12th Mar 2018
The world today is discovering an increasing growth of stress, conflict and ill health. But at the same time, there is also an increasing spiritual awareness and the need to live and think holistically.
This is one of the main reasons why Ayurveda today, is making a strong comeback, not only in India, but all over the western world.
AYURVEDA is a Sanskrit word derived from two roots: “Ayus” and “vid”, meaning life and knowledge respectively. It is a combination of science and philosophy, which details the many physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components necessary for healing. Ayurveda, therefore, represents a ‘science of knowledge’ pertaining to the body, the sense organs, the mind and the soul. Broadly speaking, it includes herbal medicines, dietetics, psychology, astrology and treatment using medicine and mantras..
The Vedas are ancient Hindu books of knowledge that are said to have been divinely revealed to the sages of India many thousands of years ago.
They contain within them the knowledge, the rhythm, and the structure of the universe and the secrets of sickness and health. Ayurveda, is part of ‘Atharva Veda’, (a Vedic system in practice before 4000 B.C.) which deals with Holistic living.
Drugs in the Ayurvedic system of medicine fall into three groups: vegetable products, products and animal products of mineral origin.
Vegetable products: plants, fruits, flowers, creepers.
Animal products: honey, wax, oils.
Drugs from minerals: metals like gold, silver, copper, iron, lime and gems
In Ayurvedic medicine each person is treated individually. Treatment is aimed at restoring the disturbed mechanism. The skill of the practitioner lies in assessing and identifying the individuals’ constitution (doshas), diagnosing causes of any imbalance and then deciding on the best possible treatment. It aims not only to cure diseases but also to create health and well-being.
Some of the elements of Ayurvedic medicine include:
- Detoxification by Panchakarma
- Herbal medication and therapies
- Meditation and prayer
Good health, according to Ayurvedic philosophy, is a state of balance between the mind, body, spirit, and environment. This balance, or harmony, is achieved through medicine, diet, yoga, lifestyle and meditation.
An Ayurvedic doctor can feel your pulse and instantly detect constitutional imbalances. The pulse diagnosis is amazing! It can be decoded to expose any physical and mental condition from the condition of your liver or stomach, to the functioning of your right ventricle of the heart or the left side of the thyroid. It can even detect the state of your mind– sad, depressed or happy.
OILS AND MASSAGE
Ayurveda encourages the external application of oils such as the abhyanga (sesame) or coconut oil. Application or massage of these oils nourishes the body and calms the mind. Another benefit is regular use increases elasticity of the muscles and ligaments and also helps to strengthen the bones.
The word, panchakarma arises out of two Sanskrit words: panch, meaning “five”, and karma meaning “action”. Panchakarma refers to five purificatory therapies used to cleanse the system and regain harmony of body and mind.
Pachakarma therapy, is a unique method of complete detoxification, and, is, as the Ayurvedic practitioners believe, the most effective system ever developed for the management and prevention of disease.
The five steps are:
1. Sneehana (Oleation): Medicated ghee consumed for softening of the doshas.
2. Virechana (Laxative): A laxative taken to cleanse the toxins from the body.
3. Abhyanga (oil massage): A massage to loosen the excess toxins from the body.
4. Swedana (Sweat treatment): A steam bath to open the pores for elimination of toxins.
5. Basti (Enema): An enema, to flush the loosened toxins out through the intestinal tract.
The universe consists of five elements – Either, Air, Earth, Fire and Water and the human body is composed of a combination of them. These elements are further combined to form three principal bio-energies known as the doshas.
These doshas are vata, pitta and kapha. Their influence affects all mechanisms of the body. Most individuals have a predominant dosha, which determines their body type, constitution and temperament. The role of the Ayurvedic doctor is to assess the effects of the doshas and counter the influence of those which are harmful.
By mixing different pairs of the five elements, one arrives at the three doshas.
- Vata is composed of air and space
- Pitta is composed of fire and water
- Kapha is composed of earth and water
These energies (doshas) move throughout the body and produce good and bad effects. The aim of Ayurveda is to bring them as nearly as possible into balance, the more balanced they are, the more healthy the individual is.
Doshas determine the individual characteristics of your constitution, type of illnesses that you are most likely to succumb to, and features and personalities that make you unique.
Interesting everyday observations that reveal the unique doshas.
AT THE AIRPORT
HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED?
Some passengers will be impatient and anxious, fretting and rushing around trying to find flight details – expressing a ‘Vata’ personality.
Others will be critical and angry, blaming the airline for incompetence expressing a ‘Pitta’ personality. While the rest will refuse to budge from their position, resigning themselves to the situation and patiently waiting for flight details – expressing a ‘Kapha’ personality.
