WHAT IS AYURVEDA?
Ayurveda is not just a medical science about diseases, but a philosophy on how to live your life to achieve overall physical, emotional and spiritual happiness. Ayurveda is a true holistic medical system.
Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old continuously practiced healing system that originated in India and is recognized by WHO (World Health Organization) as the oldest healing tradition of the world. Ayurveda is a 2-part Sanskrit word, Ayur meaning life and Veda meaning science, or more precisely, knowledge. Hence, Ayurveda literally means a knowledge of life.
True to its meaning, Ayurveda is not just a medical science about diseases, but a philosophy on how to live one’s life so you can achieve overall physical, emotional and spiritual happiness. In this regard, Ayurveda is a true holistic medical system.
This is in stark contrast to conventional medical models, which have emerged to become “sick care systems.” Modern medicine had its heyday when it conquered (or so it seemed) infectious diseases at the turn of the 20th century, giving rise to the current “a pill for every ill” mentality. However, we are now seeing a steep rise in incidence of chronic disease, especially in western industrialized societies. In fact, it is estimated that over 50% of Americans suffer from chronic diseases. Also, the illusion of our conquest over infections has been shattered with increasing antibiotic resistance and the emergence of superbugs.
The acute care approach that worked for infections and other acute diseases does not work for chronic diseases, which usually have multiple determinants and lifestyle plays a major role. For chronic diseases, a holistic approach like that of Ayurveda’s seems to be the only right approach.
THE AYURVEDA APPROACH
Ayurveda encourages us to live life in harmony with the natural law, enliven the body’s self-repairing and balancing mechanisms. Doing so removes the root cause of a problem and promotes healing from within.
Ayurveda’s unique approach is twofold. Its primary focus is on the prevention of disease and the promotion of positive health. It’s secondary focus is treatment of disease and restoration of health.
Health is defined as a state of balance of mind, body, and environment. Ayurveda encourages us to live life in harmony with the natural law. For diseases, the purpose of intervention in Ayurveda is to enliven the body’s internal self-repair and balancing mechanisms, thus removing the root cause of a problem and promoting healing from within.
Ayurveda recognizes one’s innate intelligence, known as Prana (also known as Chi in Chinese medicine or called Vital Force by Naturopaths and Chiropractors) underlies all physiological structure and function. Our Prana, or life force, is always guiding us to a state of balance and health. However, we sometimes make choices that are detrimental to our health.
The Ayurvedic approach to treatment is to educate oneself to be in tune with our Prana and remove obstacles to our innate healing abilities. In this regard, a physician’s role is one of compassionate facilitation. In the practice of Ayurvedic healing, both patient and physician work together to uncover and address the root cause of chronic illnessnes and strive to create harmony and balance between the body, mind and spirit. Its approach is entirely holistic.
THE DOSHA THEORY
In Ayurveda, the Doshas represent the basic controlling operators of one’s physiology, or the constitution of an individual. There are 3 Dosha types – Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth).
Each of us is born with a unique combination of these three Doshas, which makes up our innate constitution or our Prakriti. When one is in alignment with one’s Prakriti, one is in balance. Any deviation or imbalance from our Prakriti is known as Vikriti, which manifests as disease symptoms and signs.
The clinical utility of Doshas lies in their predictive abilities. Just as each Dosha imbalance can predispose us to different diseases, the same disease process can have different Dosha imbalances. Another important clinical utility of the Dosha theory is that all aspects of prevention and treatment are tailored to the individual’s Dosha type, including food, spices, herbal medicines and lifestyle routines. This is personalized medicine at its best. A treatment strategy that works for one person may be detrimental to another, because of their unique constitutional Dosha influencing how a treatment is received and assimilated.
Not recognizing this in conventional medicine has led to a cookie-cutter approach of matching a pill to a disease, completely ignoring the person with the disease. Hence every person with a diagnosis (eg: Depression) gets the same treatment (eg: antidepressant). However, Ayurveda teaches us that a disease (set of signs and symptoms) can have different underlying causes. Therefore, treatment is geared towards uncovering these underlying causes and addressing it.
Many Dosha quizzes are available online. But in our experience, such quizzes help a person identify their state of imbalance rather than both their innate constitution and the imbalance. Evaluation of Doshas is best done by a qualified and experienced Vaidya, with a thorough consultation and pulse exam.
Dr. Aruna Tummala speaks:
“Let’s explore this further with the same example of Depression. One patient with Depression could have a Vata Dosha imbalance manifesting as insomnia, low appetite, restlessness, thyroid abnormalities, etc. Another patient with Depression could have a Pitta Dosha imbalance with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies. A third patient with Depression may have a Kapha imbalance with lethargy, increased sleep, and weight gain. Understanding the different presentations based on Doshas, has helped me tailor different treatment strategies for the same disease, with effective results.”
Air & Space
Vata Dosha individuals tend to have a smaller body frame and are governed by movement (think of air and space creating wind and wind blowing through your body). This generally makes them feel cold, dry and their mind moves from one idea to the next. Vata types are always on the go, enthusiastic and active. This is the balanced state. When the state becomes imbalanced, the excess wind creates very specific mind and body symptoms.
Fire & Water
Pitta Dosha individuals tend to have a medium build and are governed by metabolism. This fire and water element type gets heated easily and often has a warm body. Pitta types have a very strong digestion and a sharp perception of the things that need to get done. Pitta individuals are organized, focused and determined. When the state becomes imbalanced, the excess fire creates very specific mind and body symptoms.
Earth & Water
Kapha Dosha individuals tend to have a larger build and are governed by structure. This earth and water element type is very grounded and stable. The body is cool and the mind is often cool, also. Kapha types have a weaker digestion. These individuals tend to be very compassionate, loving and relaxed. They move more slowly and speak softly. When the state becomes imbalanced, the excess earth creates very specific mind and body symptoms.
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