Ayurvedic medicine is a system of healing that originated in ancient India. In Sanskrit, ayur means life or living, and veda means knowledge, so Ayurveda has been defined as the "knowledge of living" or the "science of longevity." Ayurvedic medicine utilizes diet, detoxification and purification techniques, herbal and mineral remedies, yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, and massage therapy as holistic healing methods. Ayurvedic medicine is widely practiced in modern India and has been steadily gaining followers in the West.
Ayurvedic medicine originated in the early civilizations of India some 3,000-5,000 years ago. It is mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient religious and philosophical texts that are the oldest surviving literature in the world, which makes Ayurvedic medicine the oldest surviving healing system. According to the texts, Ayurveda was conceived by enlightened wise men as a system of living harmoniously and maintaining the body so that mental and spiritual awareness could be possible. Medical historians believe that Ayurvedic ideas were transported from ancient India to China and were instrumental in the development of Chinese medicine.
Today, Ayurvedic medicine is used by 80% of the population in India. Aided by the efforts of Deepak Chopra and the Maharishi, it has become an increasingly accepted alternative medical treatment in America
during the last two decades. Chopra is an M.D. who has written several bestsellers based on Ayurvedic ideas. He also helped develop the Center for Mind/Body Medicine in La Jolla, California, a major Ayurvedic center that trains physicians in Ayurvedic principles, produces herbal remedies, and conducts research and documentation of its healing techniques.
According to the original texts, the goal of Ayurveda is prevention as well as promotion of the body's own capacity for maintenance and balance. Ayurvedic treatment is non-invasive and non-toxic, so it can be used safely as an alternative therapy or alongside conventional therapies. Ayurvedic physicians claim that their methods can also help stress-related, metabolic, and chronic conditions. Ayurveda has been used to treat acne, allergies, asthma, anxiety, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, colitis, constipation, depression, diabetes, flu, heart disease, hypertension, immune problems, inflammation, insomnia, nervous disorders, obesity, skin problems, and ulcers.
Ayurvedic physicians seek to discover the roots of a disease before it gets so advanced that more radical treatments
are necessary. Thus, Ayurveda seems to be limited in treating severely advanced conditions, traumatic injuries, acute pain, and conditions and injuries requiring invasive surgery. Ayurvedic techniques have also been used alongside chemotherapy and surgery to assist patients in recovery and healing.
To understand Ayurvedic treatment, it is necessary to have an idea how the Ayurvedic system views the body. The basic life force in the body is prana, which is also found in the elements and is similar to the Chinese notion of chi. As Swami Vishnudevananda, a yogi and expert, put it, "Prana is in the air, but is not the oxygen, nor any of its chemical constituents. It is in food, water, and in the sunlight, yet it is not vitamin, heat, or lightrays. Food, water, air, etc., are only the media through which the prana is carried."
In Ayurveda, there are five basic elements that contain prana: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These elements interact and are further organized in the human body as three main categories or basic physiological principles in the body that govern all bodily functions known as the doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each person has a unique blend of the three doshas, known as the person's prakriti, which is why Ayurvedic treatment is always individualized. In Ayurveda, disease is viewed as a state of imbalance in one or more of a person's doshas, and an Ayurvedic physician strives to adjust and balance them, using a variety of techniques.
The vata dosha is associated with air and ether, and in the body promotes movement and lightness. Vata people are generally thin and light physically, dry-skinned, and very energetic and mentally restless. When vata is out of balance, there are often nervous problems, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, lower back pains, and headaches.
Pitta is associated with fire and water. In the body, it is responsible for metabolism and digestion. Pitta characteristics are medium-built bodies, fair skin, strong digestion, and good mental concentration. Pitta imbalances show up as anger and aggression and stress-related conditions like gastritis, ulcers, liver problems, and hypertension.
The kapha dosha is associated with water and earth. People characterized as kapha are generally large or heavy with more oily complexions. They tend to be slow, calm, and peaceful. Kapha disorders manifest emotionally as greed and possessiveness, and physically as obesity, fatigue, bronchitis, and sinus problems.
In Ayurvedic medicine, disease is always seen as an imbalance in the dosha system, so the diagnostic process strives to determine which doshas are underactive or over-active in a body. Diagnosis is often taken over a course of days in order for the Ayurvedic physician to most accurately determine what parts of the body are being affected. To diagnose problems, Ayurvedic physicians often use long questionnaires and interviews to determine a person's dosha patterns and physical and psychological histories. Ayurvedic physicians also intricately observe the pulse, tongue, face, lips, eyes, and fingernails for abnormalities or patterns that they believe can indicate deeper problems in the internal systems. Some Ayurvedic physicians also use laboratory tests to assist in diagnosis.
