Ayurvedic and healthcare
Ayurveda & modern medicine
As we learn more about Ayurvedic medicine we understand that its benefits are far reaching and all encompassing. Ayurveda isn’t a fad diet or something we can dip in and out of, it’s a lifestyle choice that puts your health and wellbeing first. Think of your body like a car; if we put the wrong things into it or don’t take care of it, it won’t run properly or could stop working altogether. The same is true of our bodies; when we fill it with processed, unhealthy or Dosha aggravating foods it won’t function as it should and we start to become unwell.
When this happens we’re all guilty of reaching for pills and potions that claim to cure us but in reality only mask the issue; to really heal ourselves we must first find the root cause of our illness and address this. As you continue on your Ayurvedic journey you’ll find you’re no longer just treating illnesses but preventing them from occurring in the first place, allowing you to live a happier, balanced life.
So how can we keep our mind and bodies healthy and running as they should be?
As we’ve learnt already, food and diet is an integral part of Ayurveda. An Ayurvedic proverb says:
‘When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.’
Our diet should be the first thing we address if we want to live healthy, happy lives. When we feel unwell, unbalanced or anxious our diets have the power to make us feel better and steer us back on the path to good health; start thinking of the food you eat as the medicine that will not only prevent illness but will help restore your health.
As we’ve learnt in Ayurveda, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. If you follow an Ayurvedic diet then you won’t need to perform regular detoxes, however these can be performed occasionally to allow the body to ‘reset’.
A detox works great if you find you’re suffering from a persistent complaint by helping kickstart your health; if you follow an Ayurvedic diet after a detox then detoxes do not need to be performed regularly. Try and detox in line with the natural world; in winter our digestive fire is strong and it becomes harder for our bodies to release toxins but in the Spring these toxins become liquid which the body can expel easier thus making it a great time to perform a deeper cleanse, this is also true for the Autumn season when detoxes should also be performed.
Our bodies expel toxins via our skin, our urinary tract, and our bowels. An Ayurvedic detox will incorporate warm self massage (Abhyanga) to release toxins via the skin, drinking herbs and spices in teas to cleanse the urinary tract and ensuring the bulk of toxins are released through the bowels.
The following are great foods and liquids that will assist in an Ayurvedic detox:
- Small amounts of sour fruits like cherry, grapefruit, lemon and lime
- Steamed green vegetables
- Mung beans
- Quinoa, rice and barley (limit all other grains and especially avoid bread and products made from white flour)
- Use ghee and flaxseed oil
- Avoid sugar and only use small amounts of natural honey
- Avoid all dairy and meat products
- Drink plenty of warm water, black tea and herbal teas made from lemon, cinnamon and cardamom. Avoid cold drinks and coffee.
During a detox avoid the following foods and drinks:
- Greasy foods with a high fat content
- Heavy foods
- Raw foods that the body tends to have trouble digesting
- Limit liquids immediately before, during and after meals
An important and powerful supplement to any Ayurvedic detox includes Triphala. Triphala is made from three fruits native to India called bibhitaki, amalaki, and haritaki which can be purchased from health food shops. It can be taken by all three Doshas and is great for regulating gut health, reducing acid and stimulating digestion. It is also an antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. Triphala can also be taken on a longer term basis once an initial detox has been performed.
As well as detoxing the physical body it is also important to detox the mind and senses. One of the best ways to do this is by a digital detox. Our modern lives are dominated by technology, think of how much of our day is spent on our phones, watching television or sitting at a computer. Start by spending 20 minutes a day without any electronics; take this time to connect with your senses and what’s around you. Smell some essential oils or take a walk in nature, pausing to appreciate everything you can smell, see, hear and touch.
Also use this time to detox your surroundings. Think about your home, your car, your workspace, all the places where clutter can easily accumulate, and get to work in decluttering these areas. Think about what you really need around you and be ruthless in removing anything that no longer serves its purpose. Having a calm, clutter free environment can bring about mental clarity and a sense of grounding.
For many the idea of fasting sounds stressful and uncomfortable, but fasting shouldn’t be about denying your body or being miserable. Some Doshas respond much better to fasting than others so will be able to perform them comfortably and for longer periods of time. Other Doshas will need to fast for a much shorter period of time and with more structure.
The goal of any fast should be to allow the digestive tract time to reset while ridding the body of any excess fat and waste. A fast should always be accompanied by a clear, open mind that has time to reflect, connect and understand why it is fasting and what it hopes to gain from doing so. Fasts shouldn’t last for long periods of time as this can have a detrimental effect on any Dosha and can cause damage to the digestive system.
Fasting and the Doshas
- Kapha – The Kapha Dosha is the Dosha best suited for fasting and can tolerate longer periods of fasting. A fast will naturally help rid a Kapha type of excess mucus, liquid and can help manage obesity. A Kapha type can fast for up to three days and should fast using clear fluids, avoiding all solid food. They should drink lots of warm water and herbal teas during fasting.
- Pitta – Pitta types have a naturally strong digestive fire and become hungry easily so restrictive or long fasts can be counterproductive. A Pitta fast should involve fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices and should not last more than one day. Pitta pacifying fruits and vegetables with bitter and sweet tastes are best for a Pitta fast.
- Vata – Vata types are the Dosha that struggle the most with fasting and should stop if they begin to feel weak or unwell. Vata types should only fast on Vata pacifying foods like juiced orange and mango or kitchari (an Ayurvedic dish made from basmati rice and mung dal).
Fasting and detoxing is not recommended for anyone suffering from underlying health conditions, who is pregnant, menstruating, or over the age of 75.
Healthy body, healthy mind
As Ayurveda is a holistic approach to wellbeing it’s emphasis is not only on looking after the physical body. Our minds and souls require nourishment too and one of the best ways to achieve this is through breathing and meditation.
Like the three Doshas that exist in the physical body, there are three energies that balance the mind. These are called Gunas and they are:
- Rajas – This is the quality that governs passion and movement, without it life would be static.
- Tamas – This is the quality that governs inertia and lethargy, this helps us relax and rest.
- Stavva – This is the pure balanced state of mind and is achieved when both Raja and Tamas are balanced.
Like our three physical Doshas it is important to ensure our Gunas are balanced too. When our minds are unbalanced we’re unable to think clearly about our needs or care for our bodies.
Take a breath
In our busy modern lifestyles we don’t pay much attention to our breathing. We do it unconsciously, often taking shallow rapid breaths which can lead to fatigue, disharmony and illness in the body. Ayurvedic medicine teaches us the importance of focusing on our breath and utilising our full lung capacity to keep oxygen flowing through the body, as well as keeping a clear mind.
Take 20 minutes a day to find a find clutter free and well ventilated space. Close your eyes and take deep breaths in through your nose, feeling your ribs expand, and then out through your mouth. With each outward breath imagine your body ridding itself of any bad thoughts or negative energy that you’ve been holding on to. With each in breath imagine your body absorbing all the wonderful healing properties of the universe around you, replacing any negativity and flooding the dark areas with light. This simple meditative technique will not only help balance the Gunas but remind you of the importance of paying attention to your breath.
There are a variety of different breathing techniques available to each Dosha; contact an Ayurvedic practitioner if you would like to learn more.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same is true when it comes to making changes to our lifestyle. Change can sometimes be difficult, especially if we’ve done something the same way for a long time, without ever questioning why. The true power of success comes from routine and if you start to incorporate Ayurvedic teachings into your daily life, no matter how small, you’ll soon start to see how Ayurveda can change your life for the better. We owe it to ourselves and our bodies to choose our health and wellbeing and start putting our needs first.