Tag Archives: ayurveda faqs

Ayurveda Introductory FAQs 1

Summary:  Basic FAQs  on yoga’s ‘sister subject’ Ayurveda – the ancient, holistic healthcare system which helps to 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’ to 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!

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 often unable to offer long term cures (or even manage their 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. 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 Introductory 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)

VPK

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 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!

Footnote

    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 Introductory FAQs 3

Summary: Additional  FAQs on the Ayurvedic Healthcare System, 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.

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.

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