Ayurveda originated in India over 5,000 years ago and has continued developing and honing its craft ever since, so that today it forms one of the most popular and effective holistic (“whole-body”) medicines.
What is Unique about Ayurvedic Medicine?
Unlike conventional medicine, Ayurveda is holistic, meaning that it focuses on the entire body and mind, rather than solely on a specific illness or symptom. It is believed that Ayurveda was transmitted from the Gods, to the sages and then to the physicians, who recorded the medical knowledge in various sacred texts. One of these was Sushruta who wrote that Dhanvantari, the Hindu God of Ayurveda, was even incarnated on earth and shared medical knowledge to a group of physicians.
This centuries old medical knowledge is what enables your Ayurvedic doctor to help you heal in an effective and holistic way. This means they examine your health as a whole, and creates a personalised treatment plan designed to heal the whole body, and within this, the specific ailments, rather than targeting the ailments alone.
Because of this it isn’t easy write about the medicinal substances and ointments in isolation from the overall programme of healing. Medicinal substances and ointments are just as important as other parts of Ayurvedic medicine such as yoga, Ayurvedic diet and mindfulness. Here we will give you a brief introduction to the preliminary stage of Ayurveda medicine (determining the Doshas) and then provide you with information on some of the key herbs and substances used in treatment.
Preliminary Steps: the Doshas
According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are 5 basic elements from which living beings are constituted: Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
They combine in the human body to form 3 life forces: Vatta (space and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). Everyone has a unique mix of Doshas and, unless you are totally healthy and balanced, one of these usually dominates. Any illness or stress is usually rooted in the balance (or lack thereof) of the Doshas, and so determining these is essential for deciding which Ayurvedic medicines to prescribe.
As the most powerful Dosha, this life force controls the fundamental functions such as brain chemistry, breathing, blood flow, heart function, division of cells, and ability to get rid of waste through the intestines.
Grief, fear and staying up late can affect Vata
Inbalance in Vata can result in ailments such as anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems and rheumatoid arthritis.
This life force controls digestion, metabolism, and hormones linked to appetite
Overly sour or spicy foods and too much time in the sun can unbalance Pitta
Inbalance in Pitta can be the root of Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure and infection
This life force controls muscle growth, body strength, stability, weight and immune system.
Sleeping in the day, too much sugar or sweet food, too much salt/water can all unbalance Kapha
Inbalance in Kapha leads to asthma, cancer, diabetes, nausea and obesity
Medicines and Herbs
Massage, Diet, Meditation, Yoga, and digestive cleansing techniques all form part of the personalised program of Ayurvedic Medicine designed to balance your doshas. But what are some of the main herbs involved in their medicinal ointments?
Tumeric or Curcumin – used to relieve arthritis, depression, PMS amongst other things. Research has suggested that it is also anticarcinogenic.
The bark of the Arjuna tree – relieves angina, enhances collagen levels, and strengthens blood vessels
Rennet/Ashwagandha – Often referred to as “Indian Ginseng”, used to reduce cortisol levels and enhance testosterone
Triphala – A traditional Ayurveda medicine made of three indian herbs (haritaki, bahera and amla) to improve digestion and gut flora.
Holy Basil Ocimum tenuiflorum: A native indian herb taken as a tea to decrease pain and inflammation, as well as lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) :Name means “curer of a hundred diseases”. A species of asparagus that grows mostly in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and the Himalayas and that is now actually endangered due to increased demand, the roots of this plant are used as a tonic to promote female hormones.
Sesame oil: This seed is used in oil form for massages and promotes better sleep, nourishes skin and hair, helps to reduce stress.
Ayurvedic medicine can be undertaken at any time of the year: in the dry season you will be able to profit more from the outdoors, walking or hiking outside, but in the wet season the moist and free-from-pollutant air can promote a successful Ayurvedic detox, as the pores will open more (not to mention the cheaper prices!). SpaDreams offers Ayurveda retreats across the world so you have the option of experiencing Ayurveda in Europe and South Asia. There are many options available depending on your wish to travel near or far.
Before you start taking any Ayurvedic medicine, you should consult a qualified doctor. Especially if you already have significant ailments, please consult your doctor in your home country before booking and travelling to your Ayurveda retreat, as we would hate for you to be disappointed and to only be advised on arrival that you were unfit for the treatment. Depending on where you are from, vaccines for Typhoid and Hepatitis A may also be necessary for trips to south Asia.
Alternatives to Ayurvedic Medicine
If you decide that Ayurveda is not for you, but you are still looking to enhance your overall well-being, detoxify and bring your body back to balance, then SpaDreams is here to help, with a number of alternatives on hand!