What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine native to India, which uses a range of treatments, yoga, massage, and herbal medicine, to encourage health and wellbeing.
Ayu means life and Veda means knowledge, and thus Ayurveda is often referred to as the “Science of Life” – however it is more an instruction for enhancing life and is both a living system of medicine and one of the oldest continuously practiced in the world. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies.
How does it work?
According to Ayurveda, the five elements of nature (space, air, fire, water, earth) combine in the body as three components (doshas) known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. These doshas relate closely to the basic elements of nature and to specific functions of the body. A balance of these doshas is thought to be required for optimal health. Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurveda, each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. There are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:
Vata – Air and space represent energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and heartbeat. When vata energy is balanced, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
Pitta – Fire and water represents Pitta. This is the energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and temperature. In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.
Kapha – Earth and water represent Kapha, and the energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. In balance, kapha is expressed as love and forgiveness. Out of balance, imbalanced kapha can lead to insecurity and depression.
Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, and strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.
What is Ayurveda good for?
The goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent diseases. Studies have suggested that Ayurveda may be effective at reducing the risk of heart disease. For example, one study found that Ayurveda helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls known as atherosclerosis in both healthy adults, as well as adults at high risk for heart disease. Atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease in which cholesterol, fats, and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This build-up, known as plaque, can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Combining yoga with a certain Ayurvedic herbal remedy may reduce pain and disability in people with arthritis.
A number of Ayurvedic herbal remedies have been examined, for example, guggul (Commiphora mukul), a traditional Ayurvedic medication used to treat high cholesterol, is widely used in India. It appears to block production of cholesterol in the liver, lowering cholesterol levels.
Other Ayurvedic herbs are being studied as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, asthma, cancer, dementia, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), herpes, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, perimenopausal problems, and premenstrual syndrome, among many other conditions. Ayurvedic herbs combined with conventional medications may also be helpful for acne, chronic constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and uterine fibroids.
Studies have found that transcendental meditation, a component of Ayurveda, lowers anxiety. Other studies have found that Ayurveda lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, slows the aging process, and speeds recovery from illness. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine have antioxidant effects, which means that they may help protect against long term illnesses such, as heart disease and arthritis. Many Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend a vegetarian diet, which is believed to be better for your heart than diets containing red meat.