The current trend to turn to nature to nourish, nurture and promote well-being, pushes us towards Ayurveda, the science of self-healing that enables a balanced existence in the universe. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian specialized system of natural medicine that helps to relieve diseases of both mind and body, and is even today a highly relevant medical science despite being 5000 years old. As one of the best methods of alternative healing, Ayurveda improves our quality of life even as disillusionment with allopathic and western medicine pushes us towards trying out less painful alternative remedies.
Most Indians follow simple Ayurvedic principles for self treatment, staying fit both physically and mentally, and ensuring that diseases are kept at bay, firmly believing that prevention is better than cure. The holistic lifestyle and practices recommended ensure healthy living that is both disease-free and devoid of stress.
Ayurveda literally means the science of life and is a unique amalgamation of science, religion and philosophy. It is based on the principle that man is an integral part of the universe and stays healthy as long as he lives in harmony with his environment. Disease sets in when an imbalance is created due to an adverse play of surrounding forces. Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to reestablish this balance. The individual is the point of focus in this science of healing, and each individual being unique, requires a distinctly personalized treatment for regaining health and wellness.
Thus Ayurveda treats by first identifying the person’s nature, then the disease that afflicts him and finally the herbs that can be used to improve his constitution and his ailment. All humans are composed of five basic elements of nature-earth, fire, space, water and air. These form part of the three doshas or the biological forces that perform the body functions. Dosha literally means the physical constitution, or biological type. The three types of biological constitutions are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and can be loosely translated as air, fire and earth respectively. Every human being is a unique combination of these three doshas, with one or more being predominant.
The Vata constitution combines air and space, and known to be cold, quick and dry by nature. This governs body functions depicting motion, like circulation, respiration, flow of nerve impulses in and out of the brain.
Pitta being a combination of fire and water, is hot and precision focused by nature. It is linked to the digestive system, processing of food, water and air in the body and metabolism.
Kapha, a combination of earth and water, represents a nature depicting steadiness and solidity. It governs body structure, muscles and fluid balance.
The doshas help an Ayurvedic doctor decipher the individual’s distinct constitution, and only then can he understand what treatment to prescribe for bringing back the balance needed. For him the disease and its etiology are equally important since the latter provides insights into the lifestyle, environment, food habits and external pressures on the patient in question, and how these have impacted his physical constitution. The Ayurvedic doctor examines the various parts of the body especially, the tongue, nails, hair etc., since these provide clues about inner well being. Kapha dosha gets aggravated by a low-activity lifestyle combined with rich foods including milk products and non-vegetarian food, while travel, a hectic pace of life and lighter food affect the vata dosha, and pitta dosha is aggravated by a highly intense, competitive lifestyle.
The prescribed remedies then keep in mind the person’s sense of taste, with color therapies to utilize his sense of vision, along with sound and aroma therapy to complete the treatment. Some herbs and their compounds, help to stimulate specific body functions, and some are used to suppress over active elements in the body. While these heal the body from within, external healing takes place through natural oil massage, and the mind heals through meditation.
Meditation and Ayurveda go hand in hand. While one heals the physical body structure, the other heals the mind. Ayurveda is known to help in balancing the mind in relation to the body, and while physical fitness and well being can be achieved through Ayurvedic supplements, mental peace and purity comes through meditation.
In keeping with the Hindu religion, keeping mind and body clean and pure, are an intrinsic part of Ayurveda. Though clean here implies freedom from toxins and detailed techniques have been evolved to achieve this. The digestive system forms the most significant point of focus in Ayurvedic science. The patient at all times needs to focus on the right lifestyle, purity of thought and action, and assimilating the elements of nature.
Self Healing Through Herbs
Ayurvedacontains a vast repository of treatments with herbs and plant extracts, and many people in India are well-versed with the beneficial therapeutic qualities of many that they use in their cooking. This is more a part of their general knowledge passed on from generation to generation, to minimize exposure to allopathic drugs and seemingly needless consumption of chemicals. Nonetheless, serious diseases and life threatening situations are seldom left to Ayurveda to cure, despite the claims of the science to be able to heal all and cure all.
