The following articles were written by Dr. Marc Halpern
Physicians often quip that no matter how good we are, our patients will eventually die. It is true that regardless of human invention and new technologies each and everyone of us will eventually take that journey into the unknown we call death. The goal of modern medicine is to delay that journey and to improve the quality of life while we are here. It is to this end that Ayurveda offers humanity the greatest hope of achieving both of these goals.
Ayurveda means the “science or knowledge of life.” It is a complete system of understanding the human being and his relationship with the world around him. If an individual is living in harmony with their environment, optimum health is possible. However, the further out of harmony an individual is living, the less likely it is that they will reach their full life potential in either length or quality.
In order to maximize life potential, it is taught in Ayurveda that each person must learn to live harmoniously with the world through their five senses. Our senses are like portals or gateways into our body, mind and consciousness. If we take in sensory impressions that are healthy, we will in turn be healthier. If we take in that which is unhealthy, the body suffers. It is often said that “we are what we eat”. In fact, we are what we eat, smell, see, hear and touch. Through our senses, we absorb the world around us. While the human body and mind can survive on low quality sensory impressions, it can not thrive.
Ayurveda is not simply a science of how to care for the body but also the mind. The Mind-Body connection is well established, both in the East and the West. Stress is recognized as an important contributor to disease. The damaging effects of stress on our immune and endocrine systems are well documented. Stress plays an important role in the both the onset and the prognosis of most diseases.
Ayurveda is a science of stress reduction. One facet of living a harmonious life of low stress is using the senses properly. Low quality food is a stress on the physical system. Likewise, inappropriate smells, sights, sounds and touch can be just as or more stressful. While the proper use of the senses is important to reducing stress, complete stress reduction requires control of the mind as well. Toward this end, Ayurveda employs the techniques of Yoga to bring about greater peace of mind and stillness. When the mind can focus on the present moment and resist wandering off into past or future dramas, stress is reduced and time appears to slow down. As the mind slows down and relaxes so to do internal bodily process. Heart rate slows down and contractions become stronger and more regular, there is decreased activity in the sympathetic nervous system and the secretion of stress chemicals such as epinephrine is reduced. When the mind is calm, both the mind and body are healthier.
As we age, we begin to realize the accumulated effects of decades of stress and poor lifestyle. We experience the results of this in the form of cardiovascular disease and the deterioration of all of the tissues of the body. The bones become osteoporotic, neurons in the brain degenerate, muscles atrophy and tissues become drier. The list of age related diseases is long. Each is the end result of decades of wear and tear.
Healing is the process of restoring optimal function. Health is the experience of optimal function. Ayurveda offers people the opportunity to maximize their healing potential and restore optimum health. Through proper lifestyle and medicines provided to us by nature in the form of herbs, both the cause and the symptoms of many age-related diseases can be eradicated.
The role of Ayurveda is to remove the cause of disease and gently support the healing processes of the body with natural remedies. Each of us is a unique individual and each disease is also unique. Two patients who suffer heart attacks do not necessary have the same cause of their condition and therefore, the cure may be different as well. It is the goal of Ayurveda to understand the unique nature of the patient and the unique nature of the disease. With this understanding, the Ayurvedic physician is able to prescribe the best individualized program of care and then support the patient as they progress on their journey back to optimal health. Ayurveda maximizes the potential of the patient health, regardless of the disease. Patients under Ayurvedic care can expect both an increase in the quality of life and the length of life.
Ayurveda, which literally means "The Science of Life," is the healing science from India. It has been practiced for over 5,000 years by millions of individuals to assist the body in journeying back to optimal health. More and more people are discovering that these ancient principles are easily applicable to modern life and that they have the power to create health and contentment. Health comes when we live in harmony with our true nature as spirit. Ayurveda allows us to get a glimpse of our individual true nature and to find the best ways to live a life of balance. It provides holistic understanding and healing to people on all levels: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ayurveda uses a multitude of healing modalities including herbs, diet, colors, aromas, sound, lifestyle recommendations, pancha karma, meditation, and yoga.
Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists (C.A.S.) and Ayurvedic Health Practitioners (A.H.P.) are the most thoroughly trained practitioners in the field of Ayurveda in the United States. With nearly 400 graduates, CCA provides both academic and clinical training in preparation for students to go into private practice. It is the dharma (purpose) of a C.A.S. and an A.H.P. to share their knowledge and principles of Ayurveda to uplift the health and well-being of the community.
Our graduates are trained to understand a client physically, emotionally, and spiritually. From this understanding, they identify the client's constitution and the nature of any imbalances, and then design and implement an appropriate treatment program. One part healer, one part counselor, one part coach, and one part guide, our graduates help people create optimal conditions for healing, balance and harmony in their lives. Ayurvedic health practitioners and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists transform the lives of their clients. Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists are the doctors of the future, using principles from the past to help people achieve balance, harmony, and health in the present.
Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists and Ayurvedic Health Practitioners have many options for using their training in the field of holistic health and education. An A.H.P. or C.A.S. may choose to enter into private practice, join other health care practitioners at a wellness center, teach public education classes on Ayurvedic principles, supervise a pancha karma center, teach at an Ayurvedic college, or conduct workshops and seminars. Ayurvedic Health Practitioners and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists who are already licensed health care providers may use their Ayurvedic training to enhance their current healthcare practices. All graduates have the unique opportunity to decide in what way they will use their education to serve their community and the planet.
Ayurveda is based upon a deep communion with the spirit of life itself and a profound understanding of the movement of the life-force and its different manifestations within our entire psycho-physical system. As such, it presents a helpful alternative to the technical and mechanical model of modern medicine, the limitations of which are gradually becoming evident through time. It is a truly holistic medicine whose wealth we have just begun to explore in the Western world.
Dr. David Frawley
Author, CCA Advisory Board
Ayurveda is the ancient and traditional medicine of India. A holistic form of medicine, Ayurveda focuses on creating an optimal environment within the body for healing to take place. The goal of Ayurveda is to support the body’s internal healing capability.
The science of Ayurveda views the human being as a dynamic, life affirming organism that in its natural state is healthy, free from disease and at peace with life. Optimum health occurs when the natural process of the body are not interfered with. This happens without effort when the human being is living a harmonious life.
Disharmony of any kind, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual is the cause of disease from an Ayurvedic perspective. Disharmony occurs when a person is out of tune with the environment or other people. In order to maximize the healing capability of the body, the Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist (C.A.S.) helps their clients reestablish harmony through learning to follow a healthy lifestyle.
The five senses are portals or gateways into the body, mind and consciousness. Through them, impressions from the environment are absorbed. When healthy impressions (healthy foods, visual impressions, sounds, smells and touch) are taken in, the body responds by reaching its full potential. When low quality impressions are taken in, the body responds with less than optimum function and becomes susceptible to disease.
Western Medicine acknowledges two principles in the onset of disease. One is the role of virulence, or the strength of a pathogen such as a bacteria or virus. The second is resistance or the ability of the host (the person) to ward off the disease. This second component is called immunity. It is the function of Ayurveda to maximize immunity and defend against disease. These principles are also true on the mental level. Mentally and emotionally, stress is the pathogen. A person’s ability to resist stress is the “immune system” of the mind. Ayurveda not only attempts to maximize physical immunity but also mental immunity.
While Ayurveda is excellent preventative medicine, it also supports the capacity of the body to heal. Hence, Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists routinely work with sick clients. However, the focus of their healthcare is not on the eradication of the disease but rather on the underlying causes of the disease. By eliminating the underlying causes, the body heals itself. This self – healing model is paramount to understanding the benefits to Ayurveda. While mechanistic models of well being view the patient as a machine with parts to be replaced and chemicals to be added or subtracted to get the right balance, Ayurveda is a vitalistic system of well being respecting the life affirming energy of the body. Ayurveda views the body as intelligent down to the cellular level and even the subatomic level. The role of Ayurveda is simply to support the work of the innate intelligence.
The Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist counsels clients to create a lifestyle of harmony through the five senses. Using dietary, herbal, color, aroma and massage therapies along with yoga and deep relaxation, Ayurvedic practitioners help their clients understand how their current lifestyle may be creating disease and offers suggestions and support to create a newer, healthier lifestyle. Each change made reduces stress and increases the healing capacity of the body.
Is what is right for one person, right for everyone? Not according to Ayurveda. Ayurveda views each person as unique with individual needs. We may all be human but we have slightly different physiologies and emotional tendencies. Ayurveda teaches that for this reason, each person’s path toward optimal health is also unique. Nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone. Ayurveda resists the temptation to sell one program to every person. Rather, Ayurveda emphasizes an individualized approach to lifestyle. Some people thrive as vegetarians and others as meat eaters. Some thrive on spicy food and others on bland food. Some do well with raw foods and other better with cooked foods. Ayurveda is a path of understand what is right for the individual, not the masses. Ayurveda is neither a statistical form of medicine or a health fad, it is a science based upon understanding individualized needs and meeting those needs to bring about the best a person can be.
Once upon a time, some 5,000-10,000 years ago, there lived an ancient people who inquired into the world in which they lived. They looked to the skies and saw the celestial lights, and wondered in awe about their origin and meaning. They looked around at the world and wondered, "Why am I here, and what is the meaning of my life?" They knew the world around them was fraught with challenges and potential dangers, and they asked, "How can I stay safe and healthy?"
These people were among the earth's oldest human inhabitants, and they lived in the land known today as India. To answer their questions, the wisest and most learned of the clan went forth to seek explanations from the Gods. These wise men and women were known as rishis, the ones who had the gift to attune themselves to the ways of the Gods. As they meditated deeply, the Gods came to them, and answers were given. They learned about astrology and astronomy, about health, about air, fire and water, and they learned about ritual. This knowledge was passed down through generations with songs and chants, and then it was written down in the oldest of books now existing on the planet: the Vedas.
The wisdom of the Vedas is vast. The knowledge pertaining to health is known as Ayurveda, or the science of life. The knowledge of Ayurveda was given to the rishis so that they might know how to stay physically and emotionally healthy in order to pursue their deeper spiritual goals.
The Vedic teachings thrived in India, and Ayurveda thrived as well, for several millennia. Scholars, philosophers, and doctors journeyed from afar to India to study, and each took pieces of this knowledge home with them. It was a golden age of increasing understanding and deepening spirituality.
Then, between 700 and 1000AD, India was invaded by the Middle East. The Muslims went on anti-Hindu crusades and destroyed many of the ancient books. The knowledge of Ayurveda began to slip away. In the 1800s the British invaded India, destroying what was left. Schools were closed and books were destroyed, until Ayurveda vanished into the corners of society. In place of the Ayurvedic schools, western medical schools were established.
It wasn't until 1947, when India gained her independence, that strong interest in Ayurveda was renewed. At this point, scholars and spiritual teachers tried to pick up the pieces of this profound science. Schools re-opened and began to train Ayurvedic physicians. By the early 1990s there were several hundred small Ayurvedic schools in India.
Even so, India is a vast country, and the number of Ayurvedic practitioners relative to the population is very small. As of today, Ayurveda remains subordinated to the western-influenced health care system.
In the West, a great interest in the science of Ayurveda began to emerge as westerners started to question the tenets of their own health care system. In the mid-1980s, profound writers like Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Vasant Lad, Dr. David Frawley, and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began to enlighten readers and listeners about this ancient wisdom. Interest mushroomed, and now we see the very first Ayurvedic Colleges opening in the United States, offering formal study of this ancient knowledge.
Ayurveda is a science that is, first and foremost, about creating harmony with one's environment. Ayurveda teaches us that when we live in harmony we shall be healthy, and that disease is the normal expression of living out of harmony. Hence, Ayurveda is a health care discipline that begins by asking us to look inside of ourselves so that we may discover how we are living out of harmony. Only then can we make the life changes necessary for healing to take place.
In this way, Ayurveda gives us back both responsibility for our well being as well as the power to create our state of health. Ayurveda teaches us that we are all unique individuals and that each individual's path toward perfect health is equally unique. Ayurveda is not a dogma of "how to"; rather it is a system that illuminates our unique journey and helps to guide us to our destination.
