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The Principles of Ayurveda

by Liliana Stringer(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 45 - October 1999

Until fairly recently we thought we were living inside a static mechanical Universe which has been mulling about and around like an oversized Swiss cuckoo clock. We went to and fro in huge factories, had jobs for life and as steady citizens, had been looking forward to a gold plated watch and a secure pension. When we got sick we could expect the illness kicked out of our bodies with a huge wedge of wonder medicine. Illnesses were perceived as foreign to the body, enemy viral spy forces to be pushed and exterminated by a simple straight forward chemical agent dispatched from outside by an all knowing doctor. And all was well – until the Universe began to change right in front of our amazed eyes.

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No longer is the world that simple or even made of firm matter. The Universe is a living thing, constantly changing and developing. It is much more complex, unpredictable and alive than we were led to think during the past hundred years. The more we studied matter the more we realised there is no such thing. The more we studied energy, the more we comprehended that energy is all there really is. The stuff that dreams are made of: one unbroken, constant vibrating field of energy of which we are but a part.

Illness began to look like an integral part of our state of mind and life style habits. In other words, we have seen the enemy and it is us. It took us merely five thousand years to realise that the truth has always been with us. An enormous contingent of modern scientists and their many expensive tools and instruments have only served to confirm this truth long ago laid before humanity by the ancient sages of Vedanta.

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Ayurveda, The Science of Life

From the people who brought you yoga, meditation, reflexology and many systems of medicine comes Ayurveda, The Science of Life. Out of the field of constant tension between two essential principles: the conscious but undynamic Spirit and the unconscious but dynamic Nature comes the continuous creation of the Universe and All, and that includes you, and me.

The stranger than fiction life that unfolds before us from the perspective of modern science and ancient Vedic wisdom requires an active participation from mankind. The same principles that govern the progress of the stars and the planets rule our own progress through life.

We consist of the Universe and vice versa. The philosophical system that is the basis of the Vedanta is not so difficult to understand because it rings a bell within everyone's soul. That the world is an alive and creative force has been the foundation of all known philosophical systems, including early science.

After all, we must not forget that those foundations have been laid down in the West by the Knights Templars who brought magical thinking back from the East. Science at birth was magic and the first scientists were the alchemists and magicians who often ended their days on the bonfires of the Inquisition.

The wisdom of Ayurveda was at the root of most of the known civilisations. The only problem with learning it is the same problem it shares with science: namely, it is full of jargon. Both Ayurveda and science out of necessity rely on a heavy dose of the Sanskrit language on one hand and mathematical formulas on the other.

I have lately seen quite a few slightly confused people who keep looking for their doshas. They seem to be interested in Ayurveda, appreciate the wisdom of it and understand that it is becoming trendier every minute. But the oversimplification that has crept in with the newly founded popularity of Ayurveda tends to produce this confusion. Let's face it: Pitta, Vata and Kapha cannot be seen. They are forces not perceived by the eye. Only by the results of their actions on the body can we understand their workings. Additionally, in Ayurveda everyone is an individual. The mixings of the doshas vary greatly from person to person and what would be a perfect harmony and balance in one person between the three doshas could mean imbalance and disease in another. That is why it usually takes six years to learn the basics of Ayurveda and another four of practical work as a minimum to be a medical Ayurvedic practitioner. So the moral of the story here is to go and visit a qualified practitioner if you want to avail yourself of medical advice.

However, it is a science of life indeed. It is all about three things and I stress them: right life style, right life style, right life style; prevention, prevention, prevention; detoxification, detoxification and more detoxification. Put simply: if you follow these Ayurveda principles you will never have to see a doctor or be concerned about your doshas. The doshas will go quietly about their business building and mending your body whilst you have fun living your life.

