- What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, the knowledge of life and longevity, is the oldest, most comprehensive scientific discipline, a complete health care system or healing system that was preached, practiced and documented in the ancient times by omniscient sages. This knowledge was revealed to them in their spiritual pursuits.
Closely associated with the Indian thought process, the origin of this system can be traced to the Vedas, the earliest codified knowledge body, which deals with all aspects of the universe. This ancient knowledge was then dissipated to mankind around 5,000 years ago by sages and seers for the well being of mankind.
- What does the word Ayurveda mean?
“Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word. The word Ayurveda literally means the science of Life. Notice, that Ayurveda is not merely the compendium of ‘Disease’ and its management. Life is a vast and an all encompassing phenomena which includes death. On one end Life is a celebration of birth, growth, child bearing, youth and sexuality; on the other end, life also brings forth disease, decay, aging, and loss of vigor. Ayurveda is that ancient art and science that helps us understand this very ‘life’ with all its different shades and colors; understand how best we can undertake this journey and how we transition through its different phases; for example, from teenage to adulthood to maturity, etc. Following the principles of Ayurveda brings about a profound understanding of the inner ability to have sound body, mind and spirit.
- What are the origins of Ayurveda and how old is it?
Ayurveda originated in the hearts and minds of Indian sages, enlightened seers also known as Rishis thousands of years ago. Evidence supports Ayurveda to be at least 10,000 years old. That is a long time. The fact that Ayurveda is still alive not only in India but all over the world speaks for its power to deliver consistent positive and predictable results. According to the writings of India’s great sages, there never was a time that Ayurveda was not present in this universe in some form or the other. Maybe not in a tangible form like books and active clinics but present in the collective consciousness of this universe as eternal principles of unity between all things of the universe, of unity between man and nature, of the changeable but rhythmic nature of the universe, and of the unity between body and mind and that both are vehicles or tools for the one that is eternal – the spirit. Thus, Ayurveda originates from the creative intelligence behind this universe, the same intelligence that makes a flower bloom, a baby smile and planets revolve around the sun.
- What are the basic principles of Ayurveda?
Ayurveda’s laboratory was the entire universe, its ingredients simply the basic building blocks of this universe itself: the great 5 elements (panch maha bhutas) – Space (Akasha), Air (Vayu), Fire (Tejas), Water (Aap) and Earth (Prithvi). Shake up the 5 elements and you have the recipe for creating this universe in all its entirety and variety.
Man is a part and parcel of this universe and can hardly be considered in isolation. The pancha maha bhautik Sharira (body) along with manas (mind) and atman (soul) constitutes you and me, the Purusha (the living, breathing, feeling self) in constant interaction with the outer universe (loka).
The self of the person (Purusha) is a continuum of the universal self while the physical body composed of pancha maha bhutas (five great elements) originates from the pancha maha bhautik seed and derives nourishment from food and drinks of similar composition. Hence equilibrium and non antagonism between the internal and external milieu of man is essential for the maintenance of the living body. Since the individual human being is the miniature replica of the universe; the individual (purusha) and the universe (loka) stay in constant interaction with each other and also derive and draw materials from each other in order to maintain their normalcy and homeostasis. This interaction and exchange continues in a normal way such as by breathing the air, eating foods available in nature, etc.
So long as this interaction is wholesome and optimum, the man is in optimum health. When this harmonious process breaks down, a disease state starts. Hence in Ayurveda the main principle of treatment will be to restore the harmonious exchange between Purusha (individual) and Loka (universe).
- What are the doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha?
