LIVE WELL - AYURVEDA
There’s a secret body of knowledge that can totally transform your life.
It can help you discover the key to perfect health and unlock a hidden spring of well-being. Follow simple guidelines and, within a short space of time, you can be fitter, healthier and more energetic than ever before. You can balance your weight, banish stress, soothe your emotions and even discover a deep sense of peace within your soul.
This ancient secret is called ayurveda and it is probably the greatest form of mind-body medicine the world has ever known. Yet few westerners take advantage of this incredible system because it has often been presented in an arcane or inaccessible way.
Live Well is different. It presents an up-to-date, modern ayurveda which everyone can follow and offers precise, step-by-step instructions on how to use ayurveda in everyday life. You will discover how to:
· use food for healing and weight loss
· discover an exercise system you will stick to
· breathe to ease stress and shift your mood
· use massage for deep relaxation and physical toning
· delight your senses with sound and scent
· balance your soul with prayer and ritual
· turn your home into a harmonious sanctuary
Live Well provides a complete system for mind, body and soul balance. Make simple changes and you could change your entire life.
yurveda can change your life. There’s no question about it. Follow simple rules for everyday living and you can restore yourself to nigh-on perfect health. Without undue effort you can reach your ideal weight. Within a short span of time you can be fitter, healthier, more energetic than you have ever been before. You can even fine-tune your emotions, banish stress and find a deep sense of peace within your soul. The ancient texts even hint at that most elusive of goals - immortality or, at the very least, extreme longevity.
Ayurveda is, without doubt, the most ancient system of medicine known to humankind. It is at least 5,000 years old; some say even older. It has been called “the Mother of Medicine” and is perhaps the greatest form of healing and natural healthcare the world has ever known. Yet, until recently, ayurveda has been ignored in the West. Although it is now becoming more popular, particularly for its wonderful beauty treatments, many people are still unaware of the full powers of this extraordinary system of healthcare. Why? The answer lies in the fact that traditional ayurveda is Eastern to its very roots. Few Westerners have learned its secrets and so much of its teaching remains in Sanskrit or couched in unfamiliar and inaccessible language. Because ayurveda was suppressed for many years under hostile governments, it has not had the opportunity of being updated for the modern world. Many westerners have been put off by the idea that, in order to enjoy the benefits of ayurveda, you had to listen to strange Eastern music, endure unpleasant purgatory therapies and subsist on a diet of curries. But now all that is set to change.
This book offers all the benefits of ancient ayurveda but makes it totally accessible to modern Westerners. It explains the theory of ayurveda in simple, down-to-earth language and gently coaxes the reader through a series of lifestyle changes which are guaranteed to change his or her life - in the nicest possible way. Although it is straightforward, it does not serve up a diluted, half-hearted ayurveda. It goes beyond most of the books currently available, delving into fascinating areas such as nature therapy, gem therapy and music therapy - presenting esoteric ideas in a simply understood format.
How you use this book is up to you. You can simply dip in where you choose and adopt whichever strategies you fancy. Or you can work through it thoroughly taking on board as much or little as you please. Even if you shift one aspect of your life; make one small change you will be setting up a chain reaction in your body and mind, coaxing you towards better health. Of course, the more shifts you make, the more profound the healing you can expect, the larger the shift towards total health and total wellbeing. It’s up to you. But take it slowly and with thought. There’s no point in forcing yourself into major changes if you are not ready - your good intentions will fade away if they don’t fit in with your lifestyle. Fortunately most of ayurveda is so practical, so straightforward that you should not have difficulties bringing it into your everyday life.
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY
This book is ultimately practical in its approach - I don’t want to bog you down in pages of theory. However it’s useful (and fascinating) to know the roots of ayurveda and its prevailing philosophy. If you want to skip this part, that’s fine - just head for the first chapter and wade right in.
As I’ve already said, ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine on earth. The ancient texts call it “eternal” as it was simply always there, always around. Its principles were said to have been passed down to humankind from a chain of gods leading back to Brahma, father of all gods. Ayurveda is generally accepted to be the forerunner of all the great healing systems of the world and written texts show that the ayurvedic medicine practiced from about 1500BC to AD 500 was incredibly advanced with detailed knowledge of pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, geriatrics, toxicology, general medicine and other specialties. Students studied six philosophical systems: the study of logic, of evolution and causality, of the discipline of body and spirit (yoga), of moral behaviour, of pure esoteric knowledge and even the theory of the atom. No modern medical student would have had so thorough a grounding in such a broad spectrum of disciplines.
