BASIC CONCEPTS OF AYURVEDA
The basic concept of Ayurveda is that throughout life our underlying nature remains the same but it is constantly influenced by various internal, external and environmental factors like day and night, seasonal changes, diet and more.
In order to maintain good health, it is important to maintain balance. If our balance is disrupted by poor choices in our lifestyle, this causes a lack of harmony, which makes us more susceptible to disease. Since we are responsible for our choices and actions, the only way that we can attain and maintain good health is if we make balanced choices that promote connectivity and harmony.
Five Elements Theory
The main theory of Ayurveda and Indian philosophy is the five elements theory, which states that all living and non-living beings in the universe are a combination of five elements with one dominant element that allows them to be identified and classified.
The five elements theory points to the similarity between humans and the natural world, highlighting that we are all made up of the same five natural elements: space, air, fire, water and earth.
Since human beings are part of nature, Ayurveda teaches us that we will remain healthy if we retain balance by interacting with our environment in a wholesome way, eg. by eating food from the natural world, within season that is usually harmonious with the human system and can be easily digested and absorbed.
The Body’s Building Blocks
Dhatus, of which there are seven, are the body’s structural building blocks: plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow/nerve and reproductive tissue. They are responsible for the functioning of all the systems and organs of the body and are the potential sites that the bio energies (doshas) can enter to cause disease. Each one is built out of a previous one and if one is defective, each successive building block is affected, triggering a chain reaction of impairment through the entire tissue system.
Each building block produces a kind of metabolic waste, which if not eliminated from time to time can become toxic. It is for this reason that Ayurveda recommends periodic ‘cleansing’ of the body (see Panchakarma)
Ayurveda uses various treatments to heal illnesses, such as detoxification, oil treatments, steam therapy, mental therapies and Ayurvedic massage. Where necessary, surgical methods are employed eg. to remove harmful growths.
Two of the most widely used therapies are Purification / Detoxification Therapy (Panchakarma) and Alleviating Therapy (Samana Chikitsa). Alleviating Therapy focuses on alleviating the aggravated doshas in the body via various internal and external herbal medicines alongside necessary lifestyle and diet alterations. For example, you may be recommended to maintain proper timings for eating and sleeping as this will support the body’s natural healing system. Extensive lifestyle changes may be needed in some cases.
Bio Energies (Doshas)
Ayurvedic philosophy maintains that people are born with bio energies (doshas) that govern all biological functions and that are responsible for the characteristics of the mind and body.
Our physical and psychological nature is therefore shaped according to the dominance of each of these energies in our system. In Ayurveda, the more we recognise and understand our own nature, the easier it is to tailor a personal diet and lifestyle that maintains optimum health and peace of mind.
There are three types of energies that govern all physiological functions of the body and mind: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They act as protective barriers for the body and each is assigned specific qualities and functions in health and illness.
This controls all movements of the body and mind including breathing, natural urges, tissue transformation, the nervous system, fear and anxiety. The major parts of the body relating to Vata are the large intestine, pelvic region, ears, bones and skin. If Vata is dominant in our system, we tend to be enthusiastic, energetic and quick in thoughts and actions. Where there is an imbalance however, we may develop insomnia or anxiety.
This represents all transformation processes in our body and mind and affects digestion, metabolism, hormonal functions, intelligence, perception, colour, complexion, anger and passion. The major parts of the body relating to Pitta are the navel, stomach, small intestine, blood, lymph, eyes, skin and sweat. When Pitta is dominant in our system, we tend to be intense, goal-oriented and have a strong appetite for life. Where it is deficient, we may demonstrate signs of aggression, anger, hatred, criticism and jealousy.
Kapha represents nourishment and protection in the body. It controls energy, immunity, attachment and knowledge. The major parts of the body relating to Kapha are the chest, throat, head, joints, lymph and fat tissue. When Kapha prevails, we tend to be easy-going, methodical and nurturing. Out of balance, Kapha leads to heaviness, sluggishness and congestion.
In Ayurveda, health is defined as the balance between mind, body, and environment. It is possible for each of us to achieve and maintain a vibrant and joyful state of health by identifying which bio energies (doshas) are dominant in us and then creating a lifestyle that sustains and nurtures our unique nature.
