Category Archives: Introduction to Ayurveda

Introductory articles covering the main concepts involved in the Vedic Healthcare system – Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda

Summary:  Brief overview of the ancient Vedic Healthcare System known as Ayurveda. Covering the emphasis Ayurveda places on prevention. Plus health promoting advice, disease and diagnostic techniques, and how we can best apply this ancient science to promote wellness.

Ayurveda is a unique, wellness creating healthcare system. It operates on different principles and paradigms to both Western and Traditional Chinese medicine.

Ayurveda does not just deal with the organs and matter from which the body is made. It also deals with the underlying field of energy and intelligence that pervades the body and, from the Vedic viewpoint, the whole universe. However, Ayurvedic advice is essentially practical, giving many low cost, simple to follow, health promoting tips.

‘Ayurveda’ is made up of two words. ‘Ayur’ means life and health, ‘Veda’ means knowledge or ‘science’. So, Ayurveda is the ‘Knowledge of Life’.

In practical terms we can say that: ‘Ayurveda is the science of self-healing’.

Ayurveda places great emphasis on the prevention of illness. It regards prevention as being much better because prevention is both easier and cheaper than cure.

Knowledge of Ayurveda, when combined with our practice of Yoga, Meditation and Pranayama forms a key component of an ‘Integrated Vedic Lifestyle’ – making our life happier and healthier too.

Creating Wellness Through Ayurveda

Ayurveda views ‘good health’ as far more than just the absence of disease. Those who apply the knowledge of Ayurveda report experiencing a much greater ‘feel good factor’, more enthusiasm for life and a deep, unshakeable sense of well-being. The experience of pure joy also grows in their awareness – wow!

Even an outline understanding of the principles of Ayurveda can help us maintain good health and balance in our physiology through correct diet, appropriate exercise and daily and seasonal routines.

Before recommending any health maintaining advice or treatment for disease, Ayurveda first categorises us into one of seven major mind-body constitutional types [1]. Therefore preventive advice and treatment is based on the individual’s mind-body type. This is a unique strength of the Ayurvedic systemdifferent individuals will receive very different healthcare advice and even completely different treatments for the same set of ‘symptoms’.

It is possible to gain an approximate understanding of our own mind-body type (called ‘doshas’ in Ayurveda) from questionnaires concerning our physical and mental attributes; however a more reliable analysis can be performed by a trained Ayurvedic practioner.

The great Ayurvedic sage Charaka said this about the doshas “Health results from the natural, balanced state of the doshas.  Therefore, the wise try to keep them in their balanced state.”

If we are unwell, or ‘out of balance’, Ayurveda identifies the root cause, then offers a range of strategies to restore balance and health.

Health Promoting Advice from Ayurveda

Ayurveda aims to maintain good health by giving individual advice, based on our mind-body type (doshas), on the following:

Diagnosis in Ayurveda

Ayurveda offers an extremely cost effective diagnostic methodology which does not rely on invasive tests or high-tech expensive equipment. Rather, the Ayurvedic Doctor follows an eight point (occasionally ten point) series of observations. Most remarkably for Westerners, one of these observations is the ‘pulse diagnostic process’ of ‘Nadi Pariksha’ (aka ‘Nadi Vigyan’) which seems almost miraculous. Not only can a skilled practitioner determine one’s natural dosha predominance, e.g. Vata-Pita, they can also determine the current state of dosha imbalance. Nadi Pariksha involves the practitioner feeling the pulse of the patient with three fingers – any imbalance result in subtle pattern differences which can then be detected. A fully enlightened Ayurvedic Specialists can also ‘read’ a patient’s complete medical history from this process!

If we have any illness, discomfort or disease it is worth first getting a diagnosis from a physician trained in Western medicine. Armed with this information we can then make an informed decision about our choices of alternative treatments and the timescales involved.

Although some knowledge of Ayurveda is useful in understanding one’s own mind-body type, diagnosis of disease is a complex subject and best left to Ayurvedic practitioners. A suitably qualified practitioner would probably hold at least a degree in Ayurvedic Medicine (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine – BAM, or equivalent), plus relevant experience.

