By Jennifer Rioux, PhD, AD, C-IAYT, AYT
For people who are interested in learning more about Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medicine of the Indian subcontinent, we offer this guest post by Jennifer Rioux, PhD. She is a Doctor of Ayurveda, a Certified Yoga Therapist, and an M.Div. Candidate in addition to being an anthropologist.
What Is Ayurveda?
‘Ayurveda’ means: the Science of Life. As such, Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic system of health and healing that focuses on whole-person care, nature-based remedies, and the power of diet, lifestyle and daily routine to maximize our health, prevent disorder and disease, and correct imbalance.
Ayurveda is the original personalized medicine. It comprises 5,000 years of theory and practice that orient care around the original constitution of the patient and how the patient has qualitatively and quantitatively veered away from their constitutional baseline – resulting in imbalance.
Five Elements Form Three Doshas:
Ayurveda is based in five-element theory: space, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements combine into three sets of pairs, which are referred to as the doshas. Dosha translates as “that which becomes vitiated” (imbalanced or disturbed.) The goal of the Ayurvedic practitioner is to apply remedies, in a collaborative manner with the patient, that will redirect the doshas back to their original baseline, which represents a state of health for that individual.
The doshas are: Vata – space + air; Pitta – fire + water; and Kapha – water + earth. Each of the doshas is associated with a set of qualities that characterize their structure and function; the organs and substances in the body with which they are associated; and the primary ways in which they manifest as imbalance.
Learning about Ayurvedic Medicine:
One of the most important tasks of the Ayurvedic practitioner is patient education. The practitioner identifies the original constitution of the patient and the patient should recognize themselves in this portrayal. Likewise, the practitioner paints a picture of how and why imbalance was able to take root in the body-mind-spirit and the patient should resonate with the Ayurvedic depiction of their health history and the causal pathways leading to their presenting symptoms. This understanding allows the patient to be a full participant in guiding their care, reducing risk, and preventing disease.
Ayurvedic assessment techniques include traditional diagnostics like face, tongue and pulse reading. In addition, a practitioner will interview the patient about past illness, family history, stressors, health priorities, etc. and find out about the patient’s typical routines, meals, relationships and coping strategies.
Ayurveda to Treat Root Causes:
Ayurveda is a gradual system of medicine, which means that it may take some months to achieve a desired result; however, these results are sustainable over time, as the imbalance is being corrected from its root cause. This is one of the hallmarks of Ayurvedic medicine: Ayurveda treats root causes and, in doing so, ameliorates current symptoms while preventing additional symptoms or comorbidities from occurring.
Ayurveda encompasses a whole-systems perspective, indicating that all symptoms in the body-mind-spirit are not only related but can be traced back to a finite set of root causes. Once these root causes have been identified, the health of the individual can be improved immensely, in an enduring way.
Ayurveda for Chronic Conditions:
Ayurvedic medicine can be useful in treating acute conditions, but especially excels in treating chronic illness and lifestyle-related diseases. Ayurveda offers an opportunity to understand disease manifestation in a comprehensive and individualized manner. Remedies may include: dietary modification, changes to lifestyle and daily routine (sleep, exercise, self-care, etc.), herbal remedies, medicated oils, light, sound and color therapy and the therapies associated with yoga, such as asana, meditation/relaxation, or breathwork.
The evidence base for Ayurveda is growing and many more studies on the effectiveness of Ayurveda for common ailments have been published in the last two decades. Biomedical practitioners now often collaborate with Ayurvedic professionals on patient care, in the spirit of integrating all medical wisdom.
About the Author:
Jennifer Rioux, PhD, AD, C-IAYT, AYT, is a medical anthropologist, Ayurvedic clinician, educator and researcher. She is available for Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga Therapy consultations, mentorship of students and providers, workshops, retreats and the traditional intensive Ayurvedic detox and rejuvenation therapy, known as Panchakarma. Her website is https://www.integralayurvedayoga.com. Other contact information: email firstname.lastname@example.org and phone 520-302-8568.
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