A Beginner’s Guide to Ayurveda

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You may have heard about it in a yoga class, but how much do you really know about Ayurveda? One Medical Group is proud to bring the ancient science into our practice with the introduction of integrative practitioner Siri Chand Kaur Khalsa, MD, in our new Phoenix office. Here are the fundamentals of Ayurveda and how it can help you stay healthy.

What is Ayurveda and how is it different from Western medicine?

The traditional healing modality of India’s Vedic culture, Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that is thought to be between 2,000 and 5,000 years old. Ayurveda focuses on balancing energy in order to prevent disease. In the US, Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that may be used in conjunction with allopathic medicine. An Ayurvedic practitioner will often offer suggestions to support healthy sleep, exercise, diet, and meditation practices that may help offset the need for expensive interventions or medications.

How does Ayurveda work?

Ayurveda is rooted in a couple of key principles. First is the concept of interconnectedness: The mind, body, and spirit must be balanced in order to achieve optimal health. The second principle is based on the notion that every person has a unique, consistent pattern of energy, known as prakruti, that is made up of physical, psychological, and emotional­ characteristics determined at conception. According to the Ayurvedic system, factors like emotional states, food choices, seasonal changes, and relationships can disrupt the balance of prakruti, leading to disorder and disease.

In addition to these principles, Ayurveda theory references three types of energy (doshas) present in everyone and everything. Each person’s prakruti comprises a unique combination of the three doshas, which are composed of the five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth.

  • Vata (space and air) is the energy that governs movement, and is responsible for bodily motion.
  • Pitta (fire and water) is the energy that controls digestion, metabolism, and energy production.
  • Kapha (water and earth) is the energy that governs the structure of the body and binds the cells that form muscle, fat, and bone.

Is Ayurveda safe?

Ayurveda therapies incorporate herbs and supplements as well as individualized body treatments such as Abhyanga, a massage with warm oils that are sometimes medicated with herbs to address particular imbalances. Although these techniques are generally considered to be safe, it’s important to discuss any treatments or supplements with your primary care provider, as some can interact with pharmaceuticals.

Does it work?

There is limited research on the effectiveness of Ayurveda, although some studies indicate that many of the traditional methods have scientific credibility. “The current research model for assessing treatments does not merge easily with Ayurvedic philosophy.  Ayurvedic treatments are highly individualized and rely on supporting foundational elements such as the relationship with the provider or specific lifestyle adjustments,” Khalsa says. “Although studies have demonstrated the efficacy of Ayurvedic botanical blends to help control diabetes and hypertension, this is an incomplete view of how broad Ayurvedic treatment programs are oriented.”

How does an Ayurvedic practitioner assess my health?

Ayurvedic practitioners are trained to evaluate the signs and symptoms of disease and imbalance through a variety of techniques. In addition to a physical exam, a practitioner may check your body’s rhythms via your pulse on both wrists, and observe your tongue and eyes. Once your practitioner has established a diagnosis, he or she may make diet and lifestyle recommendations based on your prakruti and current health concerns, or recommend herbs to restore balance.

How do I keep the doshas balanced?

Many Ayurvedic techniques for restoring balance and achieving optimal health are rooted in diet and lifestyle changes. A trained Ayurvedic practitioner can provide tailored guidance for your particular prakruti, but a few basic principles for balancing the doshas are:

  • To balance vata, keep warm, avoid cold food or extremely cold temperatures, eat warm foods and spices, stick to a regular routine, and get plenty of rest.
  • To balance pitta, avoid excessive heat, limit salt intake, eat cooling, non-spicy foods, and exercise during the cooler part of the day.
  • To balance kapha, exercise often, avoid heavy foods, avoid dairy and cold foods and drinks, eat light, dry food, avoid napping during the day, and keep a varied routine.

How can I learn more?

Khalsa recommends Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing: A Practical Guide, written by Ayurvedic physician and executive director of The Ayurvedic Institute, Vasant Lad, M.A Sc., as a reference for beginners. Can’t wait for your Amazon order to arrive? Banyan Botanicals offers a prakruti quiz, and The Ayurvedic Institute has guidelines for determining your constitution, although for best results, you should work with a trained Ayurvedic practitioner.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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