Mon | May 25, 2020

The art and science of Ayurveda

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Herbal tea with mint leaves and cloves.
Amitabh Sharma
Yoga – striking the equilibrium between mind, body, and soul.
In Ayurveda, the key to wellness is balancing three principal energies in the human body.
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Let us step away from the dreaded ‘C’ word that has engulfed us and focus on how one can focus on one’s well-being and how Mother Nature provides both the means and the solutions to balance one’s life. Both an art and a science, one of mankind’s oldest forms of plant-based wellness and healing methodology from India, which dates back more than 5,000 years, is Ayurveda (translated as ‘the science of life’ in Sanskrit), also referred to as ‘Mother of All Healing’.

Ayurveda finds mention in the ancient Vedic culture, and its knowledge was passed down orally from the gurus (masters or teachers) to their disciples for many thousands of years. This practice of wellness places emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle, and the use of herbs.

It is said that knowledge of Ayurveda enables one to understand how to create this balance of body, mind, and consciousness according to one’s own individual constitution and how to make lifestyle changes to bring about and maintain this balance.

Like many beliefs from India, where energy fields are at the focal point, Ayurveda also says that each person has a particular energy pattern – a unique combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics that comprise their own constitution. This constitution is determined at conception by a number of factors and remains the same throughout one’s life.

Many factors, both internal and external, act upon us to disturb this balance and are reflected as a change in one’s constitution from the balanced state. Examples of these emotional and physical stresses include one’s emotional state, diet and food choices, seasons and weather, physical trauma, and work and family relationships. Once these factors are understood, one can take appropriate actions to nullify or minimise their effects or eliminate the causes of imbalance and re-establish one’s original constitution. Balance is the natural order; imbalance is disorder. Health is order; disease is disorder. Within the body, there is constant interaction between order and disorder. When one understands the nature and structure of disorder, one can re-establish order.

Balancing the three energies

In Ayurveda, body, mind, and consciousness work together in maintaining balance. They are simply viewed as different facets of one’s being. Ayurveda identifies three basic types of energy, or functional principles, that are present in everyone and everything. Since there are no single words in English that convey these concepts, we use the original Sanskrit words vata, pitta, and kapha. These principles can be related to the basic biology of the body. Vata is the energy of movement, pitta is the energy of digestion or metabolism, and kapha is the energy of lubrication and structure.

All people have the qualities of vata, pitta, and kapha, but one is usually primary, one is secondary, and the third is usually least prominent. The cause of diseases, according to Ayurveda, is a lack of proper cellular function due to an excess or deficiency of vata, pitta, or kapha. Disease can also be caused by the presence of toxins. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of the five great elements – space, air, fire, water, and earth.

Vata, pitta, and kapha are combinations and permutations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation. In the physical body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta is the energy of digestion and metabolism, and kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure. To learn how to balance the body, mind, and consciousness requires an understanding of how vata, pitta, and kapha work together. Diet and lifestyle appropriate to one’s individual constitution strengthen the body, mind, and consciousness.

A complementary system of healing

Western allopathic medicine currently tends to focus on symptomatology and disease and primarily uses drugs and surgery to rid the body of pathogens or diseased tissue. However, drugs, because of their toxicity, often weaken the body. Ayurveda does not focus on disease. Ayurveda maintains that all life must be supported by energy in balance. When there is minimal stress and the flow of energy within a person is balanced, the body’s natural defence systems will be strong and can more easily defend against disease.

It must be emphasised that Ayurveda is not a substitute for Western allopathic medicine. There are many instances when the disease process and acute conditions can best be treated with drugs or surgery. Ayurveda can be used in conjunction with Western medicine to make a person stronger and less likely to be afflicted with disease and/or to rebuild the body after it is treated with drugs or surgery.

Evaluation and treatment of imbalances

Ayurveda encompasses various techniques for assessing health. Basic techniques such as taking the pulse; observing the tongue, eyes, and physical form; and listening to the tone of the voice are employed during an assessment.

Palliative and cleansing measures are used to help eliminate an imbalance, along with managing the causes of the imbalance. This includes the implementation of lifestyle changes, starting and maintaining a suggested diet, and the use of herbs. In some cases, participating in a cleansing program, called panchakarma, is suggested to help the body rid itself of accumulated toxins to gain more benefit from the various suggested measures of treatment.

Substances

Plant- and animal-based treatments in Ayurveda may be derived from roots, leaves, fruits, bark, seeds such as cardamom and cinnamon, and milk. In addition, fats are prescribed both for consumption and for external use. Ayurveda also uses alcoholic beverages, which are said to adjust the doshas. The sedative and pain-relieving properties of opium are also used in Ayurveda.

Global recognition

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises Ayurveda, among other complementary health systems. It is also a part of the 2013 WHO-WIPO-WTO TRIPS study on health innovation and access to medicines. The WTO mentions Ayurveda in its intellectual property strategy. Although Ayurveda originated in India, it has now become a common heritage of mankind, and millions of people around the world use its principles and techniques to lead a healthy life.

According to some sources, up to 80 per cent of people in India use some form of traditional medicine for personal wellness. The Indian government has a Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha Medicine and Homeopathy (AYUSH) for the development of Ayurveda in India.

In essence, Ayurveda touches all facets – the body, mind, and spirit and also recognises that each of us is unique, each responds differently to the many aspects of life, each possesses different strengths and weaknesses.

This ancient system of Indian medicine presents a vast wealth of information on the relationships between causes and their effects, both immediate and subtle, for unique individual that is in us.

As for coronavirus, it shall pass, but it will present us with a new ‘normal’, whatever that may be – the key, as this ancient system of wellness promotes – will be to strike the equilibrium between the mind, body and spirit. Right now, we need all the positive affirmations, however diverse we may be as humans, let us spread positive energies and help to heal each other.

Background information courtesy of the High Commission of India in Jamaica. amitabh.sharma@gleanerjm.com.