In a living being, when the five elements combine to become forces that help a living being ‘live’ then these forces are known as doshas. Air and space combined to form the force of Vata which is responsible for all movement in the body, and it governs mainly all nervous functions. There are 80 kinds of possible disturbances due to Vata. Pain, stiffness, paralysis, and hypertension, heart diseases – all these are caused by Vata. Fire and water combine to form the force of Pitta. Pitta governs mainly enzymes and hormones. Pitta is also responsible for digestion, pigmentation, body temperature, hunger, thirst, sight, courage etc. There are 40 kinds of possible disturbances due to Pitta. Burning sensations, excessive body temperature, blue moles, jaundice, and pharyngitis are examples of disorders caused by Pitta. Water and earth combine to form the force of Kapha. Kapha regulates the other two. Kapha is responsible for the connections of joints, the solid nature of the body and its sustenance, sexual power, strength, patience etc. Among the 20 possible disturbances due to Kapha are anorexia nervosa, laziness, mucus expectoration, hardening of vessels, obesity, suppression of digestive power etc.
In Ayurveda, we not only recognize these forces (the Tridoshas) but we also learn to harness them and develop an optimum food and lifestyle program that balances the three doshas. When doshas are in balance the individual is disease free and when in imbalance – disease begins to grow.
- What do you mean by Prakriti or Ayurvedic constitution?
Prakriti means innate nature, character, physical constitution or disposition of a person. According to Ayurveda, from birth to death, doshas influence the health status and physical constitution of a man, either positively or negatively. The concentration levels and preponderance of each dosha in an individual is believed to be genetically determined. Therefore, doshas in different permutations and combinations constitute the very nature/disposition of a man. This is known as Prakriti / Sharira Prakriti.
- What is the Ayurvedic understanding of the concept of ‘balance’?
Ayurveda is deeply concerned with the concept of true balance. This balance entails not only a correct functioning of systems and organs, psyche and spirit but also a balanced and creative relationship with our fellow creatures, nature as a whole, between family members, our climate, the civilization we live in, between our ideals and customs, between truth and our selves, with God, etc. Ayurvedic texts flourish with details on right behavior, right thinking, right action and right response, right eating, right lifestyle, etc. A healthy individual makes for a healthy society and a body that is balanced holds a spirit that is free – free for spiritual advancement.
- What is the Ayurvedic understanding of the concept of ‘healthy’?
‘Healthy’ is termed as ‘Swasthya’ in Ayurveda – one who stays in his ‘sva’ (self). This ‘sva’ involves the total personality of man including consciousness (atman), body (sharira) and mind (manas). “sva’ also denotes ‘Prakriti’ or constitutional normalcy -which makes the concept of sva different from person to person. This is quite different from the world of ideal blood counts, ideal height -weight ratios, ideal heart rate etc.
Ayurveda regards each individual as unique, a brand new painting with its own set of colors. So what may be normal to one and constitute his or her health may be quite abnormal to another. In Ayurveda people do not come from a cookie cutter – so Ayurveda provides the encouragement and tools for self analysis, understanding one’s native nature (Prakriti) and departure from one’s native nature (Vikruti). Ayurveda recommends a return to nature, to what is simple and intrinsic to man’s life, and provides information to make responsible choices which promote good physical and mental health.
- Does Ayurvedic treatment take a long time to heal ailments?
No. This is a common misconception regarding Ayurveda. The question you have to ask yourself is: are you looking for a quick fix or mere suppression of symptoms or are you actually seeking to dissolve the deep rooted cause of the imbalance and rejuvenate deeply? We recommend if you are looking for a quick fix or a quick suppression then Ayurveda is not the right modality for you. But if you are looking to get to the bottom of your imbalance then Ayurveda, in a relatively short time (you will be surprised) will begin to offer its benefits.
In reality, the time to heal any imbalance depends on various factors – age, type of disease, degree of imbalance, whether it is acute or chronic, how many doshas, tissues, organs and channels are involved in the disease process. If the disease is newly formed and is with a single dosha and tissue involvement, then Ayurveda can balance this condition very quickly. On the other hand if the condition is formed with the aggravation of two or three doshas, and if more organs and channels are involved, and it has become somewhat chronic then naturally, the treatment takes longer time to restore this imbalance.
- Why should I choose Ayurveda, over other systems of medicine?
