Summary: Basic FAQs on yoga’s ‘sister subject’ Ayurveda – the ancient, holistic healthcare system which helps promote perfect physical, mental, and spiritual health
Q. Is Ayurveda linked in any way to Yoga?
A. Ayurveda can be considered as a ‘sister subject’ of yoga. Ayurvedic knowledge stems from the same Vedic Tradition as Yoga. Its origins lie in the distant past many thousands of years ago, but just as with yoga, its benefits are now available to us all. Just as when we practice yoga we start to feel more energised and flexible, so the application of Ayurvedic principles can make us feel more healthy. Yoga, Pranayama (science of breath), Vastu (Yogic Design) and Jyotish (Yogic Astrology) are all interrelated ancient sciences – they are not belief systems, but rather ‘practical vedic technologies’ with real applications to our modern world and lifestyle.
Q. What’s special about Ayurveda?
A. Ayurveda is an ancient, holistic healthcare system with advice and therapies specifically tailored to the individual’s unique mind-body type. It aims to promote perfect physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Ayurveda gives us the knowledge of how we can live a long, healthy and happy life. A lot of emphasis in Ayurveda is on preventing disease – as this is much easier and cheaper than trying to cure it!
In practical terms: ‘Ayurveda is the Science of Self-healing’
Q. What is the best way for Westerners to use Ayurvedic knowledge?
A. The answer to this depends on whether we are in good health and seeking to maintain this state, or if we have some type of illness or disease
Answer 1. If we are free from disease and discomfort then we can follow an individually tailored, disease-preventing, health-promoting Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle.
We can only do this if we first identify our natural mind-body type (called our ‘Prakriti’). Ayurveda says our mind-body type will fall into one of seven clearly defined categories according to the predominance in our mind-body of the key Ayurvedic principles (doshas) of Vata, Pita, and Kapha. Only then can we receive appropriate health-supporting dietary and daily / seasonal routines, together with exercise and lifestyle recommendations.
In the West we only tend to visit our doctor when we experience specific symptoms or discomforts –when ‘something’ is not quite ‘right’. In Ayurveda, we need to see an Ayurvedic professional to prevent us getting ill in the first place!
Answer 2. If we already have noticeable symptoms, or any discomfort, it makes sense to get a Western medical diagnosis first. This is easily accessible and usually at a relatively low cost. We can then make an informed decision about which treatment route we wish to follow.
We should be aware that Ayurvedic treatments are not usually an ‘instant fix’ and often require changes in diet, lifestyle and exercise routines, combined with cleansing and detoxification therapies. This requires significant commitment as we start to take full responsibility for our own health. Ayurvedic treatment takes time as it aims to eliminate the root cause of the disease.
Q. Are Ayurvedic treatments alternative or complementary?
A. It is good to firstly acknowledge the strengths of our Western medical system. Western medicine is particularly good in health emergencies, immunology, in trauma relief and in all forms of surgery. However, many people have found Western medicine is often unable to offer cures (or even manage symptoms to an acceptable level) for long term chronic health issues, such as osteoarthritis, insomnia, asthma, skin diseases, diabetes, obesity, mild depression, digestive problems, frequent infections, etc. It is at this point that many have sought the Ayurvedic perspective on their health problems – with lasting, worthwhile results.
So Ayurveda is complementary to Western Medicine – it is not a substitute for it. This is particularly true if we have unfortunately already developed a serious illness.
Q. Is Ayurveda the same as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
A. Ayurveda is based on a different conceptual model from TCM. However, both have withstood the test of time and both can achieve good results in the hands of well trained and experienced health professionals. Both TCM and Ayurveda view the body as more than just matter. For example, TCM’s ‘meridians’ and Ayurveda’s ‘nadis’ (subtle energy channels), are somewhat similar concepts. However, Ayurveda is unique in both giving advice tailored to specific mind-body types and in many of its treatment and purification techniques.
Q. Is Ayurveda a form of herbal medicine?
A. Although Ayurveda can use herbs to rebalance and detoxify the physiology; it has a far greater range of therapies available than merely prescribing herbal remedies. Some of these therapies involve systematic detoxification procedures (such as the Panchakarma process). It also uses massage, meditation, minerals and mantras – as well as herbs. In Ayurveda, food is also seen as a form of ‘medicine’.
Because Ayurveda quantifies mind-body types, a specific herb (or even foodstuff) may be very beneficial for some people, but actually quite harmful for others!
Q. Does Ayurveda recommend a specific diet?
A. No. In Ayurveda the ideal diet depends on our mind-body type. Unlike in the West, where we often hear about finding the food ‘that is good for us’, Ayurveda is much more concerned with finding the food ‘that is good for me’ – that is the food that is good for my particular mind-body constitutional type. For example, dairy products may be very beneficial for a pure Vata constitution, but can give rise to major health problems for someone with a pure Kapha constitution. Whatever the actual diet, Ayurveda does give guidance on the best way to consume food in order to promote good digestion and health.
Q. What are the origins of Ayurveda and how was it developed?
A. Ayurveda has its roots in the same Vedic tradition that gave rise to Yoga. Scholars hold differing views as regards the placement of Ayurveda on an historical timeline. Ayurvedic practitioners usually agree that it is probably at least 5,000 years old and was first written down 3000 years ago.
Ayurveda was not ‘discovered’, nor was it developed by experimentation or experience. It was not based on anatomy or dissection either. The whole of Ayurvedic wisdom was produced by a process known as ‘vedic cognition’, which occurred in the consciousness of enlightened sages in bygone ages.