The Right Way To Approach Health

For everybody who begins to study Ayurveda their initial instinctive feeling is that this is the right way to approach health. Ayurveda talks about the infinite ability of humans to appreciate the world outside as part of ourselves and ourselves as a part of the world. It points our attention towards our senses and urges us to trust them. Did you ever have that gut feeling, that surge of intuition? It is there for a reason: to help and warn you. In the Western industrialised civilisation the essential requirement is for everything to be measured, weighed and analysed. We are not in control of our own existence as we have to rely more and more heavily on the machines that produce the print out of our life blood and less and less on our own God-given five or six senses.

Let's take an example. John Doe doesn't look well. His friends and colleagues realise it instantly. Mr Doe also knows that he is somehow not his usual self. However it takes a long time to be diagnosed by a doctor as an ill person. Mr Doe will have to make an appointment. The doctor will prescribe a painkiller or antibiotic – something routinely prescribed as a rule. Mr Doe gets no satisfaction from it. He has to make an appointment to see a specialist. It takes time to ascertain which specialist exactly. But it is not until some lab assistant somewhere far away will write to the specialist saying that his machines have found out that some cells in our friend Mr Doe's body do not behave as they should according to the test technique. The doctor at last has a right to say, "Well Mr Doe, my dear patient, there is something not quite OK here with you."

Between the first feeling of unease and the final tests confirming the morbid bodily changes a few years may pass. By this time it is too late to do much. The sad story continues for a while with the use of heavy chemicals and surgeons' knives and slowly the human spirit is extinguished. This is the usual situation with a lot of diseases.

What is Disease

But what is "disease"? A lack of ease to live fully? How can this be diagnosed? Who goes to the doctor just to say, "I am not my usual self"? Most of the time the doctor has no idea what the patient's usual self is. It is the industrialised nature of health care that prevents both doctor and patient from discussing those small, undetectable, slow gradual changes that precede illness. In other words to avail yourself of the newest wonder drug you have to be already very ill indeed; and of course there is a huge industry of medics and multi-national pharmaceutical companies who rely on a steady supply of extremely ill people to continue their existence.

In the old days the best and most highly paid doctor was the one whose patients were never sick. Wouldn't that be nice? Just not too realistic. The whole point of the Ayurveda treatment is to detect these imbalances on a subtle energy level and correct them at the earliest stage. In the Charaka Samhita Vedic text the writer states, "Each individual is the unique expression of a recognisable finely tuned cosmic process occurring in time and space." This is what is so special about Ayurveda: it makes no bones about assuming a direct, physical relationship between man and the Universe. There are five senses and five "building blocks of being"; these are called Mahabhutas. But I am distracted from my original idea to write in a simple, easy to understand way about what Ayurveda can do for you. As I said, it is full of jargon and very, very complicated and precise. Just like life itself.

It is due to this extremely highly developed sense of the direct correlation between all the elements of being that led to a concept of the Tridoshas. All matter is built on the basis of the Mahabhutas or the building blocks of existence; but only living matter has the Tridoshas, the three forces regulating all biological processes. These forces are not material. They are dynamic principles, the forms of energy that control the whole energy economy in living organisms. They always work as a team and one never appears without the others. Their interplay decides the objective condition of a living organism. A harmonious relationship of these three bioenergetic principles is the mark of good health. Any imbalance – and the equilibrium is very unstable – reveals itself in a wide variety of symptoms.

It would be a gross oversimplification to look for the predominance of a certain principle in a concrete individual. We are all in a constant flux of these energies – just like the Universe itself. Hence, sublime changes in the state of mind can and do influence the body's physiological make up to a great extent. To put it bluntly we can be as much poisoned by our uncontrolled negative emotions, as we can be by yesterday's soggy sandwich full of salmonella. This is why the first step in the Ayurvedic treatment would be to catch these energetic changes at the earliest stage. The Ayurveda talks about six stages in the progress of the disease and by the third stage it is almost too late to correct the imbalance. So watch out for mood changes, strange thoughts and unusual food preferences – those are all early symptoms. And detoxify.

