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Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview

Summary: Ayurveda provides a range of simple, low-cost strategies to help improve our immune system. With links to detailed resources on building better immunity through the Ayurvedic use of herbs and spices, lifestyle and diet choices, strengthening Ojas, detoxification programmes and the practice of meditation, yoga and pranayama.

Key strategies used by Ayurveda to help us build a strong immune system

Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview

In the West we have become used to ‘quick-fixes’ to solve our health problems. If we have a headache we take a pill to quickly get rid of it. If we have an infection we take antibiotics. Modern Western medical science offers quick-fix and convenient solutions to many common health problems. However, when a new viral or multiple-antibiotic resistant bacterial disease surfaces, Western medicine is left searching for a solution. Finding new antibiotics, or developing a vaccine, can take many years to test and effectively deploy. The good news is that the ancient science of Ayurveda offers simple, unique advice on how we can boost our immune system and therefore prevent many diseases – without any intervention from modern medicine.

Ayurveda is empowering too. Instead of waiting for ‘them’ to develop a new generation of antibiotics or vaccines, we can take steps today to start improving the strength of our immune system.

In the West we use many ‘battle’ analogies when it comes to tackling disease. For example, we often talk about ‘fighting off’ a disease, ‘doing battle’ with cancer, etc. Ayurveda does not see these descriptions as being helpful. Rather, it views health promoting strategies in terms of purification, and rebalancing of our natural systems. It uses the analogy of a field – if the field is well tended the seeds of disease cannot even germinate!

In order to understand the principles and origins of Ayurveda it is going to require a paradigm shift for those of us familiar with the Western allopathic medical system. Fortunately however, there is absolutely no need to understand any of it in order to experience the numerous extraordinary benefits!

Ayurveda – Much More Than Herbal Medicine

Many people view Ayurveda simply as a form of traditional herbal medicine. Ayurveda does indeed offer a range of herbal supplements – many of which can greatly improve our immune system. So, taking an Ayurvedic product rather than a pharmacological product has a certain appeal. In the correct dosage, Ayurvedic products have minimum side effects, maximum ‘side benefits’ and provide a quick, convenient and low cost way of boosting our immunity. Ayurvedic herbs can also help with simple detoxification strategies, further improving our resistance to disease.

However, Ayurveda offers a far greater range of techniques and advice for boosting our immunity than just using herbal products. If we can combine some of these strategies we can develop a ‘super effective’ immune system. Furthermore, Ayurveda does not see ‘health’ as just an absence of disease; it views it as a positive state of wellbeing resulting in feelings of joy and enthusiasm for life!

Ayurveda offers an integrated solution to building an exceptionally powerful immune system through a number of different approaches.

It recognises the combined value of meditation, use of herbs, improving digestion, strengthening Ojas, diet and lifestyle choices, detoxification regimes, together with yoga and pranayama to build a better immune system.

Any one of these different facets can be followed with positive results. Taken together they work synergistically to provide almost invincible immunity! However, in order to achieve this ‘super state of wellbeing’, we are going to have to follow some elements of an Ayurvedic lifestyle and dietary recommendations.

Ayurvedic Lifestyle and Diet

What exactly does an ‘Ayurvedic Lifestyle’ involve? Well, it certainly means being aware of the rhythms of nature, so it gives advice on daily and seasonal routines. This means we are ‘going with the flow’, rather than facing ‘an uphill struggle’ against nature. Being ‘in tune’ with nature results in better health, wellbeing and a stronger immune system. We don’t need to follow these guidelines obsessively, but just go in their general direction. Part of these daily routines also contain tips for getting better sleep.

Incorporating some elements of meditation, yoga and pranayama on a regular basis into our daily routines will also help us remove the ongoing stresses we accumulate from our modern world. This will further boost our immunity.

Ayurveda offers really practical advice on diet, such as tips for meal times, strenthening our digestive fire (Agni), etc. We will also need to follow (again not obsessively) an Ayurvedic diet tailored to our particular mind-body type (as categorised in the Vata-Pitta-Kapha system).