Disease in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, disease is seen as an imbalance in one or more of the key ‘elements or principles’ (doshas) in the body. This can be further complicated by the presence of toxins (called ‘Ama’) and imbalance in subtle energy channels and systems.

Western medicine often offers ‘quick-fix’ solutions to symptoms via surgery, tablets, etc., whereas treatment from an Ayurvedic viewpoint often involves significant changes to diet, routine and lifestyle. Ayurveda can also take longer to achieve results – first to detoxify our system and then to re-balance our physiology.

Many people who have had limited success with managing or curing long term chronic conditions via Western medicine, or who have experienced unwanted side effects from their treatment, are now exploring the health promoting possibilities offered by Ayurveda.

There is a major difference in how Ayurveda and Western medicine attribute different names to specific symptoms. From a Western medical diagnosis we may say we have ‘Asthma’; however traditional Ayurveda would not use the term ‘Asthma’ at all for this particular set of symptoms. This is because Ayurveda recognises the symptoms as being due to one of three possible underlying causes – by either a Pitta, or Vata or Kapha imbalance (with or without complications such as toxins etc.), so each different type requires different remedies to bring the system back into balance and restore equilibrium.

Treatment in Ayurveda

Ayurvedic treatment usually first involves removing toxins from the system, followed by strategies to rebalance it, and then advice to maintain that balance in the long term.

Ayurveda offers complete detoxification programmes called ‘Panchakarma’ (or the five cleansing actions). Although some of these procedures can be done at home, most are clinic based under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic Physician. However, some Ayurvedic detox advice is relatively simple to follow at home as part of our daily routine.

Ayurveda is not just herbal medicine, although herbs, minerals, etc. can be used as just one of a much wider range of rebalancing and detoxifying processes.

In Ayurveda, food is also regarded as ‘medicine’, so getting the right diet and strenthening our digestion is important.

Origins of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is ancient. It originates from the same vedic tradition as Yoga. Its origins lie in extreme antiquity – probably 5000 or more years ago. The knowledge was initially passed on as an oral tradition from master to student, although it was first written down only a few thousand years ago. Ayurveda has been described as ‘the mother of all healing’. Ayurveda literally means ‘knowledge of life’. It is regarded as one of Yoga’s ‘Sister Sciences’.

Ayurveda differs from western medicine in its origins. It originated via a process called ‘vedic cognition’. It is not experimental or empirical, so it is not based on knowledge derived from dissection, anatomy and biochemistry.

It is holistic in that it treats the person as a whole, not just as a collection of parts working in a ‘complex machine’ – as done by Western medicine.

Ayurveda also has two related Vedic topics: Vastu (Vedic living and working spaces) deals with promoting balance and life-supporting qualities in our homes (the vedic equivalent of Feng shui); Jyotish (Vedic  predictive and preventive Astrology) deals with promoting balance between the planetary forces (which are indicators of our returning karmas) in our birth-charts. According to the Vedic tradition, both Vastu and Jyotish may also have some influence on our health and well-being.


[1] The major constitutional types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas : Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K). Vata is the principle of movement. Pitta is the principle of fire and metabolism. Kapha is the principle of solidity and structure. So everybody will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural balance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’. If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of either Pitta, Vata or Kapha: P, or V, or K. Often two doshas predominate giving rise to categories PV (or VP);  PK (or KP);  VK (or KV). Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level giving rise to the final category of VPK.

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Explained

Summary: Explaining the key Ayurvedic principles Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Examining the seven possible combinations of these doshas and their effects on our mind-body type. Including pulse diagnostic techniques and links to online dosha determining resources.

In Ayurveda, the major constitutional types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas: Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K). Unfortunately there are no words in the English language which directly correspond to these terms. In addition, these principles can be difficult to understand as we can’t directly see them – only infer their presence.

‘Lying as they do in the gap between mind and body, they resemble nothing that exists in our Western scientific framework’ D Chopra, ‘Perfect Health – The Complete Mind/Body Guide’

The following sections give an outline of the basic concepts for each of the three doshas.

