Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that deals with the body mind and spirit of a person. The Sanskrit term, ‘Ayurveda,’ has two components: ‘Ayur’ and ‘Veda’. ‘Ayur’ means life/longevity. ‘Veda’ means wisdom/science. Hence Ayurveda means ‘science of life’ or ‘wisdom for longevity’. For many thousands of years, Ayurveda has been a successful primary health-care modality for millions of people in India. Its age old recommendations and advices for healthy living are relevant even today as they ever were – and probably even more so.
The world is increasingly recognizing the merit of Ayurveda, which offers effective cure for several diseases including chronic ones. It helps rejuvenate the body, fight stress, and offer relief in life-style related diseases. It results in no major side-effects while offering relief; and this is one of the main attributes of Ayurveda.
The science of Ayurveda addresses an individual as a whole – a wonderful complex of body, mind and the spirit. Ayurveda ensures individual well-being by addressing all factors that influence the quality of life. It is based upon a profound understanding of ‘life’ and the ways with which it flows through the entire structure of an organism. In its framework, Ayurveda incorporates a wide variety of therapies from simple diet to complex but powerful rejuvenating therapies.
The Scope of Ayurveda
There are eight specialties in Ayurveda.
- Toxicology (agada tantra)
- Pediatrics (baala tantra)
- General surgery (shalya tantra – not in practice today)
- Internal medicine (kaaya chikitsa)
- Psychiatry (bhuta vidya)
- Management of diseases of the head and the neck (saalaakya tantra)
- Fertility treatment (vaajikarana)
- Rejuvenation and geriatrics (rasaayana tantra)
It is all about balance and harmony
Ayurveda understands man as ‘microcosm’ and Universe, the ‘macrocosm’. What makes up the universe also makes up the individual. It recognizes each individual as ‘unique’. Ayurveda says that you are born in a state of balance which is quickly lost due to various environmental and climatic conditions or due to some other external factors such as pollution, wrong diet, lifestyle, stress etc.
Ayurveda recognizes that everything is made up of five elements or building blocks viz. earth, water, fire, air and ether. According to this theory, the human being is a small model of the universe.
Ayurveda says that everything you interact with has an effect on your health and well-being. So the prime focus of Ayurveda is to bring the body, mind and soul back into a state of balance. Ayurveda provides you an opportunity to understand and re-discover your own unique nature, and it shows the best ways to maintain the state of natural balance within you.
It is in the treatment method that Ayurveda differs from conventional medicine. Ayurvedic treatments work at the causative levels while most of the modern medical treatments operate at the symptomatic level. Ayurveda understands that human beings are also part of the nature, and hence it employs natural treatment methods.
Your unique body constitution
Ayurveda explains nature with its ‘five- great -elements’ theory. It says, each and every existence here is composed of five elements.
1. Ether (akasha) – The principle of space
2. Air (vayu) – The principle of movement
3. Fire (agni) – The principle of conversion, heat and light
4. Water (jala/aap) – The principle of liquidity and cohesion
5. Earth (prithvi) – The principle of form and structure.
Each individual has a unique body constitution (known as prakrithi ). Each body has five elements in it, in varied proportions, which makes everyone unique. Difference in the consistency is due to the difference in proportion of elements. Bone will have more ‘earth’ element, Blood will have more ‘water’ element, Enzymes will have more ‘fire’ elements, lung tissue will have more ‘air’ and ‘space’ element. Maintenance of the equilibrium of 5 elements or a balanced state of these body constituents is health and the imbalance of these elements in the system is dis-ease, according to Ayurveda. It is that much simple – all we need to focus is to keep harmony, balance within the basic elements in our body.
Five elements in your body as ‘Three humors’ (tridoshas)
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the five elements combine in pairs to form three basic functional principles/energies called doshas (humors) in our body. These humors are named as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. All our internal functions, including that of the mind are being controlled by these humors.
Your individual constitution is determined by the special combination of humors in your body. Each person has all the three humors in his/her body. Humors in balance mean health. When they are out of balance they cause ill health. The whole science of Ayurveda revolves around these three principles.
The doshas are made up of a combination of the following elements:
Vata: air and ether.
Pitta: fire and water.
Kapha: earth and water
Each dosha will have the qualities of the elements that make it up.
What is Vata?
The functional principle Vata is composed of two of the basic elements, viz. Ether and Air. Vata governs the principle of movement and it directs all dynamic functions in the body like nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination etc. Vata enables the other two humors to be expressive.