Ayurveda utilizes diet, herbs, aromas, colors, meditation, and yoga, along with special cleansing techniques known as Pancha Karma to assist each person in his or her process. Most importantly, however, Ayurveda helps each person to look at their lifestyle and discover areas that are disharmonious, while at the same time empowering greater harmony. Ayurveda says that where there is harmony, there is health.
"Ayurveda" literally translated means the “knowledge of life.” It is the traditional healthcare system of India. Ayurveda is based on the idea that a life and lifestyle of harmony is the basis for optimum health. It can be said that where there is harmony there is health and where there is disharmony there is disease. Ayurveda is the science of creating harmony between a person and their environment.
It is well accepted that stress is the greatest threat to the well being of people. Stress weakens the immune system making the host (you and I) more attractive to the multitude of pathogens present in the world. As the strength of the host diminishes the ability of the microorganism to penetrate its defenses increases. Stress plays a role in the onset of just about every disease people face, from the common cold to heart disease. Not only is stress invisible, it is created by the person who is affected by it. This realization helps people understand that, just as they have the ability to create the experience of stress, they also have the ability to create the experience of peace of mind. Ayurveda and its sister science Yoga are a path to personal power; helping people learn how to gain control over the mind. Once in control, a person is no longer the slave of their thought process but rather its master.
A lifestyle based in harmony is a stress–free lifestyle. Ayurveda applies its principles to both the mind and the body. Though the practices of meditation and yoga, Ayurveda helps a person expand their perception of themselves and how they relate to the world around them. While so many people are plagued with fear, anger, anxiety, and depression, Ayurveda helps people to come to the realization that life can be and is beautiful!
An Ayurvedic lifestyle begins with an understanding who one’s constitution. This is the inherent balance of the three doshas (biological energies) determined at the moment of conception. Each person’s constitution defines their uniqueness. Ayurveda understands that nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone. Ayurveda is non-dogmatic. Each person’s path toward health and harmony are is unique. Ayurveda is the path of finding out what is right for the individual. This path includes learning to live harmoniously through each of the five senses.
Hence, through diet, aromatherapy, color therapy, sound therapy, and touch therapy (massage), along with yoga and meditation; Ayurvedic practitioners slowly guide their patients back to living in harmony with their true nature. Success on this path takes time and patience but pays great rewards. Along the way, Ayurvedic practitioners utilize their vast knowledge of herbalism to support the process and alleviate suffering. Stress reducing herbs are called nervine sedatives and include herbs such as valerian root, jatamamsi, shankha pushpi, and thousands of others found throughout the world. More importantly, the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia includes an understanding of rasayanas or rejuvenatives. These special herbs build up the body's resistance to stress and increases its endurance. These herbs are especially beneficial to those who are highly sensitive to stress. These herbs include ashwagandha, bala, and amalaki and many others.
According to Ayurveda, the greatest factor in a person’s sensitivity to stress is a substance found within all cellular tissues and the mind. Ayurveda calls this substance ojas. Ojas is the essence of the immune system and provides the mind with both stability and contentment. Ojas is produced by the body as the body digests nourishing foods. Hence, a nourishing diet combined with excellent digestion is the key to building ojas. Ayurveda places great emphasis on proper digestion. This includes selecting the proper foods for a person’s constitution, as well as eating them properly. Long term problems with digestion and elimination deplete the body of ojas. Ojas is protected by a lifestyle that avoids overindulgence, includes significant rest, and reinforces self –love.
In summary, Ayurveda helps a person come to a better understanding of themselves and their relationship to the world around them. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, Ayurveda helps people reduce stress. By reducing stress, each person can attain optimum health and peace of mind.
More and more, people come up to me on the street and ask me, "What is my constitution?" Other times they ask, "What is my dosha?" They mean the same thing. According to Ayurveda, the traditional medicine from India, a person's constitution is the balance of the three doshas (biological forces that govern the body) inherent within an individual.
A person's constitution determines what a person is naturally attracted to and what causes a person to become out of balance, sick, and diseased. Depending upon a person's constitution, they may thrive as a vegetarian or need meat; they may thrive on spicy foods or get burning indigestion. Our constitution determines how we relate to the environment. The wise individual, with this knowledge, creates an environment that is supportive to who they are as a unique individual. Ayurveda teaches that where there is harmony with our environment, there is health; where there is disharmony, there is disease. The environment consists of anything we experience through our five senses. So, while many people agree that we are what we eat, Ayurveda takes this a step further and teaches that we are what we eat, smell, touch, hear, and see. Thus, a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist (C.A.S.), trained at the California College of Ayurveda, helps people to understand their constitution and how to create a harmonious environment.
There are three basic constitutional types, and everyone is a unique mix of them. For each type, a different diet is recommended as well as different forms of aroma, color, sound and massage therapies. The three types are called vata, pitta, and kapha.
People of vata nature have a predominance of the qualities cold, light, dry and mobile. They tend to become cold easily and often prefer to wear a sweater or shawl even when others are not cold. They are usually the last to turn on the air conditioning and first to complain when a room is too cold. They like to sleep with extra blankets. They are often of lower body weight, and this is reflected in their long narrow bones. Many fashion models have a vata type of body with long legs, long necks and long tapered fingers. People of vata nature often experience dry skin, dry eyes and a dry colon which causes a tendency toward constipation and gas. Their mobile nature is seen in their fast speech patterns and chatty nature. It can also be seen in their tendency to become scattered and more easily overwhelmed. People of vata nature often have a fragile, nervous disposition. Their challenges often revolve around staying focused.
People of pitta nature are most often hot. They are likely to be the first people to want to put on the air conditioner and they are likely to kick off the covers on a warm night. Because they have a greater amount of internal heat, it is not unusual to see them wearing shorts in the cool fall or spring weather while others are wearing a light sweater. Heat often builds up in the intestines and leads to softer and looser stools or diarrhea. Pitta people usually have moderate body builds, not very heavy or very thin with good muscular development. Their skin may be prone to red rashes or acne and is often oily. People of pitta nature often have a clear but sharp way of communicating. Their focused and direct language and actions may irritate other people but they can be counted on to get the job done. They most often have a passionate and intense disposition. Their challenge revolves around a lack of patience for those who are not as focused and directed as they are.
People of kapha nature are most often heavy, cool, slow and moist. Because of their heavy nature, they have a stocky body build. This is not to say that people of kapha nature are overweight. No, their natural body type is denser than others. Their bones are shorter and thicker. Often their neck appears to be sitting close to their shoulders and their fingers are short and thick. What really identifies a person of kapha nature is their slower, easy going nature. These people speak and move slowly, and are not likely to get upset. They often have a sweet and gentle disposition. Their challenges revolve around difficulty getting motivated, or lacking spontaneity. Hence, once a person of kapha nature has made up their mind they are not likely to change it.
So, what if a vata person lives with a pitta person? Basically, the pitta person kicks the covers off while the vata person is pulling them on and they may argue over the temperature to set the thermostat. The pitta usually wins as a person of pitta nature has a stronger more dominating personality. There may also be challenges about being on time. People of pitta nature really like to be on time and get irritable when they are late. People of vata nature may want to be on time but because they get distracted just can't seem to make it.
If a person of vata nature lives with a person of kapha nature, the person with a kapha nature will usually watch the person of vata nature move around fast in a nervous sort of way and wonder what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile the person of vata nature, who is easily excited, will wonder why their partner is not as excited about life as they are. Neither one of them is likely to fuss about time very much as vata may be late because they get distracted and kapha tends to be late because they move slowly. Both really annoy pitta.
If a person of pitta nature lives with an either a person of vata or kapha nature, they are likely to be somewhat critical of their partner for not being more like them. They may try to convince their partner that something is wrong with them and that they know what it is. People of pitta nature are sure they are right.
If it seems like no matter what constitution you are, you have some physical and personality challenges, it's true. We all do. I've yet to meet the perfectly, enlightened being of perfect health and peace of mind. Ayurveda teaches that we are all growing, learning and evolving, and that by understanding our nature, we can evolve faster and learn to appreciate ourselves and others - for each of us is unique. Self love, non-judgment, compassion and unconditional love are the foundation of all spiritual growth.
It's important to note that each constitutional type has its unique gifts. People of vata nature have the capacity for divine enthusiasm and inspiration. They are often creative and in touch with the subtle world in ways pitta and kapha can only imagine. People of pitta nature have the capacity for clarity of mind that allows them to become great leaders and teachers of humanity. People of kapha nature can be a deep well of love, gentle kindness and nurturance.
We are all unique, and while there are three basic energies, we are all a unique combination, and no two people have ever been created alike. By understanding our constitution we can choose proper foods to support us, as well as the appropriate colors, aromas, and sounds to surround ourselves with. Ayurveda teaches that each person has the capacity for perfect health and peace of mind. The journey to achieve this is one that begins with self understanding. With this knowledge and the support of a teacher or practitioner, each person can begin to create a lifestyle that creates harmony within.
Health is our natural state and is the end result of living in harmony. Disease is the natural end result of living out of harmony. Ayurveda is the path of re-establishing harmony so that health can re-emerge. While people with all kinds of conditions seek and are benefited by Ayurvedic health care, it must always be remembered that it is nature that heals and not the practitioner. It is the Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist’s job to simply support nature as it works from within the patient.
Before deciding what your constitution is and changing your diet or lifestyle, it is always best to consult with an Ayurvedic health professional. A Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist will help you determine what your constitution is, help you understand the nature of any imbalances, and establish a plan to help you get back into balance. Most importantly, a good practitioner will coach you toward success in establishing your new, stress-free lifestyle.
Spirit: Clarity deepens ones personal connection.
Body: Ayurveda supports all body functions.
Mind: Ayurveda brings peace and calm to the mind.
Emotions: Ayurveda brings emotional balance.
Social: Ayurveda supports social skills.
I became interested in Ayurveda and meditation in an effort to heal myself of a life-threatening and debilitating disease. In 1987, I was crippled with severe arthritis, anemia, and liver dysfunction. Utilizing Ayurveda, meditation, and other methods of alternative medicine, I was able to heal myself. My work today is the result of that journey.
Today, I teach Ayurvedic seminars around the world, and am the President of the California College of Ayurveda. I am on the founding board of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and California Association of Ayurvedic
Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Ayurveda: My family has benefited from Ayurveda. I have referred patients to Ayurveda providers and most have done well. Unlike Chinese Medicine there is no licensing for Ayurveda practitioners at the state or national levels at this point. Make sure you carefully choose practitioners.
Rick Geggie’s Comment About Ayurveda: Any healing system that is as old as Ayurveda must work well. How both the complexity and the simplicity of it work so well to help children fascinate me. Children find Ayurvedic practices calming so they tend to like going to Ayurveda practitioners. Over the years I noticed that children from families following an Ayurvedic lifestyle did very well in living and learning. Picking an experienced practitioner is important.
While it is always most accurate to be fully evaluated by a trained Ayurvedic practitioner filling, out the following questionnaire can give you insight into the balance of energies unique to your body.
As you fill out the following questionnaire, give yourself two points if a statement is clearly true for you. Give yourself one point is it is somewhat true. Give yourself no points if it is clearly not true.
Add up the total number of points for vata, pitta, and kapha. This will give you the relative dominance of each of the forces in your constitution. You may not necessarily be dominant in one type, but may be a unique blend of the three.
