Ayurveda: What it is and Whether it Works

Ayurveda is less of a therapy and more a belief system. The word ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit for ‘science of life’ and ayurveda is a traditional Hindu medical system which originated in the Indian subcontinent over 4000 years ago.

It’s based around the belief that our health and wellbeing depend on a harmony of body, mind and soul. If the natural balance is disrupted, it can cause disease, and to restore health again we have to re-balance our physical body and mind as one.

There are five universal elements in Ayurveda. These are:

  • space (ether)
  • air
  • fire
  • water
  • earth

And these combine to form the three basic energies, called tridoshas, which we all have in varying degrees, and these control our bodily functions. If the tridoshas are out of balance, it can affect the flow of life energy, which is called ‘prana.’

According to Ayurvedic principles, we are all born with a combination of energies, or ‘dosha’ which govern our physical make-up, intelligence and character. We usually have one dominant dosha but all three will be present in everyone in varying degrees. The three doshas are:

  • Vata people with dominant vata tend to be on the short side, very creative, and full of nervous energy.
  • Pitta if you’re pitta, you will probably be average height, have a confident, ambitious personality and be quite competitive.
  • Kapha Kapha types are often heavier built, slower but strong. They are stable in their outlook and patient in personality, although they can be possessive.

How Can Ayurveda Help?

Ayurveda is meant to benefit the whole body, as well as mind, and so doctors claim that living an ayurvedic lifestyle can benefit anyone, with any ailment. It’s also used as a preventative therapy.

What Happens at an Ayurvedic Consultation?

If you visit an ayurvedic doctor, your doshic constitution will be assessed first, and your pulses are taken at three points on your wrist. You’ll be asked about your personal and family medical history and also your lifestyle and habits. The doctor may examine your tongue and sometimes you’ll be asked for a urine sample.

Treatment is holistic and based around treating the whole person rather than just symptoms. In ayurvedic medicine, diet is used extensively to help restore balance, and you’ll be advised on what types of food are best for your constitution, as well as being advised on the temperatures and even best times of day to eat meals.

You’ll probably be prescribed herbs, and in some cases massages and steam treatments can be part of the prescription. If you get the chance to have Shirodhara, where warm oil is dripped onto the centre of your forehead (third eye) – take it, as it’s one of the most relaxing of all ayurvedic therapies.

Be prepared – ayurvedic doctors are also very keen on prescribing herbal enemas, and another treatment sometimes favoured is controlled induced vomiting. Both of these are not for the faint-hearted!

Is There Any Evidence That Ayurveda Works?

There has been a great deal of research into ayurveda in India and Sri Lanka, but more rigorous studies need to be done. Ayurvedic medicine has a place on the research programme of the US National Institutes of Health’s National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, so more studies may be published soon.

What Should I be Aware of?

  • Check with your GP before embarking on ayurvedic treatment, and don’t stop taking any prescribed medicines except on a doctor’s advice.
  • If you’re pregnant, elderly or have heart disease you should avoid having enemas or any of the other purging treatments.
  • Young children should avoid enemas

Finding a Reputable Ayurvedic Doctor

To earn the title of ayurvedic doctor, practitioners must have completed the five-year degree course at an Indian or Sri Lankan university, and qualified doctors will hold the title BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) or DAMS (Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) The Ayurvedic Medical Association UK maintains a register of qualified ayurvedic practitioners in the UK.

Telephone: 020 8682 3876

If you are thinking of investigating ayurveda as an option to improve your health, there are hundreds of books and websites available for advice. Be prepared to change your lifestyle – ayurveda isn’t a one-stop treatment but a way of living based on ancient texts, that takes discipline and commitment.

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