Knowledge of your body type enables the Ayurvedic doctor to prescribe the right diet, physical activities and medical therapies ideally suited to you, ultimately helping you evolve to a more ideal state of health.
IDENTIFYING YOUR DOSHA
What is your dosha-type? Which of these traits apply to you?
Take a look at the following characteristics and see which you ones you identify with most.
THE PREDOMINANTLY VATA INDIVIDUAL
- A thin body which does not gain weight easily
- Irregular hunger and digestion
- Rough, dry skin
- Cold hands and feet, dislike of cold climates
- Light, disturbed sleep
- Eats quickly and irregularly
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Enthusiasm, vivaciousness, imagination
- Tendency to overexert
- Quick to grasp new information
- Tendency towards constipation
THE PREDOMINANTLY PITTA INDIVIDUAL
- A medium built that is neither too light nor heavy
- Medium strength and endurance
- Sharp intellect
- Enterprising personality that is precise and articulate
- Aversion to hot weather, perspires easily
- Fond of cold food and drinks, cool climates
- Possess leadership qualities
- Cannot skip meals
- Tendency to get angry and irritable easily; sharp mind and speech
- Intense hunger, thirst and good digestion
- Resents wasting time, lives by the watch
THE PREDOMINANTLY KAPHA INDIVIDUAL
- Powerful built, great strength and endurance
- Steady energy
- Self-contained, does not swing to any extremes
- Heavy bones
- Thick, oily hair and skin
- Tranquil, relaxed personality
- Slow to grasp new information, but good retentive memory
- Heavy, prolonged sleep
- Tendency to obesity
- Affectionate, tolerant and forgiving
- Tendency to inactivity and complacency
DIGESTION AND DOSHAS
In Ayurveda, good digestion is the key to good health. Poor digestion produces “ama,” a toxic substance believed to be the cause of illness. And good digestion is the result of sufficient “agni” or “fire” in the system, whose presence maintains normality in all functions of the body.
SPICES TO INCREASE AGNI (THE DIGESTIVE FIRE) ARE
- Black pepper
According to Ayurveda, most diseases are due to a weak digestive agni and imbalanced doshic functioning.
FOOD CATEGORIES: THE EFFECTS OF DIET AND LIFESTYLE ON THE MIND
It has been observed that the mind conforms to one of the three categories – sattvic (pure), rajasic (stimulating) and tamasic (base and ignorant). In Ayurveda, food is described as falling into these categories.
“From Sattva is born knowledge, from Rajas greed, from Tamas is confusion, delusion and ignorance.” – Bhagvad Gita
Sattvic foods tend to be alkali-producing and are the highest quality foods. They help to maintain the body’s health, increase strength, vigor and vitality, create physical balance and promote spirituality.
These include fresh vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, warm salads, lentils, yoghurt, milk, fresh butter, ghee, wheat, rye, barley, nuts, rice and honey.
Rajasic foods are of medium quality. They are high in protein and generate high levels of physical energy. These foods are heavy and hard-to-digest, especially if the digestion system is not very efficient.
These include sugar, sweets, meat, cheese, fish, fried foods, eggs, potatoes and other root vegetables.
Tamasic foods are low quality foods. These foods damage the health and can cause physical imbalance and impair mental function. They can cause hyperactivity in children and restlessness and agitation in adults.
These include tinned (except fruit), processed and contaminated food. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco are also tamasic foods.
Let us take the examples of the elephant, the tiger and the jackal.
The elephant is a ‘sattvic’ animal that eats only fresh, vegetarian food. It is a large, strong, gentle and intelligent animal that is friendly and amiable.
The tiger is a ‘rajasic’ animal that kills and eats the flesh of other animals. It is fierce, aggressive, restless and always on the prowl.
The jackal is a ‘tamasic’ animal that does not seek his own food but eats the leftover food of other animals. He is a fearful, lazy animal that is nocturnal and shuns daylight.
FOOD AND THE DOSHAS
All foods have vata, pitta and kapha qualities and your diet should be based on the prevailing dosha. Working out the right type of food plan needs the consultation of an Ayurvedic practioner.
Also each body type requires particular kinds of foods to balance the doshas. Being able to extract ‘life-giving-value’ from what you eat is of utmost importance.
LET US SEE WHY!
For instance, two persons are eating lunch in a cafe and both order a salad, some bread and a lemon drink. If one of the persons is a Pitta, this is a good meal because the foods ordered are cooling and therefore help to balance the Pitta dosha. If the other person is a Vata, this is not a suitable meal, as the lack of solid nourishment throws the Vata dosha out of balance.