Vata governs feelings and emotions, pain, tremors and spasms. In the body, the main seat of Vata is the colon. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity, and skin. If the body develops an excess of Vata, it will accumulate in one or more of these areas.
What is Pitta? Pitta is composed of elements Fire and Water. The humor Pitta is responsible for the process of transformation or metabolism. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, body temperature etc. It is expressed as gastric or digestive fire; action of enzymes and amino acids that play a pivotal role in metabolism; and the neuro-transmitters and neuro-peptides, which control thinking. The arousal of anger, hate, and jealousy is the effect of Pitta. The seats of Pitta in the body are: the small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes, and skin.
What is Kapha?
Kapha is composed of elements Earth and Water. Kapha is responsible for growth, adding structure unit by unit. It is the energy of construction, lubrication and nourishment. It is the “glue” that holds the cells together, providing the material for physical structure. Kapha maintains body resistance. Kapha lubricates the joints, provides moisture to the skin, helps to heal wounds, fills the spaces in the body, gives vigor and stability and gives energy to the heart and lungs.
Different Body types
In the physical body, Kapha is responsible for anabolism, Vata for catabolism and Pitta for metabolism. For example, it is Vata which helps you chew and swallow food; Pitta helps to process and digest what you ate. Vata moves nutrients into the cells and expels wastes out of cells. The cell’s structure is controlled by Kapha and it controls the secretions which lubricate and protect the digestive organs as well.
Balance is the key: Excess Pitta disturbs metabolism, excess Kapha increases the rate of anabolism and excess Vata creates emaciation.
A healthy state indicates the harmonious functioning of the three humors in the body. As we mentioned above, each individual has a unique combination of these humors. By analyzing these varied combinations, Ayurveda simply classifies people into various types like Vata person, Pitta person or a mixed Vata-Pitta person etc., according to the dominant humor/humors in his/her body.
Vata People: thin body, enthusiastic, energetic and restless
Balanced Vata: active and creative person
Vata Imbalance: Constipation, anxiety, insomnia, dry skin, lack of concentration
Pitta people: Intelligent, fiery, goal-oriented person
Balanced Pitta: Warm, disciplined, friendly person
Pitta Imbalance: Indigestion, irritable nature, inflammatory conditions
Kapha People: well- built, stable, sweet personality
Balanced Kapha: Supportive, sweet person
Kapha Imbalance: Overweight, sluggishness etc.
Characteristics of different body types
Generally, people of Vata constitution are physically under-developed. Their chests are flat and their veins and muscle tendons are visible. People who have a predominantly Vata constitution will have creativity, mental alertness and the ability to learn. Changing moods, irregular daily routine, tendency to forget things fast are also their characteristics.
Pitta people will have medium physique, sharp mind, good concentration power, good management skills and leadership ability. He or she will be competitive, passionate and romantic; sexually they will have more vigor and endurance than Vata people. However, they will be irritated, angry, self-confident, aggressive, and assertive when Pitta imbalance occurs.
Kapha– predominant people are calm and steady, but once they get angry it will be difficult to calm them down. These people are considered as relaxed, slow-paced, affectionate and loving, forgiving, compassionate, reliable and faithful and they strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings. He or she may have soft hair and skin and their voice may as well be low and soft. The cold quality of Kapha results in poor appetite as their digestion is poor.
Your basic constitution, according to Ayurveda, is like your genetic code, unchangeable from birth till death. Your individual characteristics, body features, etc. are all determined by the dominant humor in your body constitution.
Keeping this body constitution intact is your only duty to keep healthy. In short, understanding your basic constitution means nothing but a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the presence of the five balanced- elements (or three humors) in your body.
“When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need. “
– Ayurveda has a holistic approach to the diet and it considers food as medicine.
Diet, along with the daily habits, is crucial to upkeep of health of an individual. But there is no specific one-stop diet for all people in general. Each food item contains the same doshas and the five elements we have, in different proportions. Hence Ayurveda suggests a personalized, custom-made diet to each individual. The benefits of personalized diet are:
- Better digestion, metabolism and elimination
- Improved sleep, concentration and memory
- Strong immune system
- Controlled weight
- Better health
The diet should always be planned, keeping in mind one’s body type. There are various foods that should be avoided, yet some are preferred in different doshas. A good Ayurveda physician can help you to choose the right food for your family. If you follow the most appropriate diet according to your body type, and if you provide enough exercise to your body, you can keep diseases at bay.