An Ayurvedic lifestyle implies we need to pay attention to the ‘three key pillars’ that support our well-being and health – Nutrition, Lifestyle and Sleep!

Feeling Great with Ayurveda – a Positive ‘Spin-off’ from Good Immunity

So, using a range of Ayurvedic principles to boost our immune system is going to involve some effort and a willingness to make a few changes. However, if we use this ancient wisdom to improve our immune system there are many positive ‘spin offs’ in addition to a achieving a strong immune system! People who follow 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 our awareness – wow!

Even adopting a few Ayurvedic principles can help us begin our journey towards a strong immune system and a great ‘feel good’ factor. We don’t have to follow everything all at once, but we do need to make a start somewhere! Try any one of them for a couple of months and see how you feel.


Related Articles on Boosting Immunity – from Respected Websites

Ayurvedic Herbs to Boost Immunity

Summary: Ayurveda suggests a range of herbs, spices and herbal preparations that can significantly improve our immune system: Turmeric, black pepper, Amla, Chyawanprash, Amruth, Triphala etc.

If we have an ideal diet (ideal that is for our particular mind-body constitutional type e.g. Vata, Pitta or Kapha), very good digestion and an Ayurvedic lifestyle we will already have a strong immune system, be in very good general health and really don’t need supplements at all!

However, Ayurveda recognises that this ideal situation is not always possible and suggests herbs (or combinations of herbs called ‘Rasyanas’) that can help boost our immunity.

Ayurveda – a Holistic Approach

It is worth noting that in Ayurveda the main emphasis is on the prevention of disease. So we really need to address any immunity issues before we get ill. Prevention is also much simpler and much cheaper than cure!

In the West we have a tendency to analyse, synthesise and then ‘commercialise’! If any traditional medicine system appears to identify a beneficial herb, we first try to identify the ‘active ingredient’ present in the herb. Then we concentrate it in our capsules, or even try to synthesize the ingredient artificially, before selling it.

Ayurveda takes a more holistic approach. The Vedic viewpoint suggests that the whole universe, all the elements in it, all the plants and every living being are expressions of an all pervading field of intelligence and energy  Herbs are part of this field too and are simply used to realign our human physiology with that ‘field of intelligence’.  This corrects any ‘mistakes’ in the underlying ‘programming’ (inherent in the operation of our physiological systems) that gave rise to the disease in the first place. To use a modern analogy; Ayurveda sees the use of herbs more like a ‘software update or security-fix’ than a hardware repair job!

Ayurvedic Spices to Boost Immunity

Even readily available commonly used kitchen spices, such as ginger, turmeric and black pepper have many health promoting properties. These ‘kitchen spices’ can be really beneficial in improving our digestive abilities and also boosting our immunity.

Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been regarded as a potent antibiotic and anti-inflammatory in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It is usually taken as a teaspoon of turmeric powder stirred into hot milk. Very simple! Very cheap! Cooking with turmeric in the Indian style (i.e. herbs cooked first in ghee before adding to lentils or a curry) is also good.

If this is not practicable, then turmeric can be taken in capsule form, but be sure to include something like Lecithin (a phospholipid) with the turmeric. This greatly increases its bioavailability. Some people say that the addition of pepper [1] to turmeric increases its bioavailability. This is perfectly true, but the latest research suggests taking phospholipids, such as lecithin, with turmeric is even more effective than using pepper. Lecithin granules (from soya) can be obtained from most health food stores.

An American database of medical and physiological research now shows over 12,000 citations for turmeric alone. Recent research also points to its anti-viral properties. So, investigating turmeric further could be useful in our current pandemic situation!

Pepper and Ginger

What about other commonly available spices in our ‘kitchen pharmacy’? Well, both pepper and ginger are both used in Ayurvedic medicine. Although not directly having antibiotic properties, they are useful in that they stimulate the internal digestive fire or Agni which can then burn off toxins (Ama) and disease in the form of bacteria etc. Pepper itself is also useful when mixed with other herbs as it can increase their bioavailability. Ginger is often described as ‘the universal medicine’ in Ayurveda as it is so valuable for igniting the internal digestive fire (Agni) which then destroys toxins.