1. I am thin and my body build is "slight."
2. I have a difficult time gaining weight, or I am like a yo-yo going up and down.
3. My skin tends to be dry.
4. I feel cold often compared to others and I do not sweat very easily.
5. My complexion is dull gray or dusty.
6. When my digestion is not normal I tend toward constipation.
7. The shape of my face and jawline is long and narrow.
8. When I am healthy I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but focusing can be difficult.
9. I am prone to feeling nervous or anxious.
10. I tend to be a light sleeper and often suffer from insomnia.
1. I am of moderate weight and my build is moderate with good muscle tone.
2. My weight is steady and fluctuations are small.
3. My skin tends to be oily.
4. I often feel warm, and sweat easily.
5. My complexion is rosy.
6. My digestion is not normal; I tend toward diarrhea or burning digestion.
7. The shape of my face and jawline is angular.
8. When I am healthy I have a lot of energy and I am very focused.
9. I am prone to feeling irritated, angry, and resentful.
10. I sleep well and wake up easily. I may be awoken by dreams.
1. I am of stocky body build and I often carry some extra weight.
2. It is difficult to lose weight.
3. My skin tends to be oily.
4. I often feel cold, and sweat easily.
5. My complexion is pale.
6. My digestion is generally good, though I may occasionally have some constipation.
7. The shape of my face is round.
8. When healthy I move slowly and have a lot of endurance.
9. I am prone to feeling lethargic and depressed.
10. I sleep deeply and sometimes have a difficult time waking up.
Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, is more than a path toward optimal health and healing. It is a path toward harmony, peace of mind and enlightenment. Ayurveda merges the physical art of healing with the spirituality inherent in Yoga. In this union, Ayurveda offers healing for the body, mind and spirit.
Ayurveda is a theoretical path which, when properly applied, promises perfect health and enlightenment. In order to be valuable to the general population, it must also be practical. Healing through Ayurveda involves more than simply taking herbs and watching one’s diet. It involves transforming one’s lifestyle so that it is in harmony with their environment. This equates to how one uses their 5 senses to take in the environment; through the proper use of aromas, colors, sounds, taste and touch. Ayurvedic practice creates an optimum environment within the body for healing to take place and for optimal health to emerge.
Transformation of our habits is rarely an easy task. Motivated by desperation, changes can sometimes come easily. However, lacking a crisis, the motivation for personal change wanes. Often times, a person chooses to put up the chronic, mild-to-moderate discomfort rather than make the changes they know would be beneficial.
At the California College of Ayurveda we teach our practitioners how to get the results that their clients desire. A person must make communication to successfully implement program of care their practitioner recommends. Our graduates take the following to maximize client success:
Step One: Be Focused. The practitioner and the client choose one task to focus on such as implementing the proper diet for the client’s constitution.
Step Two: Spiritual Counseling. An Ayurvedic practitioner helps the client succeed. Each week or two the practitioner and the client have a follow up visit to see how the client is doing with implementing the assigned program of care.
Step Three: Adding More Tasks. Only when the client is successful should the practitioner assign more tasks to accomplish.
Step Four: Accountability. In the case that the client has not implemented change or task, the practitioner and the client must explore what got in the way of success. This process takes a client closer to the core of what is obstructing their well being. During this stage, the practitioner uses their creativity, counseling, and coaching to address core concerns. With a refreshed approach, the assignments might be reduced, or different assignments recommended.
Through focus, accountability, and coaching, clients gradually become successful transforming their lives into a lifestyle based in harmony. The belief of Ayurveda is that where there is harmony there is health and where there is disharmony is disease. A disharmonious life always leads to physical or mental disturbance. Symptoms are simply the body’s voice communicating disharmony. Hence, without the creation of harmony, there can be no complete and total healing.
All of life flows like the seasons, a perpetual cycle where what is normal (healthy) today flows into what is normal (healthy) for tomorrow. Health is not a static way of being, but a dynamic flowing expression of optimal well being.
Early in our lives, from birth to puberty, our bodies are growing rapidly. Our physiology is designed for helping us to achieve a full grown, strong body. During this first phase of life, Ayurveda defines health as the formation of healthy tissues in the body. During this period the body needs foods that are deeply nourishing. These foods are heavy and contain an abundance of the earth element. Foods such as milk, nuts and grains are very important. These foods support the building of bodily tissue. Too much of these foods, however, leads to building too much tissue. These children become overweight. Hence, it is important that children learn not to overindulge. Rarely, however, do high quality heavy foods cause children to become overweight. Rather, it is the heavy junk foods that are primarily responsible. Ice cream, candy other sweets, while rich in earth element are the culprits of weight gain. The earth element builds tissue. During childhood, it is important to choose healthy forms of the earth element to bring into body.
Ayurveda describes the second phase of life as the time of action and service. It is during this phase of life we begin to contribute to society. Having been properly nourished as a child, the body and mind are now capable of optimally performing. During this phase of live is when the body stops growing until retirement. This occurs physiologically between the ages of 50 and 70. At this phase, health is defined as the capacity to perform service without obstruction. Hence, a healthy individual is not impaired. These people are able to fully express themselves without the limitations of a physical or psychological challenge. In order to be healthy at this age, a strong desire to be of service is important. In this way, a person is flowing with the rhythms of nature. In order to sustain the body, it is important to recognize that the body needs less food. As the body's tissues are no longer growing, less nourishment is required. During this phase of life, it is very important to take smaller portions during meals. A failure to do so will result in middle age weight gain. Since most people do find themselves over-eating during this stage, it is important to take in a greater amount of lighter but healthy foods. During this phase of life, the proportion of vegetables and fruits in the diet should increase.
The third and final phase of life is the time of reflection. During this phase of life, we have the opportunity to reflect on the life we have lived and what we have learned. If we are so fortunate, we will have the opportunity to share what we have learned with others; playing the role of the elder teacher. Absent that opportunity, a person may spend time in meditation, contemplation and perform volunteer work assisting those who are still in their second phase of life. Grandparents may also help with the grandchildren freeing up the parents to perform other duties. Health in this phase of life is defined as having the capacity to reflect. During this phase of life, the body tissues are beginning to break down. This is natural. This is also a time of preparation for the final transition. To extend life, it is important to take in nourishing tissue supporting foods rich in the earth element. This is not for the purpose of growing new tissue but rather for sustaining what is already there and slowing down the aging process. It is natural for the appetite to dwindle during this phase. Hence, it is important to eat small amounts three to five times per day. Eating too much will result in weight gain and its associated health challenges. Eating too little will result in weight loss and quicken the deterioration and ultimate demise of the body.
According to Ayurveda, during the first phase of life we are most prone to mucousy conditions caused by taking in too many rich and junk foods. During the second phase of life we are most prone to the diseases of stress as we work hard to accomplish our goals. During the third phase of life, we are most prone to diseases of deterioration. These are hastened by living out of harmony during one's life.
The first phase of life is a time of learning. This is the ideal activity for children and society is generally in rhythm with this aspect of nature. This is not, however, the ideal time to push children too hard or too fast into service. Simply put, children should not work for money but rather for experience. It is best if the motivation to work comes from a desire to serve rather than to be rewarded. The child who is raised in harmony with nature's rhythm is best prepared to enter life's second phase.
The second phase of life is a time of service. This is the time when the young adult chooses a career. The well prepared child grows up healthy and energetic with a desire to be of service. Healthy young adults are motivated to express themselves in the world and in doing so contribute to the lives of others. The healthy young adult is ready and willing to work hard.
Some young adults are not yet ready. Some still require further preparation. By delaying entering into the workforce (service force), the young adult is attempting to stay in the first phase of life, a comfortable phase where they are taken care of. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this is symptomatic of an imbalance and is neither ideal nor healthy. However, the child who has not been properly prepared during the first phase benefits more from continued preparation than from entering into the work force when they are not ready.
The third phase of life is a time of reflection. If an elder is forced to work into their later years the consequence will be additional suffering. Working hard after the age of 65 is out of rhythm with nature. The time of reflection is delayed and there may be little time to teach and share what one has learned. A body that works hard into the later years will deteriorate faster. It is time for society to support our elders and provide for them at least the basic necessities to allow for reflection and sharing. In return, our elders become our teachers.
Ayurveda is a science of understanding nature's laws. They are not negotiable. If we live in harmony with nature, we reap the benefits of good health. If we do not, we suffer. The seasons of life are part of nature's laws. Those who live a life in rhythm with nature age gracefully, remain well, and have great peace of mind. Knowledge of nature's rhythms can help guide each of us to find satisfaction and health at every age.
The journey toward perfect health and the journey toward enlightenment are in many ways parallel paths. As we grow and evolve as spirits, we learn to live in ever-greater harmony with our environment. According to Ayurveda, harmony brings peace of mind and perfect health.
The term for perfect health in Ayurveda is Svastha. Literally translated, Svastha means "to be fully established in the Self". Hence, when we are fully established in knowing our true nature as God, we express our full potential. This represents optimal health.
Ayurveda is a journey to perfect health, peace of mind and, ultimately, enlightenment. By the very laws of Sankhya philosophy, human incarnation is disharmonious. Once incarnated, humanity forgets its true nature as spirit and lives as a physical being, guided by the senses. This journey is one regarding the pursuit of pleasure, as well as the avoidance of pain and suffering. This simplistic and animalistic existence brings about pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. The process of healing is the process of remembering. When a person remembers their true nature as spirit, they become empowered to master the senses and make choices that bring not pleasure or pain, but harmony. The fruit of this action is peace of mind and well-being.
When we live out of harmony, we suffer. In the physical body, suffering takes the form of pain as well as symptoms of disease. Ayurveda understands that these symptoms are simply the body’s voice communicating that we are living out of harmony. When we change our life and re-create a life of greater harmony, our bodies reflect this change. There is less suffering. The greater the change toward harmony, the more radiant the body becomes.
The mind is no different. It is subtler, but the same laws apply. Symptoms of a diseased mind include unhappiness, depression, sadness, anxiety, anger, and any other emotion other than peace of mind. These symptoms are also communicating that we are living out of harmony, and that some aspect of our life is disharmonious.
Healing is the process of returning to harmony. Once back in harmony, the body and the mind have no reason to communicate symptoms. The body becomes at ease, the mind becomes at peace. In this state, awareness reawakens to its true nature as spirit. Self-realization has occurred and the individual soul continues its advance toward enlightenment. When self-realization occurs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the door opens to becoming a Jivan Mukta; a liberated soul, and enlightenment ensues.
Ayurveda teaches us that we are all unique individuals. We were conceived with a unique constitution or fundamental balance of energies that define who we are on the physical level. It defines what we are naturally attracted to, what causes us to move out of balance, and what makes us experience disease. Depending on our constitution, we thrive in a particular environment. We take our environment in through the senses, which are the portals to our body and consciousness. The energies we take in either blend with us or disrupt our harmony. Proper diet (taste), aromas (smell), sounds (hearing), colors (vision), and touch are essential to maintaining internal equilibrium. When harmonious impressions are taken in, the body is healthy and the mind peaceful. When disharmonious impressions are taken in, the body and mind suffer. Hence, Ayurveda focuses on helping individuals understand themselves as unique beings. With that understanding, a person can become empowered to make choices that are in harmony with who they are. Ayurveda teaches us that nothing is right for everyone but everything is right for someone. Ayurveda is the path of understanding what is right for you.
Ayurveda also teaches us that it is not only the intake of sensory impressions that determines our well-being; it is our lifestyle as a whole. Proper daily regimens are essential to bring about good health and peace of mind. A regular schedule includes: Meditation, yoga practices, abhyanga (morning application of body oil), proper eating habits, and proper hygiene. When combined with proper intake of sensory impressions, the depth of the peace and well-being we experience is infinite.
The Three Constitutional Types and Their Path Toward Health, Harmony and Peace of Mind
The constitution of vata individuals contains a great deal of air and ether, which means they tend toward the qualities of coldness, lightness, dryness, and instability. These qualities may be experienced as feeling cold easily, having a thin body structure, dry skin, a tendency to move quickly, difficulty staying focused, and frequent changes of interests. These individuals have a lot of interests and often drift from teacher to teacher, job to job, and relationship to relationship.
It is important for people with this constitution to follow a lifestyle that emphasizes opposite qualities. Warm or cooked heavy foods provide nurturing and grounding. Oil, both in food and applied to the body, alleviates dryness. Regular routines and disciplines create stability and improve focus.
