Ayurveda does it Work
Over three thousand years ago in Britain, disease was rife and life short. In India, meanwhile, medical students were studying atomic theory and debating evolution. Ayurveda - ancient Indian medicine - is generally accepted to be the forerunner of all the great healing systems of the world.
Ayurvedic physicians were taught psychiatry and paediatrics, toxicology and surgery, as well as general medicine. They also studied six systems of philosophy: logic, evolution and causality, yoga, moral behaviour, pure knowledge and even the theory of the atom.
No modern medical student has so thorough a grounding in such a broad spectrum of disciplines.
Today, a growing number of people in the West are turning to ayurveda, knowing its physicians have a battery of techniques at their fingertips, including herbal preparations as well as massage and manipulation. Aromatherapy and sound therapy may also be used, while yoga, meditation and breathing techniques are recommended.
Ayurveda has highly effective beauty treatments, and its detox regime, called panchakarma, is beloved of Hollywood stars and the Duke of York.
In ayurveda, the link between the mind and the body is the key, whereas conventional Western medical practitioners seem not to connect the two.
Linking mind, body and soul
The word ayurveda means science of life - and ayus (life) is defined in the ancient scriptures as the combination of body, mind and soul.
Each of us is said to have our own eternal life energy, like a spark from the universal fire - we are separate yet part of the whole, linked with other people and with the universe.
It is not enough to make changes purely on the physical level - health and well-being come about by achieving harmony within ourselves and within our society.
Many people find when they adopt an ayurvedic lifestyle, health problems disappear, energy levels rise, sleep improves and weight usually balances itself out without the need for diets.
Balancing the elements
Put at its simplest, ayurveda teaches that the world has five states of matter. Ether represents space - both the space things take up and the space within them. Air represents the gaseous substances in the universe, and Water represents liquid. Fire is radiant heat and energy, while Earth represents all solid substances. The human body is composed of the five elements, and an excess or lack of one or more can cause imbalance, leading to illness. Ayurveda came up with a kind of shorthand for working out imbalances: three forms of bio-energy known as doshas. Vata produces movement in the body; pitta produces heat and is responsible for the metabolism; while kapha produces growth and structure. The whole aim of ayurveda is to balance the doshas to restore health.
Which dosha dominates you?
VATA: Vata people are small as children and grow up to have a slim build. A typical vata will always seem to be hurrying. If you are a vata, your appetite is irregular: you often can't finish a large meal. You sleep lightly and may suffer from insomnia. You're prone to headaches, eczema, nervous disorders, wind or constipation. Vatas tend to be enthusiastic, creative thinkers who hate routine.
PITTA: Pitta children are of average build. Adults have a firm, often muscular, build. Their skin is soft and may be ruddy or freckled. Pittas put on weight but lose it with relative ease. If you are a pitta, you have a purposeful walk and a good appetite. You sleep regularly and soundly. The illnesses you are prone to are heart-burn, inflammation and fevers. Pittas are strong-minded people. Natural leaders, they are perfectionists who embrace routine.
KAPHA: As children, kaphas are large and plump. Adult kaphas are heavy-set. They like their food, but can skip meals without ill effects. Kaphas walk slowly and sleep heavily. Their illnesses tend to revolve around congestion, fluid retention or excess mucus - bronchitis and asthma are typical. Kaphas are rarely ruffled. They avoid stress at all costs and like regular routine. They make great team players and keep projects running smoothly.
Balancing the doshas
If you're a VATA, you should:
• Strive for regularity and routine. Always sit down to eat - don't snack on the run. Go to bed at the same time each night (preferably early, around 10pm).
• Learn to recognise the signs that you're going into overdrive, and use meditation to slow down.
• Though you love high-energy sport, take only gentle exercise - try hill-walking or low-impact aerobics.
• Avoid loud music, flashing lights and computer games. Calm, creative pursuits such as water-colour painting could be helpful.
• On holiday, pick a beautiful spot and stay there - give yourself sun and warmth and relax.
• Your diet should include warm, heavy foods, and sweet fruits which are easy to eat. Avoid chilled drinks and raw food. Never eat dry food, frozen foods or leftovers.
• Keep physically and emotionally warm, by making sure you have a safe, caring environment. Saunas and steam rooms are good for Vatas.
• Learn to express your feelings. Vatas often find it hard to speak their minds.
If you're a pitta, you should:
• Keep your cool - in all ways. Steer clear of steams and saunas. If you have a warm bath, rinse off in cool water afterwards. Go outdoors often, but stay in the shade.
• Introduce spontaneity into life. Try taking a walk 'for the hell of it'. Lounging in the garden or gazing out of the window is therapeutic.
• Cool your natural competitiveness and fire with water sports and skiing.
• Avoid the spicy foods, meat and alcohol you love (pittas are curry and beer or steak and red wine types). Cut right down on oily foods, caffeine and salt, too. Fruit and vegetables, milk, soft cheeses and ice cream will calm you. Wholegrains are fine, and greens provide a bitter taste to balance pitta.
• Watch that temper. Try anger management classes or taking up a martial art to channel it safely.
If you;re a kapha, you should:
• Let go. Kaphas hang on to everything: weight, people, emotions.
• Loosen up and trust a little.
• Get out of your rut. Taking the odd chance or allowing the pulse to speed up will give sluggish kapha energy a boost. Vary your route to work; shift the furniture round in your office or home; if you always have a drink at 6pm, go for a walk instead.
• Get your system moving by giving it a bit of a shake-up. Try a sport or night class. Keep your activities varied - if you do aerobics, try step or kick-boxing; if you do circuits, try a run.
• Kaphas need exercise - try to incorporate some activity into every day.
• On holiday, challenge yourself to learn a new activity. Kaphas tend to slide straight on to a sun-lounger and stay there.