Ayurveda: A simple, natural, intelligent approach to health care
By Jessica Blanchard, Ayurvedic Practitioner
Ayurveda is a system of health care that comes from India, thousands of years old but relatively new to the rest of the world. As we increasingly become aware of the limitations in the current biochemical model of medicine, it is time to take an open-minded look at this system, which works very well with those who are willing to take an active role in preventing disease and increasing overall wellness. Central to Ayurveda is the concept of person’s unique constitution or metabolic type, based on three doshas. Doshas are manifestations of the universal intelligence called vata, governing the principle of movement, pitta governing the body’s transformations, and kapha, governing bodily cohesion. Knowing your constitution, you can choose foods, therapies, and lifestyle practices which will help you to maximize your health. Ayurveda is most effective when adapted to the local culture, climate, food and medicinal practices. While making random or inappropriate choices can result in fatigue and illness, Ayurveda offers strong immunity, digestive health, and increased vitality.
In my own experience with treating clients in New Orleans, I have seen the power that simple dietary corrections can have on overall health. For example, one client had been plagued her entire life with recurrent yeast infections. Even her daughter had inherited this tendency. In Ayurveda excess yeast is related to a weak digestion, which allows an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and fungus in the small intestines. The yeast easily migrate to the reproductive organs. Her prescription was a diet eliminating all processed sugar, flour, fermented foods and wheat and improving the digestion with spices like ginger, cumin and cardamom. The diet was simplified emphasizing easily digested and well spiced foods, especially warm and soupy foods. Along with a few supporting herbs, these changes completely cured her yeast problem. She then brought her daughter for treatment, who had inherited the same problems. Now both of them have eliminated their yeast problems and have well balanced digestions.
Food intake must be adjusted to our natural daily rhythms. A common mistake is eating heavy foods such as dairy in the early morning. After sunrise until ten o’clock we are still in a cleansing phase, lasting until our metabolism starts to kick into gear, as does the heat of the sun. In many cultures we are told to drink milk and eat yoghurt in the morning, because they are healthy and good for us. Anyone with allergies or frequent bronchial problems should limit dairy consumption, and should also watch their wheat consumption. A common breakfast is muesli, which contains several grains, nuts and seeds, with yoghurt and fruit, which is heavy to digest in the morning. This is a heavy combination of food, especially if a large quantity is consumed. I have seen a simple change in breakfast cure allergies in a number of my clients!
With complex problems, Ayurveda offers excellent treatments with simple unadulterated plants. The combination of herbs and diet can treat ailments as diverse as migraine headaches, fatigue, nervousness and insomnia, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and correcting hormonal imbalances in a number of situations. A woman 50 years of age came to me having been a lifelong sufferer of migraine headaches. Each summer she would systematically get migraines, which would completely debilitate her, and because she could not exercise, she would gain weight each year. She did not like taking the migraine medications, because they were not always effective and they caused a number of side effects. Through our consultation, I saw that Pitta dosha (e.g. excessive heat) was the likely cause of her headaches. She became very sensitive to light with a throbbing sensation in her head, and had a number of other symptoms of excessive heat with her hormonal functioning. I gave her a diet and a formula of plants, both targeting especially the blood channel, which becomes restricted in the head, provoking the migraines. The plants included centella asiatica, burdock (arctium lappa), turmeric (curcuma longa), amla (emblica officinalis) and barberry (berberis vulgaris). We started the treatment in January, and her migraine symptoms typically would come in May when the weather becomes very hot in New Orleans. She called me in June to tell me how happy she was, because this was the first year she could actively participate in summer activities with her children. The migraines hand not come. Western medicine could not treat this problem, yet applying ayurvedic logic and then appropriate remedies the migraines were gone.
Ayurveda does not diagnose and fix each person’s problems separately, as is the methodology in allopathic medicine. Often I see patients who take a major cocktail of drugs, some to fix primary problems, then others to fix side effects caused by the primary problem-fixers. Ayurveda takes a view of the whole person and chooses a treatment protocol addressing the coherent picture or the sum of the parts. Using Ayurveda does not mean abandoning the allopathic approach. It is unfortunate that the role of diet is still hardly acknowledged in the biochemical approach to health care. Even though the link between many diseases and diet has been scientifically proven – heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, doctors still give very little dietary advice. Eating can either be an act of supporting your system and building healthy, disease-free tissues or it can make you lethargic, overweight and depressed. The dietary knowledge of Ayurveda comes from thousands of years of experience using food to prevent and treat diseases. Ayurveda very simply brings the intelligence of nature back into our diet and lifestyle practices.