Treatment of the Whole Person on an Energy Level

Those are the main features of the proper Ayurveda treatment: it works on the energy level. The treatment works on the whole person, it is completely organic and all remedies are taken from the immediate natural environment. These remedies strengthen the powers of resistance, promote healing and have no side effect. Modern orthodox Western medicines represent just one "active ingredient" usually taken from a plant. That is why these active ingredients pack such a powerful punch and often knock the living organism for six, producing an adverse reaction we know as "side effects". In Ayurveda, the Universe, man in it and every living plant and animal are thought about as a symphony. Each note in this symphony is harmonically interwoven into a whole body of music. Now imagine just a few notes taken out of context, turned up to the highest level of sound and then repeatedly played again and again and again. How long could you stand such music, even if these notes were taken from the finest piece by Mozart?

Some two hundred medicinal Indian plants a year are being tested in research laboratories of multi-national companies. If it is possible to isolate an active principle from a plant extract, it is then chemically analysed to discover how the atoms of its component molecules fit together and then, after clinical trials, synthetic copies are put on the market as a new moneymaking product. It has nothing to do with genuine Ayurveda. Just a few weeks ago I read in a paper about the clinical trials carried out in strictest secrecy by an unnamed multi-national pharmaceutical company producing a medicine for Alzheimer's disease from an unnamed Indian plant. Wow, what a secret! It has only been in use for the past five thousand years in Ayurveda! Its name is Centella asiatica and it is commonly used by school children as it helps to strengthen memory.

I use it myself even as I write, in the form of an Ayur tea.

However, the nature of modern industrialised and commercialised medicine is such that "money can only be made from a patentable new drug not from a natural remedy".[1] It is little wonder that in 1833 the East India Company having seen fit to give India the benefit of Western science, closed and banned all Ayurveda schools and opened in Calcutta the first University for Occidental medicine. That had something to do with slow progress of Ayurveda into the consciousness of Western people. We know of the Chinese herbal treatments, reflexology and aromatherapy but so painfully little about Ayurveda where all these treatments have their origins.

Ayurveda and the Digestive System

If Ayurveda is all about prevention and detoxification it is only natural that the closest attention is given in Ayurveda to the digestive system. That is where the most important action of the exchange between our environment and our body takes place. We are indeed what we eat, as we eat our way through life nutrients and matter itself are taken into one end and after being transformed into our living body depart through another end. Should such a process be disrupted the end result will manifest itself as an illness. However, in today's world, most of the matter we consume is artificially made. The majority of Western food including fruit and vegetables is full of chemicals that come from factories, not from the earth. It is very difficult to underestimate the effect of such foods on present and future generations. Following the logic of the market place we can come to the conclusion that only genetically modified people can consume genetically modified food. Weird or what? We just have to wait and see whether all these strange ideas will become a reality. In the meantime however, we have to attend to our own health in the best manner possible.

It does not do us any good that we are living in an artificial world for which we are not as yet equipped. The way we humans developed was through evolution in a natural environment. We are made to hunt and forage for food and our bodies are designated for the stresses of the jungles. Today we find ourselves in an unnatural world made-to-measure for machines more than for humans. It is no great surprise that we find it so hard to survive in the big cities. Look at the modern diseases, most of them are the result of secluded, sheltered, comfortable living. It is the same with wild animals; if placed in a zoo they will develop stress, depression and excessive interest in sex or the contrary, they will not be able to reproduce normally. We are meant for a much harder existence. Some of our faculties may begin to suffer atrophy in too cosy surroundings.

Of course, Ayurveda is a product of very different times, when the food we ate was taken from an earth not yet polluted by various chemicals. That is why food and medicine are not separate entities in Ayurveda. The wrong food for your type will harm you and the right one will put you straight. Basically, all Ayurveda products are ingredients of the food chain. A few days ago I visited a wonderful Ayurveda restaurant in London. I had a delicious starter of Aralu fruit (Terminalia chebula). It is an essential part of the classical Ayurvedic remedy for improving the digestion: Threepala. This is one of the oldest remedies in the world and does wonders for controlling the blood sugar and pacifying the appetite. It has been used for thousands of years in the treatment of obesity and you also don't experience a proper hang-over if you use it; it detoxifies the liver very fast.

