What can Ayurveda achieve?
In most cases, physical discomforts can be noticeably reduced with a Panchakarma cure; quite often, even chronic diseases can be alleviated considerably. In general Ayurveda is known to achieve astonishing results with illnesses which are considered hard to treat with conventional medicine. One distinguishing aspect of Ayurveda lies in questioning the psychological backgrounds and possible causes if illness.
Ayurveda has proven itself particularly successful with the following problems:
- Back pain
- Skin diseases (e.g., Neurodermatitis, Psoriasis)
- Chronic enteritis
- High blood pressure
- Heart- and circulatory discomfort
- Sleeping disorder
- Metabolic disease
- Headaches and Migraine
- Nasal sinusitis
- Stress and Burnout
- Reducing the side effects after operations and chemotherapies
The radical cleansing process of a Panchakarma cure can not only alleviate illnesses, but also contributes to a considerably improved general well-being. The positive effects of this intensive cleansing process are:
- Activation of the metabolism
- Stabilization of the immune system
- Increased vitality
- Noticeably improved overall well-being
- Increased stress tolerance
- Improved concentration and memory
- Enhanced creative and intuitive abilities
- A new feeling of wholeness
- Inner calmness
- A new experience of a cleaned being
- Beautiful, harmonized and revitalized skin
- Shiny and strong hair
- Clear, beaming eyes
- Strengthened connective tissue
- Weight loss
About Illness and Health
According to Ayurvedic teaching, health means that the bio-energies (Doshas) are in balance. This balance remains intact as long as we live in harmony with the laws of nature and listen to our inner voice. The problem is that we are constantly exposed to a multitude of external influences such as change of climate, unnatural surroundings, unhealthy food and mental stress. Therefore, many different factors influence one or more Doshas and change their proportions within us. In our western world, additional influences contribute to our Doshas being in imbalance: constant strain, psychological burdens, stress, unbalanced diet or a lack of relaxation. An illness develops when such influences cause one of the Doshas to rise or fall considerably. In other words: Ayurveda defines illness as the result of an imbalance of the bio-energies or Doshas.
From the Ayurvedic viewpoint, even minor symptoms mark the beginning of an illness, e.g. a lack of appetite, flatulence or fatigue. For a short while the body is able to compensate such disharmonies on its own by intuitively or consciously doing things to regain the needed balance. If this self-regulation does not occur, the person will no longer be able to compensate the imbalance. According to Ayurvedic teaching, toxic metabolic products (ama) now accumulate in different parts of the body, which are considered as the cause of most illnesses. The result: Life energies are lost, the immune system is weakened and the door is opened for illnesses.
The Basis of Ayurveda and Panchakarma: The Doshas
All things in the world – according to Ayurveda – are made up of the five basic elements fire, earth, water, air and ether (empty space) in varying proportions. Each element bears the combination of different characteristics. The element air, for example, is light and mobile. Earth is heavy, cold and stable. Fire is hot, mobile and penetrating. In our body as well as in nature, two basic elements form one Dosha:
- Air and ether form Vata. Vata governs bodily functions connected to movement.
- The elements fire and water are reflected in Pitta. Pitta is transformation
- Kapha is a combination of earth and water and manifests itself as matter
These three bio-energies regulate all physical, spiritual and mental processes. The science of Ayurvedic constitutions are based on the existence of Doshas: Their proportions determine the individuality of a person, which remains unchanged throughout life – at least as long as the person is healthy. According to the dominating Dosha, a person is considered a Vata-, Pitta- or Kapha-Type. Their composition determines certain strengths, weaknesses, susceptibility to disease and characteristics of a person.
Vata – The Principle of Movement
The combination of the elements air and space (or ether) forms the bio-energy known as Vata. Its primary characteristic represents movement.
Vata governs processes like respiration, blood circulation, the locomotor system, transport of all liquids, secretions, gases and waste products. Vata therefore influences the heart circulation system, the digestive tract and the respiratory system. Furthermore it causes the management of the nervs’ impulses from the brain to the motoric movements and back. Vata also dominates the nervous system and the brain and therefore also controls the human consciousness. Vata is the dominating Dosha; without Vata the other two Doshas would be like clouds in the stormy sky, a poem verse from the famous Charaka Samhita claims. Vata easily loses it equilibrium as two of its major characteristics are impermanence and lightness. People who suffer from stress often have an imbalanced Vata-Dosha.