Pepper and ginger are so valuable that they form the basis of an Ayurvedic powder or churna called ‘Trikatu’. This powder is a mixture of dry ginger, black pepper and Indian long pepper – its use is covered more fully in the article on ‘improving digestion to boost immunity’.

Ayurvedic Herbs to Boost Immunity

Specialised Ayurvedic herbs have now become readily available in the West. Certain herbs and herbal formulations have strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Many have been shown to improve our immunity and the way our bodies respond to infection i.e. the immunomodulatory response. Some also improve our digestion – which in Ayurveda is also linked to our ability to ‘burn-off’ disease. The following section looks at a few of these Ayurvedic ‘super-herbs’.

Ayurvedic products containing the fruit of Amla are major boosters of our immune system! Amla is also known as: ‘Amalaki’ – ‘Amla Berry’ – ‘Emblic Myrobalan’ –  ‘Indian Gooseberry’ – Emblica officinalis Phyllanthus emblica.  There is a huge amount of positive research into the effectiveness of this herb!

Chyawanprash

A well-regarded preparation which contains Amla is called ‘Chyawanprash’ (pronounced Cha-van-prash). This has withstood the long test of time as the knowledge of how to prepare it has been around for thousands of years. Although its main ingredient is Amla, it contains a multitude of other herbs which work synergistically. Chyawanprash is readily available in the West and it is a ‘must have’ product for anyone wishing to strengthen their immune system in a natural way. It is also regarded as a great restorative. Another key benefit of Chyawanprash is that it boosts Ojas in our system. The higher the level of Ojas – the higher is our immunity.

Amla Rasayana

Other immune system strengthening products containing Amla are ‘Amla Rasyana’ or ‘Amalaki Rasyana’. A Rasayana is just a life-supporting mixture of herbs made to a specific formula. Like Chyawanprash these also contain other herbs which work synergistically to produce a super-effective Ayurvedic supplement. Both Chyawanprash and Amalaki Rasyana are available as a paste or ‘herbal jam’ so are real easy to take.

Once again, there is an increasing amount of research into the anti-ageing aspects (e.g. effects on telomerase activity in cells) of these Ayurvedic preparations. In the West we might say that these products boost our immunity because they are a great natural source of Vitamin C. Perfectly true, but as Chyawanprash is a mixture of many herbs, its healing and restorative properties are probably due to far more complex mechanisms than just its Vitamin C content!

Amruth  – ‘Giloy’ – ‘Guduchi’

Another herbal preparation of great benefit to our immune system contains Amruth (‘Giloy’ – ‘Guduchi’ – Tinospora cordifolia). It is one of the most valued of all Ayurvedic super-herbs! Amruth is acknowledged for its anti-inflammatory properties and its use in the treatment of fever and flu. It also improves the way our bodies respond to infection i.e. the immunomodulatory response. Amruth can be taken in capsule form. There is a growing body of scientific research into Amruth.

Triphala

Triphala is a mixture of three key Ayurvedic herbs. It is a superb supplement for getting rid of toxins in the colon and helping regular elimination. This in turn helps strengthen our immunity. Triphala also contains Amla; alongside Bibhitaki and Haritaki. This herbal product (available as tablets) is covered in more depth in the article on detoxification.

Other Ayurvedic Herbal Mixtures

Other potent, but less well known Ayurvedic ‘power’ herbal mixtures are: Tulsi Arka  (aka Tulasi Ark) – said to be anti-viral and an immune system booster, and the powder or churna Kabasura Kudineer – said to be good for the respiratory system. Arka type products are liquids made from a distillation  process. Kudineers are solutions we can make at home from a powder (a bit like herbal teas).