Diet and Nutrition
Whether employing a curative or preventive approach, Ayurvedic doctors highlight the importance of a good diet to maintain physical health. They believe that treatment without a proper diet plan will not give the desired results. Ayurvedic diet and nutrition practices are therefore integral components of treatment, recovery and disease management. Patients are advised to follow a new diet regimen during and after treatments. Dietary practices are tailored to each individual's constitution and are often accompanied by a personalised prescription of herbs and herbal formulas.
Ayurveda recognises both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Original Ayurvedic principles included eating meat infrequently for the treatment of certain diseases and conditions. Much of today’s meat, however, comes from ‘unwholesome’ sources – including animals not raised in their natural environment or on their natural diet. Meat is also not easily digested and decomposes very quickly in the intestines; this often results in the formation of toxins, which can harm the body. As such, any meat consumed should be of the utmost quality and eaten in moderation for specific nutritional benefits.
Stages of Imbalance
The wrong diet, habits, lifestyle, incompatible foods, seasonal changes, repressed emotions and stress factors all act together or separately to affect our body constitution and bio energies, and can lead to illness and disease. In Ayurveda, disease progression is explained in six stages, ranging from a slight imbalance in bio energies (doshas) to an incurable disease.
Diagnosis and Treatments
Ayurvedic doctors aim to achieve complete health for the patient rather than just alleviating troubling physical symptoms. They believe that only by diagnosing the root cause and eliminating it can genuine healing take place.
Ayurvedic doctors use three main methods of diagnosis to identify key symptoms and potential causes of imbalance and determine suitable treatment options. These are physical observation, pulse diagnosis and discussion to determine personal lifestyle factors.
Whereas Occidental doctors are normally only concerned with analysing diseases or laboratory results, an Ayurvedic doctor will not only examine the body, but will take an extensive personal and medical history, including questions about daily diet, profession and working conditions, exercise routines, relationships and mental health.
Instead of focusing on a specific treatment for a specific problem, Ayurvedic practitioners concentrate on techniques that will strengthen the healthy elements of the body as well as treating the unhealthy aspects.
In a nutshell, Ayurvedic doctors believe that both preventive and curative treatments are relevant. Preventive medicine maintains the health of those who are well whilst curative procedures aim to cure specific illnesses.
This approach seeks to create and maintain health and longevity within the individual. It puts an emphasis on defining each person's constitution and the creation of daily and periodic regimens to support that constitution and keep it in balance.
These customised health routines focus on everything from diet and exercise to herbal therapies, massage, meditation, social behavior and positive relationships.
A daily regime is devised to teach individuals how to arrange their daily life in order to nurture health and live a fulfilling life both emotionally and physically.
A seasonal regime helps increase the body’s adaptability and prevent health issues that may have been brought about or exacerbated by seasonal changes.
Herbs and Herbal Formulas
The supplements in Ayurveda are of a vegetarian origin as well as from animal products, metals, minerals, gems and semi-precious stones. They are processed in order to render them non-toxic, palatable and therapeutically more potent. No synthetic additives are used in the production processes.
The processes themselves have been carefully designed to preserve the therapeutic properties of the ingredients. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine, such as turmeric, ginger and neem, are now recognised as beneficial for heart health and as antioxidant-boosters. Toxic ingredients such as aconite, mercury and arsenic are made to pass through elaborate processes before they are used. Only minute doses are prescribed after their efficacy has been tried and tested over time.
Ayurvedic supplements not only cure the patient of diseases; they also provide immunity against future attacks. In normal healthy individuals, they help to revitalise the body cells, stimulate the immune system and support the body’s structural building blocks (dhatus). To help rid the body of deep-rooted toxins and a build-up of metabolic waste, Ayurveda also advocates periodic cleansing programme such as Panchakarma. Many of the herbs used at Landaa’s Spa & Ayurvedic Retreat are grown in the Retreat’s own Herb Garden, while our on-site Ayurvedic Pharmacy sells over 60 Ayurvedic supplements, tonics and medicines, many of which are produced exclusively for the Retreat. For examples of some of these herbs and supplements and their uses in Ayurvedic medicine, please refer to the Herb Glossary.