Ayurveda is one of the oldest forms of holistic medicine, native to Indian sub-continent, dating back over 5000 years and is currently followed by over a billion people throughout the world, making it more popular than the orthodox, Western system of medicine. By the medieval period, ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments.
‘Ayurveda teaches that everything in the universe, including the human body, is made up of five great elements,’ says Dr Arjita Kumari, of the Beach House retreat, in Goa. ‘These elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth, interact and combine to form three internal energies, or doshas which are called vata, pitta and kapha.
According to Ayurvedic belief, everyone has a unique combination of doshas that are determined by their parents at the time of conception. ‘The doshas you inherit determine your physiological, emotional and physical strengths and weaknesses,’ says Dr Kumari. ‘And you have one, sometimes two, dominant doshas which determine your constitution, body shape and the types of illness to which you are susceptible.’ When your doshas are unbalanced, your body’s flow of life force energy, or prana, is affected, leading to ill health.
‘Vata imbalance can result from irregular meals and working long hours, leading to anger and exhaustion,’ says Dr Kumari. ‘Pitta imbalance can result from alcohol, cigarettes, hard work, overexertion and over-heating, leading to negative emotions, indigestion and rashes, while kapha imbalance can result from lack of exercise, leading to feelings of heaviness, overweight, depression and high cholesterol levels.’
One of the main doctrines of Ayurveda is that ‘prevention is better than cure’, and Ayurvedic practitioners use a variety of techniques to balance the doshas and maintain wellness.
Ayurvedic foods: As with everything else in the Universe, foods contain a balance of the three doshas, and nutritional changes can help to normalise dosha imbalances in the body. A pitta deficiency, for example, is treated by recommending foods that are predominantly pitta in nature to help prevent disease and strengthen well-being.
‘Ayurvedic foods are selected according to the season and the focus is on eating wholegrain, high-quality protein sources, vegetables and fresh fruit,’ says Dr Kumari.
Ayurvedic massage: Massage is an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine, as it is used to help herbal medicines penetrate your body. Therapeutic oils are produced over a period of one to three months by boiling a selection of medicinal herbs in sesame or coconut oil.
In some centers, penetration of the medicinal oil is encouraged by sitting in a steam room for fifteen minutes. The oil is then showered off using a green paste made from gram flour and herbs to absorb the last traces of grease.
Ayurveda is used to treat a variety of ill health conditions, including stress, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and stroke.