Know the season
Pitta predominates during summer and it is not good to eat hot, spicy or pungent foods as they will aggravate Pitta. During autumn, when the wind is high and dry, more Vata is present in the atmosphere. During this time, one should avoid foods that increase Vata like dry fruits, high- protein foods etc. Winter is the season of Kapha, it brings cold and snow. During this period, one should avoid Kapha– aggravating foods like cold drinks, ice cream, cheese and yogurt.
Incompatibility of foods
There are certain foods that are incompatible when eaten together, such as fish and milk, meat and milk, yogurt and beef, and sour fruits and milk. Most melons should be eaten alone. If eaten together with other foods, they create clogging and may prevent absorption by the intestines. Eating incompatible foods will result in toxin accumulation (ama) in the body.
Foods for different body types
The taste, qualities and potencies of the food are the indicators which help us to identify the different constituents of the food that modify the humors. For example sweet, sour and salt will increase Kapha, but bitter, pungent and astringent will increase Vata. Similarly hot potency increases Pitta, cold potency increases Kapha. Heaviness increases Kapha and lightness increases Vata. Hence proper understanding of taste, qualities and potencies of the food will be necessary for the selection of appropriate food according to the humoral constitution.
What causes disease?
Ayurveda understands disease as dysfunction in the inner processes of the body and mind. It is a disassociation within the whole system. This is different from modern functional view of disease that regards organs in isolation and bacteria as causes of disease. Although Ayurveda understands the potential of invading organisms and refers to them as worms (krmi) its primary understanding of disease is systemic rather than reductionist.
Ama, the toxic residue
Ayurveda says that the accumulation of ama (toxic substances) in our cells and tissues is the basic cause of disease and illness. Ama is a sticky, toxic residue accumulated in various tissues and organs and channels due to improper digestion. Ama clogs the body’s circulation channels, preventing the flow of energy, information, and nourishment throughout the system. It can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, you may experience a build-up of mucus that restricts the airflow through your nasal passages. Or toxins may accumulate as plaque in your arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack.
Symptoms of toxin accumulation include loss of appetite, indigestion, tongue-coating, bad breath, fatigue, depression, inability to concentrate, susceptibility to infections, and generalized pain.
Doshas and Accumulation of toxins
- Vitiation of the humor Pitta(This causes improper digestion)
- Vitiation of the humor Vata (Vata has to move nutrients as well as undigested substances or waste materials to proper places, failure of which causes toxin accumulation)
- Vitiation of Kapha (this causes the clogging of unwanted substances in bodily channels)
Ayurvedic treatments have a single goal: to bring the disturbed doshas/dysfunctions inside the body back to normalcy and thereby achieve the state of balance/health.
To achieve health, Ayurveda employs four procedures:
- Internal medications and treatments (herbal medicines, ghee, oils, enema, emesis etc.)
- External applications (various massages, treatments like oleation, sudation, herbal pastes, etc.)
- Diet (according to the body type)
- Lifestyle corrections (daily and seasonal regimen, yoga, meditation etc.)
Panchakarma (The five purificatory procedures)
Panchakarma is considered the best detox program due to its unique ability to effectively eliminate both water-based and oil-based toxins from the body. Here, the physician administers a series of therapeutic procedures that are tailored to the patient’s individual constitution or imbalance (prakruti).
Three phase of Panchakarma
The first phase is the preparation phase. It includes correcting the digestion, internal and external oleation of the body, and fomentation.
As part of oleation, oil will be applied on the entire body through massage. Oil massage also makes the superficial and deep tissues soft and flexible, thus helping removal of stress and nourishing of the nervous system. It is given daily for three to seven days.
Sudation or sweating through steam bath or other methods follows oleation. A herbal concoction may be added to the steam to loosen the toxins.
Once the patient is ready for the main course, then the therapeutic phase begins. The five cleansing methods are therapeutic vomiting (vamana), induced purgation (virechana), medicated enema (vasti), application of nasal medicine (nasya) and artificial bloodletting (rakta moksham).
Therapeutic vomiting (vamana)
Eliminating the Kapha which produces excess mucus is the primary objective of this therapy. One may take two to three glasses of salt water and then rub the tongue to induce vomiting. Once the mucus is released, the patient will feel instantly relieved. It helps relieve congestion in the lungs, wheezing and breathlessness.