So, food is both a nutrient and a medicine. Ayurveda is based on this thought.

The famous Panchakarma treatments can be summed up as detoxify, detoxify, etc. – five times through all available means. All means will include the use of plants.

There is a lovely story in the Ayurveda scriptures about a young man aspiring to become an Ayurveda practitioner. The medical school he wants to attend is a very famous one and the competition for places is fierce. The future students must go through a variety of difficult assignments in order to be accepted. One of these tests is to go into the wilderness and find one plant that would be useless for medical purposes. One by one they disappear into the forest. One of them spends hours there and comes back with an unattractive weed. Another returns after a couple of days and brings back some poisonous berries. But one student went missing for the whole week and came back empty handed. He went on to become a famous doctor.

The Story of Pepper

Take the story of ordinary pepper. There is no doubt that this spice has made the deepest mark on human history. In the Middle Ages more value was placed on a sack of pepper than on a human life. Pepper was and still is a most important spice on the world market. It was the most expensive commodity, carried along caravan routes, it played a significant part in many trade wars for instance the struggle for supremacy between Venice and Genoa and it was a prime economic motive in the search for a sea route to India. Its high price inevitably led to adulterations of the powered form and even today it is advisable to buy whole peppercorns. Black pepper is "dry", therapeutically it is heating, and its digestive product is pungent. In general, pepper suits those who display the characteristics of Vata and Kapha but not those with a predominance of Pitta.

Pepper sharpens the appetite and improves the digestion and it also helps to expel wind. The essential oil is absorbed by the lungs and thus reduces discomfort in pharyingitis and tonsillitis. To treat those complaints, powdered pepper is mixed with honey and taken three times a day. When stirred into hot milk it can be used for bronchitis, sore throats and head colds. Pastes and oils containing black pepper are used for rheumatism and skin diseases. A hot decoction of black pepper is an effective mouthwash for toothaches. Pepper is also sudoforic and resembles quinine in action. In fact, a mixture of pepper, ginger and honey is prescribed for malaria. In small doses Piper cubeb is dispensed for disorders of the urinary passages. Long pepper is given to children suffering from diarrhoea, coughs, fever and bronchitis; it is added to the diet of mothers to assist contraction of the uterus following childbirth.

Building Healthy Houses

All the Ayurvedic remedies are multifunctional. The above mentioned Threepala is used mainly in Kapha and Pitta disorders. It is beneficial for diseases of the kidney and bladder, diabetes, skin conditions, eye complaints, intermittent fevers, loss of appetite, constipation, dysentery as well as improving iron absorption. And you can eat it! This is the overall picture of Ayurvedic thought. There are so many aspects to this wonderful science of life that I can't possibly even begin to scratch the surface of this vast body of knowledge.

But, to summarise briefly, Ayurveda is so comprehensive as to include the rules for building "healthy houses". All the Yoga Asanas come from the Ayurveda schedules. Great attention is paid to the season to avoid congestion in any of the Doshas particularly active at any given time of the year. But above all, the great significance of this system lies in the fact that it is a road to self-development that stresses physical, spiritual and mental health. The value of preventative medicine of this kind in attaining all round well-being is obvious.

Health is a variable condition and depends not only on body but also on the entire personality. Health lies within us and not in a drug store. There is no way of achieving well-being of body and mind through intravenous injections. It is gained by making the best of life's ups and downs, by adopting a sensible regimen, by deliberately relaxing when stressed out, by cultivating harmonious human relationships and finding life meaningful.

The True Healer is Within Us

Ayurveda knows many simple, natural preventative measures for keeping the body in trim. According to Ayurveda, mental and physical health can be preserved merely by attentiveness; attentiveness to how we use our senses, adapt our daily routine to the demands of our environment, plan our diet and respond to internal and external rhythms. The object of Ayurveda is to assist nature. All the means used for cures do no more than support natural processes, they do not irritate nor do they suppress nature or substitute what the body can do for itself.

