Ayurvedic medicine is a term referring to a 5,000-year-old system of traditional medicine native to India. According to Indian philosophy and its theory of evolution, the universe is comprised of five basic elements. These are air, fire, water, earth and ether. While these are present in all living things, within the human body they manifest as doshas.
The ultimate purpose of ayurveda is to connect the body, mind and spirit. It is believed that reaching this balance will encourage wellness and prevent illness.
This page will explore the Ayurvedic doshas and how they work. We will learn the benefits of Ayurvedic medicine and the guiding principles behind the therapy. We will also look at the cost of Ayurveda, what to expect from treatment and what qualifications a professional requires.
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What is Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurveda, meaning “the science of life” is a healing system. Your practitioner will create a programme personally suited to your problems. The programme will consist of a range of treatments they believe will be most effective. These may include massage, diet, herbal remedies, panchakarma and sweat treatments.
The main three doshas are bio-energies, which run throughout the body. Each of them has a specific site and function. The treatment is based on the principle that ill health is caused by an imbalance of forces in the body. The main objective of Ayurveda is to restore the body’s dosha equilibriums.
The difference between Ayurveda and conventional western medicine is that conventional medicine devotes most of its efforts to isolating the differences in disease. Ayurveda focuses on the qualities of each individual and how disease can affect a person differently.
The focus of Ayurveda is to prevent illness, rather than cure the body.
Despite this, an Ayurvedic practitioner would not reject the use of prescription medications. One of Ayurveda’s central principles is that we should utilise any healing modality that will restore balance to the body and improve health. This can include herbal remedies, dietary changes, psychotherapy, prescription medications and exercise.
What are the doshas?
Doshas are energies originated from the five basic elements; ether, earth, fire, water and air. The three human doshas correspond to the active elements, air (Vata), fire (Pitta) and water (Kapha). The ancient tradition believes that keeping these doshas harmoniously in balance is the key to good health and well-being.
In Ayurveda, the human doshas are believed to be manifestations of our body-mind types. Each one describes our individual characteristics, traits and tendencies. Generally, we are all made up of a combination of doshas, with one acting as the more dominant.
Pitta (fire) – Those with a dominant Pitta dosha are usually natural leaders. They will be confident, passionate and organised. But a Pitta dosha-overload can result in skin irritation, overheating, heartburn and ulcers.
Kapha (water) – Kapha types are loyal, kind-hearted, calm and loving. Too much Kapha can result in lethargy, weight gain, congestion and bad digestion.
Vata (air) – People with a dominant Vata dosha tend to be of a creative nature with lots of imagination and vision. If their dosha becomes unbalanced they may become anxious, forgetful and often uptight. Typical health issues caused by unbalanced Vata are bloating, anxiety or joint disorder.
Ayurvedic "guiding principles"
The premise behind Ayurvedic medicine is that the mind can influence the body into the direction of sickness and health. Ayurveda was developed as a system. It was a system to connect us to our own inner intelligence, to bring it to balance and in turn, bring balance to the body.
Ayurveda has seven basic principles for restoring and maintaining the mind-body equilibrium. These are still relevant today:
- Eat a colourful, flavourful diet.
- Sleep soundly at night.
- Engage in regular exercise that enhances flexibility and strength.
- Take time daily to quiet your mind and meditate.
- Cultivate loving relationships.
- End what does not serve you.
- Awaken your passion.
What to expect
On initial consultation with your practitioner, you will likely be asked to explain your diet, lifestyle, and mental and emotional states. You will likely need to take a detailed medical history. You may also be asked to have pulse and tongue readings or other forms of body examinations.
Usually an initial consultation will last for an hour or longer. It is important for the practitioner to make a detailed analysis and listen to what you have to say with great attention.
The analysis will help to diagnose the root cause of your dosha imbalance. This will allow your practitioner to select the treatments they believe to be appropriate. You will receive a tailor-made treatment plan that may include simple advice on diet and lifestyle. This may include what supplements could be beneficial to you, or any physical and psychological treatments such as massage, meditations or emotional counselling.
Ayurveda is an entire healthcare system; because of this it incorporates many Ayurvedic treatments. The practitioner will select and build what they believe is most beneficial into the treatment plan tailored to your symptoms. You may find that your personal plan is made up of mostly physical treatments, or a combination of different kinds. Your treatment plan really is at the hands of your practitioner and what Ayurvedic treatment they believe will best relieve your issue.
