what is Ayurveda? the roots of holistic health

Health trends come and go all the time. Most of them, even if they seem like they’re completely new and innovative, their roots date back centuries or more. Our ancestors might not have been able to share their discoveries via a blog post or status update, but their wisdom is still being passed down and incorporated.


One of these hip, “new” health trends is the Indian philosophy of Ayurveda. Maybe this word is unfamiliar, so you may be asking, what is Ayurveda? How could Ayurveda help me treat myself well and find my optimal balance? There’s a lot to learn about this Indian practice, but if it interests you, certainly continue exploring more information and see what elements of Ayurveda could fit into your lifestyle.

Seriously…what is Ayurveda?

Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India and, like many other forms of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), it promotes good health through a delicate balance of mind, body and soul.

Rather than treating diseases directly, the goal of Ayurveda is to prevent disease manifesting in the first place. Everything, dead or alive, is connected in some capacity. When something disrupts your personal balance, you get sick. A very straight-forward concept, but many different things could go into disrupting that balance. Some things could even be genetic or involve your age, climate, emotions, any injuries, and more.

Another important aspect of Ayurveda is what every living being is composed of, the five basic elements of the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth. How these elements combine to form your body is unique for everyone, thus controlling how your body functions.

What are doshas?

Think of doshas as your life energy, your soul. Those natural elements we just mentioned form our three doshas: Vata (space and air), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth). We usually each have a dominant dosha out of the three, but each dosha is responsible for certain functions in the body.

The Vata dosha is often toted as the most powerful of all the doshas because it controls the most basic functions, like cell division, thought, blood flow, breath, and more. Things that can disrupt it include eating again too soon after a meal, fear, grief, and staying up too late. If vata dosha is your main life force, you’re more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Pitta dosha controls your digestion, metabolism, and hormones, especially those linked in appetite. Things that can disrupt it are eating sour or spicy foods and spending too much time in the sun.If it’s your main life force, you’re more likely to develop conditions like Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infections.

The Kapha dosha controls muscle growth, body strength and stability, weight, and your immune system. You can disrupt it by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods, and eating or drinking things that contain too much salt or water. If it’s your main life energy, you may develop asthma and other breathing disorders, cancer, diabetes, nausea after eating, and obesity.

Personally, I wouldn’t take these general terms too literally: just because you have a stronger dosha than the others doesn’t mean you’ll develop all the diseases associated with it. These are just a baseline to better understand how Ayurveda fits into our health. You can take tests online like this one to get a sense of what might be your strongest dosha and if anything is off-balance.

Ayurvedic treatment.

Ayurveda is very tailored to fit individual needs, unlike a cookie-cutter treatment you might expect from Western medical practices. It’s best to see a trained practitioner of Ayurveda to ensure you’re treating yourself well, and make sure to coordinate with your general doctor before trying out any alternative medicines to fit into your current routine.

A typical assessment with an Ayurvedic professional includes listening to different pulse points on your wrist and examining your tongue, skin, eyes, lips and nails. From there, you’ll receive a customized treatment plan to address any imbalances, often including diet, tea, exercise, herbs, yoga, meditation, and massage. Many treatment plans will also have an initial focus on detoxification and cleansing to rid the body of any toxins and undigested food sitting in your gut.

Potential risks of Ayurveda.

Since Ayurveda is an alternative medicine, the regulations for practitioners and Ayruvedic products isn’t regulated as it should be. That means there’s currently no national standards for certification training or licensing practitioners.

Also, in the United States, Ayurvedic products are regulated as dietary supplements through the FDA and thereby aren’t required to meet the same safety and effectiveness standards as drugs. In 2008, an NCCIH-funded study examined the content of 193 Ayurvedic products purchased over the Internet and manufactured in either the United States or India. The researchers found that 21 percent of the products contained levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic that exceeded the standards for acceptable daily intake. Most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, or lacked appropriate control groups, potentially affecting research results.

With this all in mind, there’s a reason why Ayurveda has stood the test of time. Many of its principles are already incorporated into Western medicine, such as the Ayurvedic tenant of psychological and physical impact humans experience during the changing of seasons leading medicine to recognize seasonal affective disorder. Herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, like ginger and turmeric, are proven to benefit heart health and boost antioxidants. Yoga, massage, and meditation each have healing and therapeutic qualities. \

To jump over the hurdles in our path, we must support more reliable research efforts and certification methods to ensure we can all safely and effectively practice Ayurveda. The main problem is that Ayurveda promotes individualized treatment, no two people receiving the same exact regime, meaning “traditional” science methods defy Eastern tradition.

The worlds of Eastern and Western medicine are still oceans apart, but they have the potential to come together for an integrative, all-encompassing system of wellness that treats current diseases and prevents future ones from developing. The more we bring Ayurveda to the forefront, the more likely we can catalyze more studies, more precautions, and more awareness.

In India, Ayurveda is considered a form of medical care, equal to conventional Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, and homeopathic medicine. Practitioners of Ayurveda in India undergo state-recognized, institutionalized training. Why don’t we do the same here? If this holistic approach has the potential to accompany Western medicine and really help people struggling with their health or alleviate frustrations relying upon traditional values and practices, we deserve care and safety.

Have you ever heard of or practiced Ayurveda? What is your experience with it?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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