In the face of the growing frustration with the state of healthcare in the United States, more citizens are educating themselves and turning to more holistic practitioners and approaches for health and wellness. One example of this is the steadily growing interest in ayurvedic medicine here in our country. Since you’re likely to be hearing more and more about it, we’d like to get you familiarized with the practice.
The History of Ayurvedic Medicine
Over 5,000 years ago, the Indian sages developed a health system that centered on the mind-body connection, and the mind’s ability to heal and transform the body. (Millennia before there was modern scientific evidence to prove the mind-body connection.) This system of medicine, known as ayurveda, is one of the oldest in the world, and it continues to be practiced in India and now abroad.
Prior to the ancient “Great Trilogy,” which was published roughly 2,000 years ago, ayurvedic practices were handed down by spoken word. Its name, ayurveda, is a combination of two Sanskrit ― the sacred language of Hinduism ― words: ayur (life or lifespan) and veda (knowledge or science).
Ayurveda is a personalized approach to preventing and treating illness through balance in the mind, body and consciousness. It is based on the theory that the five elements that make up physical creation ― space, air, fire, water and earth ― combine dynamically to control all human physiological processes. Therefore, an individual’s nature can be determined through these building blocks of life. This system of medicine “works toward prescribing a way of life, rather than a treatment of specific diseases and disorders.” (Source)
Achieving Balance in Ayurveda
Ayurveda recognizes that each of us have our own distinct life forces, which define our emotional, mental and physical characteristics. The three basic energy types, or doshas, are:
- Vata: reflects qualities of space and air; dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, mobile. Balance = creativity and vitality. Imbalance = anxiety and fear.
- Pitta: reflects qualities of fire and water; oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid, acidic. Balance = contentment and intelligence. Imbalance = anger and frustration.
- Kapha: reflects qualities of water and earth; moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky, static. Balance = forgiveness and love. Imbalance = envy and insecurity.
Each of these can be in one of three states: increased, decreased or balanced. Consequently, imbalance in the doshas can be due to unhealthy diet, stress, bad relationships and the weather.
Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe proper products and unique practices like diet, herbs and meditation to aid each patient in achieving balance.
Dr. Deepak Chopra summarizes ayurveda this way: “It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy, while realizing their full human potential.”
From another perspective, Erika King, ayurvedic practitioner, yoga instructor and assistant manager of Natural Healthy Concepts’ retail store, explains, “Ayurveda is all about staying in balance and harmony with nature. If a person was in balance, they would follow eating with the seasons. If they have a current imbalance, a person would need to modify diet and lifestyle to balance the symptoms that one is experiencing at that time.”
Instead of focusing on a treatment of specific diseases or disorders, ayurvedic medicine deals with prescribing a way of life. Furthermore, the ayurvedic practitioner uses his or her skills to identify a patient’s unique constitution and the cause of the imbalance, and then recommend an herbal protocol.
Ayurvedic Medicine in the United States
The California College of Ayurveda credits the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to the West, with first stirring interest in ayurveda in the Unites States in the 1970s. The curiosity continued as physicians from India came to America in the 1980s, most notably Dr. Sunil Joshi, Dr. Vasant Lad, and Dr. B. D. Triguna.
But it was Dr. Chopra’s book, “Perfect Health,” an introduction to ayurveda for the general public, that really opened the door to ayurvedic medicine to Westerners. From there, Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Robert Svoboda fostered awareness of ayurveda, and they were instrumental in the development of educational programs intended to train practitioners. (Source)
Schools of Ayurveda
By 1995, two schools were established: California College of Ayurveda and New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine. Today, there are correspondence programs, full-time training programs, weekend training programs and short-term seminar courses available across the country. For more information, contact the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America, or the Ayurveda Journal of Health.
Because its evolution was affected by cultural and political differences within the Western paradigm, the practice of ayurvedic medicine in the United States is not exactly the same as it is in India. Ayurveda has not yet been widely accepted in America as a part of Western medicine.
“It is the philosophical and spiritual ― not religious ― constructs that separate ayurveda from any other system of medicine in the world, and it is this that must be preserved above all else,” says Dr. Marc Halpern, founder and president of the California College of Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic Medicine Practices
Drawing from its two main guiding principles, an uncomplicated process is used by ayurvedic practitioners. Their belief is that freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness, while bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. Here are a few of the tools used by ayurvedic practitioners to help patients expand their self-awareness, therefore working toward an innate state of balance.
Ancient practitioners recommended meditation for balancing the mind and body. This practice allows you to “effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner quiet that refreshes the mind and restores balance,” explains Dr. Chopra.
Mind-Body Type Identification
By having knowledge of your own individual type, or nature, you are better able to make optimal lifestyle choices. In ayurveda, the biological energies that govern all of our physical and mental processes are called doshas. These custom blueprints for health and fulfillment include vata, pitta and kapha, as noted above.
A Healthy, Nourishing Diet
This involves going to nature with our food choices, preparing these choices properly, and eating them with awareness. This practice encourages patients to eat fresh foods from every color of the rainbow and to obtain each of the six ayurvedic tastes with every meal. These include astringent, bitter, pungent, salty, sour and sweet flavors. Dr. Chopra says this “will ensure that all major food groups and nutrients are represented.”
More Ayurvedic Essentials
Herbs are an important part of ayurveda. They represent the spiritual essence of plants. “Plants and herbs carry in their cells the wisdom of cosmic intelligence, and the healing vibrations of nature. Since ancient times, humans and plants have had a very spiritual connection. Plants capture solar energy and convert it into nutrients that humans can digest. Plants do this by transforming sunlight into chlorophyll, which can then be assimilated by the human body,” Sundara Holistic explains. Each herb has specific benefits for the mind, body and consciousness.
Natural Healthy Concepts carries a wide assortment of products from Ayush Herbs, a manufacturer of ayurvedic herbal therapies. The brand believes in the importance of following the ways of ayurveda. In addition, they combine time-tested tradition with the scientific research and groundbreaking technology of today.
Ayurvedic practitioners recommend six to eight hours of restful sleep every night. This allows the body time to repair and rejuvenate, and to maintain its innate balance. It is advised that one go to sleep by 10:00 p.m. and rise with the sun.
Stay In Tune with Nature
This involves attuning one’s life to the natural rhythms of one’s body. Ayurveda teaches that the environment is an extended part of your body and consciousness. It is important to give this part of you time and attention. As a result, this practice calls for spending time in nature and paying attention to the details.
Managing Your Health
It’s important to note that Ayurvedic practitioners do not diagnose medical disease. Rather, they use their classical ayurvedic understanding of disease to come to an understanding of a patient’s condition related to their constitution. Practitioners will not interfere with prescriptions or instruction from a licensed physician. It is best to inform all of your healthcare providers about all of the approaches you use to manage your health, so you can receive coordinated and safe care.
Do you consult with an ayurvedic practitioner? Please share your story with us in the comments section below!