Historians of the ancient world wrote of the great universities which taught ayurveda but when India started to suffer invasions in the Middle Ages the system began to fall apart and the universities were broken up. The British were the final nail in the coffin of ayurveda: they brought their own brand of modern Western medicine with them and established their own universities. Ayurveda was in danger of dying out altogether. Fortunately the Indians realised what they were losing and the Indian Congress affirmed support for ayurveda; in 1921 Mahatma Gandhi opened the first new college for ayurvedic medicine. Now ayurveda is being practiced alongside Western medicine in India.
Ayurvedic philosophy is incredibly complex and takes years of study to begin to comprehend. Ayus means life which in the ancient scriptures is defined as the combination of body, mind and soul. In ayurveda there is no split between body and mind - they are seen as completely inseparable with each influencing the other. Together they form the physical part of a being. Yet the body-mind unit cannot exist without soul. Soul is substance-less, indestructable, eternal - a form of energy which animates the body-mind. Each person’s individual soul-energy is linked with the wider energies of the universal soul and cosmic energy. So each of us has our own eternal life energy which is like a spark from the universal fire - we are separate yet part of the whole, linked with other people and linked with the universe. There really is no division between us and the outer world.
In this ayurveda preempts much of the new thinking in physics, in quantum theory. It also gives a logical base for many of ayurveda’s more bizarre sounding practices. Because our energy is linked with that of the world around us, it makes perfect sense that we should seek harmony with our families and friends, with society, with nature, with our environment, with the cosmos and the world of spirit. It’s not enough to make changes purely on the physical or biochemical level - health and well-being come about by achieving harmony both within ourselves and within our environment - both near and far. We need to learn how to observe and balance our own rhythms with those of nature and the wider cosmos. In this ayurveda really is a way of life. We are taught to see ourselves as a whole and as inextricably linked with the world around us. Ayurveda is holistic in the true sense of the word.
The vedic texts teach that behind the world and cosmos as we know it, lies a state of pure consciousness, total harmony, complete awareness. It is beyond all limitations of time and space, without beginning or end. As with many world philosophies there was considered to be a desire for pure being to experience itself which let to a split into primordial universal energy (known as purusa) and cosmic substance (prakruti). Purusa is active and energising; it breathes life into prakruti bringing about three essential qualities or gunas. These are called sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva consists of truth, virtue, beauty and equilibrium; rajas brings about force and impetus while tamas is the force of restriction and obstruction. Sattva rules our subjective world – how we perceive matter and the world around us. Tamas is the objective world which comprises the five elements. Rajas, the force and energy of movement, brings the objective and subjective worlds together.
Let’s take a closer look at tamas, the guna which makes up the world around us. On a subtle energy level, tamas consists of five subtle elements or senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. These elements give rise to the dense elements - ether, air, fire, water and earth from which the physical world around us is born.
Put at its simplest, each physical atom consists of the five elements: its weight comes from earth, its cohesion from water, its energy from fire, its motion from air and the space between its particles are made of ether. So the whole human body is composed of the five elements and an excess or lack of one or more elements can be the cause of imbalance and so lead to illness.
THE THREE DOSHAS – YOUR ESSENTIAL TYPE
This may sound very complicated (and believe me, this is a much simplified version of the philosophy) but don’t worry too much if you find it hard to follow. Fortunately, over the centuries, ayurveda came up with a kind of shorthand for working out imbalances - three doshas or bioenergies which are combinations of the five elements. Vata is a combination of ether and air; pitta of fire with water; kapha of water and earth. In an ideal state, we would have all three doshas in perfect balance but this is rare. Most of us have one or perhaps two which overbalance the others. The whole aim of ayurvedic medicine is to balance the doshas to restore health.
Your predominating dosha can be detected by a series of physical and emotional characteristics. For example vata people are usually thin, agile, quick-thinking and restless; pitta people tend to be of medium build, competitive and make good leaders; kapha people are larger framed and more placid in nature, with great reserves of strength and endurance (you’ll find out which is your predominating dosha in Part One. The aim of ayurveda is to coax all the elements into perfect balance so perfect health can follow. However complex the theory, the advice is very practical and down-to-earth. Ayurveda seeks to balance the body, using primarily a combination of lifestyle advice, diet, exercise and herbal medicines. Massage, manipulation, marma therapy (very similar to acupressure), aromatherapy and sound therapy are also used. Yoga, meditation and deep breathing are highly recommended.
