Many people misconstrue Ayurveda as a ‘Folk’ medicine, a source of herbal or home remedies. However, those who have studied it or embraced it know it’s a highly sophisticated and organised way of living. It’s one of the oldest systems of healing science that originated in India and primarily focuses on preventing—not fighting—disease. Some believe it to be 5000 years old and consider it a healing approach that takes the body as a whole.
As one of the oldest practitioners of Ayurveda in India, we realise that most people are unaware of Ayurveda’s true meaning and how it can transform their lives, especially in this age when a modern, sedentary life presents unprecedented health complications.
In this blog, we will delve into everything you need to know about Ayurveda, right from what it is to its benefits and beyond. Let’s dive in:
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic way of living that helps people live long, healthy, and balanced lives. Originating in India over 5000 years ago, the term Ayurveda derives from the Sanskrit words Ayus, which means life, and Veda, which means knowledge, together translating to ‘Knowledge of life’.
Ayurveda believes that a person’s health and well-being depend on a harmonious balance between their mind, body, spirit, and the environment. A number of things can disturb this balance, some of which are birth defects, genes, injury, age, climate and seasonal change, and your emotions. Ayurveda aims to maintain or restore this balance through lifestyle interventions, such as nutrition, herbal remedies, yoga, and meditation, promoting good health and preventing disease. It also includes natural treatments and therapies to cure or manage health problems.
Types of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is of two types: traditional and Maharishi. Many people think of them as the same, but there are some subtle distinctions between them, especially in their approach.
Traditional Ayurveda is based on the classical texts of Ayurveda, such as the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. It includes lifestyle interventions such as yoga, massage, and herbal medicine to encourage health and well-being.
Maharishi Ayurveda, on the other hand, is based on translations from the classical texts by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. What makes it different from Traditional Ayurveda is the integration of transcendental meditation (TM) and emphasis on Maharishi’s principle of supreme consciousness, which is believed to be linked to a person’s well-being. It also stresses balancing the mind and the body through positive thinking and meditation to achieve optimal health and well-being.
Traditional and Maharishi Ayurveda also differ slightly in their approach to diagnosis and treatment. The former considers a person’s Prakriti (constitution), Vikriti (current imbalances), and the state of the doshas. The latter employs traditional diagnostic methods while also emphasising a person’s state of consciousness.
Both types of Ayurveda;
- Use of herbs to promote health and wellness
- Consider imbalances in the body’s basic energy types, called Doshas, the source of illnesses and diseases
- Include lifestyle modifications to treat or manage health problems
How does Ayurveda work?
Ayurveda believes that everything, both dead and alive, in the universe is interconnected. If your mind, body, and soul are in sync with the universe, you will have optimal health. If this sync is disrupted, you will develop health problems.
Those who practise Ayurveda also believe that every living being is made of five elements found in the universe. These elements are water, fire, earth, air, and space, together forming three energies or forces in the human body called Doshas.
As per Ayurveda, Doshas control how our body works. They result in different physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics in every human being. They are also connected to the balance between your body and the universe, resulting in health problems if they are not balanced.
The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Every human body has a combination of these three doshas, but one dosha is always dominant over the other two. Each dosha controls a different function of your body. Let's discuss these three doshas in detail.
The primary elements of Vata Dosha are space and air. This dosha is characterised by the qualities of coldness and lightness.
Ayurveda says that Vata dosha controls the basic bodily functions associated with movement, such as cell division, blood flow, heart function, muscle contractions, breathing, and bowel movement. This dosha is also considered to govern the mind-nervous connection.
Practitioners of Ayurveda call it the most powerful of all three doshas. They also believe that things such as fear, grief, staying up late, and eating too soon after a meal can disrupt this dosha. Once disrupted, you may experience anxiety and forgetfulness and develop health conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, skin and heart problems.
To balance the Vata dosha, Ayurveda recommends practising meditation, keeping a regular sleep cycle, drinking more water, and consuming mild food items.
