Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that originates from India, and uses the healing power of nature to keep the human body in a state of health and wellbeing. It relies on the principle that the universe is made up of five different elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether, and that these elements must exist in the body in a state of equilibrium or else the individual may fall victim to sickness and disease. As well as the physical body, ayurvedic medicine pays particular attention to the mind and soul of the patient, and seeks to bring their entire being into harmony within themselves and their surroundings. The word Ayurveda comes from two ancient Sanskrit words Ayu, meaning life, and Veda meaning knowledge of, so Ayurveda literally translates into ‘the knowledge of life’. Ayurveda offers a wide range of treatments and therapies that utilize the power of nature in order to cure many different diseases of the mind and body, and this article looks at how these practices can be applied in the modern world.
Ayurveda’s Three Doshas
Ayurveda separates people into three different categories or doshas that give a better understanding of each person’s individual character and physiology. The doshas represent the balance of the five elements within each person, and while all three doshas are present in each individual, one or two will usually be more dominant. The three doshas are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, and their energies reside in different areas of the body and within the vital organs. If they become unbalanced, it results in the deterioration of a person’s health, and ayurvedic doctors will recommend a combination of therapies including food and lifestyle changes that will help bring the doshas back into balance. Each dosha is a mixture of two different elements, and their presence governs a person’s physical appearance and general characteristics. An experienced ayurvedic doctor can identify which doshas are more dominant in a person, but a basic guideline is as follows:
Elements: Ether and Air
Physical Characteristics: Tall, slim, energetic, fast moving
Personality Traits: Creative, impulsive, competitive, passionate
Origin: Heart, throat, circulatory system, pelvis
Symptoms of Imbalance: Fear, tiredness, joint disorders, anxiety
Elements: Fire and Water
Physical Characteristics: Medium build, average height, strong, confident in their movements
Personality Traits: Organized, assertive, demanding, impatient
Origin: Liver, heart, eyes, skin
Symptoms of Imbalance: Skin problems, stomach ulcers, heartburn, insomnia
Elements: Water and Earth
Physical Characteristics: Medium height, stocky, broad chested, strong
Origin: Stomach, head, joints
Personality Traits: mellow, easy going, patient, loyal, compassionate
Symptoms of Imbalance: Respiratory problems, obesity, allergies, frequent colds
Ayurveda considers each person to be an individual, and operates on the assumption that everyone is comprised of a different combination of the five elements. If the doshas are found to be out of balance, a doctor will recommend a lifestyle change and possibly a combination of different herbs, foods and diet. This will help to reduce the overwhelming dosha, and bring health and harmony to the body. If a patient has an excessive amount of toxins within the body, a doctor may suggest the detox therapy of purification known as Panchakarma. This is a five stage purification process that purges the body of unwanted toxins by changing the diet.
Ayurvedic Therapies to Try At Home
Whilst many ayurvedic therapies require the guidance of a qualified doctor, there are a few that can be practiced in the home by novices. Massage is an essential part of Ayurveda and can help to unblock energy pathways within the body, and can also instantly elevate a person’s mood and sense of wellbeing. One way to stabilize and ground anxious personalities is by filling a large plastic bowel with warm water, and then adding one tablespoon of honey along with a handful of dried lavender and fresh rose petals and allowing the feet to soak in the water for 10 minutes. A self-massage can then be performed using sesame or coconut oil, and should begin with small circular movements over the ankle and calf muscle before massaging the entire foot, paying particular attention to the toes and joints. There is no wrong way to massage the body in Ayurveda, but for those wishing to learn specific techniques there is a wealth of information available on websites dedicated to the subject.
Another practice that has been gaining in popularity recently is oil pulling. This involves keeping a tablespoon of oil in the mouth for 15 minutes and swishing the oil around the mouth, teeth, and gums to extract any toxins that are residing within. The oil must then be spit out, and the entire mouth should be thoroughly cleaned. This therapy is best practiced early in the day before eating, and advocates of the practice recommend sunflower or coconut oil for best results. Many people claim it can cure a variety of ailments from bad breath to chronic disease, and it is completely safe to practice at home alone.
Yoga is also a perfect accompaniment to Ayurveda as it incorporates much of the same philosophy. The yogic breath, which is the practice of filling the entire body with a continuous supply of oxygen, helps to oxygenate the blood and calm the mind of racing thoughts, and many practitioners of Ayurveda recommend this technique to their patients. To reap the full benefits, the patient must sit or lie comfortably and begin by gently bringing their awareness to the natural rhythm of their breath. The air can then be inhaled into the stomach by expanding the abdomen and attempting to pull the air into the lower half of the body.,The lungs are then expanded until maximum capacity, and finally the chest and shoulders are opened to allow more oxygen to enter the body. The air is then immediately released and the next breath should follow without any pause between the breaths. This is known as the three-part breath, and is an essential part of all types of yoga and many different types of eastern medicine.
Ayurveda has now become an accepted form of alternative medicine and many clinics have opened up in various locations across the United States. It has also attracted its fair share of controversy after many herbal products sourced from India and Pakistan were found to contain dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Whilst ayurvedic medicine does use some metals as treatments for certain conditions, it does not require dangerously high levels of these metals to provide cures, and the contamination may have been the result of unscrupulous manufacturers using low quality ingredients in their medicines. Those wishing to try Ayurveda for themselves should not be perturbed by the media’s overreaction to a single incident, as the practice offers incredible benefits for the mind, body, and soul. Modern medicine is often far more potentially hazardous to health than any therapy or cure offered by eastern traditions, so further research into these forms of medicine could provide a wide range of cures that do not do further damage to the human body that could develop into a potentially fatal problem after time.
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