There is little doubt that ayurveda can achieve wonderful (some say miraculous) results. At present research projects are trying to discover how the cures happen and are investigating the properties of several ayurvedic herbs and herbal preparations. Preliminary studies by the (US) National Cancer Institute research project indicate that one herb, semicarpus anacardium, may inhibit the growth of certain cancers. Meanwhile a compound of herbs called Maharishi Amrit Kalash has been found to have anticarcinogenic and antineoplastic properties - it appears to both prevent the start of cancer and decrease the size of existing tumors. A series of experiments conducted at South Dakota State University and the Ohio State University College of Medicine indicate that the compound “may have great value in the prevention and treatment of cancer.”
WHAT CAN AYURVEDA TREAT?
This book will help you make changes to enhance your health and well-being but it is beyond its scope to offer advice on treating more serious health problems. However, ayurveda can and does have excellent results in dealing with chronic health problems. You may find that, by following the suggestions in this book, many niggling concerns disappear of their own accord. Without doubt you should find your digestion improve, your sleep become deeper and more restful, your body more supple and relaxed. On an emotional level you should feel calmer and yet more alert, better able to concentrate and more able to cope with stress.
If you want to go further you should seek out a well-qualified ayurvedic physician (many are trained in both orthodox Western medicine as well as ayurveda). Under professional guidance the following conditions have responded well to ayurveda.
· Digestive problems: stomach ulcers, chronic gastritis, acid indigestion, heartburn, constipation, flatulence.
· Gynaecological problems: menstrual and menopausal difficulties.
· Weight problems: weight loss and weight gain.
· Skin complaints: eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, acne.
· Allergic conditions: asthma, hay fever, sinus problems.
· Problems with joints: chronic pain, muscle tension, sciatica, rheumatism, arthritis, osteoporosis.
· Psycho-somatic illness: sleep disturbances, migraine and tension headaches, depression, anxiety attacks.
· Heart and circulation problems: angina, high blood pressure, palpitations, irregular pulse.
· Some physicians have also treated conditions such as cancer, MS and ME with success - and there is research into HIV/AIDS.
· Addictions: alcohol, smoking, drugs.
WHO PRACTICES AYURVEDA?
There are three categories of ayurvedic practitioners. Some have undergone a rigorous medical training for five or six years in India or Sri Lanka and are awarded degrees in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery - they have the letters BAMS or DAMS after their names. There are also many western trained healthcare practitioners (both orthodox and complementary) who incorporate ayurvedic principles into their practices. There is no means of assessing or accrediting such trainings. The third type of ayurvedic practitioner is one who offers lifestyle guidance using ayurvedic principles. They do not offer medical advice but teach how to use the principles of ayurveda in everyday life. Practitioners from all three categories can be very helpful and, if at all possible, you should be guided by personal recommendations. If that’s not possible, I have listed resources at the back to help you find an ayurvedic professional.
WHICH TYPE ARE YOU?
f you read the introduction, you will already know about “doshas” – if not, don’t worry, we’ll recap right now. Ayurveda teaches that the world and everything in it consists of five elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether. The ancient sages even understood the concept of the atom and used this tiny block of matter to demonstrate the action of the elements. So they said that the weight of the atom comes from earth, its cohesion from water, its energy from fire, its motion from air and the spaces between its particles are made of ether. The whole human body is made up of the five elements and Indian philosophy says that an excess of one or more elements can be the cause of imbalance which will eventually and inevitably lead to illness
Over the centuries, ayurveda came up with a kind of shorthand for the elements - it combined the five elements into three bio-energies or "tridoshas" - some people call them “mind-body types” - we will call them doshas or types for short. These are known individually as vata, pitta and kapha. The bio-energy or dosha vata comes from a combination of ether and air; pitta from fire with a little water; and kapha from water and earth. In an ideal state, we would have all three doshas in perfect balance but this is rare. Most of us have one or perhaps two which overshadow the others. The entire aim of ayurvedic medicine is to balance the doshas in order to restore health.
Each dosha is responsible for different parts and functions in the body. Vata produces movement in the body; pitta produces heat and so is responsible for the metabolism while kapha produces growth and structure. All three are essential for life: without vata we couldn't breathe, our blood wouldn't pump round the body, food wouldn't move through our guts nor would any chemical impulses fly to and from the brain. Without pitta we would not be able to process the air, water and food that runs through our system. And without kapha we simply wouldn't hold together: kapha keeps our cells bonded together and fuses bone, muscle, fat and connective tissue.
