Ayurveda FAQs

About Ayurveda

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. It literally means the science of life. Ayurveda is not merely the compendium of ‘disease and its management. Life is a vast and all-encompassing phenomenon that includes death. On one side, is a celebration of birth, growth, child bearing, youth and sexuality; on the other side, life also brings forth disease, decay, aging, and loss of vigor. Ayurveda is an ancient art and science that helps us understand this very ‘life’, with all its different shades and colors. It also helps us to understand how best we can undertake this journey and how we transition through the different phases of life. Following the principles of Ayurveda brings about a profound understanding of the inner ability to have a 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. The fact that Ayurveda is still alive, all over the world, speaks to 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 another. 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; unity between a person and nature, of the changeable but rhythmic nature of the universe, and the unity between body and mind-vehicles for the eternal 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 ingredients are simply the basic building blocks of the universe itself. The 5 great elements of Ayurveda are: (Pancha Maha Bhootas) – Space (Akash), Air (Vayu), Fire (Tejas), Water (Ap) and Earth (Prithvi). Shake up the 5 elements and you have the recipe for creating this universe in all its entirety and variety.

A person is 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 the Pancha Maha Bhootas (five great elements), originates from the Pancha Maha Bhautik and receives nourishment from food and drinks of similar composition. Hence, equilibrium between the internal and external makeup of a person 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 derive and draw materials from each other to maintain their normalcy and homeostasis. This interaction and exchange continues in a normal way, by breathing the air and eating natural, healthy foods. If this interaction is wholesome and complete, the body is in optimum health. When this harmonious process breaks down, a disease state begins. Hence, in Ayurveda the main goal of treatment is 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 person 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 a Vata imbalance. Pain, stiffness, paralysis, and hypertension, heart diseases – all these are caused by an imbalance of Vata energy.

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 a Pitta imbalance. Burning sensations, excessive body temperature, blue moles, jaundice, and pharyngitis are examples of disorders caused by an imbalance of Pitta energy.

Water and earth combine to form the force of Kapha. Kapha regulates the other two doshas. It is responsible for the connection of joints, the solid nature of the body and its sustenance, sexual power, strength, patience etc. Among the 20 possible disturbances due to Kapha imbalance are anorexia nervosa, laziness, mucus expectoration, hardening of the arteries, obesity, suppression of digestive power, etc.

In Ayurveda, we not only recognize these forces (the Tri doshas) but we also learn to harness them and develop an optimum food and lifestyle program that balances them. When doshas are in balance, the individual is disease free and when imbalanced – disease begins to grow.

What do you mean by Prakriti or Ayurvedic constitution?

Prakriti means innate nature, character or the physical constitution or disposition of a person. According to Ayurvedic principles, from birth to death, doshas influence a person’s health and physical makeup in a positive or negative way. 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 or disposition of a person. This is known as Prakriti or Sharira Prakriti.

What is the Ayurvedic understanding of the concept of ‘balance’?

Ayurveda focuses primarily on 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, our family members, our climate, the civilization we live in, our ideals and customs, ourselves and with a higher power (i.e. God, Buddha, etc.). Ayurveda flourishes 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’?

In Ayurveda, the word ‘Swasthya’ means healthy and is defined as – one who stays in his ‘Sva’ (self). Sva involves the total personality of a human being including consciousness (Atman), body (Sharira) and mind (Manas). Sva also denotes ‘Prakriti’ or constitutional normalcy. The concept of Sva is different from person to person and from the world of ideal blood counts, ideal height/weight ratios and ideal heart rates, etc.

Ayurveda regards everyone 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, everyone is not the same. It offers 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 a person’s life, and provides information to make responsible choices that promote good physical and mental health.

Does Ayurvedic treatment take a long time to heal ailments?

No. This is a common misconception about Ayurveda. The question you must ask yourself is: Are you looking for a quick fix or merely suppression of symptoms? Or are you seeking to dissolve the deep-rooted cause of the imbalance and rejuvenate your body entirely? If you are looking for a quick fix or a quick suppression of symptoms then Ayurveda is not the right modality for you. If, however, you are looking to get to the bottom of your imbalance then you will be pleasantly surprised to discover the benefits of Ayurveda, in a relatively brief period of time.

Realistically, the time to heal any imbalance depends on numerous factors such as age, type of disease, degree of imbalance, whether it is acute or chronic and how many doshas, tissues, organs and channels are involved in the disease process. If the disease is newly formed and effects a single dosha and various tissues, 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 to restore balance.

