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.
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