A basic understanding of Ayurved
Ayur ved is translated as the science of lengthening life; Ayur meaning life lengthening and Ved meaning knowledge. Ayurved is an ancient science of medicine that started in India some few thousand years ago before recorded history. The specialty of Ayurved is that it can be understood as preventive medicine or also as the art of supplementation. All medicines used in Ayurveda are of natural origin and therefore are absorbed by the human body more easily and completely. The biggest difference between Allopathy (Western Medicine) and Ayurved is that the Ayurvedic medicine system by means of its medicine, nourishes the body leading to the removal of the cause of the deficiency and the disease; whereas mostly Allopathy aims at killing the pathogen especially in antibiotic therapy that removes the pathogen but leads to weakening of the immune system temporarily as well as other side effects. In certain cases, this weakening of the immune system often has nasty effects and problems, not to mention that people feel terrible after the therapy. So prevention is better than cure.
Most often practitioners of one system tend to support their own system while negating the other. This is a destructive, unreasonable and unscientific approach. In my opinion, Allopathy, Ayurveda and Homeopathy each have their own positives. I would rather pick up the best from these three and use it to heal instead of spending time arguing on the supremacy of any one of them. Allopathy has excellent surgery, emergency services, antibiotic treatments, life support equipment, Vitamin therapies, pathological tests and so on. Homeopathy on the other hand works on the principle of dilution of the medicine and thereby stimulation of the body to produce the required physiological change, while Ayurveda is the art of supplementation by natural herbs and minerals that are absorbed by the body much more easily and have a more lasting effect than their chemical allopathic counterparts.
Usually, when an Ayurvedic physician will start working with a patient, they will first read the pulse of the person and based on that, as well as, after hearing the complaints of the person, will make a prescription. Mostly they divide the patients into three categories Kaph, Pitta, and Vata. During conversations with many persons who are of a Western educated or English speaking background, both westerners as well as Indians, I have observed that they often describe themselves as one of these types. Now, Ayurved describes a healthy person as a person whose body is in balance and is free of faults or dosh. These three categories of Kaph, Pitta and Vata are not types of persons but they are faults or dosh (also spelt as dosha or doshas in plural). Usually, a certain fault in an individual continues to persist over a long period but that does not mean that it cannot change. Sometimes an individual may have a combination of two faults. So you are not a certain type but rather have a certain fault that needs to be corrected and rebalanced.
There are many blocks and problems that I have observed in treatment. Some of these are in the minds of the general public that prevent them from allowing themselves proper treatment and resolving their own problems.
Here are some issues that need to be examined and that will help in having a more systematic approach to herbal remedies and Ayurved.
- Many people have an unfailing faith in Allopathy which has its own limitations. A blind faith in any system whether scientific or philosophical is an illogical and counter-productive approach. A blind faith in herbal remedies is equally counter-productive.
- Many persons refuse to take their medicine as many consider medicine as a sign of weakness; sometimes I see this as a reflection of some sort of virility-macho complex, both in men and women. Such an approach can only be termed as self destructive. One has to remember that the modern methods of cultivation do not produce foods that have adequate nutrition, not to mention that most food is often loaded with chemicals due to the use of fertilizers and pesticides. So it becomes important to supplement the body by other means.
- Most people feel that once they take some medicine or supplement, it should remove their problem forever if not for a long time. This approach too is faulted. There are many reasons that the body tends to become sick. It may be due to lack of certain nutrients and it may be due to faulty absorption of certain nutrients. Apart from this there are many others reasons, such as infections- viral, bacillary, amoebic, etc, weak immunity, weight gain, lack of exercise, polluted environment, incorrect food habits, faulty living style, smoking, consumption of liquor, hereditary factors, accidents, etc. From one perspective, the main approach of Ayurved is to correct these imbalances so as to give the body the desired nutrients. Now these nutrients like food are absorbed and consumed by the body which in turn depletes them, so that makes it essential to continue the process of supplementation. It must also be pointed out that depending on the problem, often when using natural medicine, they need to be taken over a long period, though if the medicine is correct it will take immediate effect.
- Often people refuse to take numerous pills. This is again some kind of psychological block. Many persons feel that if they take many pills, then it is as though they feel themselves extremely sick. Here I would like to point out that most classical Ayurvedic preparations often have numerous ingredients. An example is the very popular preparation Chawanprash. Often some classical preparations may have up to forty components. In modern times, we may frequently use pure herbs rather than compound preparations since it is not always possible to prepare a specific formulation. In practice, this means that a person can be given a large number of supplements, sometimes up to 20. This should be looked upon as food needed by the body to stay fit that is being provided to the body in tablet, capsule, decoction, syrup, or liquid form and not as medicine.
