What Is Ayurveda?

Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India.

It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. But treatments may be geared toward specific health problems.

In the United States, it’s considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Ayurveda and Your Life Energy

Students of CAM therapy believe that everything in the universe – dead or alive – is connected. If your mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe, you have good health. When something disrupts this balance, you get sick. Among the things that can upset this balance are genetic or birth defects, injuries, climate and seasonal change, age, and your emotions.

Those who practice Ayurveda believe every person is made of five basic elements found in the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth.

These combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas. They control how your body works. They are Vata dosha (space and air); Pitta dosha (fire and water); and Kapha dosha (water and earth).

Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas. But one is usually stronger than the others. Each one controls a different body function. It’s believed that your chances of getting sick -- and the health issues you develop -- are linked to the balance of your doshas.

Vata Dosha

Those who practice Ayurveda believe this is the most powerful of all three doshas. It controls very basic body functions, like how cells divide. It also controls your mind, breathing, blood flow, heart function, and ability to get rid of waste through your intestines. Things that can disrupt it include eating again too soon after a meal, fear, grief, and staying up too late.

If vata dosha is your main life force, you’re more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis.

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Pitta Dosha

This energy controls your digestion, metabolism (how well you break down foods), and certain hormones that are linked to your appetite.

Things that can disrupt it are eating sour or spicy foods and spending too much time in the sun.

If it’s your main life force, you’re more likely to develop conditions like Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infections.

Kapha Dosha

This life force controls muscle growth, body strength and stability, weight, and your immune system.

You can disrupt it by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods, and eating or drinking things that contain too much salt or water.

If it’s your main life energy, you may develop asthma and other breathing disorders, cancer, diabetes, nausea after eating, and obesity.

Ayurvedic Treatment

An Ayurvedic practitioner will create a treatment plan specifically designed for you. He’ll take into account your unique physical and emotional makeup, your primary life force, and the balance between all three of these elements.

The goal of treatment is to cleanse your body of undigested food, which can stay in your body and lead to illness. The cleansing process—called “panchakarma”— is designed to reduce your symptoms and restore harmony and balance.

To achieve this, an Ayurvedic practitioner might rely on blood purification, massage, medical oils, herbs, and enemas or laxatives.

Does It Work?

There are a few state-approved Ayurvedic schools in the U.S. But there’s no national standard training or certification program for those who practice this alternative therapy.

The FDA doesn’t review or approve Ayurvedic products. In fact, it’s banned certain ones from entering the country since 2007. What’s more, the agency has warned that 1 in 5 Ayurvedic medicines contain toxic metals, like lead, mercury, and arsenic. These heavy metals can cause life-threatening illness, especially in children.

Always talk to your doctor before you try Ayurveda or any other alternative medical treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on November 01, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

The Ayurvedic Institute: “Panchakarma Overview.”

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAM): "Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction."

JIMSA: Herbal Remedies for Management of Constipation and Its Ayurvedic Perspectives.”

FDA: "Use Caution with Ayurvedic Products."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Heavy Metal Poisoning.”

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