The Basics: The ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda, considered to be one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, has been healing people for centuries with its unique holistic view of the individual. Ayurveda teaches that good health comes from a balance of the body, mind and spirit, and that a body out of balance signals its needs through symptoms.
“In the Ayurvedic perspective, the body doesn’t ever create a symptom without a good reason,” says Dr. John Douillard, an Ayurvedic and chiropractic physician and director of LifeSpa Ayurvedic Retreat Center in Boulder, Colorado. “Every symptom is an attempt by the body to heal itself.” Ayurvedic treatments restore balance with therapeutic combinations of diet, exercise, yoga, massage, mediation, breathing, detoxification and healing herbs.
Ayurveda isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. The ancient healing practice classifies individuals according to three life forces, or doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. Each dosha corresponds to dozens of characteristics, including physical build, digestion, health strengths and weaknesses, and even personality.
Identifying your dosha—or your combination of doshas—allows you to tap into a wealth of Ayurvedic knowledge about your body. Vata types, for example, are usually thin, quick-thinking, creative, and may experience cool, dry skin and nervousness. Ayurvedic teaching recommends warm, grounding, heavy foods for vata types, along with calming physical exercise like yoga and Pilates.
Ayurveda teaches that one symptom can have several different causes. For example, heartburn can signal acid reflux or be a sign of emotional distress, Douillard explains. The practice also takes into account the interaction between mind, body and spirit in each patient to arrive at a diagnosis. “We are constantly looking at the individual who has a condition [rather than] the condition itself, then backing into the cause,” he says.
Scientific Support: Ayurveda has been a successful form of medicine for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise that scientific support for the practice is strong. Recent studies back the effectiveness of several herbal remedies traditionally used as Ayurvedic remedies, including turmeric, which is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant; Boswellia serrata, which has been shown to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis; Shilajit, which is rich in fulvic and humic acids that produce cell energy; and Terminalia chebula, which has anti-ulcer properties.
Complement to Western Medicine: According to Douillard, the goal of most Ayurvedic doctors is to support the body’s natural healing ability, while eradicating troublesome health symptoms as quickly as possible, which may mean treating patients with a blend of Ayurvedic and traditional Western therapies.
“I definitely look at a condition and its severity and sometimes make the judgment to work in concert with a medical doctor to make sure a patient is out of harm’s way and to be as conservative as possible,” says Douillard. However, Ayurveda can be a first line of defense for many non-threatening conditions since it supports the body in self-healing.
In some cases, additional treatments may be needed, such as more aggressive naturopathic therapy to eradicate the symptoms, followed by a course of Western treatment. “What is happening in our country is a great morphing of these systems working together,” Douillard says.
To find a qualified Ayurveda practitioner, look for one with a doctorate or bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery, earned through training in India, or a practitioner with a two-year certificate of study from a Western Ayurvedic school. The National Ayurvedic Medical Association provides a directory of sanctioned practitioners.
What it’s Best For: Ayurveda functioned as India’s only form of medicine for thousands of years and is designed to treat any health concern. “There really isn’t anything that I don’t look at through an Ayurvedic lens,” says Douillard. The therapy helps treat both chronic and acute problems, including allergies, digestive problems and skin conditions. A meeting with an Ayurvedic practitioner can also uncover an imbalance that has been brewing for 10 or more years, even if the symptoms have just appeared, explains Douillard.
The Beauty Connection: Ayurveda is all about restoring balance. When it comes to beauty, the focus is on healing the skin from within and draining the lymphatic system, which is closely tied to the skin’s appearance.
“[In Ayurveda] we want to make the skin function well,” says Douillard. “If skin functions well, it radiates. Skin not only lines the outside of your body, it also lines your intestinal tract, your heart and your arteries. So if the skin on the outside is unhealthy, toxic, sagging and lacking luster, the skin on the inside will be the same. Ayurveda cares for skin on the outside and inside.”
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