Ancient Ayurveda Still One of the Best Answers for Wellbeing BY DEBORAH CHARNES
The first Ayurvedic textbook dates back 5,000 years ago, making it a precursor to allopathic medicine which dominates our western world.
Ayurveda, meaning the science or study of life, is a very complex holistic approach to optimize one’s health and offset diseases and discomfort. Divided into eight branches, similar to the eight branches of yoga, the Ashtangas of Ayurveda include general medicine, pediatrics and OB/GYN, surgery, ENT, toxicology, rejuvenation (geriatrics), aphrodisiacs and psychiatry.
While Ayurveda is not widely understood in our part of the word, in India, the birthplace of Ayurveda, it’s widespread. In Kerala, the state where it may be most prominent, currently 40 percent of health care is Ayurvedic and the local Ayurvedic association has a marketing campaign underway to boost that figure to 50 percent.
The government does its part of support Ayurveda as well. Those of lower socio-economic means in India are entitled to free allopathic or Ayurvedic treatments. Additionally, the Government of India has published formularies for Ayurvedic treatments, available on CDs.
Just as we’ve seen proof of unbelievable scientific intelligence among the ancient Mayas and Egyptians, among other cultures, Ayurveda, over the last 5,000 years has proved its effectiveness based on its age-old wisdom and practices. In the last ten years, blind double tests confirmed the value of Ayurveda. Two plants traditionally used to treat blood pressure were patented by a major pharmaceutical company as allopathic drugs for hypertension. Another Ayurvedic herbal therapy (ephedrine) is now a common allopathic treatment for asthma.
Many of the native plants used in Ayurveda, when analyzed using modern technology and data, are found to have curative elements. According to the Indian sages, all plants have medicinal values. “It is promised that nature always creates, in every habitat, plants needed to treat typical diseases prevalent in the eco-system,” stated the Caraka Samhita, the most well known treatise on Ayurveda dating back to 600 B.C.
Dr. L. Mahadevan, director of Hospital located at the southernmost tip of India, operates a botanical garden and pharmacy alongside his clinic. There are more than 100 herbs cultivated here, many of which can be used for multiple purposes. Among the plants grown in this tropical garden are asiatica, arrowroot, asoka, gooseberries, aloe vera, amaranth, bitter demon, stevia, coriander and neem.
Dr. Mahadevan’s clinic treats about 50 patients a day. He has a staff of 70 which is certainly not the ratio seen in western clinics. While he operates in a fairly remote geographic location, surrounded by paddy fields, lotus ponds and coconut groves. His patients come from all over the world, and most likely seek treatment due to imbalances caused by diet and lifestyle.
According to Dr. Vinod Verma, author of Ayurveda, A Way of Life and founder of the New Way Health Organization in India, “people live lives that are largely anti-life, i.e., our lifestyle is unhealthy…They spend most of their time searching for more money or fame…trapped in a vicious cycle of over medication and its side effects.”
Dr. L. Mahadevan echoed that thought. He says he’s seen patients eat too much and work too much. He says patients nowadays usually prefer the mindless act of taking a pill or a shot, rather than modifying their lifestyle to achieve health and happiness. Some ailments, with Ayurvedic treatment, can be cured merely with water, salt, or exercise. But, in today’s modern world, whether one lives in New Delhi or New York City, there is a too often a focus on the material needs rather than the more important personal needs of each individual.
Dr. Vinod adds in her book, “When people are running around attending one meeting after another or making deals, they are usually suppressing urges, inviting ailments and shortening their lifespan. Running after achievements is of no use when they are life-threatening and life shortening. Remember that the first priority of life is life itself…all else is useless…take time for what you would like to do rather than always doing what you are supposed to do.”
The Caraka Samhita not only talks about healing techniques, but also the role of the healer. The doctor, it advises, should be “friendly and compassionate toward the sick and should not be greedy.”
Ayurveda focuses on the patient, rather than on the antidote. An Ayurvedic analysis takes much longer than an allopathic one, as the treatment is customized and holistic. As an example of the complexity and holistic nature of Ayurveda, the patient may be advised to modify his or her diet and lifestyle every two months, based on the changing elements of our climate that affects our environment. Likewise, Ayurveda recognizes the daily cycles that alter one’s state of being, which factor into recommended daily regimens.
