An age-old form of healing

Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that originated in India. In Sanskrit, the word ayurveda consists of the words āyus, meaning “longevity”, and veda, meaning “related to knowledge” or “science”.

Ayurvedic knowledge was put into written form thousands of years ago in the sacred writings, the Vedas.

Diagnosis in ayurveda is based on three doshas or primary life forces within the body: vata, pitta, and kapha. These doshas are made up of five elements: air, space, fire, earth, and water. Vata governs air, which is contained or supported by space, pitta governs fire and is contained or supported by water, and kapha governs water and is contained or supported by earth.

When doing a diagnosis, an ayurvedic practitioner examines the patient’s tongue and observes the appearance of the skin, lips, nails, and eyes.

Each person is thought to be born with a combination of the three types of doshas, with one or two dominant doshas determining our physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. An imbalance among the doshas is believed to cause illness.

People with vata as their main dosha are believed to be quick-thinking, thin, and fast, and are susceptible to anxiety, dry skin, and constipation. People with pitta as their primary dosha are thought to have a fiery personality, oily skin, and are susceptible to heart disease, stomach ulcers, inflammation, heartburn, and arthritis. People with kapha as their main dosha are thought to be calm, have a solid body frame, and are susceptible to diabetes, obesity, sinus congestion, and gallbladder problems.

I first discovered ayurveda when I visited an ayurvedic hospital in Sri Lanka as a journalist in the mid-1980s. Not long afterwards, I was myself treated by an ayurvedic doctor in Kathmandu in Nepal. I had a very bad dose of hepatitis, and was directed to an ayurvedic practitioner who was an expert in treating the ailment. He was Vaidya Mana Bajra Bajracharya, who was not only a reputed healer, but also a learned teacher who wrote a series of books about ayurveda. He has since died, but his son is continuing his work in the clinic.

In Kathmandu, I discovered the bitter-tasting herbal powders used in ayurveda, and followed the doctor’s instructions to stick to a very simple diet (with plenty of papaya), and get lots of rest. I was soon completely well.

Diet is part and parcel of ayurvedic treatment and, while it is essential to have a healthy lifestyle, each dosha is helped or aggravated by different foods and drinks.

Massage is also a main element of ayurvedic treatment and practitioners gear the massage according to the dosha or doshas that need balancing.

My basic overall constitution (or prakriti) is pitta, but I have a strong vata tendency, so need to be careful not to aggravate either dosha, not least as I am now at a vata time of life. I now take the herbs shatavari and brahmi daily (shatavari is best known as a rejuvanitive for women, and is very balancing for pitta, and brahmi has long been valued as a cardiac, nerve, and brain tonic; it’s an antioxidant that helps reduce anxiety and is used to treat a wide variety of ailments).

Books like The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai are very helpful, with lists of foods that suit the various doshas. Each recipe includes the effect on each dosha. The way you cook and serve any particular vegetable or fruit is critical. Aubergine, for example, needs to be cooked with a minimum of oil. It suits vata and kapha if it is warm and spiced, but pitta people need it cooked with cooling dill.

There are some vegetables, like green beans and asparagus that suit all the doshas and the spices coriander, cumin, and turmeric are good for everyone.

In ayurveda, the aim is to go to the source of a person’s imbalance, not just treat the symptoms. It is a form of medicine that is becoming increasingly popular in western countries, not least the United States.

This is one website I like that is based in England: ayurveda-yoga.co.uk

It’s a great place to order ayurvedic herbs and teas, and learn more about this age-old form of healing.

This is the link to the Vaidya Mana clinic in Nepal:Piyushabarshi Aushadhalaya clinic