There are a range of Ayurvedic techniques. Your practitioner may include the following when creating your treatment plan:
- breathing exercises
- dietary changes
- herbal medicine
- sound therapy and the use of mantras.
Common Ayurvedic treatments include:
Panchakarma - This Ayurvedic treatment is thought to be extremely effective in cleansing the body and restoring a healthy metabolism. Panchakarma is comprised of five actions. These cleanse the body of the toxic materials left by poor nutrition and disease.
Imbalanced doshas cause a build up of unwelcome Ama in the body. Panchakarma aims to rebalance the doshas through pushing out the excess doshas and the Ama. This is through waste evacuation channels such as sweat glands, urinary tract and intestines.
Shirodhara - This treatment involves running a fine stream of warm liquid on the forehead. It is believed to be particularly effective for diseases that are connected with the eye, nose, nervous system, head and neck.
Nasya - This treatment aims to clear the channels in the head and neck. It involves cleaning out the nose with medicated powders or liquids.
Netra Tarpana - This treatment involves bathing the eyes with medicated oils. It is thought to be effective in treating eye fatigue and other eye issues.
Karna Purna - Karna Purna aims to help ease issues such as earache, tinnitus, deafness and lockjaw. It involves filling the ears with warm, medicated oils.
The benefits of Ayurveda
The Ayurveda system can treat a number of symptoms at once, depending on what your concerns are. Discuss with your therapist in detail the problems you are experiencing and why you wish to receive treatment.
Ayurvedic medicine claims to have many benefits and can treat a range of disorders. Ayurveda practitioners believe that this approach is an effective treatment for the following:
- digestive problems
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol.
Ayurvedic treatment for cancer symptoms
It is common for people with cancer to use touch therapies, such as aromatherapy and massage. Many people who have turned to these therapies have said they helped them cope with the cancer diagnosis and the symptoms.
According to Cancer Research UK, some aspects of Ayurveda can help to ease and relieve symptoms related to cancer. It is also said to improve quality of life. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine involves the use of many different therapies such as massage or meditation and is used to treat different kinds of illness.
Meditation for example is believed to be effective in reducing anxiety. Regular practise of meditation is also known to lower blood pressure and boost general well-being. Recent research has shown that practising yoga is effective. The results found that yoga can improve sleeping patterns in lymphoma patients, as well as reduce stress in people with prostate or breast cancer.
It is important to know that some herbal medicines may interrupt treatments. You may experience side effects when combining them with conventional medicines. It is recommended you check with your doctor before taking any form of treatment.
The cost will differ depending on the treatments suggested. Usually, the initial consultation will cost between £25 and £65. However this does vary between practitioners. Follow-up appointments often cost less than the initial meeting. Some Ayurvedic clinics encourage overnight stays for the more intensive detoxification treatments. This can be more expensive and may not be necessary.
If you are concerned about the cost of the treatments, get the full cost and treatment information during the initial consultation. This is best discussed before agreeing to any suggested treatment plan. It is also important for you to consult your GP before any treatments to ensure they are safe and will not harm your health.
How many sessions will I need?
The types of treatment mentioned above will usually last between one and two hours. The duration of your treatment will vary. It will depend on your personalised treatment plan and your practitioner.
If the practitioner suggests you take a combination of treatments, the cost will vary. Once you have had your initial consultation, you will be able to discuss the duration of the course.
In terms of how many sessions you will need, this will be included in your treatment plan, based on your personal diagnosis. Some people choose to carry on with Ayurveda once their course of treatment is completed. This is common as it can continue to promote good health and enhance well-being.
What training and qualifications should therapists have?
There are currently no laws in place about the training and qualifications an Ayurvedic practitioner should have to practice in the UK. While there are professional associations practitioners can choose to register with, it is not a requirement.
These associations should have their own code of ethics and complaints procedures. They also tend to have a set of requirements that individuals need to meet in order to become a member. The requirements will vary in each association but it is preferred that practitioners have had training and a certain level of experience.
Many therapists go on to specialise in a specific Ayurvedic treatment. For example, they may choose to specialise in meditation and massage, but not in herbal medicines. When considering visiting an Ayurvedic practitioner, you should ask:
- How long they trained for.
- What they are specialised in.
- How many years they have worked as an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner.
Ayurvedic therapists and practitioners listed on Therapy Directory have shown evidence of training and insurance, or are members of a professional body. You can find out more about this on our Proof Policy page.
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