Ayurvedic treatment seeks to re-establish balance and harmony in the body's systems. Usually the first method of
|AYURVEDIC BODY TYPES|
|Physical characteristics||Thin||Average build||Large build|
|Prominent features||Fair, thin hair||Wavy, thick hair|
|Cool, dry skin||Warm, moist skin||Pale, cool, oily skin|
|Constipation||Ulcers, heartburn, and hemorrhoids||Obesity, allergies, and sinus problems|
|Vivacious||Quick tempered||Not easily angered|
|Behavioral characteristics||Unscheduled sleep and meal times||Orderly||Slow, graceful|
|Nervous disorders||Structured sleep and meal times||Long sleeper and slow eater|
treatment involves some sort of detoxification and cleansing of the body, in the belief that accumulated toxins must be removed before any other methods of treatment will be effective. Methods of detoxification include therapeutic vomiting, laxatives, medicated enemas, fasting, and cleansing of the sinuses. Many Ayurvedic clinics combine all of these cleansing methods into intensive sessions known as panchakarma. Panchakarma can take several days or even weeks and they are more than elimination therapies. They also include herbalized oil massage and herbalized heat treatments. After purification, Ayurvedic physicians use herbal and mineral remedies to balance the body as well. Ayurvedic medicine contains a vast knowledge of the use of herbs for specific health problems.
Ayurvedic medicine also emphasizes how people live their lives from day to day, believing that proper lifestyles and routines accentuate balance, rest, diet, and prevention. Ayurveda recommends yoga as a form of exercise to build strength and health, and also advises massage therapy and self-massage as ways of increasing circulation and reducing stress. Yogic breathing techniques and meditation are also part of a healthy Ayurvedic regimen, to reduce stress and improve mental energy.
Of all treatments, though, diet is one of the most basic and widely used therapies in the Ayurvedic system. An Ayurvedic diet can be a very well planned and individualized regimen. According to Ayurveda, there are six basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Certain tastes and foods can either calm or aggravate a particular dosha. For instance, sweet, sour, and salty decrease vata problems and increase kapha. Sour, salty, and pungent can increase pitta. After an Ayurvedic physician determines a person's dosha profile, he or she will recommend a specific diet to correct imbalances and increase health. The Ayurvedic diet emphasizes primarily vegetarian foods of high quality and freshness, tailored to the season and time of day. Cooling foods are eaten in the summer and heating ones in the winter, always within a person's dosha requirements. In daily routine, the heaviest meal of the day should be lunch, and dinner should be eaten well before bedtime, to allow for complete digestion. Also, eating meals in a calm manner with proper chewing and state of mind is important, as is combining foods properly and avoiding overeating.
Costs of Ayurvedic treatments can vary, with initial consultations running anywhere from $40 to over $100, with follow-up visits costing less. Herbal treatments may cost from $10 to $50 per month, and are often available from health food or bulk herb stores. Some clinics offer panchakarma, the intensive Ayurvedic detoxification treatment, which can include overnight stays for up to several weeks. The prices for these programs can vary significantly, depending on the services and length of stay. Insurance reimbursement may depend on whether the primary physician is a licensed M.D.
Ayurveda is a mind/body system of health that contains some ideas foreign to the Western scientific model. Those people considering Ayurveda should approach it with an open mind and willingness to experiment. Also, because Ayurveda is a whole-body system of healing and health, patience and discipline are helpful, as some conditions and diseases are believed to be brought on by years of bad health habits and require time and effort to correct. Finally, the Ayurvedic philosophy believes that each person has the ability to heal themselves, so those considering Ayurveda should be prepared to bring responsibility and participation into the treatment.
An Ayurvedic practitioner should always be consulted, particularly when using herbal preparations. Care should be taken to ensure that a trained practitioner prepares individualized remedies. In 2002, a New York City hospital emergency department cautioned other hospitals when they encountered a case of a patient who came in with severe abdominal pain, occasional vomiting, and eventually seizures. She had suffered severe lead toxicity from an ayurvedic compound.
During Ayurvedic detoxification programs, some people report fatigue, muscle soreness, and general sickness. Also, as Ayurveda seeks to release mental stresses and psychological problems from the patient, some people can experience mental disturbances and depression during treatment, and psychological counseling may be part of a sound program.
