Ayurveda FAQ

The amazing, inspired 2nd Annual Sivananda Ayurveda Conference closed with a panel discussion among all three esteemed participants: Dr. Marc Halpern, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, and Dr. Avinash Lele.

• Can one learn Ayurveda without learning Sanskrit? The goal for most teachers and practitioners of Ayurveda is to make the wisdom accessible to everyone. However, sometimes Sanskrit, the original language of Ayurveda, can be challenging for some people. More common terms are often substituted to simplify one’s understanding. In doing so, many of the “secrets” and layers of meaning contained within Sanskrit terminology is lost. So this must be factored in and a balance created between common terms and classical Sanskrit.
• What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra? According to Dr. Marc Halpern, the #1 benefit is to balance vata dosha. Because vata controls the other doshas, there are really no limits to the number of diseases that yoga nidra can help to heal.
• How does Ayurveda purify the mind? During the conference, cleansing and purifying the body was frequently discussed. What about purifying the mind? How does Ayurveda address this? Meditation is a powerful way to purify the thoughts that constantly occupy most people’s minds, and deep meditation reveals the peaceful soul that resides in each of our hearts. Herbs are also beneficial, as well as herbalized nasya (oil applied to the nostrils). It is important to note that purification of the body has the additional benefit of purifying the mind. 
How easy is it to cultivate herbs used in Ayurveda? Often medicinal herbs grown in a non-native environment may look beautiful, but they won’t necessarily offer the same medicinal benefits as when grown in their native environment. For decorative effect this isn’t a problem, but if the intention is medicinal, it is best for the environment to be as similar as possible to the native environment, otherwise the properties are likely to change.
In what way is surgery utilized in Ayurveda? According the Dr. Lele, an Ayurvedic doctor and surgeon, the intention with Ayurveda is always to do “the least possible harm” when treating people. Ayurveda usually starts with the most gentle therapies before progressing to more invasive ones. So “the knife is used only when necessary.” Quite often herbs and other modalities are equally as effective, without the invasiveness of surgery.
What are the benefits of oatmeal? Warm, cooked oatmeal is very beneficial for building ojas, the inherent strength of the immune system. It is especially good for balancing vata and pitta. However, it is difficult to digest (as are most ojas-building foods), so it needs to be well-cooked and taken with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and fennel in order to stoke one’s agni (digestive fire). 
What is the best way to learn about local plants in one’s community? If possible, find a knowledgeable local herbalist, ideally someone native to the land, and study with him or her. Learning the many complexities of herbs is a huge subject, so couple this with studying the principles of herbalism as taught in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Western Herbalism. One rule of thumb in identifying the properties of plants found in the wild is that in general, deep green plants are cooling and anti-inflammatory, and red-leafed plants tend to have a warmer energy. Roots are heavier and leaves are lighter, although many exceptions exist.

Many thanks to the amazing teachers who so generously shared their wisdom in this conference! We look forward to the 3rd Annual Sivananda Ayurveda Conference, scheduled for January 2016. Details will follow! Meanwhile, watch for occasional additional posts with important tidbits gleaned from these Ayurveda masters…

Posted by Dr. Marisa Jackson-Kinman