Thus, Ayurveda for the common man is a convenient science of self healing, which entails identifying the problem, finding a herbal remedy and procuring the requisite herbs. While some herbs and roots need to be eaten raw, by simply chewing them, flowers and leaves are simmered in water to make an infusion, while the bark and roots are boiled to make a decoction. The time of day when these have to be taken forms an important part of the treatment.
Herbal home remedies
Herbs and plants help to reestablish the human connection with nature and the environment. Nature offers thousands of plants each with some beneficial properties but it may be difficult to delve into the therapeutic properties of each. These are used across countries but are found to be more extensively used in Asia. So, a few of the most commonly found herbs and spices, and often stored at home, have been listed with the remedy they offer.
- Ajwain/carom seeds are an effective treatment for stomach colic. They work as a digestive and relieve flatulence. One teaspoonful of ajwain mixed with a pinch of salt, chewed slowly, should help.
- Crushed neem leaves applied on an eczema patch heals and wipes it out without even leaving a scar. Neem or Indian Lilac has antibacterial and antifungal properties, while also working as a blood purifier. Though bitter, its medicinal value is tremendous.
- Equal quantities of ginger juice and honey, with a pinch of black pepper, can be mixed and kept. One tablespoon of this mixture in half a cup of hot water will help to get rid of a cold and cough. Honey, ginger and black pepper, individually too, have distinct healing properties.
- Licorice chewed in small quantities helps to get rid of the most stubborn cough. Alternatively, it can be boiled in water and drank 3-5 times a day.
- Infant colic can make both parents and the baby squirm. Boil 7-8 grains of anise/fennel seeds in a cup of water till it is reduced to half. One small spoon of this given to the baby will put an end to the pain.
- Any fall, accident or injury, leads to internal inflammation, bleeding and discomfort. Where external applications do not penetrate, a cup of hot milk with a spoonful of turmeric powder can. The healing becomes much faster. Turmeric is being increasingly recommended to all those suffering from arthiritis, since it reduces pain and inflammation.
- If nausea overtakes you or arthritic pains cause discomfort, ginger is the best thing to have. It works like an aspirin to reduce pain and helps to overcome nausea. It is also good for the heart since it helps to clear clogged arteries. Ginger tea is good for a common cold.
- A clove of garlic eaten first thing in the morning reduces cholesterol and prevents heart disease. Added to food it leads to less flatulence and hence aids digestion.
- Holy basil leaves are added to green tea when someone suffers from a severe cold, while the juice of its leaves helps cure eye diseases.
- Fenugreek seeds are good for treating digestive disorders and constipation, and are given to young mothers nursing babies to ensure more milk secretion.
- Amla, the Indian gooseberry is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C with significant microbial and rejuvenating properties, besides helping in easing digestion, reducing cholesterol levels and fortifying the liver.
Making informed decisions with Ayurveda
Ayurvedic herbal practices have been followed for hundreds of years, and have benefitted millions to stay healthy with strong immune systems that can fight infections lurking in the external environment. Ayurvedic medicinal practices are taught in specialized colleges located in all major cities in India, with government-approved degrees given to those who qualify as doctors. Knowledge and practice of this Indian science of healing have spread globally through the writings and teachings of qualified doctors like Deepak Chopra, who through his books like ‘Perfect Health’ and ‘Ageless Body, Timeless Mind’, offers a practical solution to people across the globe to harness the power of the mind and use Ayurveda in daily lives. He is largely responsible for the increased awareness about Ayurveda in the US.
Many misconceptions about Ayurveda exist in the Western world. It is not unusual to hear comments about it being linked to black magic, superstitious beliefs, charms and spells. The truth however, is that Ayurveda simply has religious connotations, tied as it is to Hinduism, and having been propounded by ‘rishis’ or ascetics in the Vedic period in ancient India.
However, serious illnesses must not be left completely to the healing prowess of herbs and investigative, professionally guided treatments and therapies must be adopted for life-threatening diseases. Ayurveda heals, and establishes wellness while promoting longevity and a good quality of life. Above all, there are no side effects-it may not do much good at times, for an ailment, but it will not cause any harm either. Allopathic drugs, we all know, are rife with side effects, and yet we continue to opt for them. Supplementing Ayurvedic medication with allopathic treatment when the need arises, must therefore, always be kept as an option.