The dosha that dominates within our body gives rise to our prakruti, or body type - the basic predominating psychophysiological force which affects everything about us - from our shape and our weight to our predisposition to different illnesses; to the forms of exercise that suit us; the kinds of food we should eat; how we think; how we react to situations; even how we perceive the whole world. Ayurveda teaches that we should follow a seasonal routine to keep ourselves in balance as the seasons, and prevailing energies, change. They even have a name for the process - ritucharya. Ritucharya doesn't involve overturning your lifestyle every few months, rather simply being aware of the shifts in the seasons and moving the emphasis of your diet and activities. We’ll look at this in greater detail in Part Five.
WORKING OUT YOUR PRAKRUTI
Few people have just one dosha predominating - most of us are combinations of two. If you are truly balanced already, you will be a perfect balance between all three but that is quite rare. The following questionnaire should help you gain a general understanding of the doshas that govern you. Simply read through the following questions and tick those that apply to you. There are no trick questions, no right or wrong answers…just be totally and brutally honest (if you prefer you might want to write your answers on a pad, rather than ticking the boxes!).
YOUR PHYSICAL BODY
1. What were you like at birth and as a child?
a) I was small at birth, and a thin child.
b) I was average at birth and a medium-sized child.
c) I was a large baby and a plump or solid child.
2. What is your build now?
a) thin with light bones and prominent joints and tendons. Perhaps either very tall or very short, I hardly ever put on weight.
b) medium build and bone structure, I can easily gain and lose weight.
c) large boned and quite heavy or dense in build, with broad shoulders or wide hips. I find it hard to lose weight.
3. What is your skin like?
a) dry delicate skin that is easily affected by the weather.
b) soft skin. Often a ruddy or freckled complexion.
c) often a pale complexion with thick skin. Skin can be oily but will usually be cool to the touch.
4. What kind of hair do you have?
a) normal to dry, often dark, wiry or kinky.
b) normal to fine hair, often blonde, red or prematurely grey.
c) normal to oily, thick wavy hair.
5. What are your eyes like?
a) small, dark and constantly moving.
b) quite penetrating in their stare, often light green, grey or hazel.
c) large beautiful eyes with lustrous eyelashes, often brown.
6. What kind of appetite do you have?
a) irregular - sometimes I’m ravenous, sometimes I can't be bothered. I like to snack or nibble and often have eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to larger meals.
b) good - I hate to skip meals and feel irritable and even ill if forced to do so. I like high protein foods like meat and fish, eggs and pulses.
c) healthy - I enjoy food and don't like skipping meals but, if forced to do so, I suffer no ill effects. I love starchy, fatty foods - bread, sweets, cakes.
7. How are your bowel movements?
a) irregular, often hard or constipated.
b) regular, tending to soft, loose and profuse.
c) regular, steady, thick and heavy.
8. How do you sleep?
a) I’m a light sleeper, sleep often short and interrupted. I sometimes find it hard to get to sleep or I’m liable to insomnia.
b) I’m a regular and sound sleeper, rarely any problems.
c) I’m a heavy, long sleeper. Can be liable to oversleep or feel drowsy during the day.
9. What are your hands and nails like?
a) cold hands with little perspiration; nails are often brittle.
b) hands often perspire a lot, nails are flexible but quite strong.
c) hands sometimes perspire, nails are thick and strong.
10. How do you walk?
a) quickly, lightly, I always seem in a hurry.
b) medium pace but a determined fashion, purposeful.
c) slowly and steadily, calm.
11. What kind of illnesses are you prone to?
a) sharp pains, headaches, nervous disorders, gas or constipation, eczema or dry rashes.
b) rashes and allergies, inflammation, heartburn, ulcers, acidity, feverish complaints.
c) fluid retention and excess mucous, bronchitis, sinus problems, asthma, congestion.
YOUR MIND AND EMOTIONS
12. What is your basic personality?
a) enthusiastic, outgoing, talkative but with changeable moods and ideas.
b) strong-minded and purposeful, I thrive on challenges. I tend to be quite forceful in expressing my opinions.
c) calm and can be placid and good-natured, easy-going, reliable and steady.
13. What are you like at work?
a) quick, imaginative and alert, an active and creative thinker with an endless fund of ideas. I become bored with rigid routine or discipline.
b) a natural leader with a keen intellect. I’m efficient and like well-planned routine and tend to be a perfectionist.
c) I keep projects running smoothly and calmly. I enjoy a regular routine.