DEEPAK CHOPRA 1946–
Deepak Chopra was born in India and studied medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Science. He left his home for the United States in 1970 and completed residencies in internal medicine and endocrinology. He went on to teaching posts at major medical institutions—Tufts University and Boston University schools of medicine—while establishing a very successful private practice. By the time he was thirty-five, Chopra had become chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital.
Disturbed by Western medicine's reliance on medication, he began a search for alternatives and discovered one in the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian spiritualist who had gained a cult following in the late sixties teaching Transcendental Meditation (TM). Chopra began practicing TM fervently and eventually met the Maharishi. In 1985 Chopra established the Ayurvedic Health Center for Stress Management and Behavioral Medicine in Lancaster, Massachusetts, where he began his practice of integrating the best aspects of Eastern and Western medicine.
In 1993, he published Creating Affluence: Wealth Consciousness in the Field of All Possibilities, and the enormously successful best seller, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. In the latter he presents his most radical thesis: that aging is not the inevitable deterioration of organs and mind that we have been traditionally taught to think of it as. It is a process that can be influenced, slowed down, and even reversed with the correct kinds of therapies, almost all of which are self-administered or self-taught. He teaches that applying a regimen of nutritional balance, meditation, and emotional clarity characterized by such factors as learning to easily and quickly express anger, for instance, can lead to increased lifespans of up to 120 years.
Research & general acceptance
Because Ayurveda had been outside the Western scientific system for years, research in the United States is new. Another difficulty in documentation arises because Ayurvedic treatment is very individualized; two people with the same disease but different dosha patterns might be treated differently. Much more scientific research has been conducted over the past several decades in India. Much research in the United States is being supported by the Maharishi Ayur-Ved organization, which studies the Ayurvedic products it sells and its clinical practices.
In 2002, India took steps to make some of its most important ayurvedic knowledge more widely available. Many outside groups had begun to exploit the ancient holistic practice's remedies and companies were duplicating processes and formulas, but calling them their own. The Indian government appointed a task force in January 2000 to promote and develop traditional medicines and to prevent piracy of the country's traditional medical knowledge. The task force developed a digital library with international and Indian languages describing about 35,000 ayurvedic herbal processes and formulations to cure all kinds of diseases. The library became available in early 2003 on the Internet.
Some Ayurvedic herbal mixtures have been proven to have high antioxidant properties, much stronger than vitamins A, C, and E, and some have also been shown in laboratory tests to reduce or eliminate tumors in mice and to inhibit cancer growth in human lung tumor cells. In a 1987 study at MIT, an Ayurvedic herbal remedy was shown to significantly reduce colon cancer in rats. Another study was performed in the Netherlands with Maharishi Ayur-Ved products. A group of patients with chronic illnesses, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, hypertension, eczema, psoriasis, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, were given Ayurvedic treatment. Strong results were observed, with nearly 80% of the patients improving and some chronic conditions being completely cured.
Other studies have shown that Ayurvedic therapies can significantly lower cholesterol and blood pressure in stress-related problems. Diabetes, acne, and allergies have also been successfully treated with Ayurvedic remedies. Ayurvedic products have been shown to increase short-term memory and reduce headaches. Also, Ayurvedic remedies have been used successfully to support the healing process of patients undergoing chemotherapy, as these remedies have been demonstrated to increase immune system activity. The herb gotu kola has been reported to relieve anxiety and enhance memory.
Training & certification
In the United States, there is no standardized program for the certification of Ayurvedic practitioners. Many practitioners have primary degrees, either as M.D.s, homeopaths, or naturopathic physicians, with additional training in Ayurveda.
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American Institute of Vedic Studiess. P.O. Box 8357, Santa Fe, NM 87504. (505) 983-9385.
Ayurveda Holistic Center. Bayville, Long Island, NY. (516) 759-7731 mail@Ayurvedahc.com. <http://www.Ayurvedahc.com>.
The Ayurvedic Institute. 11311 Menaul, NE Albuquerque, New Mexico 87112. (505) 291-9698. info@Ayurveda.com <http://www.Ayurveda.com>
Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic. 10025 NE 4th Street, Bellevue, WA 98004. (206) 453-8022.
Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences. 144 N.E. 54th Street, Seattle, WA 98105. (206) 523-9585.
Center for Mind/Body Medicine. P.O. Box 1048, La Jolla, CA 92038. (619) 794-2425.
The College of Maharishi Ayur-Ved, Maharishi International University. 1000 4th Street, Fairfield, IA 52557. (515) 472-7000.
National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine. (914) 278-8700. firstname.lastname@example.org. <http://www.niam.com>
The Rocky Mountain Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda. P.O. Box 1091, Boulder, CO 80306. (303) 443-6923.
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