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Ayurveda is an ancient and holistic system of medicine, which originated in India more than five thousand years ago. The word 'Ayu' means life (span) and Veda means knowledge i.e. knowledge of life or the science of life. One of the basic tenets of Ayurveda is that life is meant to be lived in balance and in harmony with nature. Illness happens when we move away from a life of balance to excesses or deficiencies of any kind, whether it is the way we eat, sleep, work, exercise, think or feel.
(Excerpted from Dr. Aruna Bakhru's upcoming book entitled "The Guru Principle")
Ayurveda believes that one has to live in harmony with the seasons, the time of day, the place you live etc. According to Ayurveda, people are divided into different body types and if you follow the diet, purification routines, exercises, etc. specific for your body type you can correct many of the problems you may be suffering from. Ayurveda places a great deal of emphasis on the mind. According to Ayurveda many of our physical problems and imbalances are first created in the mind. Unlike western medicine, which has divorced the mind from the body, Ayurveda says they are seamlessly connected and each affects the other. The place where the mind and the body connect is the place where matter interfaces with energy.
The three Doshas of Ayurveda:
According to Ayurveda, the doshas lie at the place where the mind connects with the body. If the mind and the body are not coordinated, an imbalance is created in the Doshas. There are three Doshas and they are as follows:
- Vata corresponds to Air.
- Pitta corresponds to fire.
- Kapha corresponds to water.
Each and every person has all the three doshas or principles to varying degrees, but usually one or other is dominant. i.e. if you are a Vata type then the Vata principle is dominant. This is important because your body type governs how you should live and what you should eat to maintain a life of balance.
- Corresponds to air, ether.
- Function is movement, breathing, and circulation.
- Emotions are fear, anxiety, and pain.
- Seat of Vata is in the colon, pelvis etc.
The Vata constitution is thin, tall or too short, bony joints, thin eyelashes, sunken eyes, bent nose, variable appetite, tends to constipation, poor sleep, creative, restless, alert, poor willpower and tolerance. Cold hands and feet.
- Corresponds to fire and water.
- Function is metabolism, digestion, absorption and assimilation.
- Emotions are anger, hatred and jealousy.
- Seat of Pitta is stomach, small intestine and blood.
Pitta Constitution is medium build, premature graying, medium sleep, warm hands and feet, short tempered, intelligent and ambitious.
- Corresponds to water and the earth.
- Function is that of cementing material of the body, connective tissue, joint lubrication, and memory retention.
- Emotions are greed, attachment, envy, forgiveness, calmness and maternal emotions.
- Seat of Kapha is chest, sinuses, ears, nose, throat area, joints etc.
Kapha constitution is solid build, slow, deliberate, good strength and endurance, prolonged sleep, obese, calm, forgiving, loving, greedy and possessive. They are slow to grasp information but once they do they retain it i.e. good memory retention.
According to Ayurveda, the imbalance or disease may originate in the mind in the form of some negative emotion, which affects the doshas, and in turn the body or, it may originate in the body and then affect the mind. Diet and environment are the key causes here affecting the doshas, which in turn can affect the mind. We saw earlier that Vata is connected to fear and anxiety, Pitta to hate and jealousy and Kapha to greed and possessiveness.
Western medical science has not recognized the importance of the relationship between the immune system and the gut. Only now are some people beginning to recognize and label the "leaky gut syndrome" as being the cause of many diseases. Ayurveda recognized this connection five thousand years ago when it talked about disease being caused by accumulation of toxins or "ama" as a result of impairment of the "Agni" (the process of digestion and assimilation). If the agni does not function properly, then the ama accumulates in the intestines and leaks into the circulation and subsequently accumulates in other parts of the body clogging them, impairing their resistance and immunity and causing disease of that organ.
Imbalanced emotions also cause disease by impairing the agni and therefore the immune system. In the Bhagwad Gita, the Lord tells Arjuna that He Himself has become the digestive fire or Agni in the human body, serving to illustrate the importance of agni. I.e. it is the Lord's energy, which is powering the digestive system and thus all the metabolic processes and also strengthening the immune system. Disrespect of your digestive fire by eating the wrong foods or an imbalanced lifestyle is disrespecting the Lord within you and inviting disease.
The Ayurvedic physician usually performs a detailed history and physical examination. The examination includes but is not limited to pulse diagnosis, examination of the tongue, facial diagnosis including the lines and wrinkles of your face, your lips, eyes. Examination of the nails and hair, examination of the urine, feces, sweat etc. examination of the mind and emotions. He may also check your astrological chart as this may predict disease proneness. Modern medicine treats the body as though it is a machine with various parts and each part is treated by a different specialist. The problem with a machine is that you can repair it with spare parts. The human body on the other hand functions as a whole. An Ayurvedic physician tries to assist the body in its attempt to repair itself.
Treatment in Ayurveda consists of: Panchakarma (purification or cleansing of the body), herbs, yoga, mantras, gemstones, color therapy, sound therapy using classical ragas, dietary manipulation to balance the doshas, fasting, meditation etc. Treatment is individualized to the person and not the disease. Whereas in allopathic medicine, two patients with arthritis will usually get the same treatment, its not so in Ayurveda.
Panchakarma is employed to eliminate toxins from the body. Massages using oil and herbs, enemas, nasal purgation and induced vomiting are some of the methods used. I remember as a child being taken by my parents for treatment to a local Ayurveda center and the doctors there would make me drink tons of water then come up from behind and press my upper abdomen and all the water would come out. Although disconcerting at first, I did feel really cleaned out afterwards. However, do not try this at home. It can only be done under the supervision of an Ayurvedic physician. Oil or water enemas are used depending on the imbalance present. I would not recommend getting treatment from someone who has taken a two month crash course in Ayurveda. These people can do more harm than good. The idea behind panchakarma is to open the channels and begin getting rid of the accumulated toxins. It can be very effective in getting rid of the chemicals that we are polluting our bodies (and our planet) with, in our so-called modern society.
In Ayurveda, the underlying philosophy is a reverence for all life. Therefore herbs are grown, cultivated and harvested with respect, reverence and purity in mind with the result that the healing effects of such herbs are powerful and in tune with nature. Remember the four sheaths that cover the soul. According to Ayurveda each sheath can be healed with different methods. The physical body can be healed by a vata, pitta or kapha pacifying diet, herbal treatment and yogic exercises. The astral body by the use of herbs, pranayama, color, sound, gemstones magnets (and homeopathy works at this level also). Mantras and meditation reach the causal body.
Written by: Dr. Aruna Bakhr. Dr.Bakhru is Board Certified in Internal Medicine. She has been listed in the millennium edition of Marquis Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare and Who's Who in the World. Know more about her!