The Three Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha

    • Vata governs bodily functions involving movement (Key word: ‘Movement’)
    • Pitta governs bodily functions concerned with heat, metabolism and digestion (Key word: ‘Fire’)
    • Kapha governs the structural aspects of the body and its fluids (Key Word: ‘Structure’)

Each of the three doshas is present in all of us, present in every living cell and present in every organ of our body! However, from an Ayurvedic perspective some organs are more associated with a particular dosha. For example, our stomach is associated with the ‘digestive fire’ element of Pitta, our continuously beating heart with the movement aspect of Vata, and our skeleton with the structural aspect of Kapha.

If we begin examining some of the dosha’s associations we find: Vata is linked to breathing, movement, the nervous system, and the process of elimination of waste products.  Pitta is linked with strong digestion, energy, sharp intellect and good speaking ability. Kapha brings strength and endurance, mental stability and patience.

Before making any lifestyle, dietary or treatment advice Ayurveda’s greatest strength lies in its ability to classify everyone into one of seven major mind-body types based on the combination of the doshas V, P and K

So everybody (really: ‘every body’) will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural balance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’.

If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of Pitta, Vata or Kapha (often referred to as ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’, etc.):

P or V or K

Often two doshas predominate, giving rise to categories:

PV (or VP):   PK (or KP):   VK (or KV)

Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level, giving rise to the final category of:


Ayurveda views anything that causes a change in this natural balance as potentially harmful. This disturbance could be due to many factors, such as improper diet, weak digestion, emotional disturbances and even environmental factors such as excessively hot, cold or windy weather.

In order to better explain the principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha let us now examine the observable characteristics of people who just have a single dominant dosha – that is ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’ and ‘pure Kapha’ mind-body types. It sometimes helps to ‘picture’ the pure dosha stereotypes. For example, a pure Vata type would probably apply to a ‘stick-thin’ fashion model whereas a pure Kapha type would probably apply to a large framed dark-haired motherly figure. People with a fiery personality and red hair are often Pitta types.

The following section lists the main physical and mental characteristics of these pure, single-dosha mind-body types:

‘Pure Vata’ Type Characteristics

Vata Physical Characteristics

    • Light build and frame
    • Irregular hunger and digestion
    • Energy comes in bursts, performs  actions quickly
    • Talkative, fast speech
    • Dry Skin
    • Tendency towards constipation
    • Aversion to cold and windy weather

Vata Mental Characteristics

    • Learns very quickly, but also forgets quickly
    • Tendency to worry and exhibit nervousness
    • Can be vibrant, imaginative, excitable, moods change quickly
    • Light and interrupted sleep, tendency to insomnia
    • Dreams often are fearful, and involving flying, running, escaping

‘Pure Pitta’ Type Characteristics

Pitta Physical Characteristics

    • Medium size frame and build
    • Strong digestion, can experience sharp hunger and thirst
    • Performs activity at medium speed
    • Articulate, can be good public speakers
    • Hair is often blond, light brown to reddish , tendency to hair loss
    • Pale skin, maybe with freckles
    • Aversion to sun and very hot weather

Pitta Mental Characteristics

    • Medium time to grasp new information
    • Tendency towards anger, aggression, arguments
    • Often holds strong opinions, likes challenges, strong intellect
    • Medium duration of sleep
    • Dreams can be fiery and hot, waking up hot and thirsty

‘Pure Kapha’ Type Characteristics

Kapha Physical Characteristics

    • Heavy, solid, powerful build
    • Slow digestion, mild hunger
    • Good strength, stamina, endurance, with slow actions
    • Slow speech, maybe with a deep voice
    • Dark & greasy hair, smooth oily skin

Kapha Mental Characteristics

    • Slow learners but with excellent long term memory
    • Very relaxed, ‘laid back’, tranquil, loving, forgiving
    • Tendency towards inertia
    • Long, heavy sleep
    • ‘Romantic’ dreams

Please remember that the above lists just describe the characteristics  of pure V, pure P and pure K types.

Many of us however have two dominant doshas with the third dosha taking something of a back seat in our makeup. For example, in one person P and V might be dominant over K, in another V and K dominate P, etc.

Taking a VK type as an extreme example, we might think that the overall outcome would be a homogenous blend of the two types –  just like red and green light would combine to make an orange/yellow color. So, as a pure V type has a slim frame and a pure K type a heavy build, we might logically expect a VK type to have a blend of these two – namely a medium build. Unfortunately things are a little more complex.