The constitution of pitta individuals contains a great deal of fire and a small amount of water. These people tend to feel hot, have oily skin, and are of a moderate body build. They tend to be focused, goal oriented individuals with a competitive and intense nature. Pitta individuals tend to complete what they begin before moving on to the next goal. They enjoy the satisfaction of completion but experience emotional and physical turmoil when failing or losing.
People of pitta nature are balanced by a lifestyle that emphasizes cool and dry impressions through the senses as well as greater spontaneity and playfulness. For example, raw salads and foods that are not too spicy are best. These individuals find it easy to adopt routines, but more playfulness and less seriousness is needed to bring balance.
The constitution of kapha individuals contains great amounts of earth and water. These people tend toward the qualities of heaviness, coldness, oiliness, and stability. They tend to move slowly, act slowly, and stick with the routines they develop. Their challenge can be in adopting new routines, as change is difficult. These individuals also have a tendency toward becoming overweight and lethargic.
People of kapha nature require the qualities of lightness, dryness, and warmth to bring them balance. Light, spicy cooked foods are best. Oils are to be avoided. A routine emphasizing spontaneity and movement is essential.
Creating a lifestyle in harmony with our constitution is not easy, but it is the most important thing in life. The difficulty associated with the task causes many seekers of good health and peace of mind to give up. But why? Do we expect peace of mind, perfect health, and enlightenment to be easy? If it were easy we would all have it and then why would we be here? Sankhya philosophy teaches us that we are only here to experience creation and re-learn about ourselves as spirit. The journey of our learning is the journey of the soul finding its way back to God. If we knew everything, what would there be to experience and learn? Each of us must simply do our best and realize that growing toward perfect health and enlightenment takes time. With this attitude, wherever we are on the journey is perfect. We can love ourselves in spite of our perceived imperfections. With self-love comes patience. Patience is a peaceful tool to carry on the journey toward both perfect health and enlightenment.
Ayurveda, which literally means "the knowledge of life," is the traditional healing science of India. Viewing disease as the natural end result of living out of harmony with our environment, Ayurveda emphasizes reestablishing harmony and balance as the means of recreating a state of optimal health in our bodies and minds. While Ayurvedic methods utilize many therapies including herbs, diet, aromatherapy, color therapy, mantras, yoga, meditation and general lifestyle counseling, the most profound of all treatments is that of Panchakarma.
Panchakarma is the traditional form of detoxification of the body and mind that facilitates rejuvenation. It has been utilized for thousands of years as a method of staying healthy, young, and vital.
According to Dr. Marc Halpern, the Founder and Director of the California College of Ayurveda; "Panchakarma is the single most powerful tool we use in Ayurveda for purifying the body and rebuilding its internal strength. It is an essential part of the treatment for any chronic disease, whether physical or mental."
Panchakarma is unlike any other detoxification program; it is fundamentally designed to remove a different form of toxin. While many toxins exist in our environment which accumulate and harm our bodies, Ayurvedic Panchakarma addresses a special toxin called ama which is formed within our own bodies.
Ama is the by-product of inadequate digestion. It has the qualities of stickiness and heaviness. In our bodies it clogs our systems and damages our tissues. It is among the most damaging of forces in our bodies and contributes to disease.
Here is an analogy to help you understand how ama is formed. Imagine that there is a fire inside your stomach. Think of a campfire. If the fire is weak, it cannot burn up the wood put on it. Instead, the wood smolders and begins to smoke. In the end, charred bits are left and the wood is not efficiently turned into ash.
Poor digestive fire, or digestive strength, leads to food being improperly digested. This results in gas, bloating, burning indigestion, or constipation. In addition, a residue of this poorly digested food accumulates in your digestive tract and overflows into your bodily systems. This residue is ama.
Ayurveda links the occurrence of ama in the body and a weak digestive system to the cause of such chronic conditions such as candida, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine headaches, chronic respiratory disease and many other conditions. The process of Panchakarma removes ama and clears the way for the body to re-establish an internal state of balance and harmony.
Ama may be present in the body if there is a coating on the tongue. A normal tongue appears pink throughout, but as ama accumulates in the digestive system, the tongue may appear with a white, yellow, green or gray film over it. In addition, in some cases the body and breath develop a strong odor and the stool becomes dense and sinks to the bottom of the toilet. (According to Ayurveda, the normal stool should float). If you have any of these signs, Panchakarma treatment may be indicated.
In addition, Panchakarma has a profound effect on stabilizing the mind and emotions, restoring mental calm, helping to clear out, and overcome deep seated unresolved emotion. This paves the way for becoming reunited with the pure essence of Being and union with the Divine.
The Process of Panchakarma
Panchakarma therapy begins with proper preparation. This includes several days or weeks of a special diet and herbs, which begin the process of loosening up the ama and bringing it back to the digestive system for elimination. While the person is eating special foods and taking special herbs, oil and heat therapies are applied. These include the deeply relaxing therapies of Shirodhara, Ayurvedic massage, and Swedana.
Shirodhara is a unique therapy where the client lies down upon a massage table with their eyes covered. Then, a specially prepared warm herbal oil is poured in a thin steady stream through a spigot directly onto the forehead and sixth chakra. This blissful therapy purifies the mind, alleviates anxiety, reduces headaches and expands awareness. Shirodhara can be administered by itself or as part of a Panchakarma regime.
During Ayurvedic massage two practitioners perform a choreographed hand dance upon the body. Using oils blended with special herbs, this form of massage specifically loosens up the ama stored in the tissues so that it can move back to the digestive system. Not only is it cleansing, but it is deeply relaxing. Ayurvedic massage can be administered by itself or as a part of Panchakarma.
Swedana is a full-body steam therapy. Special herbs are fused into the steam and together the heat and herbs dilate the channel systems of the body allowing the stored ama to move back into the digestive system.
Once all of the ama is back in the digestive system, the next phase is to eliminate it from the body. This is achieved by the administration of a purgative to cleanse the small intestine and herbal enemas to cleanse the colon. A special form of cleansing, called nasya, is applied to the sinuses. Following the application of oil and heat over the sinuses, the herbal oils are administered directly into the nasal passages. This procedure not only eliminates ama, but is also helpful in the treatment of chronic allergic sinusitis and sinus headaches.
With the body clear of toxins and ama, it is much like a clean slate. Now the internal energy of the body can be rebuilt. The rebuilding process strengthens the digestive system and the immune system, and entails taking additional special foods and herbs. These herbs are designed to enhance the strength of immune system and are revered for extending life.
The end result of Panchakarma is an optimally functioning digestive system and renewed internal energy. After receiving Panchakarma the mind is light and clear, the body is pure and the energy is high. For many it is a life-changing experience.
Dr. David Frawley, renowned Vedic scholar, says in his book Ayurveda and the Mind: "Panchakarma is the main Ayurvedic method for physical purification. It is useful for physical problems caused by excesses of the three doshas. Yet it can also be helpful for psychological problems caused by internal factors, emotions, and karma.”
Panchakarma is traditionally used in the healing of many diseases. It is an intensive therapy best performed at a time when the patient has adequate time to rest. Brief Panchakarma programs last 7 days. This is followed by a period of rejuvenation which can be done at home. Extensive programs can be designed for up to one month.
In this age of modern medicine, preventive medicine has become a well-respected concept. Over the last 20 years, the general public and the allopathic establishment have evolved to a place of recognizing the importance of prevention.
Prior to the mid 1970's, the term, "preventive medicine" was rarely heard in traditional circles. The concept was relegated to a small subculture of free-thinking individuals who were into "organic living.” Eventually the wisdom of this simple philosophy could not be denied. Interest quickly grew and preventive medicine entered the mainstream. More and more articles appeared in magazines such as Time, Prevention, and Newsweek. Numerous best-selling books appeared on the market, each claiming to keep and individual eternally healthy through proper health practices, such as diet, vitamins, and other substances like apple cider vinegar.
One of the pioneers in preventive medicine was a medical researcher named Hans Selye, who rocked the traditional medical establishment with his book, The Stress of Life. Published in the 1950s, this book by Selye charted the body’s reactions to stress, and was able to produce a model for stress as an important and overlooked cause of disease. His research was well documented, and established that stress fatigues the body’s physiological homeostatic mechanisms, causing the body to malfunction and create disease. He implicated arthritis, cancer and connective tissue disorders (i.e. fibromyalgia, Lupus, etc.) as stress responses by the body. This naturally challenged the medical approach of looking for pathogenic organisms as the cause and drug treatment as the cure. Mr. Selye did not suggest treatment--he simply addressed the effect of stress. Since then, many ideas have emerged on how to keep the damaging effects of stress from affecting our lives.
Preventive medicine implies doing something to prevent disease, and has taken four different and distinct directions. First, early detection has been well promoted by the mainstream medical community. Women are recommended to have routine mammograms, and both men and women are recommended to have periodic colonoscopies as a means of detecting early cancers. While this does not really prevent disease, it does lead to early detection, and thus to better treatment results.
The second concept involves preventing the effects of stress from harming us. This has led to the use of a wide assortment of nutritional products, including stress vitamins (mostly B-vitamins), antioxidants (which decrease cellular destruction and aging), micronutrient support (kelp, blue-green algae) and other nutrient support. This approach has created a new multi-billion dollar industry intent upon selling the public the idea that the only way to stay healthy is to take these products. There is certainly merit to this approach, and to some degree these products do work, but their effectiveness is limited.
The third method involves purifying our bodies as a way of keeping environmental poisons (pesticides, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, hormones, etc.) from harming us. This has led to the expansion of the organic health food and water purification industries. In addition, many new products are on the market to help us remove toxins from our bodies. Most of these are herbal alternatives (blood and liver purifiers) and purgatives or laxatives to cleanse the colon. Panchakarma, the Ayurvedic science of purification, also addresses these toxins, as well as toxins created internally through the poor digestion of food.
The fourth method is perhaps the most important of all, although it may be the least favorite in society today. It involves looking at our lifestyle and recognizing how our choices about how we live and act are producing stress, which is slowly killing us. This subject takes the discussion away from how to manage stress and enters into the subject of how to prevent it. Of course, some stress is a part of being alive. As Hans Selye points out, without it our bodies could not grow stronger. Stress challenges our bodies. If we rise to the challenge, we usually become stronger as a result. So, while it may not be practical to remove all stress from our lives, much of it is self-generated and therefore unnecessary. It is on this subject that Ayurveda speaks most directly.
Ayurveda is the science of producing harmony in our lives. In Ayurveda we say that where there is harmony, there is health; where there is disharmony, there is disease. The term harmony in this context means creating a harmonious relationship with our environment through our five senses. Exposing ourselves to harmonious tastes (foods and herbs), sights (colors and beauty), smells (aromatherapy), sounds (music and mantra), and touch (massage and oils) creates a state of harmony within our bodies. This state of harmony prevents disease.
Ayurveda looks at the growth of disease as one would look at the growth of a tree. With no disrespect to our tree friends, this is just an analogy. There is a seed which sprouts and develops roots. The stalk grows and the trunk thickens. Branches spread and leaves grow. Most of what we call disease or symptoms are the leaves. They are distant from their origin or roots. Most treatments for disease, allopathic or herbal, are like trimming back the leaves. Some go deeper to the branches, and some cut down the tree all together. But what about the roots? With its roots intact, a hearty, persistent tree grows back, and the weary gardener has to keep pruning and pruning.
The seed, or root of all disease, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is the disharmony of our actions. Eating improper foods, listening to disharmonious music, etc. can produce direct physical stress. A weakened body cannot tolerate continued stress and crumbles into the darkness of disease.
Not only does Ayurveda discuss physical stressors, but also those of the more subtle emotions. Mental disease can also be looked at as the same tree. The leaves far distant from the roots are serious diseases such as psychosis and schizophrenia. The closer branches are the milder conditions like panic anxiety, and the still closer conditions of the trunk, mild diseases like anger, worry, grief and attachment. At the root, Ayurveda sees a person as having forgotten their own true nature as spirit or as the part of themselves connected to God. Ayurveda sees God as that which connects us all together. When we forget, as we so often do, we act as if we are separate from one another. This sense of separation is at the root of emotional challenges. Understanding this, Ayurveda utilizes meditation and yoga as a path to quiet our inner chatter and dialogue. In the stillness created, a person perceives the truth of their existence and all emotions are transcended. In comparison to the truth, we could say our emotions seem insignificant and our attachment to them rather humorous.