On a slightly more esoteric note, there is a new product linked to Ayurveda which a long term Sadhak (spiritual seeker) recently remarked is a bit like ‘Homeopathic Holy Water’! I am referring to the ‘Shakti Drops’ produced by Sri Sri Tattva Ayurvedic Products. The drops contain the essence of six key Ayurvedic super herbs. The stated dosage taken is very small – only five or six drops are needed in a glass of water.

Purchasing Ayurvedic Herbs

This site has no commercial links, so the advice given here is unbiased and based on the experiences of the author.

Fortunately, Ayurvedic herbs have become much easier to obtain over the past twenty years. In part this is due to the growing awareness of Ayurveda in the West and partly due to the online market place availability (e.g. Amazon and eBay).  There are now many good, quality suppliers.

When buying Ayurvedic herbal supplements I usually prefer to get products (particularly Rasayanas i.e. complex herbal mixtures) from suppliers involved in people’s spiritual development (these are often Ashram based). There are a number of these organisations around and, although often little known outside India, many are surprisingly large scale operations. This means they have access to the top Ayurvedic experts, have strict Quality Assurance procedures in place and have access to the best laboratories for testing their products. Many of them also support local farmers who grow and harvest the herbs to their specifications.

A number of suppliers, particularly ‘Health Food’ type shops, tend to fall into the Western mind-set trap of selling capsules incorporating just the ‘active ingredient’ (e.g. curcumin in turmeric). Another processing error is to produce smaller and lighter tablets with a ‘concentrate’ of the herb. If you really can’t find anything else then these are, in my opinion, ‘just about acceptable’ as alternatives – but they ignore many of the fundamental Ayurvedic principles relating to herbal preparations.

 A Few Recommended Suppliers

    • Maharishi Ayurvedic Products – relatively expensive, but high quality products available in USA, UK and Europe. Their website usually carries some Ayurvedic health tips too
    • Products from the Swami Ram Dev organisation. An extensive range of quality Ayurvedic products available in USA, UK and Europe under the ‘Patanjali’ brand.
    • Products from the Art of Living under the ‘Sri Sri Tattva’ brand (a large NGO founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) – another high quality supplier
    • Products from smaller (but good) suppliers which usually sell a small range of Ayurvedic herbs: Essential Ayurveda: Swansons : Planetary Herbals : Pukka

Footnotes

[1] The best pepper to increase bioavailability is actually Indian Long Pepper (Piper longum). This is not to be confused with the cheaper Indonesian Long Pepper (Piper retrofactum). It is different from the ordinary Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) too!


Other Key strategies used by Ayurveda to help us build a strong immune system

or, return to  Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – an Overview article

Increasing Ojas to Improve Immunity

Summary: Examining the role of the subtle substance ‘Ojas’ in our immune system. In Ayurveda, increased levels of Ojas correspond with higher levels of immunity. Practical advice on increasing Ojas.

Ojas plays a key role in maintaining a high level of immunity.

Ojas is described as a ‘subtle substance’. So subtle in fact that there is no direct equivalent of Ojas (pronounced ‘oh-jus’) in the Western medical model of human physiology [1]. We can however, think of Ojas as being like the sap in a tree. Although invisible, it pervades and nourishes all parts of the tree – the branches, the leaves, the flowers and the fruit. In Ayurveda Ojas is said to be the ‘concentrated essence’ of all the bodily tissues (the Ayurvedic ‘dhatus’). Some describe Ojas as the ‘essence of vitality’ – if our levels are low our health, energy and enthusiasm all suffer.

Ojas is actually created in our bodies through the proper digestion of food. Perfect digestion gives rise to lots of Ojas and a very strong immune system.  So, foods that are easy to digest tend to enable more Ojas to be produced – foods that are difficult to digest produce less.

A low level of Ojas leads to a weak immune system. A high level corresponds with a strong immune system. If the immune system is sufficiently strong, then Ayurveda suggests no bacterial or viral infection will ever be able to settle in our system. If we can raise our immune system to this higher level Ayurveda suggests that vaccination for protection against disease is then simply unnecessary!

