India’s reigning alternative therapy, ayurveda is a profound expression of the holistic nature of good health. Here, we draw attention to the therapy’s diet, seasonal cycles and premier places for treatment
Ayurveda views a healthy individual as a unique and integral whole made of mind, body and spirit existing in harmony with fellow beings and environment. Perfected over five millennia, ayurveda’s holistic healing methods are free of toxic side–effects. In his international best seller, Perfect Health, Dr. Deepak Chopra concludes that “The purpose of ayurveda is to tell us how our lives can be influenced, shaped, extended, and ultimately controlled without interference from sickness and old age”.
Ayurvedic Theory and Therapy
The classical texts, Charaka Samhita (Charaka), Ashtanga Hridaya (Vagbhata) and Susruta Samhita (Susruta) form the foundation of ayurveda. According to ayurveda, the body is composed of panchamahabhuta – earth, fire, air, water and ether (space). The inherited combination of somatic humours (tridosha), vata (ether, air), pitta (water, fire) and kapha (water, earth), determines one’s unique constitution, prakriti. “The ayurvedic body type is like a blueprint outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system”, says Deepak Chopra. The ten body types are vata, pitta, kapha, vata–pitta, pitta–vata, pitta–kapha, kapha–pitta, vata–kapha, kapha–vata and vata–pitta–kapha.
Vata governs movement, pitta directs digestion and metabolism while kapha governs mucous membranes. Other physical derivatives of panchamahabhuta are dhatus (tissues) and malas (waste products). The psychic states of triguna (sattva, rajas, tamas) – are interconnected to tridosha. The dynamic balance of tridosha, triguna, dhatus and malas create health. Ojas maintains health by integrating body, mind and spirit with prana, the life energy.
Fundamentally, tridosha imbalance causes illness. Other causes are the imbalance of digestive fire (agni), and accumulation of toxins (ama) formed by undigested nutrients and psychological experiences. The intensity of illness depends on how far your current body condition (vikriti) is from prakriti.
The eight branches of ayurveda are kaya chikitsa (general medicine), kaumara bhritya (pediatrics), bhuta vidya (psychiatry), shalakya tantra (ent, ophthalmology), salya tantra (surgery), agada tantra (toxicology), vajikarana (aphrodisiac treatment) and jara chikitsa (geriatrics). The main treatment methodologies are shamana (palliative), shodhana (purification), rasayana (rejuvenation/age–reversal) and satvajaya (mental health).
While modern medicine treats the symptoms and diseases uniformly, ayurveda highlights individual uniqueness in relation to natural habitat. The emphasis is not on cure alone but also on preventive healthcare.
Dr. Partap Chauhan, Director, Jiva Ayurveda, Faridabad, writes, “Ayurveda considers each person to be unique and offers personalised ayurvedic treatment. Two persons suffering from the same symptoms may receive different treatment. The treatment is personalized according to the patient’s physical nature (prakriti), age, immunity, mind power, habitat, etc. A customized diet, lifestyle, exercise, emotional support, breathing and meditation techniques also form part of the treatment. Ayurvedic treatments aim to eradicate the root cause of the disease, which could be located in the body, mind, environment, family or profession”.
Kerala school of ayurveda underlines purification and detoxification like the five–fold therapy, panchakarma, though the essential principles are the same as other schools.
Ayurveda can heal a variety of diseases that modern medicine fails to cure.
Dr. N.R.Gopinatha Pillai, retired professor and head, Department of Malayalam, Kerala University, a Kerala Sahitya Academy Award winner for Linguistics, had a life–transforming experience with ayurveda. He says, “When I was 29, I fell and broke my leg. The leg was plastered. But there was no improvement and I felt unbearable pain. The knee became stiff with swelling and I couldn’t even bend the leg. The doctors of Thiruvanantha–puram Medical College said surgery was the only way to repair the knee. I was apprehensive of surgery and decided to try ayurveda”.
He approached a traditional ayurvedic physician, Kattukkada Asan. “Asan massaged my leg with a specially prepared herbal oil. The leg started improving as the treatment progressed and became normal after a month. Till now I haven’t had any problem with that leg. I feel if I had agreed to the surgery, my leg would have ended up damaged”, Dr. Pillai adds.
Subair, 40, had psoriasis. “I suffered for four years. Endless itching, silvery scales regularly falling from the patches, body pain and fever worsened matters”, he says. He consulted Dr. G. Unnikrishnan, Professor and H.O.D, Government Ayurveda College and Hospital, Thrippunithura, Kochi, and recovered fully.
Dr. Unnikrishnan says, “The medicated ghee mahathikthakaghritha taken internally is good for psoriasis. Kashaya decoctions are also given. Purification is the main treatment along with palliative samana treatment”.
“Ayurveda greatly emphasizes diet, both for its direct effects on the physiological state and on drug action. Proper digestion is essential for good health”, says Dr. Unnikrishnan. Incompatible food:
- Avoid drinking milk with meat, fish, eggs, citrus fruits, radishes, tomatoes and alcoholic drinks, yoghurt.
- Eat high–protein and high fat foods separately from light foods (vegetables, starch).
- Eat fresh fruits separate from other meals.
- Eat cooked and raw foods separately.
- Eat only when hungry, at moderate pace, chewing food.
- Eat freshly cooked meals.
- Interval of 2–4 hours between light meals and 4–6 hours between heavy meals.
- Leave one–third to one–quarter of the stomach empty for aiding digestion.
Daily and Seasonal Routines
“Ayurveda recommends that to be healthy, we should tune our body to nature’s master cycle which in turn regulates various other rhythms. There are definite cycles of changes, in a day and in a year, bringing up vata, pitta, or kapha dosha predominance at a particular point. To maintain health you should make changes in diet and lifestyle to counterbalance this cyclical dosha predominance”, says Dr. Shashikant Patwardhan, ayurvedic consultant, practicing for 27 years at Sangli, Maharashtra and chief editor, www.ayurveda–foryou.com.
Daily master cycles:
Kapha: 6 a.m. – 10 a.m.
Pitta: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Vata: 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Kapha: 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Pitta: 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Vata: 2 a.m. – 6 a.m.
Recommended by Deepak Chopra in Perfect Health.
Rising: 6–8 a.m.
- Wake up without an alarm clock.
- Drink a glass of warm water to encourage bowel movements.
- Urinate, bowel movement without forcing.
- Brush teeth.
- Scrape tongue if coated, gargle with sesame oil.
- Massage body with sesame oil (abhyanga).
- Warm water bath.
- Exercise: sun salute (surya namaskar), yoga postures, balanced breathing.
- Mid–morning walk (one or half hour).
- Eat lunch early (day’s largest meal).
- Sit quietly for five minutes after eating.
- Walk to aid digestion (5–15 minutes).
- Meditation in late afternoon.
- Moderate dinner.
- Sit quietly for five minutes after eating.
- Walk to aid digestion (5–15 mins).
- Light activity in evening.
- Early bedtime (minimum three hours after dinner).
- No reading, eating, watching TV in bed.