In the area of disease prevention, Ayurveda teaches us that through a healthy lifestyle that is individually designed to be harmonious with our own unique nature (our constitution), and the practices of meditation and yoga, a person can reach their potential physically, emotionally and spiritually. In this state, disease does not exist. It serves no purpose. For what is disease, really? It is our body communicating disharmony. Remove the disharmony and you remove the disease.
Preventive medicine is an exciting step forward on our journey to live without disease. As the journey continues to unfold, we will find that it parallels our journey to enlightenment or the perfecting of our nature. Early detection of disease, reducing the effects of stress, and purifying our bodies are important steps on our journey toward keeping ourselves healthy. Our lifestyle choices reflect our deepest natures, and as we change, so does our health.
Ayurveda, which literally translated means "the science or knowledge of life" is the traditional medical system of India. Its origin dates back an estimated 5-10,000 years, and it is widely considered to be the oldest form of health care in the world. It is understood by most scholars that, as knowledge of Ayurveda spread out from India, it influenced the ancient Chinese system of medicine, Unani medicine, and the humoral medicine practiced by Hippocrates in Greece. For this reason, Ayurveda is often referred to as the "Mother of all healing."
The knowledge of Ayurveda has its written origins in the Vedas, the sacred texts of India, believed to be the oldest writings in the world. Written in Sanskrit, the Vedas cover a vast number of subjects from grammar to health care. The Vedas were written approximately 2500BC or earlier. Current knowledge about Ayurveda is mostly drawn from relatively later writings, primarily the Caraka Samhita (approximately 1500BC), the Ashtang Hrdyam (approximately 500 AD), and the Sushrut Samhita (300 - 400AD). These three classics describe the basic principles and theories from which Ayurveda has evolved. They also contain vast clinical information on the management of a multitude of diseases. Later writings and research expand on this early clinical information.
Ayurveda is based on the premise that disease is the natural end result of living out of harmony with our environment. Natural is an important word because Ayurveda understands that symptoms of disease are the body's normal way of communicating disharmony. With this understanding of disease, Ayurveda's approach to healing becomes obvious: to reestablish harmony between self and environment. Once reestablished, the need for the body to communicate disharmony diminishes, symptoms dissipate, and healing is said to have occurred.
Ayurveda understands each person and the disease the person is manifesting as a unique entity. It could be said that no two people are alike, and no two diseases are alike. Therefore, Ayurveda does not approach the cure of a disease as much as it approaches the cure of a person. This approach vastly differs from allopathic medicine. Where allopathic medicine looks for a drug that will cure a statistically significant number of people for a specific condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Ayurvedic medicine looks for a treatment that will cure an individual person of their unique presentation of the disease. Since no disease affects two people in exactly the same way, no two cures are exactly the same.
For the Ayurvedic practitioner, it is necessary to understand the nature of the patient, the nature of the disease, and the nature of the remedy. Only then will a physician be able to provide the greatest care. The qualities of Nature are said to be either heavy or light, cold or hot, stable or mobile, sharp or dull, moist or dry, subtle or gross, dense or flowing, soft or hard, smooth or rough and cloudy or clear. A person, a disease or a remedy is understood to have a unique combination of these qualities. It is the goal of the Ayurvedic practitioner to understand as many of the qualities as they can about their patient and their patient's condition.
A person may be heavy or light, move quickly or slowly, feel more warm or cool, have a sharp or dull mind, have moist or dry skin. These are examples of understanding the nature of a person. Similarly, a disease like arthritis may be defined as producing sharp or dull pain, migrating (mobile) or localized to one or more joints (stable), producing vasodilatation around the joint (warm), or vascular constriction (cool). By understanding the presentation of a disease through its qualities, the uniqueness of a disease is understood.
Herbal remedies are also understood in terms of their qualities. Substances that are nourishing are described as being heavy, such as licorice. Substances that are depleting are light, such as red clover. Some herbs create warmth in the body, such as ginger, and others cool the body, such as goldenseal. The fundamental principle of treatment in Ayurveda is to treat the disease with the qualities opposite to its nature. Cold diseases are treated with warm remedies, heavy diseases are treated with light remedies, and so on.
Ayurveda describes the human being as being composed of five elements, three doshas (biological energies), seven dhatus (tissues), and numerous srotas (channels). The five elements are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These five elements, which also make up all of Nature, are not meant to be taken literally. They are ideas described as elements. They are the ideas of space, motion, heat, flow, and solidity respectively. They have the qualities as noted above. The three doshas, the biological forces that govern the functions of the body, are composed of these elements.
Vata dosha is a biological force which governs all motion in the body. Composed of ether and air, it is light, dry, mobile, and cool. People with a predominance of this energy in their bodies tend to exhibit these characteristics. They tend to be thin, have dry skin, feel cold easily, and move and speak quickly. They also tend to have a greater amount of cold emotion, such as anxiety and fear. Vata dosha imbalance can affect any system of the body and cause an increase in those qualities. For instance, the respiratory system becomes dry as seen in dry asthma and non-productive coughs. The digestive system becomes dry and constipated, an abnormality of motion. Dryness may precipitate stone formation in the kidneys or gall bladder, and an increase in the motile quality of vata in the nervous system is understood to cause hyper-excitability. The cold nature of vata can become severely disturbed and cause Raynaud's Phenomenon. Wasting conditions are viewed as an increase in the light quality of vata. Therefore, anywhere in the body where there is an increase in the qualities of vata, there will be physiological disturbance.
Pitta dosha is a force which governs all digestion in the body. Composed primarily of fire, it is hot, light, sharp, and exhibits flow. It contains a little water, and thus it is neither very moist nor dry. People with a predominance of pitta in their bodies exhibit these qualities. They feel warm and are less affected by cold weather. They have a rosy complexion, are moderate and reasonably steady in their weight, have a mesomorphic body build, and can have a sharp and intense personality. This personality tends to be challenged by a greater amount of heated emotion such as anger, resentment, and jealousy. As pitta governs digestion, the digestive system tends to be strong. There is little trouble digesting food. Bowel movements occur frequently, 2-3X per day. Pitta dosha imbalance can affect any system in the body but is predisposed to affect systems that are said to contain a lot of fire. When pitta affects a system, usually greater heat builds at that location. The liver, small intestine, blood, skin, and eyes are systems in which pitta exerts a great influence. Hepatitis, hyperacidity, acne and conjunctivitis are examples of heated pitta conditions in these regions of the body. Pitta disturbance can affect any system. Infections anywhere in the body producing heat and fever are understood as pitta disturbances.
Kapha dosha is a biological force which governs growth in the body. Composed of water and earth, it is heavy, moist, stable, soft, and dull. People with a predominance of kapha in their bodies tend to carry more weight, have thicker, denser bones and skin, and have a more traditional endomorphic body build. They also tend to have moist supple skin and full, thick hair. This person's personality tends toward being relaxed and not easily disturbed. They talk and move slowly. They can be challenged by heavy feelings, such as lethargy and rigidity. When kapha increases in the body, there is a greater production of mucous which, like kapha, is heavy, thick, and moist. There may also be swelling and weight gain. While kapha can affect any system of the body, the stomach and lungs are the most susceptible. It is here that we see several common signs of kapha disturbance--nausea, limited appetite, and mucous formation. Conditions such as obesity, some cancers, chronic bronchitis, lung congestion, and fluid retention syndromes have a kapha disturbance as a component of the pathophysiology.
While the doshas are seen as the causative agents of disease, dhatus, upadhatus, and srotas are understood to be the site of the disease. Dhatus are tissues, upadhatus are additional tissues, and srotas are channel systems. There are seven tissues; plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow, and reproductive tissue. Unlike Western medicine, which understands each tissue to be separate, Ayurveda understands each to be dependent upon the tissues preceding it for its nourishment and health. Hence, a problem which develops in one tissue, if not corrected, will eventually have systemic consequences. Pathology in Ayurveda can be partially understood in terms of what dosha is affecting what dhatu. When vata enters a dhatu, that dhatu becomes lighter, drier, and hyper-mobile. When pitta enters, it becomes heated, and when kapha enters, it becomes heavier, moister, and more stable. In a muscle, vata disturbance causes wasting and atrophy, pitta disturbance causes infection and inflammation, and kapha disturbance causes excessive growth.
Srotas are channel systems similar to the organ systems of the human body. The major srotas are somewhat equivalent to the respiratory system, digestive system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, urinary system, and water metabolism system. These are additional sites of disease where doshas may become aggravated.
During the metabolic processes of the body, Ayurveda recognizes that metabolic waste is produced and must be properly eliminated to maintain optimal health. Waste materials are called malas. Obstruction to their removal is another causative factor in disease.
According to Ayurveda, each person has a constitution that was determined at conception. This constitution is the inherent balance of these three doshas. The constitution determines a person's basic body type and personality. While other factors influence the formation of both the body and personality, the constitution provides the predisposition in much the same way as a person's genetics. It is a common misconception that Ayurveda groups people according to three types. In actuality, there are infinite combinations and permutations of these three basic energies in each person. Therefore, we see that each person is understood to be unique. The Ayurvedic practitioner's first objective is to understand the nature or constitution of the patient. This tells the practitioner who they are treating.
Next the practitioner attempts to understand the disease or the nature of the imbalance. Ayurvedic pathology is understood according to the doshic imbalance and the imbalance of qualities within the body. The practitioner assesses the state of the doshas, dhatus, upadhatus, srotas, and malas of the body. The overall strength of the body is an important factor in future treatment and is assessed as well. The term ojas is applied to the strength of the body, although more accurately it is that which gives the body the ability to endure stress.
While pathology is important to understanding the nature of the disease, equally important is etiology. Etiology is understood according to how the patient's lifestyle, habits, and environment caused the doshas to become disturbed. A lifestyle which emphasizes a fast pace, changes of job or relationship, travel, fast foods, and dry, light foods--such as a vegetarian diet--is likely to cause an aggravation to vata dosha. A lifestyle which is intense, competitive, highly focused, and which emphasizes spicy hot foods is likely to aggravate pitta. Kapha is aggravated by a sedentary lifestyle and a diet of heavy, moist foods, such as milk, yogurt, and meat.
Understanding the nature of the person and the nature of the disease, the practitioner can now design a treatment program to guide the patient back into balance. This program utilizes what is commonly called five sense therapies as its foundation, along with specialized treatments for the mind and bodily purification and rejuvenation.
Using the sense of taste, the practitioner is able to prescribe a diet consisting of the opposite qualities of the disease or imbalance. This diet is very specific and describes the exact foods in each category a patient may consume. This includes specific meats, dairy, nuts, vegetables, etc. In addition, the practitioner recommends herbs that work along similar principles. In addition to the effects that herbs have on the energies and qualities of the body, Ayurveda recognizes that some herbs also possess the capability to have strong effects on specific organs and symptoms. This fact is taken into consideration in the design of the formulations.
Using the sense of vision, color therapies are utilized. Colors are understood to possess the same qualities as all of Nature and, again, colors are prescribed that have the opposite qualities of the disease. Colors can have strong special effects on specific diseases, and this is recognized and considered in designing a treatment.
The ears provide a vehicle for treatment using sound therapies. Ayurveda has traditionally utilized sound energies called mantras for healing. Different sounds affect the doshas in different ways. These sound energies are understood to stimulate specific organs and endocrine glands, possibly affecting hormonal production.
Aroma therapy provides treatment through the sense of smell. The qualities of a smell have different effects upon the doshas. For example, sweet-smelling fragrances increase kapha but bring balance to vata and pitta.