How to Increase Ojas in Our System

Ojas and Diet

Fresh, home cooked foods generally strengthen Ojas.

Pre-prepared, tinned, frozen foods, and leftovers, etc., all deplete Ojas. Foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and fried food are difficult to digest and also lower Ojas. Smoking cigarettes (worse still, non-prescribed drugs) and alcohol all lower the body’s ability to produce Ojas.

In general, Sattvic foods increase Ojas and both Rajasic and Tamasic foods deplete it. Sattvic foods are generally light, freshly prepared, pure, easily digestible and eaten in moderately sized portions. Tamasic foods such as red meat and oily fried foods are heavy and dull and difficult to digest. Rajasic foods such as onion and garlic can bring drive and energy, but also stimulate strong desires and emotions.

Examples of Sattvic, Ojas enhancing foods are: locally grown in-season sweet fruits and vegetables, dairy produce (except hard cheeses), grains such as rice,  nuts (not peanuts), sweet tastes in general (not from refined sugars but natural sweetness from milk [2], unsalted butter and bread). A Sattvic diet is sometimes referred to as a ‘Yogic’ diet.

Certain specific foods such as sesame seeds (e.g. in Tahini), almonds, dates, raisins, ghee (clarified butter), raw (unheated) honey, boiled organic milk and organic plain yoghurt also increase Ojas.

We don’t have to be obsessive about diet, but generally favour the more Ojas producing and Sattvic foodstuffs. It’s perfectly ok to occasionally eat meat if that’s what you really want – as long as you are aware of the consequences (both health-wise and karma-wise)!

 Ojas – Other Factors

Ojas also gets depleted by negative emotions, such as excess anger, worry and fear. Meditation can help rectify this.

Over work and lots of travel also lower our levels of Ojas and consequently weaken our immune system. Travel also disturbs the Vata element in our bodies.

Ojas is said to be present in semen – so excessive sex can result in lowering of Ojas for a man. What is classified as ‘excessive’ depends on an individual’s VPK mind-body type – Kapha types can have more frequent sex than Vata types without any problems. This is not a moral judgement, but based on the principles of Ayurveda. If we have high levels of Ojas we may not be too concerned about this – but if we are showing symptoms of low Ojas then we should consider it carefully. Of course, in the yogic traditions there is the practice of tantric sex – where couples have sex but there is no ejaculation, thus maintaining a high level of Ojas.

Spiritual practices (such as yoga, meditation, bhajans (devotional singing), company of evolved souls, singing in church, etc.), being in nature, looking after animals, loving relationships and an Ayurvedic lifestyle all increase Ojas and boost our immunity.

Additional information on Ojas and how to boost it can be found on the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health website and the Svastha Ayurveda Blog – both contain informative articles and practical advice.

Footnotes

[1] There is also no equivalent of the Ayurvedic concept of Nadis (subtle energy channels) either – although Chinese medicine identifies something similar as ‘meridians’.

 [2] Milk is currently unfashionable among the health conscious, but Ayurveda loves it – provided it is first boiled (can try adding a couple of pinches of dry ginger powder to lighten it). Never take it direct from the fridge. Don’t drink it with meals either.


Other Key Ayurvedic  Strategies to Build a Strong Immune System

or, return to  Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article

Detoxification to Strengthen our Immune System

Summary: Practical Ayurvedic tips for detoxification and the role it plays in supporting a strong immune system

Ayurveda suggests that toxins in our system prevent it from working at optimum efficiency and ultimately this gives rise to disease.

Get rid of toxins and our immunity improves.

Ayurveda states that toxins arise due to ‘poor digestion’. The term ‘digestion’ does not only apply to food! According to Ayurveda, both food and all sensory inputs and experiences have to be ‘properly digested’. Otherwise they give rise to toxins. Emotional upsets, trauma, stressful experiences, watching violent scenes, frightening movies, even the news on TV, etc. all have to be ‘processed’ and ‘digested’ by the fire of Agni. Agni is the internal digestive fire (in some ways it is similar to pitta dosha).

As Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention, it is far better to avoid the toxic by-products of a poor digestive system in the first place by following Ayurvedic guidance on mealtimes, diet, lifestyle and strengthening our digestive fire.

Ayurveda has a range of purification and detoxification strategies. Some of these are very simple and can be done at home. Other, more complicated procedures are often Ayurveda clinic based.

Home Based Detox Tips

A very simple step to help the digestive fire or ‘Agni’ burn off toxins is to sip warm water at regular intervals throughout the day. This is fine for most people, but would not be recommended in the height of summer or for individuals with a predominantly Pitta constitution. There is strong anecdotal evidence that this simple step can even remove the toxins associated with arthritis. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the hot water stimulates the digestive fire (Agni) which then ‘burns off’ the toxins (Ama).

Another very simple detox step is to ensure we have regular elimination and bowel movements. Ayurveda suggests many toxins are lodged in our colon as a result of poor digestion. Drinking a full glass of warm water first thing upon rising in the morning also stimualtes elimination.

Triphala – an Important Detox Herbal Formula

An Ayurvedic mixture of herbs (Rasayana) called ‘Triphala’ promotes great digestive health and is an excellent cleanser of toxins in the colon. Triphala is readily available from herbal suppliers on the internet. Triphala contains three powerful Ayurvedic herbs: Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki. Tablets are nicer to take than the powdered form. It can be taken for several months at a time (before having a short break of a few weeks, then continuing to take it for a couple of months, then repeating this cycle). Taking the recommended dose with a glass of warm water before bedtime really helps cleanse the colon of toxins and helps with elimination the following morning. Maharishi Ayurveda provide a useful leaflet on Triphala (download via link). I have heard an enlightened Vedic Master say: ‘If we are only going to take one Ayurvedic supplement, it should be Triphala – it gives so many benefits’

Fasting for Detox

Fasting can help with the removal of toxins. During a period of fasting the internal fire or Agni gets kinlded and, as there is no food to digest starts to burn away toxins. The maximum length of fast is different for different mind-body types. Therefore a pure vata type should fast for no more than three days – longer than this and the vata element will go out of balance and create weakness, anxiety etc. For pitta types four days is the maximum (longer than this and the out of balance pitta element causes anger, excessive heat etc.) Kapha types can benefit from longer fasting periods without problems. A warm water fast one day a week is fine for everyone and gives our digestive system a rest.

Pranayama for Detox

Yogic breathing or pranayama exercises can help in increasing the digestive fire and also in removing toxins associated with negative or stressful experiences. Bhastrika Pranayama is particularly effective at increasing the strength of the digestive fire – which then burns off the toxins. So pranayama helps detox our system. There are some contraindications with certain pranayama exercises – see precautions in article on ‘Strengthening Our Digestive Fire to Prevent Disease’ before starting a particular pranayama exercise.

Clinic Based Detox – Panchakarma

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 (look for someone with a Batchelor of Ayurvedic Medicine degree and clinical experience.) The aim is to first detoxify the system and then rebalance the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha).

What exactly are the five cleansing actions? This really depends very much on the individual and an Ayurvedic professional will recommend appropriate actions. One detox  route might involve strategies to loosen the toxins from the underlying tissues (e.g. via ‘oil based’  therapies and warm oil massage), then to enable them  to move (e.g. via steam ‘baths’) to the colon, and then to finally eliminate them (e.g. by medicated enemas) from the system.

Panchakarma purification therapy offers many benefits as a result of getting rid of toxins. It slows down the ageing process, helps remove the long term effects of stress, brings more energy to the body and clarity to the mind, promotes a sense of well-being and, most importantly, strenthens our immune system.

These purification procedures can have dramatic results on health and can eliminate many long term diseases – often without the need for Western style surgery!


Other Key Ayurvedic  Strategies to Build a Strong Immune System

Or, return to Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article

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.

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.

Footnotes:

[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