Ayurveda (Sanskrit for "knowledge of life") is an ancient Indian medical system and one of the earliest therapies to advocate a holistic approach to healing. Its recorded origins go back over 4,000 years to the Vedic civilisation of India where it is part of the Vedas, the classical religious texts of Hinduism.
What can Ayurveda treat?
Ayurveda claims to be able to treat most conditions. Common uses include:
- musculo-skeletal conditions
- genito-urinary conditions
- digestive complaints
- circulatory complaints
- respiratory complaints
- skin conditions
- ear, nose and throat conditions
- blood-related conditions
- rheumatism and arthritis
- heart disease
- metabolic problems
- kidney and gall stones
- anxiety, insomnia and tiredness
- as a way of life to promote health, strength and longevity
Ayurveda treats the patient and not the illness; it aims to prevent disease and promote health. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, everything – including ourselves – is composed of five elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. These are manifested in our bodies through three doshas or humours: vata (air), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm). Each person usually has one or two dominant doshas.
Doshas determine body type, character and constitution. A person whose dominant humour is vata, for example, is likely to be creative, active, alert and restless. Physically, he or she will be small-boned and dry-skinned. Pitta-types are intelligent, aggressive, easily irritated and usually of medium build. Kapha-types are tend to be calm, caring and heavily-built.
All ill health – both emotional and physical – is related to disturbances in the three doshas and, in order for a person to stay healthy and happy, their natural balance must be maintained. If vata people are ‘balanced’, they will be vibrant, enthusiastic and imaginative. Out of balance, they could feel restless, tired, anxious and prone to certain disorders. Using a blend of Yoga, meditation, herbal medicine and dietary advice, an Ayurvedic practitioner will prescribe a treatment which is unique to the patient and which will help balance the doshas.
Consultation and treatment
During an initial consultation, the practitioner will examine the patient thoroughly to get an idea of their illness and of their general condition. Detailed questions about the patient’s personal and family history and lifestyle may also be asked.
Diagnostic tools include taking the pulse and examining the voice, the tongue, the eyes, the skin and general appearance.
Once a diagnosis is made, the practitioner may then recommend dietary changes to rebalance the doshas and prescribe herbs or minerals. In some cases, the practitioner may begin treatment with a cleansing and detoxifying regime which includes the use of enemas, laxatives and vomiting as well as sauna. Other typical treatments include massage with oils, oil baths, meditation and Yoga as part of a daily regime. Treatment is tailored to the individual and will depend on dosha, constitution, age, the season and the kind of disease.
The exact type and length of treatment required depends on the nature of the patient’s condition.
Costs start at £35 an hour.
There are many books which can help you establish your dosha and work out a basic Ayurvedic regime. However, the Ayurveda Company of Great Britain recommends that Ayurveda always be practised with the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Treatment will often include advice about diet and lifestyle that can be carried out at home.
How to find a practitioner
The Association of Ayurvedic Practitioners holds a register of over 40 Ayurvedic doctors around the UK. Each practitioner will have completed a five year, full-time course in Ayurveda in India and can use the initials BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) after their name. In October 1999, a three-year full-time BSc (Hons) in Ayurvedic Medicine will be launched at the Thames Valley University. Contact the Ayurveda Company of Great Britain or the Ayurvedic Medical Association UK for more information.
Ayurveda is a complete system of healing. Some herbal remedies are not compatible with orthodox drugs; seek advice from your GP or Ayurvedic practitioner.
Enemas and other purgative treatments, which are sometimes used during Ayurvedic treatment, are not suitable for babies, young children, pregnant women or the elderly.