The Indian tradition of Ayurveda (eye-yor-vay-duh) is the world’s oldest known form of medicine. It is largely a preventive medicine and health care system that provides a clear and concise regimen for people to naturally restore balance and health in their minds and bodies.
Using simple dietary changes, lifestyle changes and purification techniques, Ayurveda strives to improve health and ward off serious illness. The key word is “balance.” While Western medicine usually focuses on the body when dealing with illnesses, Ayurveda also looks at the mind, the senses and the soul.
“The Science of Longevity,” as it is sometimes called, had as its source the ancient Hindu text Atharva Veda, which was an instruction book for the treatment of illness and disease. Its purpose at that time was to heal the sicknesses of the body so that the soul and spirit of the person would be receptive to higher development. Ayurveda was broken into five elements: Akasha (ether), Vayu (air), Tehas (fire), Jala (water) and Prthivi (earth). These elements then form the basis of Ayurveda, which is named prana. According to Atharava Veda, prana is the fundamental energy that keeps life flowing in the mind and body.
There are three forces or physiological principles (also called doshas) that emerge from the prana. These are the most important aspects of Ayurveda and define a person’s essence or personal well being (prakriti). These doshas and their respective symbols are: Vata – space and air, Pitta – fire and water, and Kapha – earth and water.
Vata is related to a person’s nervous system and is symbolized by space and air. A balance in this area would be, for instance, calmness. Imbalance manifests in outbursts, rage, obsessions and mood swings.
Pitta, symbolized by fire and water, controls the digestive system and all the biochemical processes associated with eating. Balance would be a sense of well-being and satisfaction. Indigestion and pain that leads to fear and grief are outcomes of imbalance.
Finally, Kapha is the third force and is symbolized by earth and water. This controls the movement of all fluids in the body, such as blood circulation, and cell growth. Imbalances in Kapha are caused by a lack of physical exercise and other stimulants a body needs for growth.
When these doshas are in perfect rhythm, a person is said to be in good health spiritually, physically and mentally. Another important factor is the environment. A person also must be in balance with his or her surroundings.
To determine what imbalances exist, an Ayruveda practitioner will use a technique called “nadi vigyan” which is done by feeling the patient’s pulse at the radial artery. A thorough consultation is done because each person has his or her own state of balance and body type. From there, treatment can consist of a range of Ayurvedic formulas.
There are three main areas of treatments available to an Ayruveda practitioner. Medicinal remedies use only natural herbs, minerals and vegetables. Rather than taking drugs to treat the symptoms of a disease, these remedies enhance the balance of the three doshas. Medicinal remedies are tailored to the individual. There may be two people with the same disease but will have different treatments.
The second treatment is through diet. “Kitchen Ayurveda” uses herbs, nuts, spices and other foods as remedies for health and aids to beauty. It is also important to eat food that is in season and also food that is grown in one’s own climate.
The third treatment is through massage, saunas, steam, yoga and any number of other healing touch therapies. Breathing exercises and mind-body movement are essential in regaining the state of balance.
Preventative medicine, like Ayurveda, is an on-going activity. Today one can find this ancient science and art of living in many spas throughout the world. Western medicine is slowly becoming compatible with this “alternative” medicine. An increasing number of practitioners are incorporating Ayurveda along with their Western medicine resulting in a synergistic effect.