(And, what is it not?)
Ayurveda and Modern Medicine:
There is not an effective one-size-fits-all approach for anything – especially medicine! We are all different; treatment of the body and mind should vary. Yet, we don’t arrive on this earth with a personalized instruction manual. Health information circulates among our families, our peers, our medical providers, and our culture… which can be conflicting, overwhelming, and more importantly – negligent of our individual needs.
When taking care of ourselves in a world full of choices, how do we make the right ones?
“As India has the lowest rate of cancer in the world, it’s suggested Ayurveda’s emphasis on prevention coupled with modern medicine’s ability to treat disease, is more effective than either of these methods alone.”
Ayurveda (pronounced ai-yr-vay-duh; Sanskrit for ‘life wisdom’) guides an individual toward meeting their unique physical and emotional needs to prevent illness. Historically, Ayurveda served as the primary medical system for India and Nepal, utilizing lifestyle routines, food, herbs, and natural compounds. Today, 80% of India’s population is still using this practice in conjunction with modern medicine. As India has the lowest rate of cancer in the world, it’s suggested Ayurveda’s emphasis on prevention coupled with modern medicine’s ability to treat disease, is more effective than either of these methods alone.
Limitations of our Healthcare System:
Preventing illness is ideal. Our medical system has evolved to treat diseases that already exist, namely those with high mortality rates such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc. The advancement of devices, medications, and procedures created to save people’s lives should not be taken for granted – but the promotion of disease prevention and wellness is lacking.
The majority of treatments are palliative, meaning they calm symptoms without identifying or addressing the root cause. As a result, people are staying alive but are not cured. The rate of chronic illness continues to rise as healthcare workers become increasingly overwhelmed with the task of preventing death – often too busy to address those with minimal complaints, let alone search for (and cure) the origin of every patient’s problem.
Cancer screenings are an effective preventative measure, thanks to modern medicine, and should not be overlooked. There is also (of course) a push toward finding cures. Yet this task requires a full understanding of the disease process, which involves the complexities of human behavior, psychology, physiology, and spirituality. Needless to say, we’re not there yet! Our heath and wellness must be a personal responsibility as much as possible, and Ayurveda (among other alternative medicines) exists to guide us in that process.
“Our health and wellness must be a personal responsibility as much as possible, and Ayurveda (among other alternative medicines) exists to guide us in that process.”
So, where do we start?! I would first recommend taking the quiz to determine your Dosha. This will identify your body-type and dietary needs. Do understand your Dosha is not constant and will change through out the year, typically with the seasons. Work on developing a simple, daily routine with this information in mind.
The Six Stages of Illness:
Ayurvedic theory does not support the idea of disease being a sudden occurrence, but rather the result of a long process. Most diseases are viewed as preventable with primary warning signs. For example, respiratory infections are more common in spring due to residual dampness within the body from winter; this may appear as fatigue, lethargy, loose stools, and/or excessive urination in early stages.
“At the root of disease is a compromised body, physically and/or emotionally.”
At the root of disease is a compromised body, physically and/or emotionally, which is referred to as an imbalance in the Doshas (Kapha, Pitta, and Vata). The Doshas are simply indicators of disease – often zoomorphized into a deer, tiger, and elephant, respectively. They each have cardinal signs when aggravated and can be treated through diet and lifestyle to prevent disease progression.
Stage I: Accumulation
- Kapha: lethargy, low appetite/thirst, infrequent bowels (<1 per day)
- Pitta: increased body temperature or sweating, persistent hunger, dark yellow urine
- Vata: constipation, bloating, gas
Stage II: Provocation
- Kapha: increased phlegm/congestion, allergies, infections/colds
- Pitta: indigestion, nausea, heart palpitations, cravings for sweets
- Vata: irritable bowels (constipation in flux with diarrhea), onset of joint and/or back pain, restless mentality
Stage III: Spread
- Kapha: excessive salivation and drooling, cold/clammy skin, water retention, headache, bloating, depression
- Pitta: skin rashes, redness, acne, increased oil production & odor, anger, frustration, stomach acidity, frequent and loose stools
- Vata: ringing (tinnitus) in the ears, numbness and/or tingling in the arms & legs, feeling cold in the hands & feet, restless sleep, insomnia, dry skin
Stage IV: Localization
At this point, disease becomes more obvious and tends to localize in areas of weakness (e.g., organs with previous complications or old injury sites). Existing conditions worsen, such as migraine disorder, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), among many other processes. While Ayurveda may be supportive in this stage, it should not be used as the first line of treatment.
Stages V & VI: Manifestation & Destruction (Chronicity)
These are the obvious and potentially fatal diagnoses (e.g., diabetes, stroke, heart failure, pulmonary embolisms, etc.) and should be treated with modern medicine. The intended goal in utilizing Ayurveda is to prevent progression to these stages. Based on Ayurvedic theory, disease is more likely to accumulate in the organs associated with an imbalanced Dosha: Learn how to achieve balance through feeding your organs here.
Q: So my spirit animal gave me a disease?
Q: Do you recommend I get the almond paste facial, or the sesame oil massage?
Q: If I eat the right food – I’ll always be healthy?! Does that mean all diseases come from food?
Q: Are there Ayurvedic professionals to seek treatment or advice from?
“Happiness is the highest form of health” – the Dalai Lama
Ayurveda teaches health is earned through self-care, proper diet, movement, and life decisions reflective of our individual needs. The psyche is absolutely not separate from the body – it’s considered a window into an individual’s physical wellbeing. Happiness is not viewed as something we chase after or buy, but rather an emotion that simply emerges in good health.
With one body in this life, how will you treat it?