“Ayurveda holds that we are thoughts which created bodies. In Western medicine we are a material (body) which creates thoughts”. This is the basic difference. So the basic reason you may choose Ayurveda is the fact that Ayurveda works on a vast expansive model which involves the manipulation and understanding of the play of consciousness and not merely matter (which is merely one manifestation of consciousness).
Traditional western medicine (and often other healing modalities also) treat only a part of the patient – the part which is considered as being ill – the material part. The Ayurvedic approach treats the whole person (physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually) in the belief that one cannot safely split a person into parts. For example, the Ayurvedic healer may inquire into the way the person thinks, believing that thoughts manifest themselves in the biochemistry of the body. So in western medicine, after extensive diagnostics, often the disease or cluster of symptoms is isolated, and the disease becomes the sole area of attention of the traditional physicians. Triumph over that particular disease or set of symptoms is considered restoration of health. Not so in Ayurveda.
Also, Ayurveda is a natural therapy; hence it has no or fewer side effects or almost no complications (when taken responsibly and on the advise of an expert) whereas other systems of medicine often have lots of side effects and several complications.
- Do I have to follow a certain religion to incorporate Ayurvedic principles into my life?
No. Ayurvedic principles are universal, and anybody can incorporate them into his or her daily life. There is no need to become religious in order to adopt the principles of Ayurveda. Besides Ayurveda is not a religious Hindu text. Rather, Ayurveda is a rational science that celebrates universal principles. While deeply spiritual in subject (in the sense of matters of mind and spirit are addressed in Ayurveda), Ayurveda is not ‘Hindu’ as in every day sense of ‘Hinduism’. Ayurveda does not advocate a particular religion or a deity.
- Do I have to be a vegetarian to follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle?
No not at all. Ayurveda recommends foods that are ideal for you body and mind and not as per any ‘ism’. While Ayurveda sings praises of healthy seasonal vegetarian diet; it similarly prescribes meats of several animals, fishes and birds. What you eat should / will depend on which food serves you health and energy needs best? And, what can you digest? Your Ayurvedic practitioner will guide you with detail in this area.
- How is Ayurveda related to Yoga?
Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences and work harmoniously together to deliver sound body, pure mind and free spirit. In India, there is a long standing tradition of practicing both Yoga and Ayurveda together, for maximum enhanced and positive results.
- Can Ayurveda help me lose weight?
Yes, and very successfully. Obesity is caused mainly due to a disbalance in the Kapha dosha. When Ayurvedic wisdom is applied to the life of an ‘obese person’, they gain insight into why and how they created and hold on to their Kapha imbalance (manifesting as obesity). They now learn about how they can take back control of their increasing Kapha. They learn about Kapha balancing foods, specialized Kapha reducing exercises, essential oils, self massage, gentle detoxification, herbs and colors. The over-expressed Kapha can linger on due to certain ‘heavy’ thought patterns also. Hence a total shift in paradigm is gradually brought about in the living and thinking of an obese person. When the recommendations are followed sincerely, one can expect to lose weight.
- Can Ayurveda really cure cancer?
It must be remembered that Ayurveda does not claim to ‘cure’ diseases, but to restore balance to the body, mind and spirit complex. Cancer is another such condition, a tridosha imbalance at the cellular level. Ayurveda recommends herbal, diet and divine (mantra, gem, etc) therapy in Cancer. It is recommended that cancer patients check with their physician or primary health care provider.
- Can Ayurveda help chronic pain?
Yes, absolutely. Personalized herbs, specific diet modifications and also specialized oils and massages prove very effective in pain management without side effects or drug dependency. In various etiologies of arthritis, general conditions such as Fibromyalgia, or pain due to falls, traumas or repetitive stress – all such conditions are highly amenable to Ayurvedic therapies. We recommend that you start or stop all adjunct therapies by first checking in with your physician or primary health care provider.
- Can Ayurveda help with depression and other mental conditions?