Individuals with Vata as their dominant dosha are quick thinkers, creative, and experience frequent mood changes. Physically, they may be thin and lose weight easily, their skin may be dry, and their hair may be thin and curly.
The primary elements of Pitta Dosha are fire and water. This dosha is characterised by the quality of heat and warmth.
As per Ayurveda, Pitta dosha controls digestion, metabolism, temperature, and certain hormones linked to an individual’s appetite. It is also associated with intelligence, focus, and understanding. Eating sour and spicy food, missing meals, or spending too much time in the sun are believed to throw this dosha out of balance.
Imbalanced Pitta dosha can make you over-competitive, impulsive, and cranky. Not only this, but you may also develop health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, fever, and indigestion. To restore the Pitta dosha balance, Ayurveda stresses eating light and cold food items like cucumber and salad and practising restorative or slow yoga. You should also spend less time in the sun and avoid exposure to excessive heat.
People who have Pitta as their dominant dosha tend to be competitive, confident, and natural leaders. Physically, they may have a moderate athletic build and a hot body temperature. Their skin tends to appear warm and reddish, and their hair may have medium thickness and lustre.
The primary elements of Kapha Dosha are water and earth. This dosha is associated with coolness, moisture, and stability.
Ayurveda says Kapha dosha controls muscle growth, weight, stability, and body strength. It also says that this dosha supplies water to all body parts, moisturises the skin, and maintains the immune system. People with balanced Kapha dosha are considered calm, loving, and forgiving.
Daytime sleeping and consuming extra sweet or sour food are considered disruptive to this dosha. People who have an imbalanced Kapha may be possessive, stubborn, depressed, and exhausted. They are also likely to develop asthma, breathing problems, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
To balance the Kapha dosha, Ayurveda emphasises following a warm and easy-to-digest diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables. Performing exercise that improves blood flow, such as sun salutation in the morning, jogging, and others, and staying warm also help.
People with Kapha as their dominant dosha tend to be more calm, accepting, patient, and grounded. Physically, they may have a broad body frame and gain weight easily. They may have smooth and moist skin and have thick, wavy hair.
Ayurvedic treatment focuses on restoring the balance between your mind, body, and soul. The treatment usually begins with assessing a person’s dosha constitution and determining the disbalances in the doshas, specifically in the dominant dosha. This evaluation helps find the specific needs of the individuals and create the right Ayurvedic treatment plan.
Ayurvedic treatment begins with the body’s internal purification, followed by dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, herbal remedies, and therapeutic procedures, depending on the dosha assessment and health problems. The treatment helps a person remove body impurities, reduce symptoms, develop immunity to disease, relieve stress, and increase harmony in life. Herbs and other plants are also used extensively in Ayurvedic treatment.
Does Ayurvedic Treatment Work?
Ayurveda has been practised for thousands of years in India. In fact, it’s now a form of medical care similar to traditional western medicine, Chinese medicine, homoeopathic medicine, and others. Despite that, many people wonder if it helps prevent or treat an illness or disease.
From a modern medicine perspective, Ayurvedic treatment works by relieving stress, which has a tremendous impact on our ability to fight certain diseases. Studies have found that transcendental meditation (TM), which comes under Maharishi Ayurveda, can lower anxiety.
Other studies revealed that Ayurveda can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, slow the ageing process, manage diabetes, and speed up recovery from illness. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine, such as Ashwagandha, shilajit, and others, have antioxidant properties, which help protect against long-term disease, such as heart disease and arthritis.
Ayurvedic treatment also stresses adopting a vegetarian diet, which is better for cardiovascular health than diets containing red meat.
What should I expect from an Ayurvedic treatment?
An Ayurvedic treatment aims to restore the three doshas. If you want to opt for Ayurvedic treatment for your health problems, you should expect your Ayurvedic practitioner to
- take a detailed medical history,
- feel your abdomen,
- check your pulse,
- examine your eyes, nose, ears, tongue, nails, and skin, and
- listen to the tone of your voice.