- Another frequent problem that I have come across is, over dosing of herbs without a proper understanding of their use. When we start using an herb, after some time, usually in more than three months, the body becomes used to the herb and the herb stops being as effective. So it is important to create a gap of 15 days, between or after, two to three months of use of any herb, then to re-continue the herb so that it maintains its effectiveness. Here, when you are taking numerous supplements, one must point out, that when you take the break of 15 days, please do this in such a manner so as to not stop taking all the herbs. If you start a particular herb, start the next herb with a gap of 15 days so as to always have an alternative herb in the period of the Gap. Say for example, if one was taking Neem, Mesha Shringi and Karela for Diabetes and controlling Sugar, then phase each herb with a gap of 15 days, the starting, the gap and the restarting, so as to not have a period, where you have no herb to support your body, otherwise the beneficial effects of the herbs are in part lost.
- It is faulty to presume that herbs cannot harm you. If they had no reaction on the body and mind there would be no point in taking them. In some rare cases, there can be allergy to certain herbs even from one of the safer herbs. More frequently, if the herb is not needed it will react negatively against the body and mind, producing severe discomfort at times. Some herbs that are being oversold in the market for their broad benefits often create a reaction; some can even disturb chronic viral diseases causing them to erupt. To give an example, Aloe Vera is sold as a supplement often as an immunobooster due to its broad benefits and is being used by a large number of people. I have observed that Aloe Vera can often cause facial eruptions especially if it is consumed in a larger dose. It also tends to activate chronic viruses such as from the herpes virus family including Simplex, Complex, Epstein – Barr virus (EBV), Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and tends to elongate the healing time of these infections. I have not had a chance to study the effect of Aloe Vera on AIDS and Hepatitis patients (especially B and C type) but I would not be surprised if it had a negative impact on the diseases although Aloe Vera is recommended for the liver. Also, in classical Ayurvedic preparations, Aloe Vera known as Ghrit Kumari is rarely used in comparison to many other herbs.
- There is yet another issue which has a lot to do with the beliefs of people, especially in India. Some herbs, those that are actually really beneficial are not used by many people due to faulty beliefs and reasoning. The biggest example being of Garlic which is shunned by many Hindus; especially Vaishnavs due to its quality that they consider as being of a rajasi nature (making one active especially in the sexual context) and therefore unfit for consumption by spiritual persons. Apart from that, the smell is also considered as unpleasant. However, garlic truly has a very broad range of health benefits helping the body on many fronts and it is an especially good immunobooster. The problem with smell is solved by using garlic oil pearls that have been deodorized. Garlic does tend to heat up the body and can therefore cause some discomfort if taken during the day, especially on a hot Indian summer day. The trick is to take it at night when the weather is cooler; however on a cold day it will help keep the body warm. If you are one of those people who suffer from backache, especially low backache which is becoming a frequent problem for people in desk jobs, then garlic is the herb of choice. Garlic has a wonderful quality that at least I have never seen mentioned in any article or text which is that garlic acts on the nerves. A couple of garlic oil pearls a day will reduce back pain over a period of at least one month of use. Beyond that one can take one pearl every day. Please keep in mind point number five.
- In ayurved, many spices are used as a part of the composition of numerous medicines. Many persons look upon this as non-serious preparations, however this is not so. The common spice black pepper is an example. It is an excellent immunobooster for the upper respiratory tract apart from being a sudorific. It gives excellent results when used regularly between autumn to spring in supporting the immune system preventing upper respiratory tract infections as well as keeping the body warm and active.
- Often people tend to take many herbs in a cold preparation or state. Each herb has a natural tendency depending on its state. For example Turmeric (Haldi, Curcuma) when taken hot will usually warm up the body. It is usually taken in hot milk for colds and fever. It warms the body, boosts the immune system and the curcumin in turmeric also reduces swelling. When Turmeric is taken in cold milk it will cool down the body instead; despite being considered as a pungent spice. The same is true for black pepper as well as almonds. Almonds in cold milk with some black pepper and other nuts and spices are used as a cooler in India in the summer months known as Thandai. However in hot milk they warm the body.
- Frequently people try to use fresh herbs instead of capsules, tablets or syrups. With certain exceptions where there is no alternative; that is generally not a good approach, as it usually leads to a non standardized product. So the dosage becomes higher or lower depending on the quality of the extract and the therapy in turn suffers. Whereas the ready preparations are standardized by the specialists and so that makes the dose a standard one.
I would like to end this article with something practical. Here is a simple recipe to keep you healthy in the months from autumn to spring; to keep away colds, boost the immune system, upper respiratory tract and to support one’s health. In a cup of water add a small piece of crushed and chopped ginger, one black peppercorn, one clove, a little cinnamon, crushed or powdered and fresh Basil leaves (Tulsi) if available. Boil it over a low fire for some time to have an infusion. In spices, the essential oil is of importance; on a high flame the essential oil will evaporate making the infusion ineffective. One can add honey and drink this or one can add tea leaves, milk and sugar to make a spice tea. Drink at least twice a day but one can drink this infusion up to four times in a day.
Wish you Good Health.