Through the skin, the application of specific oils and massage are utilized. Different strokes and pressures affect the doshas in different ways. The patient may be told to apply massage to themselves, or the massage may be applied by the practitioner.
For the treatment of the mind, Ayurveda merges with its sister science from India: yoga. By using yoga and meditation, the patient is encouraged to adopt a lifestyle emphasizing peace of mind and connection to God. The resultant stress reduction is an understood component of the healing process.
Ayurveda also emphases the importance of keeping the body clean and pure. Toxins, both external and intrinsic to the body, interfere with the flow of waste material out of the cells resulting in impaired function. To remove these toxins, Ayurveda employs a technique known as Panchakarma, meaning "the five actions." This is a program performed for 7-28 days at a specialized center. Panchakarma utilizes a restricted diet, massage therapies, additional medicated oil therapies, medicated steam therapies, and elimination therapies such as enemas, purgation, and nasal/sinus cleansing with special oils snorted into the nasal passages. This last treatment is called nasya. Historically, and in some parts of the world currently, two additional therapies are utilized. They are therapeutic vomiting and blood letting with leeches. In addition to these physical modalities, the patient retreats from the world and enjoys time for meditation and reflection.
While each therapy is understood to be important, Ayurveda emphasizes lifestyle analysis and change as the most significant aspect of the healing process. The practitioner helps a patient understand how lifestyle has contributed to the origin of the present condition and offers support as the patient attempts to create a new lifestyle in greater harmony with their constitution.
After evaluating the patient, the Ayurvedic practitioner designs a program utilizing the therapies noted above. These therapies may be instituted over a period of time and are generally not prescribed all at once, as they may prove to be overwhelming for a patient to implement successfully.
There are no formal studies on how many patients utilize Ayurvedic medicine and principles in their lives. Since Ayurveda is a relatively new science in the West, the percentage is probably low. Worldwide, the traditional medicine of Ayurveda is still used primarily by the poor in India who are unable to afford Western medicine.
Ayurveda is a complete medical science which should be considered whenever allopathic medicine is unable to produce the desired results. As Ayurveda includes protocols for the care of every system of the body, it can play a role in the management of any case. It is being used most effectively in the United States on patients with chronic and sub-acute disease. It is not generally recommended for acute diseases. Ayurvedic lifestyle therapies may also be utilized effectively to enhance wellness and prevent disease.
Research in Ayurveda has centered around the pharmacological use of Indian herbs. In the botanical and Ayurvedic medicine journals, literature detailing herb constituents, actions, indications, and contraindications is abundant. Successful treatments of a multitude of diseases using herbs from India are well documented. Clinical evidence suggests that there are few harmful side effects from Ayurvedic treatment, and this is supported by 5000 years of anecdotal evidence.
The actions of most herbs and the cross-reactions of herbs and drugs have not been studied in great detail. History suggests few harmful interactions, and most herbs are safe in the hands of a qualified practitioner. Practitioners are educated regarding which herbs and procedures are to be avoided by pregnant and lactating woman. Botanical research journals contain the latest information on the actions, effects, and side effects of many herbs. The Indian Materia Medica by Nadkarni is the principle book summarizing research on herbs used in Ayurveda.
A patient who visits an Ayurvedic practitioner should expect to receive an evaluation consisting of: a minimum of a history of the chief complaint, past medical history, a review of systems, and a review of any medications--such as herbs and vitamins the patient may be taking. Observations are made of the shape of the face, size of the neck, size and depth of the eyes, color, quantity and quality of hair, thickness of the skin and width of the bones. Detailed examination procedures include the pulse and the tongue. Examination of the abdomen and the taking of vital signs completes the evaluation. After the examination, which usually lasts about one hour or longer, the practitioner spends time educating the patient about their findings. During this report of findings, the practitioner educates the patient about Ayurveda and their imbalances. In Ayurveda it is said that it is more important what the patient knows than what the doctor knows. A patient should leave with a clear understanding of their path back to health. Follow-up visits are scheduled to support patients as they make progress and confront challenges. Follow-up visits include ongoing counseling and education. Additional therapies are integrated into the program slowly, over time, as the patient strives to create a lifestyle of harmony through the five senses.
Currently, there are only a few places in the United States where practitioners receive thorough training. Programs vary from one to two years in duration and often include part-time classroom education and independent study. In California graduates of the California College of Ayurveda receive certification as a "Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist" and use the initials C.A.S. This is the only institution in the United States offering complete clinical training for the practitioner. Other training programs vary in duration and focus. At most schools, the focus is on the philosophical and fundamental principles of Ayurveda. There are also home study programs offered through the American Institute of Vedic Studies and by specific teachers. These programs focus on the philosophical and fundamental principles as well.
When looking for a practitioner of Ayurveda, evaluate the extent of their education. Check to see if anyone or any organization has certified their competency. If possible, research the organization that certified them. Always try to meet with the practitioner and discuss the cases they have managed, and their results. Ask how they manage cases and what criteria they use to assess progress. The California College of Ayurveda maintains a list of graduate practitioners throughout the United States.
The California College of Ayurveda’s “Healing Experience” utilizes some of the most powerful tools used in Ayurveda to restore balance to the body and mind. Receiving the specialized body therapies is one of the most powerful experiences our patients can have while under our care, and sometimes even amont the most powerful in their lives. There are two kinds of Healing Experience Programs. Our patients are either prescribed a Rejuvenation Therapy Program or Panchakarma. Your practitioner will make the determination as to which therapy is best suited for your needs.
Rejuvenation is the process of building up your internal strength and your ability to withstand stress. This is the ideal program for those who feel weak, are experiencing chronic disease, or are exhausted or debilitated. This Healing Experience lasts between 3-10 days and includes therapies that are both deeply relaxing and deeply nourishing. During this program, you will be receiving blissful oil massages (abhyanga) provided by one or two practitioners at a time. You will also be receiving a beautiful therapy in which a stream of warm herbal oil is poured in a continuous stream over your forehead (shirodhara). This is often followed by a relaxing herbal steam bath (svedana). We call the combination of these therapies “Bliss Therapy.” There are other relaxing and nourishing therapies that are sometimes prescribed as well, including special oil treatments for back pain (katti basti), emotional hurt (hrid basti), chronic fatigue (adrenal baths), and more. Relaxing facials to improve skin tone and complexion are often integrated into these therapies. These programs are individually designed to meet your specific needs.
Pancha Karma (Panchakarma) removes toxins that have accumulated in the body. These toxins are often buried deep inside the tissues of the body where they interfere with normal body functioning. These toxins, called “ama,” weaken the body, making it more susceptible to disease and making it more difficult for the body to heal itself. Panchakarma (Pancha Karma) is a process which, when applied properly, helps you to make a giant leap forward in your health and well-being. The first phase of your Pancha Karma program is called the Preparation Phase, or Purva Karma. This phase begins about one week before you come to our clinic. During this phase of your care, you will follow a special food program and take special herbs. The next phase of your care is the Therapeutic Phase or Pradhan Karma. During this phase, you will typically spend between 5 and 14 days at our clinic receiving a variety of therapies, including the “Bliss Therapies”. This program is designed to quiet and purify your mind as well as your body. Special therapies for purifying your small and large intestines, as well as your sinuses, will be applied. The final phase of your care is the Reintegration Phase or Praschat Karma. This is the process of re-establishing a long term food program and a healthy lifestyle. This phase typically lasts 30 days. During this time, you will be receiving regular follow up consultations at which time you will be receiving on-going lifestyle, herbal and dietary advice.
Interest in Ayurveda in the United States began in the 1970's, largely as the result of efforts by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi organization of Transcendental Meditation. Interest continued to grow as Indian physicians came to the United States in the 1980's. Among these physicians were Dr. Vasant Lad, Dr. Sunil Joshi and Dr. B.D. Triguna. In the late 1980's Dr. Deepak Chopra wrote "Perfect Health", his famous introductory book on Ayurveda for the general public. This opened the door to India’s ancient healing science for many Westerners. Furthermore, several American pioneers helped attract attention to Ayurveda and influence its growth. They include Dr. David Frawley, of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, and Dr. Robert Svoboda, a Westerner who completed India’s BAMS program. As interest and awareness grew, training programs of various degrees emerged with the intent to train practitioners. In 1995 two students of Dr. David Frawley founded the first two schools of Ayurveda: The California College of Ayurveda and the New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine.
The California College of Ayurveda, founded By Dr. Marc Halpern, was formed on the West Coast of the United States and became the first professional training program to seek and attain State Approval to operate making it the first formal professional training program to operate outside of India. The California College of Ayurveda has established itself as a leader in Ayurvedic education and continues to operate today. Aside from Dr. Halpern’s efforts to develop the profession of Ayurveda in the United States, several graduates of the College have made important contributions. Mamta Landerman, a 1997 graduate of the program, assisted Dr. Halpern with the founding of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine and became its president. Devi Mueller, a graduate of the College’s southern California’s branch, went on to become President of the National Ayurvedic Medicine Association. The New England Institute of Ayurveda was founded on the East Coast by Dr. Abbas Quatab. The New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine did not seek State Approval or a license to operate and closed several years later. The New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine, though short-lived, played a significant role shaping Ayurveda on the East Coast. Notable graduates include Hilary Garivaltis, who went on to become the dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda and president of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. Another graduate, Genevieve Ryder, founded the most popular journal of Ayurveda in the United States called Light on Ayurveda Journal.
As of this writing, the quality and curricula of educational programs in the United States continues to vary widely. In 2004, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association established the first educational standards in the United States consisting of a minimum of 500 hours of education. Graduates of schools that meet these minimum standards are able to receive practitioner status in the national association. These standards, while not legal precedents, have motivated schools to uplift the quality of their practitioner training programs. The focus or vision of schools varies in the United States. The California College of Ayurveda is the leader in clinical practitioner training with the intention of educating its students to be fully qualified practitioners capable of disease management as well as preventative medicine lifestyle training. Most other schools focus on training students in lifestyle management and do not address clinical disease management. Ayurveda training programs in the United States fall into four major categories: (1) Correspondence Programs; (2) Full-Time Training Programs; (3) Weekend Training Programs; (4) Short-Term Seminar Courses. There is also a division within practitioner training programs, with some of these programs offering internship and others not.
In most States, schools require State approval to operate. State approval is based primarily upon financial stability and professional operation. Several institutions in the country have successfully bypassed State regulations by declaring themselves religious institutions or churches or by structuring their program in ways to avoid State regulation. While State approval is required for non-religious institutions, there are several programs operating in the United States without proper approval by their State governing body. These schools, operating illegally, are generally much less professionally run. Because of limited oversight, these schools continue to operate. The National Association has not taken any action against these schools.
The National Ayurvedic Medical Association is the major body in the United States representing the Ayurvedic profession. A non-profit association, it was founded in 1998 by four individuals: Dr. Marc Halpern, president of the California College of Ayurveda; Wynn Werner, administrator of the Ayurvedic Institute; Kumar Batra, and Cynthia Copple. The bylaws of the organization were not filed until 2000. The National Association represents the interests of Ayurvedic practitioners while trying to advance the Ayurvedic profession. The Association has held annual conferences attracting approximately 200-300 practitioners each year since its inception. The Association's most important accomplishment to date has been the establishment of minimum practitioner standards. More recently, another Ayurvedic Association formed in the United States. This association, called the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America has focused on a close relationship with India and the recognition of India-trained Ayurvedic physicians. The California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine was the first established Ayurvedic State Association in the United States. A non-profit association, it was founded by Dr. Marc Halpern along with his graduate students in 1997. The organization has held several State conferences attracting 75-300 practitioners during its early years but has since discontinued running conferences. The State Association has been minimally active in recent years. The Association has adopted the National Association's guidelines for practitioner training.
