A guide to Siddha, Ayurveda and Unani medicine
When we fall ill, we often turn to conventional medicine to help alleviate our symptoms. For some people, however, they may prefer to take a more natural approach. This is where holistic medicines, such as Siddha, Ayurveda and Unani can come into play.
Whilst it’s important to recognise that these approaches should be considered complementary to treatments given via the healthcare system, here, we’re going to focus on what these therapies offer and the differences between them.
What is Siddha medicine?
Siddha medicine is one of the oldest traditional healing systems originating from India. It is very closely related to Ayurveda, though is more focused on rejuvenation. The name ‘Siddha’ can be translated to mean ‘one who is accomplished.’ Practitioners of Siddha medicine are known as ‘Siddhars’. Their objective is to prolong life by following the laws of nature. With this in mind, Siddhars believe that each of the five elements of nature (earth, fire, air, water and ether) is connected to the human body. For example, earth is present in our bones, hair and skin. The element of fire is present in hunger, thirst and sleep. Water is present in bodily functions like blood and sweat.
How does Siddha work?
The system of Siddha believes that there is a link between the macrocosm (the world) and microcosm (the human body). In both Siddha and Ayurveda, there are three key components of the human body, known as the doshas. These are vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (water). The proportions of these elements in the body are thought to influence the overall health of the body. When there are imbalances, ill health may be caused.
- vata relates to the pelvic area
- pitta correlates to the stomach
- kapha occupies the regions of the head and breath
In Siddha medicine, diagnosing imbalances within the body can be done by looking at the pulse, tongue, speech, eyes and skin, for example. Once a diagnosis has been made, Siddhars use plants, herbs and minerals (such as mercury and sulphur) medicinally to support recovery. Some examples of the conditions that Siddha medicine can help treat include:
- skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema
- rheumatoid arthritis
- autoimmune conditions
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is another of the traditional Indian healing systems that takes a natural and holistic approach to physical and mental health. Whilst Siddha focuses more on overall health and curing imbalances, Ayurveda tends to be more disease-orientated, closely looking at prevention.
The term ‘Ayurveda’ can be translated to mean ‘knowledge (or science) of life.’ Similarly to Siddha medicine, Ayurveda also believes that imbalances within the body – caused by the dosha’s not working in harmony – can lead to ill health. As such, Ayurveda encourages lifestyle changes and natural therapies to align our body, mind and spirit with our external environment.
Knowing our body is the first step in achieving health. The more understanding we have about something the better we are at maintaining it!
Unlike Siddha medicine, which uses plant-based and mineral-healing properties, Ayurveda believes we should look to make use of any healing modality that can restore balance. This means that an Ayurvedic practitioner will create a tailored treatment plan that they believe will be most effective for you. Some examples of Ayurvedic practices include:
- herbal remedies
- dietary changes
- talking therapies
- sleep support
- holistic therapies like acupuncture or massage
As with all complementary therapies, it is recommended to disclose with your healthcare professional if you are using, or considering trying Ayurveda. Whilst these therapies are generally considered safe, they may not be suitable for everyone. It’s also strongly recommended to work with a professional, especially if you are new to these treatments.
What is Unani medicine?
Unani medicine (also spelt Yunani) is an Arabian healing system which stems from the beliefs of the Greek physicians, Hippocrates and Galen. Like Ayurveda and Siddha medicine, Unani aims to restore balance using natural healing properties. Unani practitioners believe that the health of the human body is maintained by seven principles uniting in harmony. These principles are:
- bodily humours
- organs and systems
- vital spirit
When these components are in equilibrium, balance in the body is achieved.
Just like Ayurveda, Unani medicine focuses on the prevention of ill health. The system lays down six prerequisites that are believed to be the most essential for optimum health and well-being. These include:
- air (quality, clean air)
- food and drinks (an emphasis on fresh food and drinks free from impurities)
- bodily movement (exercise)
- psychic movement (psychological factors/emotions)
- sleep and wakefulness (sleep provides physical and mental rest)
- evacuation and retention (bodily functions are vital to prevent blockages)
Disease or illness can be determined by a Unani practitioner by assessing the pulse, much like in Siddha medicine. It also takes after Ayurveda in the sense that it recommends a variety of treatment options, including exercise, diet plans and natural medicines. Conditions that Unani medicine is thought to help with include:
- joint problems (e.g. arthritis)
- brain health
- premature ejaculation
- hair loss
Siddha, Unani and Ayurveda are all very similar healing systems, though each has its own approach to holistic healing. Whilst this guide provides an overview of each, it can be really helpful to work with a professional to determine which approach is right for you.
As part of CAM therapies (complementary and alternative medicine), the above approaches are governed in India by the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy). However, in the UK, most complementary therapies are not regulated. Because of this, many holistic therapists self-regulate by joining a professional body, such as the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). On Therapy Directory, you can find a verified holistic therapist, so you can be sure you’re working with a qualified practitioner.