They will also ask about your lifestyle, eating habits, and surroundings. Using this information, they will determine your imbalanced doshas and work toward bringing your mind and body into balance.
Ayurvedic treatment may involve a wide range of Ayurvedic practices to restore your natural dosha. Some of the practices may include:
- Pranayama: It involves breathing exercises, which help you remain calm.
- Rasayana: It involves repeating words or phrases called mantras during meditation, combined with use of certain herbs for rejuvenation.
- Yoga: It is a combination of pranayama and meditation, which helps improve digestion and blood circulation and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, anxiety, and chronic pain.
- Abhyanga: It involves rubbing the skin with herbal oils to increase blood circulation and draw toxins out of the body through the skin.
- Pancha karma: This is the process of internal purification, which involves body cleansing to reduce cholesterol. Ayurvedic practitioners use various methods that cause sweating, bowel movements, and even vomiting to help you get rid of the body toxins.
- Herbal medicines: Many Ayurvedic practitioners suggest herbal medicines such as ginger, licorice root, turmeric, and cloves, depending on the dosha imbalance.
Benefits of Ayurveda
Since Ayurveda is an alternative medicine, more research is needed to find its efficacy in treating health problems. However, some practices of Ayurveda, such as mediation, herbal medicines, and healthy food habits, have health benefits backed by studies.
Ayurvedic Medicine is believed to work in these areas:
- Chronic conditions: Ayurveda is known for its effectiveness in managing chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and diabetes. A few studies suggest that Ayurvedic preparations may reduce pain and increase function in people with osteoarthritis, and help manage symptoms of type-2 diabetes.
- Digestive disorder: Ayurvedic medicine has been shown to treat various digestive issues, such as indigestion, constipation, and others.
- Stress and anxiety: Maharishi Ayurveda includes transcendental meditation, which has been shown to relieve stress and restore the mind-body connection, promoting overall well-being and emotional balance.
- Skin disorders: Many Ayurvedic herbs and plants, such as Aloe vera, neem, and others, are known to help treat several skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and more. They also help purify blood, balance doshas, and promote healthy skin from within.
- Respiratory issues: Ayurvedic treatments may also help manage respiratory problems like asthma.
- Heart Disease: One study found that Ayurveda helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls in healthy adults and those at high risk of heart disease. Thus, Ayurveda may minimise the risk of heart disease.
Ayurveda’s benefits may multiply when used as a complementary therapy with standard, conventional medicine.
What are the risks associated with Ayurveda?
Most Ayurvedic practices, such as pranayama and meditation, do not have any negative health effects. Individuals with serious mental health issues, including depression, have been found to benefit from therapies used in Ayurveda. However, it is always recommended to perform Ayurvedic practices under expert guidance.
It is also important to know that Ayurvedic herbs may not be right for everyone. Therefore, seek advice from an Ayurvedic expert to find the best herbal medicine for your needs.
While you may need expert guidance for herbal medicines, you can adopt certain Ayurvedic teaching to promote good health and well-being. These are
- Maintain your sleep cycle for stress relief: Maintain a healthy sleep cycle by keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Avoid keeping gadgets in your bedroom. Setting aside a few minutes for meditation before bed is also helpful. You can also consider practising deep breathing exercises before sleeping. This can help manage stress and improve sleep quality.
- Consume healthy and light food: Ayurveda recommends eating homemade food instead of processed food. Also, consider eating your food when calm and patient for easy and fast digestion. Make sure to eat light food at night and never skip your lunch, as your digestion is the best during the noon.
- Exercise: Practice yoga daily and take morning and evening walks in the park.
- Meditate: Meditation’s benefits go beyond stress release and improved concentration. It can also calm your thoughts and help you connect with your spiritual self.
In a nutshell
Ayurveda is a complex and sophisticated way of living that considers all parts of your health: physical, mental, and spiritual. While using it to treat health problems may require you to seek expert guidance, you can always adopt practices to keep illness and disease at bay while optimising your health.
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