There is no significant regulation of Ayurvedic practice or education in America. Schools in most states must apply for a State license or State approval to provide education. Several states do not have this requirement. The practice of Ayurveda is not formally regulated either. None of the fifty states require a license to practice Ayurvedic health care. Ayurvedic massage is regulated through the massage laws of most states. In five states, California, Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island, specific laws, often referred to as “Health Freedom Acts”, were passed protecting the practice of alternative medicine and the practitioners who provide those services. The practice of Ayurveda is protected within these laws so long as the practice falls within the limitations of the law and does not impinge on the scope of practice of other licensed health care professions. Additional states are actively pursuing similar laws.
Having no formal scope of practice defined through legislation, the practice of Ayurveda is defined more by what cannot be done than by what can be legally practiced. While the laws in each state vary, there are many commonalities to these laws that restrict the practice of Ayurveda, the medical practice acts established in each state being the most significant. The following is a list of actions that are generally considered illegal in the United States.
• Practitioners cannot call themselves a Doctor, even if possessing a doctorate degree from India or a PhD degree in the United States. The use of the title “Doctor” is restricted to licensed physicians of Medicine, Osteopathy, Chiropractic or Naturopathy. While this is true in a clinical setting, those possessing a doctorate degree of any kind may be referred to as “Doctors” in an academic setting and may also place the title doctor in front of their name on books and published papers.
• Practitioners may not diagnose medical disease. A practitioner cannot act in the capacity of a licensed health care physician and provide a diagnosis of a disease using common Western medical terminology. This does not mean, however, that a practitioner cannot use their Classical Ayurvedic understanding of disease to come to an understanding of a patient's condition. Hence, a practitioner of Ayurveda may declare that a patient is suffering from a vitiation of pachaka pitta in the rasa dhatu of the annavaha srota but may not declare that the patient is suffering from hyperacidity or an ulcer, or the Sanskrit equivalents: Urdvarga Amlapitta and Grahani.
• Practitioners cannot interfere with the prescriptions or recommendations made by a licensed physician. A practitioner who tells a patient not to take their medications is considered practicing medicine without a license.
• Practitioners cannot invade the body or perform any other procedure that penetrates the skin or any orifice of the body. This places the practice of nasya and basti in jeopardy. Even simple surgical procedures may not be performed nor may acupuncture.
India-trained Ayurvedic physicians who come to the United States on a work visa or through immigration may practice Ayurveda within the allowable scope as defined above. However, they may not use the title “Doctor” and the title may not be implied in any clinical setting. Should a physician trained in a foreign country practice as such, they place themselves in jeopardy of legal actions including deportation (if a non-citizen) or imprisonment (if a citizen).
There are several diverging viewpoints on the subject of how to classify Ayurveda. One states that Ayurveda should be a subspecialty of allopathic medicine. In this scenario, education and the ability to practice would only be available to medical doctors and other licensed health care physicians. The other view is that the Ayurvedic profession should remain independent and grow on its own, training its own practitioners. Separate schools would train Ayurvedic practitioners who would practice either independently or in a complementary/integrated manner with allopathic medicine. As the director of the California College of Ayurveda, I have supported the independent profession viewpoint. This view is consistent with the models established by the Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Naturopathy professions in the U.S.A. Divergent points of view also exist as to the long-term scope of practice to be pursued in the United States. There are some with the viewpoint that Ayurveda should be practiced as it is in India and that education should follow a similar model. There are others who believe that, due to certain entrenched restrictions on the practice of Medicine in the United States, it would be impossible to develop Ayurveda in the United States along such integrated lines. Hence, a new model of clinical education is required that better fits the Western environment. Still, there are others who feel that the practice of Ayurveda should be restricted to lifestyle management only and should not enter into the realm of disease management. It has been the position of the California College of Ayurveda to pursue a Clinical model of training and practice that develops practitioners who can work within the restrictions imposed by US laws but still practice most of the classically recommended natural practices and procedures for the purpose of serving humanity. The California College of Ayurveda has pioneered Western clinical Ayurvedic education since its inception in 1995 and has expanded this model as the school and profession has grown. Which model of Ayurvedic education becomes established in the United States will depend upon the actions of the National and State Associations, schools, and activists within the country and abroad. While the infrastructure of the Ayurvedic profession in the United States has developed and improved over the past ten years, greater infrastructure is still needed. Absent is a serious body that regulates schools in the United States. The profession is in need of an accreditation agency that regulates and unifies the actions of schools so that graduates of all schools have similar education, training and competency.
While Ayurveda in the United States grows according to its own course, the role of India is crucial in the development of Ayurveda abroad. Actions taken that support, nourish and strengthen the profession in America are needed. Nourishing actions include teacher and information exchanges and general support for the activities of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. Unfortunately, the actions of some highly motivated physicians from India have been less than supportive. Rather than providing nourishing support, their actions have attempted to purify Ayurveda in the United States by attempting to undermine the actions of individuals who are working to build a profession that fits within the Western paradigm. These Indian physicians promote an indo-centric philosophy whereby they can only see or accept Ayurvedic practitioners who are trained and practice exactly as they are and do in India. While the Indian model of Ayurvedic education and practice is the recent historical standard, it has evolved in India based more on 20th century politics and culture than on classical scripture. With a different culture and political landscape in the United States, it is natural that Ayurveda will evolve differently in this country. What is important is that the practice of Ayurveda remains true to its classical body-mind-consciousness paradigm. It is the philosophical and spiritual--not religious--constructs that separate Ayurveda from any other system of medicine in the world and it is this that must be preserved above all else.
Although progress is slow, the Ayurvedic profession is growing steadily in the United States of America. Educational institutions are becoming more established and associations are working to give the profession a voice and address regulation issues. Ayurveda is likely to continue to grow in America and eventually take its place among the other licensed health care professions.
Dr. Marc Halpern, D.C., C.A.S., and P.K.S. (Ayurvedacharya) is the Founder and President of the California College of Ayurveda. He is one of the pioneers of Ayurveda in the West and is considered to be a preeminent practitioner and teacher of Ayurveda in the United States. He is one of the few Westerners ever recognized in both the United States and in India as an authority on the subject of Ayurveda and was awarded the All India Award for Best Ayurvedic Physician. A pillar in the development of the profession in the United States, he is the co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association for which he served as Chairman of the National Committee on Ayurvedic Education from its inception in 2000 until 2005. He is also a co-founder of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. A Doctor of Chiropractic with post-graduate certification in Holistic Medicine, Dr. Halpern has studied with many noted teachers from India and the United States.
Ayurveda, which literally means the knowledge or wisdom of life, is the traditional medicine of India. Over the past decade, its popularity as an alternative or complement to Western Medicine has grown steadily. Brought into the mainstream public eye by Dr. Deepak Chopra M.D. in 1991, his book Perfect Health enlightened millions of readers about this ancient healing art. Since that time, interest in Ayurveda has grown steadily and Ayurveda is quickly establishing itself as a unique health care profession.
Focusing on how we relate to our environment, Ayurveda views the cause of disease as the natural expression of the body and mind living out of harmony with its environment. From this perspective, we can begin to understand that Ayurvedic treatments center around helping each individual move back into a harmonious relationship with their environment. In Ayurveda, we understand that where there is harmony there is health, and where there is disharmony, there is disease.
Our environment consists of everything that we experience through our five senses. Thus what we eat, look upon, smell, touch, or listen to affects our well-being. The goal of Ayurveda then is to help each person take in the impressions that are right for them. In Ayurveda, each person is seen as a unique individual with unique genetics and biochemistry. Hence, what is right for each individual is different.
We call a person’s uniqueness their "constitution." Your constitution describes who you are at the most fundamental level. The concept that we are all different is unique to Ayurveda. As a result of this understanding, Ayurveda prescribes a different program to each individual based upon their constitution and the nature of the imbalance within them. This avoids the "Everybody Must" syndrome that infiltrates many systems of healing. The "Everybody Must" syndrome says that everyone must follow one specific path in order for healing to take place or to establish optimal health. Ayurveda vehemently disagrees with this notion and subscribes to the philosophy that "nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone."
I am reminded of the story of Lord Buddha who, while selecting his personal physician, sent several physicians into the forest with the task of finding as many plants as they could with no medicinal value. Each physician brought back many samples of plants that they felt from their experience and meditations had no value. One physician by the name of Jivaka came back empty handed. He explained his frustration to Lord Buddha. "I am afraid I have failed you, he began, I have spent much time in the company of all of the plants in the forest but there is none that I can find with no value to someone." Upon hearing this, Lord Buddha selected Jivaka as his personal physician.
Indeed, Ayurveda recognizes that medicine exists everywhere and often in the most unlikely of places. In addition to using plants and herbs as medicine, Ayurveda uses aromas, colors, sounds, special forms of massage, and food as healing tools. It is through our senses that we experience the world around us. If we take in harmonious impressions through our senses, we can expect to experience greater calm, clarity and peacefulness and thus, via the mind/body relationship, greater physical health. If we take in disharmonious impressions, we create agitation in the mind and this leads to disease.
We will now explore the fundamentals of each of the five senses. Through our eyes we take in thousands of impressions each day. These impressions are actual energies with different vibratory rates. Each color is a different energy and vibrates at a different rate. Some colors are harmonious for us and some agitate us in subtle ways. We interact with color all the time through the clothes we wear and our home environment. Conscious use of color can help create an environment for healing. While some color therapists attribute healing qualities to certain colors, Ayurveda once again teaches us that each person is an individual and hence, every color has a healing capacity if prescribed for the right person. Not only is color important, but also how they interrelate. Clashing colors in general create greater agitation while those that blend harmoniously create a greater sense of calm. In Ayurveda, we also look at the quality of the impression received by the eye. Violent images as seen in real life or in the movies create agitation and disharmony. Viewing nature and flowers creates a feeling of calmness and clarity and thus benefits our journey toward health.
Through the sense of taste, we interact with the foods we eat. Each of the six tastes affects the body and mind differently. Each taste has its benefits and each has its negative consequences if we overindulge in them. For example, sweet taste is very nourishing and builds tissue and strength, but overindulgence--as we all know--leads to excessive weight gain, diabetes, and other complications. In Ayurveda, we do not count calories, grams of fat, or the cholesterol content of food. From an Ayurvedic perspective, if we learn what balance of tastes are right for us, then we will eat in harmony with our body’s constitution and the body will respond with greater health. Some benefit from hot, spicy food while others from milder or bland foods. Some people benefit from meat while others thrive as vegetarians. Some people need the nourishment of sweet-tasting grains and others the cleansing qualities of bitters. What tastes and types of foods are correct for each individual depends upon that person’s constitution and the nature of any imbalances that may be present.
Our ears take in the vibratory energy of sound. Some sounds are calming and others agitating. Of course, which sounds balance our energy depends again on our constitution. We may think that only quiet, calming sound is healing. Again, we must remember the tenet of Ayurveda that teaches us that what heals each person is different. For instance, agitating music can also be motivating. If lethargy and depression is a challenge, motivation is what you want. Meanwhile, for anxious individuals, the calming nature of new age music is beneficial. In Ayurveda, special sound energies called mantra are sometimes prescribed to induce specific reactions in the body.
Through our nostrils we entertain the sense of smell. Aromatherapy is an important part of Ayurveda, as smell has long been known to evoke emotion. From the perfumes and scents long used in mating rituals to the relaxing feelings evoked by a walk through a rose garden, aromas have always played a large role in our lives. While most people use aromas (perfumes and aftershaves) unconsciously, Ayurveda teaches us that some aromas create harmony while others contribute to disharmony and ultimately to disease. From this understanding we can see that aromas are also medicine in the context that they can be intelligently used to balance the subtle energy of our bodies. In Ayurveda specific aromas are prescribed to aid the healing process.
Touch is a very important aspect of Ayurveda. Through Ayurvedic massage, the body and mind are nurtured. The skin is seen as a receptacle of a variety of energies. Some forms of massage are aggressive while others are soothing. What type aids an individual’s healing process depends upon the constitution and the nature of the imbalance. Through the knowledge of Ayurveda, different oils are selected for each individual. These oils are chosen based upon their unique properties. Some are warming while others are cooling. Some nourish the body through the skin while others are less effective. In addition, specific hand motions are utilized to balance the subtle energies defined by Ayurveda.
