Considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science, Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health that is designed to help people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. The term Ayurveda is taken from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life or lifespan, and veda, meaning knowledge. It has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years and has recently become popular in Western cultures. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies.
There are two main types of Ayurveda: traditional and Maharishi. Maharishi is a version of traditional Ayurveda based on translations from the classical texts by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Both types of Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe herbs, believe that disease results from an imbalance in the doshas (see below), and use many of the same remedies for treating illness. Maharishi Ayurveda, however, emphasizes the role of supreme consciousness in maintaining good health, and promotes transcendental meditation (TM) as a way to experience the pure consciousness of the universe. It also highlights the expression of positive emotions and the need to attune your life to the natural rhythms of the body.
How does it work?
Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurvedic beliefs, each person has a distinct pattern of energy -- a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is also believed that there are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:
- Vata—energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and heartbeat. When vata energy is balanced, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
- Pitta—energy that controls the body's metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and temperature. In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.
- Kapha—energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. In balance, kapha is expressed as love and forgiveness. Out of balance, kapha leads to insecurity and envy.
Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, and strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.
From a Western medical perspective, stress relief seems to be one of the ways Ayurveda works to help fight illness. For example, studies have found that transcendental meditation, a component of Maharishi Ayurveda, lowers anxiety. Other studies have found that Ayurveda lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, slows the aging process, and speeds recovery from illness. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine have antioxidant effects, which means that they may help protect against long-term illnesses such as heart disease and arthritis. Many Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend a vegetarian diet, which is believed to be better for your heart than diets containing red meat.