Induced Purgation (virechana)
Induced purgation helps relieve excess Pitta, which creates bile disturbance in the body. Normally, this treatment is done three days after vomiting. It cleanses the sweat glands, small intestine, colon, kidneys, stomach, liver, and spleen. A number of fine herbs are used as laxative also.
Medicated Enema (vasti)
Normally, enema is used to flush the loosened humors out through the intestinal tract.
Vasti is mainly done for Vata disorders. It involves injecting medicinal substances such as sesame oil, calamus oil, or other herbal decoctions in a liquid medium into the rectum. It alleviates constipation, distension, chronic fever, common cold, sexual disorders, kidney stones, heart pain, vomiting, backache, neck pain and hyper acidity. Vata disorders such as arthritis, rheumatism and gout can also be treated.
Nasal administration of medicine (nasya)
This therapy involves inhaling vapour from medicinal herbs. Mostly, it is done to eliminate Kapha-related problems, ear, eyes, and nose and throat disorders such as migraine, sinusitis and bronchitis.
Nasal administration of medicine helps to correct the disorders of breathing affecting the higher cerebral, sensory and motor functions.
Detoxification of the blood
Bloodletting is used to eliminate toxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal tract. This process will purify blood. This treatment is best for skin disorders such as urticaria, rash, eczema, acne, scabies and chronic itching. (Do not do bloodletting in cases of anemia and edema).
Reintegration is the final phase. This includes specific dietetics, smoking of medicinal fumes and specific lifestyle.
- Eliminate toxins and toxic conditions from body and mind
- Restore constitutional balance, improve health
- Strengthen the immune system and resist illness
- Reverse the negative effects of stress on the body and mind, thereby slowing the ageing process
- Enhance self-reliance, strength, energy, vitality and mental clarity
- Bring about deep relaxation and sense of well-being
What you can expect from an Ayurveda spa
With highly qualified staff and state-of-the art infrastructure, world class spas offer you a variety of cleansing and rejuvenation therapies and they ensure that the treatments are offered in very pleasant atmosphere, making it an experience, not just a treatment procedure.
You can avail just a 90-minute De-stress program to a week’s Deep Relaxation Procedure from spas which include the following treatments along with Yoga, meditation and other therapies like Music therapy or Aroma therapy.
Abhyangam (Oil massage)
Abhyangam is a highly effective, rejuvenating massage from head to toe with medicated herbal oils. After this one-hour treatment, you will feel totally relaxed, tension-free and this treatment removes sleeplessness. It makes your skin very smooth and shining, enhances blood circulation and it provides energy and nourishment to the whole body. It has great anti – ageing potential, if done regularly. it can delay ageing. It increases your stamina and vitality.
Udvarthanam is a special massage using herbal powders. This is a best treatment for reducing excess fat. In this treatment, herbal powders are mixed with oil, milk or medicated juice and rubbed upwards onto the body. It makes your skin healthy, smooth and shining. It cures diseases due to toxin accumulation. It is done for 30-45 minutes per day for a period suggested by the physician. This treatment improves the blood circulation, reduces body weight and also helps in curing hemiplegia, obesity, and paralysis.
Elakkizhi, is a treatment with various medicinal leaves cooked in medicated herbal oils. In this treatment, warm bags of medicated leaves are being applied all over the body. This is a highly refreshing treatment. It relieves your body pains, strengthens your muscles. It is a good treatment against numbness and shivering. It can improve your complexion and strengthen your joints. It provides a deep relaxation. It is being employed in treatments for diseases like arthritis, paralysis, convulsions, relieves pain in diseases like lower back ache, cervical spondylitis, slip disc, sciatica etc.
A continuous, mild flow of a steady stream of warm medicated herbal oil on the forehead of a person for 30 to 45 minutes is known as sirodhara in Ayurveda. The oil is poured very gently and this is followed by a gentle scalp massage. Sirohara, a deeply soothening treatment done in absolute silence can take you to higher realms of total relaxation and in to a balanced state mind and body. It helps you fight insomnia, chronic headaches, stress, tension, anxiety, anger, rheumatism, hypertension, asthma, and hair problems.
Pizhichil is a procedure developed in Kerala, which gives the effects of both oleation and sudation. During this, the body is gently massaged for 45 to 90 minutes while medicated oil is being poured continuously over the body.
Benefits: highly rejuvenating, enhances muscular tone and retunes the entire nervous system, relieves muscular aches and rheumatic problems, promotes inner balance.
Along with these, many other treatments are there to improve the complexion of your skin and to tone up your body.