Priya Kulasagaran looks at into Ayurveda, and finds that it is more than just about oils and massage treatments.
Ayurveda’s roots dates back to thousands of years, with its workings written down in ancient Hindu Vedas, or scriptures.
While the foundations of Ayurveda were laid down by Hindu philosophers, its practice and development has been more cultural than religious.
Like many traditional healing systems, Ayurveda is based on the principle that the universe and everything in is composed of five elements – air, water, space, earth and fire.
These elements, in various combinations, are said to form the basic doshas (or humors) of the human body; the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha doshas.
The Vata dosha comprises space and air, and is connected to circulation, respiration and the elimination of waste.
Combining fire and water, the Pitta dosha is related to body temperature, digestion and metabolism.
Finally, the Kapha dosha represents earth and water, and is associated with the immune system, as well as distributing fluids in the body, such as lubrication to the joints.
Each individual has his or her unique mix of doshas, and practitioners believe that people have their own ideal balance of the humours to maintain a healthy life.
The key principles that inform Ayurvedic therapies involve processes which aim to rejuvenate and cleanse the body.
By using remedies such as herbal medicines, meditation, massage oils and yoga, the overall aim of treatment is to restore balance in one’s body.
Broadly, these therapies can be categorised into three main types; purification, pacification, and nourishing therapies.
Usually, practitioners will prescribe pacification as the first form of treatment – this tends to involve a change in diet and activity.
This includes eliminating food which are said to aggravate diseases, and using techniques such as yoga to relax the body and mind.
These may be supplemented by therapies and herbal concoctions to improve the body’s strength.
Purification meanwhile, is employed when a practitioner feels your body is in dire need of some ‘cleansing’.
With the panchakarma therapy for instance, involves detoxing the patient through methods such as purging and even medicated enemas; these more severe techniques however are said to only treat symptoms of a particular disease rather than curing it.
What to expect
Since Ayurvedic treatment focuses on rebalancing the doshas, an Ayurvedic practitioner will not only ask you for your medical history, but also detailed questions about your lifestyle.
This may include questions about your diet, habits, as well as surroundings.
The practitioner will also check your pulse, examine your tongue, eyes, nails and skin to take note of any symptoms reflecting the underlying imbalance.
The most immediate recommendation by practitioners is usually a lifestyle change, particularly diet.
Other simple treatments include pranayama, which encompasses breathing exercises to help calm the mind and make you relax; and abhyanga, an Ayurvedic oil massage to improve blood circulation and draw toxins out of the body through the skin.
Yoga is also a popular prescription, as it is said to be an ideal form of exercise to balance all three doshas.
Aside from toning the entire body, yoga postures are also said to help cleanse internal organs of toxins.
Different yoga poses are said to have different effects; for example, twists are good for kapha dosha because they stimulate digestion.
Research carried out on yoga so far indicates that it can be helpful improving blood circulation and digestion, and alleviate anxiety, and chronic pain.
Yoga has also shown to be useful for those who wish try out meditation, as it helps calm the mind and relax the body.
Purification treatments are more cautiously prescribed, and these include sweating, and the cleansing of the bowel by way of laxatives or even enemas to remove toxins from the body.
More severe ways of cleansing described in Ayurvedic texts include forced vomitting and blood-letting – but many modern practitioners do not carry out these methods as they can be harmful.