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Ayurveda (Ayur = life force or vital energy, Veda = science) and the Ayurvedic diet are essential examples of alternative Indian medicine. Associated with Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, Ayurvedic medicine has garnered great popularity in the West due to authors such as Deepak Chopra - Indian-born American author, public speaker, and alternative medicine advocate.
The premise of Ayurvedic medicine lies in the balance of the three doshas - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which represent biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. Two other essential elements of this holistic treatment are the Ayurvedic diet and the Abhyanga massage.
Despite the fact that Western medicine has reached popularity all over the world, Ayurveda medicine, originally from India, has had a significant influence on medical culture across the Asian continent.
Ayurvedic diets are based around vegetable products, minerals, and metals, as well as physiotherapeutic and surgical methods. In this sense, Ayurvedic medicine is similar to Chinese traditional medicine which is also popular for highlighting the importance of holistic treatments as general health promoters.
The scientific community regards Ayurvedic medicine as pseudoscience seeing how its principles are not based on solid scientific evidence but on a theoretical and philosophical model that is presented as science. Nevertheless, many researchers agree that certain principles from the Ayurvedic diet could reach scientific status with enough time and thorough investigation. (Manohar, 2009).
With the expansion of the Internet and other social phenomena associated with globalization, the Ayurvedic principles have reached all corners of the world and they advocate treating illnesses and leading a balanced way of life via the three doshas, or vital life fluids.
Deepak Chopra is the biggest supporter of the Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle in general and he is responsible for raising awareness on Ayurveda in the United States (and subsequently all over the world). Chopra's statements and philosophy are, however, controversial because of his theory of quantum healing and the assertion that this method can cure cancer (Park, 2005).
According to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, the doshas are three biological energies found in the human body and mind - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, whose balance is strictly connected to our overall health. The doshas are influenced by our diet and habits, thoughts, but also by climate changes and time zones.
Everyone possesses doses of the three doshas and as stated by Ayurvedic tradition, each individual is governed by one or two of the doshas. Nevertheless, the ideal version would be to obtain a balance between the three - a primary goal in Ayurvedic diets and medicine.
From a conceptual point of view, the Indian doshas are similar to the personality types described by Hippocrates and Galen in their Theory of four humors. This hypothesis was wildly popular in the Golden Age of ancient Greece and continued to rule the relevant literature until the development of modern medicine, around the 20th century.
The Internet is a reliable source of quizzes meant to reveal your dosha body type. These tests function similarly to personality tests and ask questions related to habits, body type, and emotional reactions, among others.
The Vata (air) dosha governs movement and communication and is typically identified with air, movement, cold, dryness, light, and clarity. When out of balance, people who have a Vata dosha tend to feel nervous, and anxious.
This is the essential dosha as it represents movement and it helps activate the Pitta and Kapha doshas. This is why, in typical Ayurvedic diets, patients are instructed to focus on balancing their Vata first.
Ayurveda medicine can help alleviate Vata imbalances such as nervous system ailments, rheumatism, bloating, and other digestive problems.
The Pitta (fire) dosha governs transformation, intelligence, understanding, and the digestion of foods, thoughts, emotions, and experiences; it governs nutrition and metabolism, body temperature, and the light of knowledge.
Any imbalance in the Pitta dosha will result in elevated body temperature, reddening and burning sensations. An excess of pitta is recognizable via inflammations and infections.
The Kapha (water) dosha represents the watery energies of love and compassion. This dosha hydrates all cells and systems lubricates the joints, moisturizes the skin, maintains immunity, and protects the tissues, and it is highly relevant in Ayurvedic diets.
An excess of Kapha dosha might result in weight gain and mucus, breathing ailments, and edema.
According to Ayurvedic tradition, people who have a Kapha dosha have a robust body, and a calm, and pacifist personality.
Moderation is at the forefront of the Ayurvedic diet, and the same principle is applied to sleep and sexual activity which as a whole emphasize the balance between body and mind.
Therefore, Ayurvedic medicine recommends avoiding sedative foods such as meat, blue cheese, and alcoholic beverages. Irritant and stimulant foods are not seen as dangerous but they are not beneficial either, examples being coffee, tea, salt, and the ginkgo biloba plant.
Another defining aspect of the Ayurvedic diet is incompatible foods, also called viruddha ahara or asatmya, and it references food combinations that can cause digestive problems. In a typical Ayurvedic diet, for example, it is not advisable to mix dairy products with meat, fruit, or leafy greens.
Sattvic diet is a diet based on foods in Ayurveda and Yoga literature that contain the quality sattva. In this system of dietary classification, foods that decrease the energy of the body are considered tamasic, while those increase the energy of the body are considered rajasic.
The main foods that are recommended in Sattvic diets are fresh, seasonal products such as legumes, fruit, whole grain, dry fruit, seeds, milk and any milk derivates.
“Abhyanga” or “Abhyangam” (meaning oil massage) is one of the terapeutic characteristics of Ayurveda medicine. This oil massage is focused on using dosha-specific herb oils and can be performed as part of the panchakarma therapy or as its own therapy.
The Ayurvedic massage is one of the basic practices in Ayurvedic therapy and it is customary to follow an Abhyanga session with a warm bath that stimulates perspiration - svedana, as it is known in Ayurvedic treatment.
Generally speaking, Abhyanga is performed by one or more specialised messagists trained in Ayurvedic methods of therapy, althought, self massaging is also possible.
Aside from balancing the doshas, the Ayurvedic massage is also intended to detox the body, relax the joints and muscles, soothe the skin and balance the body and mind.
Frawley, D. (1999). Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-healing and self-realization.
Manohar, P. R: (2009). The blending of science and spirituality in the Ayurvedic healing tradition. En Paranjape, M. R. (Ed.), Science, spirituality and the modernization of India”.
Müller, R. F. G. (1933). The tridosha doctrine traced to breath as soul.
Park, R. L. (2005). Voodoo medicine in a scientific world. En Ashman, K. & Barringer, P. (Eds.), “After the science wars: Science and the study of science”.