The texts used by today’s Ayurvedic physicians, were written thousands of years ago and are based on the Vedas, ancient Indian scriptures written about 6,000 years ago, which means there is nothing new under the sun. Or should I say in the air, ether, fire, water or earth.Dr Hule, an Ayurvedic physician in Bombay, says that, “to understand the principles of Ayurveda is very simple. We are all aware that the entire physical world is composed of the elements, but through the study of Ayurveda we also understand that the bodily functions as well as our mental and spiritual beings are also related to the balance of fire, water and air (the elements) in each of us. We interact, affecting and being affected by the balance of these elements in our environment.”
Krishna, an office employee in Bombay, spent several years trying unsuccessfully to find a cure through Western “allopathic” medicine for his continued weight loss. An Ayurvedic physician felt his pulse and immediately determined that his “digestive fire” was weak and that he was unable to absorb the nutrients of his food. He was given some herbal remedies and advice on changing his diet: avoiding spicy or acidic foods like oranges, tomatoes, eggplant, spinach, chillies and radish – to bring his “pitta” or the fire side of his nature into balance. Within a few weeks he was beginning to put on weight and feeling less angry and aggressive.
I asked Dr Hule what such an ancient medical science could have to say about modern life. “Interestingly”, he said, “the facts about Ayurveda have been observed for thousands of years and are still being observed. For instance, Vata or air in the body is the principle of movement and sensation in the body. If, in our modern lifestyle we travel a lot, eat too much wind producing food (like cabbage and beans etc.) are hectic, using a lot of electronic gadgets, subjected to a lot of noise and drugs etc. then our Vata gets out of balance.”
He also explained that the principles of Ayurveda involve much more than just taking herbal remedies. There are many detailed methods of diagnosis, including the pulse and condition of various parts of the body, for example: the tongue, nails and hair etc. They used many techniques for cleaning toxins from different parts of the body, for example: ingesting natural substances that induce purging. Then, there may be various herbal treatments required to stimulate or suppress specific functions in the body. More importantly, feels Dr Hule, is the wealth of advice on lifestyle and meditation which the ancient treatises prescribe.
|Thin and slim build||Medium build, sharp features||Stout, big and well developed|
|Dry, rough, cracked skin||Warm, moist, pink skin (sometimes acne & moles)||Thick, white, oily, smooth & soft skin|
|Thin, coarse, dry, wavy hair||Fine, soft, red or grey hair, balding early||Dark, thick, oily, lustrous hair|
|Thin and small forehead||Forehead medium with folds||Broad and large forehead|
|Small brown eyes||Red, medium, piercing eyes||White, attractive, large eyes with thick eyelashes|
|Thin small, dry lips||Medium, soft, red lips||Large, thick, oily lips|
|Small, thin, dry nails||Soft, pink, medium nails||Large, oily, white nails|
|Dry, hard stools, constipation||Regular, loose, often burning motions, diarrhoea||Moderate, solid sometimes with mucus|
|No perspiration||Profuse, hot sweat with smell||Moderate, cold sweat often pleasant smell|
|Appetite variable||Strong appetite, irritable if meal missed||Constant appetite but can skip meals easily|
|Low weak hoarse voice||High pitch, sharp voice||Deep, pleasant voice|
|Quick, inconsistent, erratic speech, talkative||Moderate, convincing speech, argumentative||Slow, definite speech. Not very talkative.|
|Quick, adaptable, indecisive mental nature||Intelligent, penetrative, critical mental nature||Slow, steady, dull mental nature|
|Poor memory, observation good but forgets easily||Sharp, clear memory||Slow to take notice but will not forget easily|
|Fearful, anxious and nervous in emotions||Angry and irritable in emotions, futuristic||Sentimental, content, calm, attached in emotions|
|Erratic, rebel, changing faith||Determined, fanatic in faith. Good leader||Constant, loyal and conservative in faith|
|Light, disturbed sleep. Tends towards insomnia||Moderate sleep. May wake up and fall asleep||Heavy sleep, difficulty waking up|
|Flying, moving, restless in dreams and has nightmares||Colourful, passionate, fighting in dreams||Few, sentimental and romantic dreams|
|Likes travelling, dancing, jokes, stories, parks, and art||Likes sports, politics, painting and hunting||Likes business, cosmetics, flowers and lakes|
|Prefer warm climate, sunshine and moisture||Prefer cool and well ventilated place||Any climate is fine as long as it is not humid|
|Low strength, poor endurance, starts and stops quickly||Medium strength, intolerant of heat||Strong, good endurance, but slow in starting|
|Diseases of nervous system, pain, arthritis, mental disorders, constipation, sciatica, rheumatism.||Often fevers, infections and inflammatory diseases, rashes, hives, acne, diarrhoea and conjunctivitis.||Often respiratory system diseases, mucus, edema, colds, hayfever, cough, congestion, sneezing and sinus.|
|Difficulty in making decisions, changeable||Quick in making decisions, strong minded||Slow in making decisions and actions|
|Does not gain weight easily||Gains weight moderately||Gains weight easily|
|Spends money quickly||Spends money on luxuries||Saves money|
|Variable thirst||Usually thirsty||Rarely thirsty|
In the absence of an Ayurvedic physician, we can diagnose our own tendency towards a particular constitution according to Ayurvedic principles. We can discover if our constitution leans towards vata (wind), pitta (fire) or kapha (water). This can help us to know how an imbalance is likely to occur in ourselves. Using the principle of “like increases like”, if we have a kapha (water) dominant constitution then we may have a tendency to overweight, over-emotional nature or suffer congestion in the chest. So we should modify our diet and actions accordingly, for example, avoid sleeping too much in the day or eating too many sweets. The following table summarises the characteristics of the three bodily constitutions. By placing a tick against the statements which could describe us the best (more than one can apply), we can see where our own constitutional tendencies lie.
Sadly, the legacy of the British occupation of India for 400 years, was that this traditional Indian medicine was discouraged and Western medicine promoted. According to Ayurvedic physicians, only about 40% of the population in Indian cities consult Ayurveda physicians.
On the other hand, your average Indian mother-in-law may advise some simple ayurvedic cures for everyday problems like: toothache, cold or stomach upset. The kitchen cupboard provides many of them. For example, chewing on a clove for a toothache, inhaling the smoke from burning ajwain seeds to relieve congestion in nose and chest, ghee and camphor drops administered through the nose for sinus pain or even eating papaya seeds for intestinal worms.
The practice and philosophy of Ayurveda is not only to restore balance and ease the aches and pains of the body but also those of the spirit. Since ancient times, the message of Ayurveda has been to keep in a state of balance and to avoid extremes so that the existence of the Divine can be felt on the central nervous system. According to Dr Hule, the most important message of Ayurveda is that of getting a connection with the spiritual side of our being. That, together with the practice of meditation, you can avoid illness altogether and embark on your spiritual evolution beyond the elements of fire, air and water.