These subtle energies are known as doshas or humors in Ayurveda. There are three fundamental doshas known as vata, pitta, and kapha. How they combine and in what percentages make up a person’s inborn constitution. No two people share the same constitution. This natural unique balance of energy is essentially an energetic blueprint of the person on the physical and emotional level. Through understanding the constitution we can predict where in the body weaknesses are likely to occur and thus take measures to prevent disease. Likewise, a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist can observe how the current balance of these energies is out of balance with their inborn ideal, and thus come to an understanding of how a disease took root in the body and began to grow. With this knowledge, regimes can be prescribed to re-establish balance and often reverse the effects. Our constitution can be described as an energetic template of our genetic blueprint. Our genetics have been shown to be the basis of our individuality. Our genetics control how we are likely to react to our environment and can also be used to predict predispositions toward certain diseases. They also determine our biochemical individuality. This individuality affects everything from our unique nutritional needs to how we respond to different drugs, foods, colors, aromas, temperatures and everything else in our environment. Indeed, if we can understand our constitution, we can begin to take conscious control over our choices and choose those that will lead us toward optimal health.
Have you ever wondered why we become ill? Do you lack the energy or vitality that you had years ago? Have you spent your time and money searching for a cure to what ails you only to walk away somewhat disappointed each time? Have you given up? Do you believe that perfect health is possible?
Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old healing science from India becoming increasingly popular in the United States, offers answers to the question: Can I become perfectly healthy again? The answer is yes, but the path is not a simple one.
Ayurveda is a journey into understanding ourselves and how we create disease. Ayurveda begins with helping a person to understand what their unique constitution or mind–body type is. Once we begin to understand this we can then understand how we interact with our environment. This is the most important gift of Ayurveda, because this allows us to control our environment in ways that create harmony instead of disease.
Ayurveda is based on the idea that we are all unique individuals with unique constitutions. As a result, each of our paths to create health is different. For instance, some people thrive on a vegetarian diet while others become weak or ill. In the same way people are not bothered by spicy diet while others get indigestion. These types of unique needs are not only true for diet but for every aspect of our environment including colors, sound, aromas, and work.
By helping a patient, an Ayurvedic practitioner starts by understanding the patient’s constitution and helps them control their environment in ways that can produce health for them. Treatment programs involve putting the patient on the appropriate food program, preparing herbs to assist healing, educating the patient about what colors and aromas support their well being and perhaps most importantly, analyzing the patient’s lifestyle to determine where there is harmony and where there is disharmony.
It is in the details of our lives that we often see the root origins of disease. We may find ourselves caught up in addictive habitual patterns of overwork. We may find ourselves moving quickly, rushing about like a speeding car late for an appointment, weaving in and out of traffic. Our illnesses, to follow this metaphor, may be likened to a car accident. The Ayurvedic doctor analyzes a patient’s life from a non-judgmental point of view simply looking for harmony and disharmony. Sleep patterns and eating patterns along with work are all examined.
Yoga and meditation are a part of the Ayurvedic prescription for perfect health. Both vigorously train the body and mind to manifest harmony. An Ayurvedic practitioner guides you in methods of yoga and meditation that are harmonious for your unique constitution.
Ayurveda is based upon an understanding of the three doshas. These are the forces that govern the functions of the body and the mind. It is the balance of these three forces that defines your constitution. While all three exist inside of each of us, the balance of them is unique. The three forces are known as vata, pitta, and kapha.
Vata is often likened to the wind. Its qualities are light, dry, cool and mobile. People with a strong vata nature tend to be light of weight, have long narrow bones, dry skin, and often feel cold. Emotionally individuals of vata nature or imbalance are prone to fear and worry. These individuals are most prone to diseases of the large intestine, immune system, nervous system and joints of the body. Constipation, nervousness, anxiety, colitis, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome to name only a few are diseases associated with vata imbalance. In order to bring balance to vata these individuals need heavier, more nourishing diets, greater calmness and stability and more oils in the diet.
Pitta is often likened to fire. Its qualities are hot, light, and slightly moist. It is unstable. People of strong pitta nature or imbalance tend to be of moderate weight with good muscle tone. They tend to feel warm and seem to sweat easily. Emotionally these individuals are prone to heated emotions such as anger, resentment and jealousy. These individuals are most prone to diseases of the small intestine, liver, spleen, thyroid, eyes and blood. Diarrhea, hepatitis, infections, hyperthyroidism, acne and other skin diseases are common during pitta imbalance. In order to bring balance to pitta, an Ayurvedic Doctor prescribes a mildly spiced diet, which is heavy or nourishing and slightly dry. Relaxation and play are advised and inner work to develop compassion is recommended. Herbs are prescribed to facilitate the process.
Kapha is often likened to mud, a mixture of earth and water. Its qualities are heavy and cool, damp and stable. People of strong kapha nature or imbalance tend to carry more weight naturally. They have thick bones and slower metabolisms. They have strong bodies. They are not necessarily overweight, however being stocky comes more naturally. If these individuals try to lose too much weight in order to look like societies idea of ideal, they will create imbalance, disharmony and disease. Emotionally people of kapha nature are most prone to melancholy, lethargy, and depression. These individuals are most prone to diseases of the stomach, lungs, pancreas and sinuses. Diseases such as diabetes, water retention, nausea, and congestive mucous conditions are common diseases of kapha imbalance. To correct an imbalance in kapha, an Ayurvedic practitioner prescribes a diet which is light, dry, and very spicy. Vegetarian diets are beneficial, and inner work to release attachments is advised. Herbs also facilitate the process.
While you may see yourself in these stereotyped descriptions, most of us are a combination of these three body/mind types. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you understand your constitution and prescribe a program of care to help you reestablish balance and hence to reestablish health.
The path of creating health is a personal one. It often leads into a deeper understanding of ourselves. While an Ayurvedic practitioner can be a guide on your journey, ultimately it is a path we walk alone. Good luck on your journey.
Most traditional and non-traditional forms of healing share some very basic and common similarities. While their methods may differ, they are alike in that each form of healing utilizes some external method to create a change in the function of the body.
The Medical Doctor uses drugs and surgery. The Chiropractor uses the spinal adjustment. The Homeopath uses a specific remedy and the Herbalist uses herbs. The Acupuncturist uses needles and the Body Worker uses his hands. With each method, the patient is a passive participant hoping to be healed by a skilled practitioner.
External healing techniques help to heal the symptom but ignore the underlying cause. Healing the symptom has value, it alleviates suffering and should not be ignored, but it is limited. Unless the underlying cause within the person is corrected, soon the person will unconsciously create a new illness to take its place.
I recall a patient I treated early in my career for stress induced headaches. I succeeded in alleviating this “symptom” with chiropractic care. He continued on with no internal change having been made. Years later, he died of a heart attack. Was this man really healed when he came to see me? I think not. His headache had been a smoke alarm warning him of a deeper fire. I unplugged the smoke alarm, but ignorantly allowed the fire to destroy his house.
The path of self-healing is not an easy one. In fact, it is the most difficult path because it is a path into the self. It is a path of self-discovery on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. This path encompasses one’s whole being and is the basis of holistic healing. This is a path that each person must walk for themselves; no one can walk it for them. Other people can serve as guides along the way: doctors, shamans, healers and teachers. However, choose your guides carefully. A helpful guide is one who is willing to teach you, but then is willing to let you walk your own path and does not demand that you walk theirs.
The path of self-healing is an arduous one. It often requires many stops along the way for directions. To succeed requires commitment, patience, self-compassion, and self-understanding. The path of self-healing is also very rewarding. This journey brings along with it many gifts. These gifts are more valuable than precious gemstones and makes all the work and time spent worth while. These gifts bring about our healing on the physical and emotional level that our growth spiritually. Good luck on your journey. Namaste.
Have you ever wondered why we become sick, or what the ultimate cause of disease is? These topics have been a personal interest for more than twenty-five years and have led me to the study of several alternative health care systems including Chiropractic, Homeopathy, Chinese Medicine, and Allopathic Medicine, in addition to Ayurvedic Medicine.
Understanding the cause of disease is profound and yet simple. If we can understand the cause of disease then we can begin the process of determining the cure. Each system of conservative and alternative medicine has its own unique perception of the cause of disease. Based upon this perception, each system sets about to develop a cure.
For instance, Allopathic Medicine, also known as traditional Western Medicine, looks to pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungus, etc.) as the cause of disease and based upon this model develops drugs to kill the pathogens. Chiropractors look at the cause of disease as mis-alignments or abnormal function of the bones of the spine. which creates an interference with nerve function. Thus, the cure is an adjustment or manipulation of the bones of the spine to correct the mis-alignment, opening the pathways for proper nerve function.
Every system of health care has its own model, and I have studied most along my journey. Too often I was left with a remaining question. Why? For instance, why do we become susceptible to the pathogens when we have an immune system which is supposed to keep us healthy? Why do the bones of the spine become dysfunctional? There must be answers. There must be deeper levels of cause. If so, then the pathogen causing an infection or the vertebrae causing nerve interference is only a symptom of some deeper underlying cause! I searched long and hard for that underlying cause and it was in the science of Ayurveda that I found it.
Ayurveda teaches us that all disease begins when we are living out of harmony with our environment. When we take in inappropriate impressions from our environment through any of our five senses, we weaken the body and create an internal environment which supports the creation of disease. In this environment bacteria, viruses and other pathogens thrive, and muscles tense and alter the function of vertebra interfering with nerve function. We could ay that energy flow is disrupted in the body.
The ramifications of understanding the cause of disease are numerous. Models can be created both to prevent and to treat disease. If disharmony is the cause of disease, then the recreation of harmony is the cure. This is what the science of Ayurveda is all about.
One realization of this model is that both the creation and the healing of disease is under our control. It is a disturbing thought that we participate in the creation of disease--but an empowering thought that we can also participate in the cure! Ayurveda takes health into the realm of personal responsibility, and once we enter that realm we are no longer random victims of the multitude of diseases that afflict humanity. In addition, we become empowered to participate in our own healing process!
Healing through Ayurveda involves all five senses. Through taste, we utilize proper diet and herbs. Through sight, we utilize proper color and beauty. Through smell, we utilize aromatherapy. Through sound, we utilize music and sound energies. Finally, through the skin we take in specially prepared herbal oils and receive massage. In addition to five sense therapy, Ayurveda advocates the periodic removal of accumulated toxins and food residues through specialized purification procedures called Panchakarma.
Ayurveda is not a system of healing in which everyone does the same practices. In fact, rarely are two programs exactly alike. Ayurveda sees each person as an individual with a different internal balance of energy called one's constitution. Understanding a person’s constitution allows the Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist, a certified practitioner of the science of Ayurveda, to set up a program of care specific for that individual. This program helps them to reestablish harmony with their environment, thus creating an optimal internal environment for healing to take place.
For instance, some people thrive on hot spicy foods, while for others it gives diarrhea and indigestion. Understanding the internal energy of the body, the Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist can predict the reactions a person will have and thus can recommend a food program specific to that individual, not only with foods but also with herbs, colors, aromas, etc.
An important part of a healthy lifestyle from an Ayurvedic perspective is relaxation and peace of mind. To this extent, Ayurveda utilizes meditation and yoga as healing tools. These two powerful tools have been well documented to reduce stress and aid the function of the immune system.
We do not have to be sick. Through unhealthy life practices, our bodies become weak. Through healthy practices, they can become--and remain--strong once again. Ayurveda is the science of reaching our full healing potential.
With the tools of Ayurveda, a person can take back control over their health and well being. These tools lead to the formation of an ideal internal environment which supports the healing process. It does not negate the value of using allopathic medicines in acute disease but simply gives a person a deeper understanding of the process of becoming optimally healthy.
Each person takes a journey when they become ill. The path back to health can be a difficult one. Ayurveda acts like a guide shedding light upon that journey; a teacher, sharing the tools and wisdom of the process; a counselor, supporting you as you travel; a healer, awakening the healer within you.