After lunch, both the persons walk away feeling different, even though the meal that was consumed was identical. The Pitta feels buoyant and refreshed, while the Vata feels unenergetic and unsatisfied.
Taste is a very important factor in both diet and digestion. Ayurveda describes six fundamental tastes or flavors that should be a part of a balanced meal. Each of these tastes has their own specific therapeutic properties.
These are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
- Sweet: Strengthens the body tissues and harmonizes the mind.
- Sour: Is a stimulant and maintains the right amount of acidity.
- Salty: Maintains mineral balance and retains water.
- Bitter: Necessary for detoxification.
- Pungent: Improves digestion and maintains metabolism efficiency
- Astringent: Firms the tissues.
Fresh, wholesome foods
Fresh wholesome foods are the best foods for the body.
If they contain the six tastes as prescribed by Ayurveda, the body gets its nourishment and is also able to easily digest the food. These foods amplify the sattvic quality of the mind and should be consumed at every meal.
LIST OF FOODS TO AVOID AND WHY
These foods consume large amounts of fat, sodium and preservatives. Though these are convenience foods, they affect the body’s digestion process and cause imbalances in the doshas.
Defrosted, frozen foods lose their vitality and energy giving qualities. They are not considered sattvic in nature and can never truly nourish the body.
Ayurveda discourages the intake of large amounts of raw vegetables as it believes that the body has to work hard to digest raw foods. It encourages cooking of vegetables to facilitate easy digestion.
The dictionary describes fermentation as the transformation of an organic substance by agitation or intense activity. In fermented foods, the disintegration process starts even before the food is consumed. Therefore, these foods affect digestion and create ill health.
Refining foods is removing some of the roughage from these foods. This in turn diminishes the foods holistic benefits.
Fried foods make it difficult for the body to metabolize and digest them.
The excess heat and oil generates a rajasic influence and can create digestion problems and obesity.
HOT, SPICY FOODS
Excess spices create excess heat. This makes it difficult to digest the food. These foods also create restlessness and agitation of the mind.
THE WONDER FOODS
Ghee is considered an all-purpose, life-giving food. It is excellent for balancing the three doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ghee is used:
- As a cooking medium: Use it in place of oil for cooking food.
- As a flavoring instead of butter: Use it as a spread on breads, chapattis or rice.
- As a digestive: Add a teaspoon of ghee over food at the table during
How to make Ghee :
Commercial ghee is not recommended as it may not be made as per the Ayurvedic prescriptions.
Place unsalted butter in a saucepan over a low flame. Allow it to melt completely, and then increase the heat to medium. Skim off foam as it rises. When butter starts to boil, lower the heat again and cook on low flame for 10 minutes. The ghee is done when all the moisture evaporates and the milk solids at the bottom of the pan turn golden brown in colour (there will be a nutty aroma, but no burning aroma). Remove from heat, let it cool, and strain the contents into a container.
Buttermilk, in an Ayurvedic diet, is usually consumed at the end of a meal. A beverage like buttermilk enhances the ‘agni’ or digestive fire. It is also useful for treating conditions like diarrhea and dysentery.
Buttermilk can be served with a pinch of salt or even with cumin seeds, lightly roasted in ghee. For a person suffering from indigestion, roasted cumin powder is added to the buttermilk.
- 500 ml. curd
- 200 ml. water
- 50 gms. salt to taste
- Churn the curd.
Add salt and water and churn again. Add cumin seed powder for flavouring. Pour the mixture in a glass and drink this healthy drink.
Khichari is considered a ‘sattvic’ food and is good for all dosha types. It is easy to digest and provides a complete and balanced nutrition. This nourishing food is also used during the detoxification process of panchakarma, for recuperation and rejuvenation.
- 1 cup mung dal (yellow)
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 1 inch fresh ginger
- Small handful of cilantro leaves
- 2 tsp. ghee
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. coriander powder
- ½ tsp. cumin powder
- ½ tsp. whole cumin seeds
- ½ tsp. mustard seeds
- ½ tsp. salt
- A pinch of asafetida (hing)
- 8 cups water
Wash rice and dal together. Add 8 cups of water and cook the covered rice and dal until it becomes soft. Sauté the mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, hing, cumin powder and turmeric, together with ghee, in a saucepan and cook for few minutes. Now add these sautéed spices into the rice and dal mixture. Cook on flame until the khichari is done. Add salt and cilantro leaves. The khichari is now ready to be served.