In practice a  VK type may exhibit either a V or a K trait in their physical build (but not usually a mixture of both). They might also exhibit either a V or a K trait in aspects of their personality (but not a bland mixture of both.) The same goes for different patterns in their digestion. Depending on external circumstances and at different times, a two dosha type may also switch between one dominant dosha trait and another!  At this point we are getting beyond the scope of this introductory article – a really good description of the two and three dosha types is given in Deepak Chopra’s book ‘Perfect Health’ – highly recommended.

Determining our Doshas

Ideally, in order to determine which of our Doshas naturally predominate  – our ‘Prakriti’ (our inherent ‘mind-body type’) we need to visit an Ayurvedic specialist for a ‘pulse diagnosis process’ of ‘Nadi Pariksha’ (aka ‘Nadi Vigyan’). Not only can a skilled practitioner determine our natural dosha predominance, e.g. Vata-Pita, they can also determine the current state of dosha imbalance (our ‘Vikriti’). Nadi Pariksha involves the practitioner feeling the pulse of the patient with three fingers – any imbalance results in subtle pattern differences which can then be detected. To do this takes a lot of training!

If we don’t have access to an Ayurvedic professional we can try a quiz! There are many online. A quiz is not as good as Nadi Vigyan as our answers to the questions might be more dependent on our current state of Dosha imbalance (Vikriti) rather than our inherent nature (Prakriti). With Nadi Vigyan we can determine both. But a quiz is fun and can often give us a ‘ball park’ idea. Doing a quiz also helps us see the major factors (in both mind and body) the Doshas influence in our lives. Enjoy.

Here are some online quizzes from very reputable Ayurvedic sources:

Additional Information on Vata, Pitta and Kapha Doshas

Ayurveda FAQs 1

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.

Additional Information

Ayurveda FAQs 2

Summary: Additional basic FAQs on the Ayurvedic Healthcare System, the concepts of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and the origins of disease

Q. The terms ‘Vata, Pitta and Kapha’ frequently occur in Ayurveda – what do they relate to?

A. In Ayurveda, the major constitutional mind-body types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas: Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K).

Vata is the principle of movement

Pitta is the principle of fire and metabolism

Kapha is the principle of solidity and structure

So every person will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural predominance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’. This natural predominance stays the same throughout one’s whole life. If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of either Vata, Pitta or Kapha:  V or P or K (often referred to as ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’, etc.). Often two doshas predominate giving rise to categories PV (or VP); PK (or KP);  VK (or KV). Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level giving rise to the final category of VPK. So we have seven possiblities:

V or P or K

PV (or VP); PK (or KP);  VK (or KV)


Ayurveda views anything that causes a change in the individual’s inherent natural balance as potentially harmful. Changes that cause imbalance can occur from any of the following factors: emotional, dietary, climatic, environmental, work patterns, stress, physical and emotional trauma, seasonal influences, etc.

From a more theoretical perspective, Ayurveda views the development of disease as being due to the fact that the individual is not fully in tune with the laws of nature. Meditation and yoga help unite the individual with these universal laws.

Q. What emphasis does Ayurveda place on digestion and elimination?

A. A great deal! This is arguably one of the most important factors in Ayurveda. A weak digestion leads to the build-up of toxins in the system, so Ayurveda has a lot of practical tips on increasing the digestive fire. It is not just food that needs to be digested, but all inputs to our system, including emotional experiences, traumas, etc.

Q. Do I have to be a vegetarian to follow Ayurveda?

A. Certainly not. In fact, I heard a world renowned Ayurvedic Doctor [1] say ‘it is better for a pure Vata type to eat a little white meat rather than blow away’.

Ayurveda acknowledges that it is much more difficult to digest red meat than white meat. However, in this case the power of our digestive fire can be increased with spices such as chillies. There are of course, karmic implications involved in eating any form of animal flesh – particularly those of the higher sentient beings!