Why should I choose Ayurveda, over other systems of medicine?

Ayurveda believes that humans are a manifestation of thoughts that create our bodies. In western medicine, we are a material (body) which creates thoughts. This is the basic difference and the reason you may choose Ayurveda because it works using an expansive model that involves the manipulation and understanding of the stream of consciousness and not merely matter (which is one manifestation of consciousness).

Traditional western medicine (and other healing modalities) treats only a part of the patient – the part which is deemed to be 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 assess a person’s thought process, believing that thoughts manifest themselves in the biochemistry of the body. 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 traditional physicians. Triumph over a particular disease or set of symptoms is considered restoration of health. Not so in Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is a natural therapy; hence, it has no or fewer side effects or almost no complications (when taken responsibly and on the advice of an expert) whereas, other systems of medicine often have lots of side effects and can potentially cause 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 to adopt the principles of Ayurveda. It is a rational science that celebrates universal principles. While deeply spiritual in subject (in the sense of matters of the mind and spirit are addressed in Ayurveda), it is not a Hindu religious practice, nor does it advocate a particular religion or 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; not per any specific dietary protocol. While Ayurveda sings the praises of a healthy seasonal, vegetarian diet, it similarly prescribes meats of several animals, fishes and birds. What you eat will depend on which food serves your health and energy needs best. With respect to what you can digest, your Ayurvedic practitioner will offer guidance and recommendations in this area.

How is Ayurveda related to yoga?

Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences. They work harmoniously together to deliver a sound body, a pure mind and a free spirit. In India, for maximum results, there is a long-standing tradition of practicing both yoga and Ayurveda together.

Ayurveda Therapies

Can Ayurveda help me lose weight?

Yes, and very successfully. Obesity is caused mainly by an imbalance 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). Clients learn about how they can regain control of their Kapha imbalance. They learn about Kapha balancing foods, specialized Kapha reducing exercises, essential oils, self-massage, gentle detoxification and herbs. The over-expressed Kapha can also linger on due to certain ‘heavy’ thought patterns. Hence, a total shift in paradigm is gradually brought about in the living and thinking of an obese person because of Ayurvedic treatments and guidance by an Ayurvedic practitioner. When the recommendations are followed consistently, one can expect to lose weight.

Can Ayurveda really cure cancer?

Remember 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 tri dosha imbalance at the cellular level. Ayurveda recommends herbal treatments, dietary changes and divine (mantra, gem, etc.) therapy to help treat cancer. It is recommended that cancer patients check with their physician or primary health care provider prior to starting Ayurvedic treatments.

Can Ayurveda help chronic pain?

Yes, absolutely. Personalized herbs, specific dietary modifications, specialized oils and massages have proven to be very effective in pain management, without side effects or drug dependency. Illnesses such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or pain due to falls, trauma or repetitive stress – all such conditions are highly amenable to Ayurvedic therapies. Before you start or stop all adjunct therapies check 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; 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 Ayurvedic herbs, specialized massages and mind/body therapies (such as Panchakarma, 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.) while at the same time, simultaneously work in the Ayurvedic field can be done. Ayurvedic therapy enhances and expedites recovery and people feel the ‘joy of being alive’ and not merely the 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 the 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 to adopt the principles of Ayurveda. It is a rational science that celebrates universal principles. While deeply spiritual in subject (in the sense of matters of the mind and spirit are addressed in Ayurveda), it is not a Hindu religious practice, nor does it advocate a particular religion or deity.

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 to adopt the principles of Ayurveda. It is a rational science that celebrates universal principles. While deeply spiritual in subject (in the sense of matters of the mind and spirit are addressed in Ayurveda), it is not a Hindu religious practice, nor does it advocate a particular religion or 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; not per any specific dietary protocol. While Ayurveda sings the praises of a healthy seasonal, vegetarian diet, it similarly prescribes meats of several animals, fishes and birds. What you eat will depend on which food serves your health and energy needs best. With respect to what you can digest, your Ayurvedic practitioner will offer guidance and recommendations 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 your prescription medications or you start 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 traditional medical treatments (i.e. 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 health and wellness system that is being recognized more and more in the West. It is one of the primary healthcare systems in India, and it has been used for thousands of years to treat all sorts of ailments and disorders. The Ayurvedic path has been for thousands of years. Today, Ayurveda is popular all over the world. Hospitals and clinics offer it, news reports share it, researchers examine it, governments host it and people love it. Ayurveda has stood the test of time; and regardless of the political or legal climate – people continue to practice it, 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 necessary to obtain optimal results.

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