The Hidden Power of Ayurveda

ayurveda
Woman having Shirodhara – Ayurveda Oil Massage in India (image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Last week, I spoke to a group of women entrepreneurs in India. With the pandemic, several studies tell us that women have been hit the hardest. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing gender inequalities and further reduced access to critical health services. Many women have felt overwhelmed and exhausted due to extra caregiving responsibilities while balancing their work in the pandemic. Stress levels and burnout is high amongst women. Enter Ayurveda.

My talk was timely. The theme was “Ayurveda for Healthy Living and Healing.” The idea was to share simple and accessible Ayurveda wellness tips with the group of female entrepreneurs who had signed up for the virtual event. When I promoted the event on LinkedIn, a Caucasian lady asked what it was like teaching Ayurveda to people in India as against those in the United States. I told her that the term Ayurveda is more familiar to people in India because that’s where it comes from. They grew up with some version of Ayurveda being practiced at home. Also, with Bollywood celebrities endorsing Ayurveda living, people know it’s a healing modality. In the U.S., the whole concept of Ayurveda is new to most people. Depending on where you live, your awareness levels might differ.

I understand that how one practices Ayurveda in the West is very different from the way it’s practiced in India. It’s more educational in its approach in the US and often understood as a lifestyle management tool. Many people rely on it for stress management, lowering anxiety, battling insomnia, and to deal with digestive issues. These people included Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple), when he was alive, Ricky Williams (a football player), and actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Julia Roberts.

What I didn’t know until I gave this talk was that a majority of people in India assume Ayurveda is about home remedies: Turmeric milk for pains and aches. Massaging the gums with clove oil when toothache becomes crippling. Ajwain for gas and bloating. They receive tips on WhatsApp, which they deem sacred wisdom, without verifying the source or confirming the content.

But I was shocked that those in India were unaware that the country has full-fledged Ayurvedic hospitals, where doctors spend years training and treating patients for different diseases. When you look at the history of the country, Ayurvedic medicine thrived until India began to experience political conflict and invasion, notably by the British Empire. I am writing this essay on India’s Independence Day (August 15th) and feeling pretty darn proud that after gaining independence from the British, Ayurveda found its place again as a major medical system once again.

The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Ayurveda is the science of life that helps us understand how the body works, and how to maintain good health. Ayurveda stems from the ancient Vedic culture and is thousands of years old. It is a system of medicine that evolved in India, where accomplished masters taught their disciples in an oral tradition.

Classically, Ayurvedic medicine was conceptualized and practiced as eight major clinical subspecialties of medicine, in addition to numerous adjunctive specialties. These eight major subspecialties continue to be taught today:

  • Kaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  • Baala Chikitsa (Pediatrics)
  • Graha Chikitsa (Psychology)
  • Urdhvaanga or Shalakya Chikitsa (EENT)
  • Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)
  • Damstra Chikitsa (Toxicology)
  • Rasayan/Jara Chikitsa (Geriatrics and Rejuvenation)
  • Vrsha or Vājīkaraṇa Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac Therapy)

The Differences Between Western Medicine and Ayurveda

“Western allopathic medicine currently tends to focus on symptomatology and disease, and primarily uses drugs and surgery to rid the body of pathogens or diseased tissue,” says Dr. Vasant Lad of The Ayurvedic Institute. “Many lives have been saved by this approach. In fact, surgery is encompassed by Ayurveda. However, drugs, because of their toxicity, often weaken the body. Ayurveda does not focus on disease. Rather, Ayurveda maintains that all life must be supported by energy in balance. When there is minimal stress and the flow of energy within a person is balanced, the body’s natural defense systems will be strong and can more easily defend against disease.” He also reminds us that Ayurveda isn’t a substitute for western medicine. If you need urgent surgery or are dealing with a disease where the growth is rampant, allopathy and surgery are always better options. Ayurveda can be a complementary healing modality that can help rebuild a patient’s body after surgery or treatment with drugs.

According to Ayurveda, a state of health exists when the following factors are in balance:

  • The digestive fire (agni)
  • The bodily humors or tridoshas (vata, pitta, kapha)
  • The three waste products or malas (urine, feces, and sweat) are produced at normal levels
  • The five senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, & smell) and their corresponding organs are functioning normally
  • The body, mind, and consciousness are harmoniously working as one.

Together, this balance can bring the sharir (body), manas (mind), and atma (soul) in harmony with each other. Ayurveda also emphasizes that prakriti or constitution, which is unique to every individual, is also responsible for the health and disease patterns in different people. Health is order and disease is disorder.

If you think Ayurveda is about mom and grandma’s herbal remedies and warm oil massages, you are limiting yourself in experiencing the oldest healing system of the world. Ayurveda isn’t folk medicine. It’s more than online dosha quizzes and khichadi cleanses. It’s not about guessing your doshas after reading five articles on the internet. Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle, and the use of herbs.

Disclaimer: The purpose of our articles is to provide information. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concerns, please consult a medical professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact me here.

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