Q. Does Ayurveda have any surgical techniques associated with it?

A. Ayurveda, as now practised, does not involve any major surgery. However, an ancient Ayurvedic text written several thousand years ago (by a Sage called Sushruta) involved extensive sections on surgical procedures, instruments, etc. Much of this practical knowledge has been lost over the millennia, but this Ayurvedic text has great historical importance in that it was the first ever to give detailed instructions on surgery.

Q. How does Ayurveda view the origin of disease?

A. On a practical basis disease is seen as arising from an imbalance of our naturally occurring dosha predominance (Prakriti.) This disturbance could be due to many factors, such as improper diet, weak digestion, emotional disturbances and even environmental factors such as excessively hot, cold or windy weather or environmental pollution. Ayurveda acknowledges that the Vata dosha usually goes out of balance first and the other doshas follow. Matters are also complicated by the presence of toxins (known as ‘ama’ for simple toxins, or ‘amavisha’ for more potent forms) in the physiology. These toxins can arise from imperfect digestion and elimination.

Ayurveda identifies six stages in the development of a disease. Surprising as it may seem there are no symptoms in the first two stages! In the third stage and fourth stage the patient may feel ‘not quite right’, ‘off color’, etc., but without disease specific symptoms.  Clear symptoms only occur in the fifth stage – the stage at which Western medicine can usually give a named diagnosis. In the sixth stage the body’s own mechanisms are unable to reverse the changes and the patient experiences a long-term chronic disease. Ayurveda’s unique value lies in its ability to detect the very earliest stages in the disease process and offer remedial strategies even before the symptoms manifest!


    1. Dr. Brihaspati Dev Triguna – a world renowned Ayurvedic Doctor. He actually did my pulse diagnosis many years ago – something for which I am eternally grateful. This also began my interest in Ayurveda.

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Ayurveda FAQs 3

Summary: Additional  FAQs on the Ayurvedic Healthcare System, including further resources, lifestyle changes, self-medication, active ingredients

Q.  Do you have to believe in Ayurveda for it to work?

A.  Ayurveda is no more a belief system than is yoga. Both originate from the same ancient Vedic tradition and they can be considered ‘sister subjects’. We simply don’t have to believe in yoga or Ayurveda in order to experience the benefits. These benefits can be experienced by anyone, in any culture, anywhere in the world.

Q. Can’t we just isolate the active ingredients present in Ayurveda herbal remedies and take a pill to cure disease?

A. This is not how Ayurveda works. Firstly, before recommending any herbal remedies an Ayurvedic Doctor needs to determine a person’s Prakriti (natural mind/body type) because a herb that would have a positive effect for a pure Vata type physiology could bring problems to a pure Kapha type. Furthermore, Ayurveda places emphasis on which part of the plant is used, when it is harvested and how it is prepared or combined with other herbs. Simply extracting the active ingredient is a very Western approach – Ayurveda is much more holistic. In addition, depending on the diagnosis, certain detoxification procedures (e.g. Panchakarma) might need to be followed to rid the system of Ama (toxins) before any herbal remedies start to become effective at re-balancing it.

At its most fundamental level Ayurveda operates on the same field of ‘intelligence and order’ that underpins our bodily structures and functions. As cells are renewed as part of their natural replacement process in our body, it ensures only health-supporting changes.

Q. Am I going to have to change my lifestyle in order to stay healthy with Ayurveda?

A. Quite possibly. It depends, of course, on how closely our current lifestyle parallels the recommendations from Ayurveda.

However, small changes to our routine, eating and sleeping habits can make a big difference to how we feel. ‘Investing’ in a small change can often bring big rewards. For example, simply not having ice cold or carbonated drinks with a meal can greatly improve our digestion (cold drinks put out the digestive fire or ‘Agni’ which is needed to fully digest food without creating toxic by-products) – see ‘Top Tips for Mealtimes’

We shouldn’t be obsessed with Ayurveda either. It is here to help us lead happy and healthy lives. It is not here to stop us having fun – quite the contrary. Ayurveda brings joy and health and a feeling of being truly alive (full of prana).

If we know the rules of Ayurveda we can choose occasionally to ignore them. But if we ignore them persistently we need to reflect and ask ourselves if our ingrained habits are really bringing us long term health and happiness.

