Western medicine is becoming aware of its limitations. Treating symptoms does not cure the root cause. Scientific approaches often leave the experience of the individual out of the equation. And so the rise of holistic medicine is dawning.
Holistic Medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness.1 Ayurvedic medicine is a form of holistic healing encompassing both physical and mental health.2
In India, Ayurveda is considered a medical practice along with what westerners would consider traditional medicine and is gaining favor in the west. The Sanskrit word translates to ‘knowledge or science of life’.3
While modern science supports some Ayurvedic practices, others extended into the realm of spirituality. For example, one of the assumptions made in Ayurveda is that man is a microcosm of nature. Man consists of five elements ether, air, fire, water, and earth, a reflection of nature.4
The five elements are associated with certain areas of the body and the senses.
The increased prevalence of one (or more) element differentiates the individual into one (or a blend) of three principals or humors referred to as tridoshas. Prevailing air and ether elements are Vata doshas. Fire and water prevalence are categorized as Pitta doshas. Earth and water element abundance is referred to as Kapha doshas. The tridosha classification is predictive of health trends, food preferences, energy levels, personality, psychology, intelligence, and more. An individual’s dosha is representative of their experience of life. There can be many different blends of doshas. Each individual will have a different makeup.
There are many different and fun Dosha Self-Tests online. Click here for a quick one.
Vata tends to be thin with low body weight. Their appetites variable often forgetting to eat. They are very physically active and have very restless minds. They often have a fearful, insecure, and unpredictable emotional state. They have a wonderful short-term memory, but often forget as time goes on. They often don’t sleep much or very well. Often, they spend money quickly and make impulsive financial decisions. 4
Vata’s are known for thinking outside of the box and are distracted easily. Their mood is affected by the context in which they are present.5
Pitta tends towards a medium body frame and weight. Pitta appetites may be excessive or unbearable. They are moderately active with minds aggressive and intelligent. Often they can be irritable, jealous, and aggressive. They have a very sharp memory and sleep little, but soundly. They are decent money managers yet like to splurge on luxuries.4
Pitta’s are known leaders, highly motivated, and determined. Often they must consider improving work-life balance.5
Kapha tends towards a thin frame and overweight body. Kapha appetites tend to be slow but steady. They can be described as lethargic with slow and calm minds. Their demeanor is often calm, greedy, and attached. Kapha has a slow but prolonged memory. The Kapha is good with money, saving much of it. They spend on food.
Kaphas are often integral support systems for others. They are very caring and often need encouragement.5
The goal of Ayurvedic treatment is to establish a balance between the bodily humors or doshas. These treatments include acupuncture, sound therapy, yoga, medications, allopathy, dietary changes, and herbal remedies.4,6
A key principle of Ayurvedic Medicine is that treatment before the purification of toxins from the body may only drive the toxins causing the issues deeper into the body’s tissue. Treatment typically begins with the elimination or at least the neutralization of the toxins within the body. Additionally, toxins are considered at the physical level as well as the emotional level.
Panchakarma is a five-level treatment structure in Ayurvedic medicine. This involves Vanama, therapeutic vomiting, or emesis; Virechan or purging; Basti or enema; Nasya or eliminating toxins through the nose; and Rakta Moshka which is purification of the blood.7
Vanama is often used to address accumulated Kapha dosha in the body. It is used to treat chest congestion and related issues. Therapeutic vomiting may be used for asthma, lymphatic congestion, indigestion, and more. Virechan is used to address accumulated Pitta dosha in the body. This may involve a therapeutic laxative to help purge the system. Basti or enema therapy is used to treat Vata-related issues. Accumulated Vata dosha is thought to reside in the large intestine. Nasya is the treatment of accumulated tridoshas in the sinus, skull, throat, and head. It may treat migraines, sinus issues, and convulsions. Various methods are used to open up nasal passageways to relieve the toxins. Rakta Moshka is used to address toxemia or the leaking of waste from the digestive system. This is used to treat acne, eczema, and hives. Often called bloodletting, this practice involves allowing a small amount of blood to be released. This triggers an immune response and releases pressure in the circulation system.
Emotional release is experienced in each of the Panchkarmas as well. Vata is associated with fear, Pitta with anger, and Kapha with attachment and possessiveness. Purging the body of these emotional toxins is achieved through yoga or what we may understand as mindfulness meditation. The emotion should be observed, not embodied or avoided. The observation should be conducted throughout the whole experience of the emotion. It is believed that repressed emotions cause many physical ailments that require medical attention or cause dysfunction within the body.
Criticism of Ayurvedic Medicine
The main criticism of Ayurvedic medicine is that some ingestible medicines may contain lead, minerals, or gems which may be toxic and dangerous.8 There is also a wide-ranging claim that Ayurveda lacks scientific evidence.9 Perhaps the greatest impact that ayurvedic medicines seem to have through a western science lens is through joint-related dysfunction. Butea monosperma flowers appear to shield joints from damage related to osteoarthritis. This flower is used in India to treat many different inflammatory conditions.
HerbClip, a series published on the American Botanical Council’s website, provides thousands of summations of research studies and botanical science papers discussing research, regulation, marketing, and responsible use of medicinal plants.9 Many of these plant medicines have been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic Medicine’s most promising impact may come from its impact on well-being. Ayurvedic interventions such as diet, lifestyle, yoga, and pressure point treatment are all associated with increased well-being.
Western medicine’s predilection to treat symptoms instead of causes (in many cases) has become problematic. With this idea becoming more and more widely held, it is only natural that we’d look elsewhere for cures and remedies.
Holistic Medicine seems to hold promise in resolving these concerns. Ayurveda is promising in that its practice for thousands of years means it has stood the test of time to some degree. It also focuses on plant-based remedies which may be safer. This orientation towards the natural world seems to be the most helpful piece Ayurveda can provide.
Considering where emotions reside in our body is something that western medicine has not considered in any mainstream way, for example. Many report emotional releases during yoga practice suggesting this phenomenon.11
As is stated in the site’s intro video, ‘the answers are right there inside of us‘. Sometimes we need to connect to the earth and others in order to find them.
- Vassant, L., 2019. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.