There are simple tried and tested remedies that act mostly as prevention. For example, the excellent cold and flu remedy Lakpeyawa consists of nothing more than a mixture of ginger, coriander, long pepper, Indian night shade and Jacquin's night shade. However, it is so powerful that when we were living in Sri Lanka and my boyfriend contracted dengue fever, this remedy put him right in just two days, despite having a temperature so high he had begun to hallucinate. Consequently we were both so impressed we asked the main manufacturers of Ayurvedic products in Sri Lanka to produce some such remedy for us. All the remedies we bring over from Sri Lanka have been tested on human volunteers; ourselves and our friends and relatives. One of the Ayurvedic oils has proven to be a decisive factor in my daughter's eczema. The child has been plagued with it since she was four years old; every time she goes through stress she develops horrible weeping blisters. Now at last this has stopped happening.

Arishtas are elixirs or tonics that are prepared by using mixtures of appropriate herbs fermented with natural cane sugar for 45 days in large teak vats. They taste great and contain natural food vitamins in an easy-to-absorb solution. The thing about vitamins, you see, is that while they are very necessary for our day-to-day survival, they work best when they come into the body as part of food, not as a synthetic foreign material.

Ayurvedic Holidays

One of the best presents you can give your body and soul is an Ayurvedic holiday. Imagine two weeks concentrating on Number one – you owe it to yourself to take care of your body. This is exactly what you'll be doing on an Ayurvedic holiday; letting yourself receive the best care in the world. Imagine: the tropical white sand and blue sea, lazy days of contemplating your navel whilst being massaged with warm oils every morning! These oils are doing more than just smelling nice – they actually serve to get rid of the toxins plaguing your body. Take two weeks out of every year for an Ayurvedic holiday and these treatments will take care of your detox for the next strenuous 11 and a half months. You will also be better informed on what foods are best for you personally; not everybody is temperamentally and physiologically suitable to give up wheat and meat.

A completely salad diet is not necessarily everybody's cup of tea. We are all different and that is the glory of life. The choice of what is best for you will be made easier at the Ayurvedic resort. As a psychological detox is also a part of the treatment, you can deposit your burden of the year's negative emotions right down there where it belongs, with the rest of your body's toxins and waste. If we are to recommend anything at all to improve health awareness it would be such a holiday, and after that visiting a qualified Ayurveda practitioner once at the start of every season for advice, detox and general guidance.

And then I could very confidently say: "To your best health!"

References

1. Dr Tim Mitchell, Dr David Paige, Dr Karen Spowart, Eczema and your Child, Class Publishing, pg.93.
Vernon Coleman, Bodypower, The European Medical Journal, Publishing House, 1999.
Brigit Heyn, Ayurvedic Medicine: The Gentle Strength of Healing, Thorson Publishing Group 1987.

Comments:

  1. anoma sarathchandra said..

    i agree with this article.i use this threepala for about 3 months.my skin condition improved.earlier it was rough.now it's smooth.and earlier i was suffering from gastric.now i'm recovered from it.


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About Liliana Stringer

Dr Liliana Stringer, PhD., MA, BA, UK CPH (Dip), MPNLP, BMA is Russian in origin and studied at Moscow State University and has trained in psycho-hypnotherapy, NLP and homoeopathy. Dr Stringer's main interest is in the interconnection between mind-body-spirit. Her work is based on the understanding of the intimate ties between the laws of the Universe (Spirit), Goals and Tasks on Earth (Mind) and the body creation (Ayurveda). She studied Ayurveda under the guidance of Dr Aleem Moulana, Head of Unani Department, General Hospital (Ayurveda), Borella, Colombo. She studied native herbalism and the Ifa (West African original philosophy) in Nigeria. She now heads Ibis International Corporation, a company dedicated to the promotion of Ayurvedic principles, importing Ayurveda Products from Sri Lanka. She is on the board of the Ayurvedic Trade Association UK. She can be contacted on 0171-286 3326

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