Q. Can I self-medicate with Ayurvedic herbs?

A. Possibly, but self-medication for a specific health problem misses the whole point of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not just about fixing one problem or curing one disease, although many Ayurvedic  ‘product oriented’ commercial websites might imply otherwise! Get it right and all potential health problems are fixed simultaneously with an Ayurvedic approach! Getting it right may involve following appropriate detoxification procedures, re-balancing of the doshas, and then maintaining the new found balance by following dietary, lifestyle and seasonal advice. This involves a lot of personal commitment to change and self-improvement.

The idea of an ‘off the shelf’ Ayurvedic remedy is a very western way of trying to find a ‘magic bullet’ to cure a specific disease – without identifying the underlying cause of the original imbalance. If we choose ‘off the shelf’ remedies we are merely substituting a botanical solution for a pharmacologically based one. However, whatever treatment route we choose, it is always essential to first get a diagnosis from a Western medical perspective.

Q. What resources would you recommend for people wishing to further explore Ayurveda?

A. This is a matter of personal opinion, but I have found that books generally present knowledge in a more structured and coherent way than websites. This is particularly important for people new to the subject.

The three books that I recommend were all first published in the 1980’s – but their wisdom is timeless and applies just as much today.

‘Perfect Health – The Complete Mind Body Guide’ by Deepak Chopra MD. ISBN-10: 0553813676. This is a brilliant introduction to Ayurveda with lots of practical advice combined with its underlying theory. It is a key book (an updated version is now in print) making Ayurveda easily accessible to a western audience. Anyone wanting to explore Ayurveda in more detail should read it.

‘Ayurveda – The Science of Self-Healing’, by Dr. Vasant Lad, ISBN-10: 0914955004.  This is a good introduction into the principles and practices of Ayurveda. It gives a broad, but highly readable overview of the subject – ideal for beginners.

‘The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine’ by David Frawley, ISBN-10: 9780941524247. This is really a reference book on the Ayurvedic properties of herbs. It contains immense knowledge and wisdom that is almost impossible to find elsewhere. It covers the healing and balancing properties of a wide range of herbs – both commonly available ones and the specialist Indian and Chinese herbs too.

Q. Do Ayurvedic herbs have side effects?

A. In Ayurveda herbs can be used to both detoxify and then rebalance our system. However, one herb that pacifies an out of balance vata dosha could tend to increase kapha dosha. One that decreases kapha might tend to increase pitta, or vata, or both, so we should be very aware of the precautions needed when taking a particular herb.

Most Ayurvedic herbs have ‘side-benefits – not ‘side effects’!

We could even say that food stuffs have ‘side effects’. Too great a consumption of dairy products may lead to an increase in mucus and phlegm (which is associated with kapha dosha). Too great a consumption of salads and raw vegetables increases vata.

Before taking any herb we should know our inherent nature (Prakriti), get a proper diagnosis of our current imbalance and receive ongoing care and monitoring from an Ayurvedic professional (e.g. BAMS Degree). We should also be fully aware of the prescribed herbs properties. The usual precautions apply to pregnant or breast-feeding women, children etc.

Q. Because Western Medicine, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are so radically different, surely they can’t all be right?

A. It helps if we view each of these systems as just a ‘model’ of how the human mind-body functions and interacts with its environment. In the above sense the term ‘model’ is the same as that used by physicists. Science acknowledges that although any one model doesn’t adequately describe everything we observe, it gives useful insights and answers to our problems. Science is always seeking to develop better models of reality. Ayurveda and TCM are not belief systems – they are just different models.

If we ask the same question of different models we get different answers according to their underlying concepts and paradigms. Some models are more useful for certain health situations than others. For example, Western medicine excels in emergencies, surgery and trauma relief, Ayurveda is excellent at prevention of disease. Treatments are also different in the different models. They are different in their methods, dramatically different in their costs, different in the commitment needed from patients and different in the length of time needed for effective care.

Each model is easily testable – we can see if its advice actually makes the patients better. Ayurveda and TCM have both withstood this long test of time. Ultimately, all the systems of medicine are here to help us lead healthy lives. Which one we choose to follow is up to us.

Additional Information on Ayurveda