14. How do you react to stress?
a) I have a tendency to become anxious or nervous.
b) I become angry or irritable.
c) I try to avoid it at all costs.
15. How do you dream?
a) frequently but I often can't remember my dreams on waking.
b) vividly, often in colour - I find it easy to remember your dreams.
c) I only tend to remember highly significant or clear dreams.
16. What is your memory like?
a) I’m quick to learn but equally quick to forget.
b) my memory is generally quite good.
c) I take a while to learn but my long-term memory is excellent.
17. How is your sex life?
a) I have an active fantasy life but my sexual interest actually tends to fluctuate - sometimes I love sex, at other times I’m not that interested.
b) I have a pretty average sex drive.
c) I love sex and although I might take a while to "warm up", I have intense sex and great stamina.
18. Do you spend or save money?
a) money is there to spend, I tend to be an impulse-buyer and have large credit-card bills.
b) I am a sensible spender, buying useful and classic items.
c) I am a great saver, I always have enough money.
19. How would you describe your lifestyle?
a) erratic, always changing.
b) busy with plenty of plans, I achieve a lot.
c) steady and regular, I sometimes feel a bit stuck in a rut.
Now simply add up how many a's, b's and c's you ticked.
A predominance of a's signifies that you are most likely a vata type
A predominance of b's indicate pitta.
A predominance of c's indicate kapha.
Few people ever have just one dosha so don't be surprised if you have two scores quite close. Most of us are combinations of two doshas - some people even have all three.
Let’s have a quick overview of what your scores mean.
MAINLY A'S - VATA: Speed and movement are the keys to vata, so it's not surprising to find that vata is the dosha of wind and air. If you’re a typical vata you are always on the go, both physically and mentally. Vatas are quick, creative and flexible; they absolutely adore anything new and exciting - new things, new ideas, new sights. Vatas are ideas people, full of imagination and often artistic. However it is hard to pin them down to one task or one idea, they are changeable and tend to flit from one thing to another. Vatas pick up new subjects very quickly and easily but often forget them just as quickly.
TIMES DOMINATED BY VATA ENERGY: Vata energy is most active in the late afternoon and early evening (from 2-6pm) and just before dawn (2-6am). Its seasons are autumn and winter.
WHEN VATA IS UNBALANCED: When vata is unbalanced it can cause constipation, bloating and wind, aching joints, dry skin and hair, brittle nails, failing memory or confusion.
MAINLY B'S - PITTA: Fire and water are the elements of pitta. If you’re a pitta person you will undoubtedly have initiative and good energy; you are a determined and forceful soul, confident in your abilities, courageous, intelligent and generally happy. Pittas grasp information quickly and easily and can put their knowledge into practice. They are great organizers in whatever field they find themselves - either as highly organized parents or the leaders of giant corporations.
TIMES DOMINATED BY PITTA ENERGY: Pitta energy is strongest between 10am and 2pm and from 10pm to 2am. Its season is high summer.
WHEN PITTA IS UNBALANCED: If pitta energy becomes unbalanced you can fall prey to sunburn, rashes and irritability in the sun. Sore throats, inflammations and fevers and intense feelings of anger, frustration or jealousy are all signs of unbalanced pitta.
MAINLY C'S - KAPHA: Solidity is the key word for kapha, the dosha of earth and water. Kapha is solid, strong and enduring and if you’re a kapha person you’re probably as "strong as an ox" with great stamina. Kaphas are wonderfully calm, grounded, honest and trustworthy people who prefer to shun the limelight and quietly work on the task in hand. Kapha people crave security, they enjoy routines and the comforts of regularity. They most definitely like their food and can often comfort eat and put on weight.
TIMES DOMINATED BY KAPHA ENERGY: Kapha times are 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm. The kapha season is spring.
WHEN KAPHA IS UNBALANCED: When kapha falls into imbalance, you will find excess weight and mucus building in the body, sinuses will become blocked and colds will become common. Depression is the bane of unbalanced kapha.
Finding and balancing your doshas can be a truly liberating experience. People who have never been able to lose weight can find the excess simply vanishing as they rid their body of the foods that increase kapha dosha. Equally, those who never seem able to put on weight however much they eat can find a vata-soothing diet will bring them down to earth. The benefits aren't just physical: soothing imbalanced doshas can help your memory and concentration, can allow you to sleep better, can help you deal with stress and depression, make you less irritable and even improve your sex life.