Ayurveda does not ignore allopathic medicine, but weaves it into the complete picture. For example, it’s not uncommon for Ayurvedic doctors in India to request blood tests or X-rays, and they frequently work hand in hand with neurologists, surgeons and other western medical practitioners. It’s not about territory. It’s about what’s best for the patient. For example, dais (midwives) assist in home births of 90 percent of normal deliveries, with immediate referrals to allopathic hospitals in cases of abnormal births.
While most allopathic doctors probably enter the field with a sincere desire to help patients, in today’s American managed care medical environment our medical providers are squeezed so tightly by insurance providers and risk management that these principles are very hard to maintain. Ayurveda, on the other hand, due to its holistic nature, brings about equilibrium in the patients, which results in well being. Individuality is not a part of western medicine. In Ayurveda, the mind, body and spirituality are all interrelated. In Ayurveda, health is harmony with the self and the environment.
FORGET "WHAT’S YOUR SIGN?" WHAT’S YOUR DOSHA?
I happen to love broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts. My mother couldn’t stand them. It turns out, some people have different taste buds, and for many people, vegetables like broccoli can be extremely bitter. I eat these three greens like candy.
While I never particularly had a sweet tooth, as my mother did, over the last few years my cravings for salty foods have increased. I still consume loads of spicy foods, something else my mother couldn’t tolerate. She didn’t even like garlic and onions, which I can’t comprehend.
While my father drank coffee every morning and also enjoyed a cup after dinner, my mother rarely drank the brew. She only took a few sips at luncheons, maybe to be “lady like.” I was a coffee addict for most of my life. However, I self-prescribed the hot java for several reasons. First, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been friolenta. Living in Mexico City, and shivering in the mornings, I learned that the hot liquid warmed me up a bit. When I worked in Miami, there was nothing better than a mid-afternoon cafecito break, just like tea time, this was a great way to get up and get my circulation going along with a bit of socializing. Third, and most importantly, caffeine was a great antidote to the perennial lethargy I felt, no matter how much sleep I’d had.
I’m an Aquarian, so I tend to like adventures. To make them reality, I learned how to modify my lifestyle to take my adventures to the max, and rid myself of my sluggish nature.
Basically, what I did was try to create more balance in my lifestyle and my life. Sleep was a waste of time to me, and eight to ten hours of sleep never yielded an energetic and vibrant next day. Many people, in today’s super fast paced world, have chronic health conditions due to imbalances brought on my improper nutrition and lifestyle.
The Ayurvedic life science, the mother of all healing arts, that supposedly was passed on by the divine, addresses precisely these imbalances. According to Ayurveda, one’s constitution is established upon conception. In the case of my mother, she was probably predominantly Pitta. She would sweat easily, and heat was unbearable to her. She craved sweets and cold soothing foods like yogurt and ice cream. What’s more, she had a premature thinning of the hair and chose to wear a hairpiece. These are all signs of Pitta imbalances.
There are three doshas, or constitutions: Pitta, Vata and Kapha. However, people’s levels of Pitta, Vata and Kapha fluctuate constantly. As one ages, there is a natural tendency to shift balance over the years, throughout the day, and based on the season. For example, during summer, one’s Vata increases and in the winter, Kapha is more in force, so you need to adjust diet, exercise and routine accordingly.
While I may be my mother’s daughter, I see no Pitta in my life. I sense my innate constitution as Kapha which I probably inherited from my dad. Interestingly enough, he and I shared multiple idiopathic health problems. Idiopathic means it’s not hereditary and they have no idea why you got the illness. While no allopathic doctor could tell either of us the source of our pains, I think the answer may be from too muych Kapha.
My inner balance must have recognized this, so I worked to decrease my Kapha for decades, without even knowing what I was doing. In the end, I had an overabundance of Vata that I brought upon myself, far beyond the coffee fixes. Ayurvedic experts say that the vast majority of people in our western society have Vata imbalances caused by the drive-through and dog-eat-dog world of super moms and super Marios.
There are several recommended Ayurvedic methods to create balance in one’s life. Diet is key, and each person, basedon their imbalances is given different recommendations. Herbal remedies are traditionally prescribed, as are message therapy, all which are customized based on the three forces. Likewise, periodic detoxification has tremendous benefits, and the cleanse varies based on one’s dosha. Finally, there are daily regimens that need to be followed to provide total balance in mind, body and soul.
DEBORAH CHARNES IS A TEXAS-BASED WELLNESS AND FITNESS WRITER AND ADVOCATE. SHE IS A YOGA INSTRUCTOR AND OWNER OF THE WRITE COUNSEL, A STRATEGIC PR COMPANY DEDICATED TO TRANSFORMING OUR COMMUNITY.