Yes. While antidepressant and other drugs are both critical and often life saving; yet a person suffering from depression may or may not live life optimally and may drag through life – without experiencing daily abundance, joy and unbridled enthusiasm. Certain Ayurveda herbs, specialized massages and mind/body therapies (such as Pancha Karma, Shirodhara, meditation, Yoga, Gem therapy, mantra therapy, etc) are time-tested, gentle mind-balancing tools with no side effects. One can continue taking the antidepressants (and remain in touch with their MD regarding the drugs, dosage etc) but at the time, simultaneous work in the Ayurvedic field can be done. Ayurvedic therapy enhances and expedites recovery and people feel the ‘joy of being alive’ and not mere numbing of anxiety.
- Can Ayurveda help me prevent acute and chronic diseases?
Please remember that Ayurveda does not claim to treat, prevent or cure diseases, but only to restore balance to the physiology. When balance is restored, many diseases and disorders are often automatically prevented or health is restored. This is the beauty of Ayurvedic lifestyle and food choices.
- Do I have to follow a certain religion to incorporate Ayurvedic principles into my life?
No. Ayurvedic principles are universal, and anybody can incorporate them into his or her daily life. There is no need to become religious in order to adopt the principles of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not a religious Hindu text. Rather, Ayurveda is a rational science that celebrates universal principles. While deeply spiritual in subject (in the sense that matters of mind and spirit are addressed in Ayurveda), Ayurveda is not ‘Hindu’ as in the every day sense of ‘Hinduism’. Ayurveda does not advocate a particular religion or a deity.
- Do I have to be a vegetarian to follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle?
No not at all. Ayurveda recommends foods that are ideal for your body and mind and not as per any ‘ism’. While Ayurveda sings praises of a healthy seasonal vegetarian diet; it similarly prescribes meats of several animals, fishes and birds. What you eat should / will depend on which food serves your health and energy needs best? And, what can you digest? Your Ayurvedic practitioner will guide you with detail in this area.
- Can Ayurvedic herbal supplements help improve my health?
Ayurvedic herbal supplements may help to improve one’s overall health, however, it is extremely important that they be taken in their compatible and complementary combinations, and that one also follows the necessary dietary and daily and seasonal recommendations for his or her particular constitution and health concerns. In order to get results using Ayurvedic herbal supplements, it is best to consult a professional first.
- Can I take allopathic medicines, including prescription drugs, and Ayurvedic herbal supplements at the same time?
Before altering the schedule of prescription medications you follow, or additionally taking Ayurvedic herbal supplements, always check with your physician or primary health care provider. Ayurveda can be used in conjunction with Western allopathic medicine. Drugs save lives, but because of their toxicity, sometimes they can also weaken or damage the body. Ayurveda can help protect and make the body stronger after or along with drugs or surgery.
- Can I continue taking vitamin & mineral supplements along with Ayurvedic herbal supplements?
Unless otherwise directed by your physician or primary health care provider, it is not necessary to take additional vitamin and mineral supplements. Ayurveda recommends getting vitamins and minerals directly from the intake of nutritious foods and herbs.
- How effective is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a very effective system of health that is being more and more recognized in the West. It is one of the primary systems of health care in India, and has been used for thousands of years for all sorts of ailments and disorders. The Ayurvedic path has been much tread upon. Literally thousands of people have walked on it for thousands of years. Today Ayurveda is popular all over the world. Hospitals and clinics offer it, press reports it, researchers examine it, governments host it and people love it. Ayurveda has stood the test of time; and whether it was a favorable or unfavorable political or legal climate or not – people continued to practice it privately and openly, from little clinics in India to large Spas all over the world. The word is out today – ‘Try Ayurveda, it works.’
Its full effectiveness will depend on various considerations, including the age and state of health of the individual, how much effort they are willing to put into making the necessary changes toward better health, and how compliant they are with taking their formulas and following the recommended guidelines. Since an Ayurvedic regimen is very individualized, its results will depend on individual factors as well, and on follow-up treatments, since adjustments and close supervision are absolutely necessary to obtain optimal results.