha Characteristics:
Resistant to change
Slow to learn
Tendency to inactivity
Strong body odour
Good in business
More materialistic than spiritual
Typical Kapha Health Problems
Kapha dominant individuals out of balance tend to be thin and flabby, weak with a soft body, slow digestion and excess mucus. They are often jealous, insecure and intolerant. Conditions they are prone to include hypertension, heart disease, circulatory and gall bladder problems, diabetes, eczema, asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis and impotence.
Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash
ADVICE FOR EACH DOSHA FROM DR GODAGAMA
Avoid eating food high in vata
Eat pitta and kapha increasing food like carrot, garlic, watercress, beans and brown rice.
Food should be sweet or salty and moderately warm, not cold or frozen
Avoid hot and spicy foods
Eat few nuts.
Massage with vata (calming) oils: sesame, olive, almond and wheatgerm.
Avoid eating food high in pitta
Eat vata and kapha increasing food like broccoli, spinach, eggs, lentils, brown rice and rye.
Eat cooling food like salads, fruit and vegetables.
Drink lots of water and other liquids but lower fruit juice consumption
Avoid pickles, fizzy and acidic drinks, alcohol, salt, tea and coffee
Take yoghurt after meals
Don’t get too much sun, take moonlit walks instead
Have cool baths
Massage with pitta (cooling) oils: coconut, sandalwood, almond and sunflower.
Avoid eating food high in kapha like artichoke, beetroot, cucumber, okra, and watercress.
Avoid cool and raw food
Avoid fattening and fried foods and alcohol.
Eat hot and spicy food
Don’t give in to sweet food cravings.
Take walks after meals
Wear warm baths and clothing
Avoid excessive sleep
Cleanse regularly with panchakarma
Take regular exercise
Massage with kapha (burning) oils: sesame, saffron and mustard
The first thing an Ayurvedic doctor does, is determine your original form. As life progresses your predominant dosha may change this can be the cause of imbalance.
A medical history will be taken including details of your immediate family, your activities, lifestyle and diet.
A pulse diagnosis will be done. The three doshas have different types of pulse.
Other diagnostic tools used are: the voice, tongue, eyes, skin and general appearance. An experienced practitioner can tell your dominant dosha by simply looking at you and many will be able to detect your ailment before you tell them.
A treatment has two essential phases.
- Panchakarma is a set of detoxifying methods, is considered vital in before starting a course of treatment. Detoxifying treatments are done traditionally in Sri Lanka and India every three months to maintain health.
Panchakarma techniques are:
Medicated enemas with herbal mixtures or oil,
Laxatives with oral preparations,
Inhalations with medicinal preparations and
Scalp therapy using a herbal oil drip.
In Britain the most popular types of Panchakarma are the steam bath and the Ayurvedic massage with special medicated herbal oils. Regular massage will relax tense, tight muscles, help pain relief, improve digestion and promote better sleep.
2. Ayurvedic Herbal Preparations, are prepared from a choice of over 1,500 herbs (bark, root, fruit, leaf or seed), minerals and metals from the mountains of India and Sri Lanka. They are taken at home internally in tablet, capsule or liquid form or externally as paste, oil or cream.
Other Ayurvedic treatments include:
- Marmatherapy, the Ayurvedic equivalent of Acupressure or Acupuncture. Ayurvedic physicians insert very fine needles painlessly, at specific points called marmapoints, to unblock energy and promote its correct flow around the body.
- Diet, personalised dietary advice will tell you which foods to avoid and those to eat more of.
- Meditation, Ayurveda doesn’t promote one meditation technique over another but recommends training. Possible methods include: Transcendental Meditation (TM) using a mantra, Autogenic Training using techniques like breath control, and simpler methods like focussing on your own inward and outward breath or an object.
- Yoga, can be divided into two types, breathing exercises called pranayama and positions called asanas.
Many holistic healing techniques aim to cure you of disease, but this one aims to make you live longer, more happily in peaceful harmony, at ease with your place in the world. Who could ask for more?
The advice given above is not intended to replace a professional Ayurvedic treatment. For personalised lifestyle advice and a tailor-made treatment, a personal consultation is unsurpassable.
Dr Shantha Godagama, Ayurvedic Medical Centre, Hale Clinic, 7 Park Crescent, London W1N 3HE, 020 7631 0156 / 0870 167 6667
Cost: £60 first visit, £50 further visits, 2 hour panchakarma treatment £110
Dr N. Sathiyamoorthy, Ayurvedic Medical Centre 020 682 38761079
Garret Lane, Tooting, London Sw17 02N
Dr Partap Chauhan, Jiva Institute, Delhi, India. He visits the UK annually for Consultations, Treatments and Education including free online or phone consultations from India via www.ayunique.com or +91 129 2296174. Info@ayurvedic.org (India), www.jiva-living.co.uk for information on Ayurvedic diet, recipes, lifestyle and Dr Chauhan’s Ayurvedic products (U.K.).
The Ayurvedic Medical Association UK, 020 7631 0156 at the Hale Clinic, www.ayurveda.co.uk. Maintains a register of qualified practitioners in the UK and runs Ayurvedic training courses in London College of Ayurveda, 20 Anne’s Grove, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, 01908 664 518.
Ayurvedic Living, PO Box 188, Exeter EX4 5AB (help and info on Ayurveda and Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Handbook of Ayurveda by Dr Shantha Godagama, published by Kyle Cathie.
© Cliona O Conaill 6.11.04