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The Ayurvedic Perspective and Treatment of Birth Complications by Gemma Davies

 INTRODUCTION

Ayurveda, directly translated, means the knowledge or science of life. In this ancient, traditional medicine of India, the concept of life and how to find balance and harmony throughout it is key. That is why pregnancy is so vitally important. It is a subject that is applicable to all health care practitioners, anyone wishing to become pregnant one day, or even the simply curious student of life. This is the process through which life itself begins. As defined by a recent Thieme Medical Publishers article, “Pregnancy is a period when biomechanical and physiological changes occur rapidly as the body adapts to support the growing fetus. Every woman experiences pregnancy differently and there can be a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that coincide with it.” [1] Two beings share the same vessel for approximately nine months, and during this time, a woman can learn how to care for herself while also caring for another. It is truly a miracle how pregnancy develops from conception to full term and eventually to a human being. Along the way, many factors contribute to the health of both the mother and baby. “Expectant mothers should be provided with support, tools, resources, and appropriate types and amounts of exercise during pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications and increase the chances of healthy pregnancies and deliveries.” [2] By exploring current medical articles and classical Ayurvedic texts, the history of pregnancy and the practices behind it will be uncovered as either myth, rumor, or fact.

In sanskrit, yoga translates into 'the act of yoking'. This refers to the union of the body and the mind through asanas, or physical postures, and breath. There are eight limbs of yoga, those being yama: morality, niyama: personal observances, asana: body postures, pranayama: exercises of the breath, pratyahara: control of the senses, dharana: concentration and inner awareness, dhyana: meditation and devotion to the divine, and samadhi: union with the divine. Most people of western culture are introduced to yoga through the asanas in a hour-long yoga class and that can be as far as they choose to delve into the practice. It can often take some time to cultivate dedication to the other limbs of yoga, though as a whole the eight limbs are the core of a true yoga practice. “Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that have been connected for thousands of years. … They promote a healthy, natural lifestyle through diet, herbs, physical postures, and breathing techniques. … Self-knowledge and self-care are central principles of Ayurveda and are key to real, deep, and lasting healing and health.” [3] Ayurveda aims to treat not only the illness of a particular organ or body system, but also the whole lifestyle of the individual, all while prolonging life and decreasing suffering. Only now is it becoming increasingly popular in western societies. As we dissect thousand-year-old vedic literature, we are are able to shed more and more light on this system of mind-body healing. In the times that these texts were written, people did not have access to technology and so they recorded only what they observed. These limitations being so, there are several statements in the Caraka Samhita that might not sit well with today's traditional western doctors and scientists. For example, it is stated that “If a male child is desired, they should meet on the even days and if a female child is desired, they should meet on the odd days.” [4] In addition, it was believed that if a couple wished their child to develop the physical characteristics of a certain ethnicity, they could manipulate this by “Whatever colours she desires to have in her child, she should use apparel of the same color … She should also be asked to adopt the food, regimen, manners and apparel of the people of those countries whom she wishes her son to resemble.” [5] Western scientists would leap to argue that genetics decide upon the skin color of a child, not the articles of clothing or styles of food taken on by the mother. However, Dr. Marc Halpern makes a good point in that, “While some beliefs were clearly inaccurate, there was also a vast amount of accurate knowledge and hence we should not discount the whole due to inaccuracy of parts.” [6]

During growth of the fetus, “A pregnant woman is to be treated very cautiously as if one is walking with a pot full of oil, in hand without letting a drop to fall.” [7] During the pregnancy, the woman was highly revered. It was considered vital to keep the woman in a positive environment so that her entire system may become a warm and healthy nest for the growing fetus. “The woman is the chief cause for progeny. If she is protected, the progeny is protected. Among all the stages of life, that of the householder is the most important and sacred.” [8] In Ayurveda, the “doshas”: vata, pitta and kapha are a representation of the elements within us. Our “constitution” is considered to be the various levels or percentages of these doshas in each individual. The science of Ayurveda does not see human beings as separate from nature, but as part of nature. As such, vata is of the air and ether elements. Pitta is of the fire and water elements and kapha is of the earth and water elements. When we are seeking balance in our lives, we attempt to bring awareness to the foods we eat, herbs and lifestyle practices. Through this awareness, we begin to notice that like increases like and the opposite brings balance. For example, to someone who's constitution may already have a large amount of air, it will be beneficial to add more qualities of earth for grounding. In this way, a harmonious balance is found between the three doshas. This leads to a long, healthy life.

In preparation for pregnancy, it is key to look at all aspects of the individual's lifestyle so that the best support can be administered. In the Caraka Samhita, women are instructed “for three days, right from the day of onset of menstruation, the woman should observe celibacy, sleep on the ground, take food from an unbroken vessel kept in her hands and should never clean her body.” [9] In attempts to get pregnant, a couple “should be treated with oleation and sudation therapies and thereafter dosas from their body should be eliminated by the administration of vamana (emesis) and virecana (purgation) therapies.” [10] “The process of pancha karma is ideal for this … Preparation begins with both partners undergoing purification … This is followed by rejuvenation.” [11] “In today's modern Western world, it may not be desirable not to bathe during menses or to sleep on the ground. However, both partners can undergo panchakarma and follow a rejuvenation plan that emphasizes the reproductive system.” [12] Above all, balancing the doshas is ideal before attempting pregnancy. 

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About the Student Research Papers

The papers published on our website have been written by students of the California College of Ayurveda as a part of their required work toward graduation. After reviewing each paper, Dr. Halpern selects those papers that he feels are appropriate to publish. The information in each paper should not be construed as the final word on any subject nor should it be assumed that errors do not exist.