People dominated by Vata are described as: either small or very large, slender, with protruding joints and visible veins. Because Vata combines air and ether, Vata-types often feel cold, have cold hands and feet, rough, dry skin, fragile and cracked fingernails and brittle hair. Vata-dominated persons are often very communicative and creative, talk and move quickly and skilful. On the negative side they tend to be fearful, unstable, quick to start something new without bringing it to an end. The perceptivity of such a person is extremely good, just like their short-term memory.
Pitta – The Principle of Transformation
Pitta in Ayurveda is responsible for the generation of heat and the processing of food within the body. Pitta literally means "that which transforms". It controls the entire metabolism, our digestion, the conversion of food into body substance, the transformation of sensory stimuli into thoughts and thought into memory. Furthermore Pitta regulates the body temperature and physical needs such as hunger and thirst. On the spiritual level, Pitta is associated with courage and decisiveness. Emotions like fear, timidity, annoyance and sensuous desire are also steered by Pitta. The most common Pitta disturbances in the body are skin problems and stomach inflammations. Outbursts of rage and a "hothead" are disturbances of the Pitta on the mental level.
Thus, people with dominating Pitta are described to have a medium skeleton, to be slender but athletic and physically active. They have robust metabolism functions, enabling them to eat and drink large amounts without gaining weight. Because Pitta is a combination of fire and water, Pita-types do not tolerate heat very well. They perspire easily, are prone to impure skin, to loss of hair and grey hair at an early age. They are very active, have a sharp intellect and tend to have strong emotions. They are ambitious perfectionists and strive for leadership positions or self-employment. Because the fire element is very strong, they quickly become angry and aggressive.
Kapha – the Dosha of Holding Things Together
Kapha, the third Dosha, consists of the two elements water and earth. Kapha is the bio-energy which is responsible for growth and structural increase. Kapha is the origin of cohesion and protection. Therefore, all tissues and substances with a protective function are attributed to Kapha. Kapha gives strength to the body to endure physical hardship and to master difficult tasks. But it also contributes to mental stability. Malfunctioning metabolism and overweight are physical disturbances of Kapha; listlessness, sluggishness and depressions are mental conditions caused by excessive Kapha.
People with dominating Kapha have a well shaped body with a strong bone-structure, a sluggish metabolism and therefore are prone to overweight. Their motor skills are slow, so is their perception. However, they usually have a good long term memory. Kapha-types enjoy sleeping long hours. They freeze easily, have a strong vitality, are patient, generous, forgiving, dutiful and loyal.
The Individuality of the Ayurveda-Doshas - Prakriti - प्रकृति
Prakriti (literally „essential nature“) is one of the most elementary and important theses of Ayurveda. Translated it could be defined as the "basic constitution". This means that each and every one of us is unique and from the day of our birth we have our individual pattern of the three Doshas. Their distribution is determined at the time of conception and thus creates our individuality. The balance of these three forces determines a person’s health and vitality.
Vikriti, the Current Distribution of the Doshas (the present, variable condition)
When a person’s Doshas are out of balance, his or her constitution changes. The Dosha-structure no longer corresponds with the original basic constitution (Prakriti) of the person. This condition is called “Vikriti”. In the long run, such a divergence will inevitably lead to illnesses.
Many Dosha disturbances initially manifest themselves energetically and emotionally. Only after a while the body shows first symptoms of illness. In our western world more than 80 percent of all disturbances are caused or intensified by Vata. Environmental impact, stress and certain living conditions very much affect Vata. Therefore, Vata reducing measures such as oil massages, warm meals and relaxation-exercises are especially important.
Doshas are increased when we over-expose ourselves to the characteristics of the Doshas through our lifestyle or our eating habits, for example if we eat very much light and dry food such as crispbread or cornflakes, the particular Dosha with these particular properties will be increased; in this case Vata. A prolonged stay in a cold and dry environment (e.g. working in a cold store) would have a similar effect. If, on the other hand, we work at a blast furnace and consume a lot of spicy food, Pitta will be increased.
The Path To Regaining Health
Ayurveda defines health far more comprehensively than purely by the absence of illness and pain. The original texts say: „truly healthy is:
- whose energies are in balance
- whose digestion and metabolism are balanced
- whose tissues are in order and whose waste products are regularly disposed of
- whose five senses function properly and
- who lives in happiness and fulfilment
There is no universally applicable treatment of an illness in Ayurveda. As a result, no two people with the same illness will be given the same treatment. This is one of the key differences between Ayurveda and western medicine: while the latter takes the illness as a starting point in its attempt to treat it, Ayurveda focuses on the complete human being and his or her energetic balance or imbalance. Hence, healing means the restoration of the balance by removing the excessive Doshas from the body.
Panchakarma – The Royal Road to Recovery पंचकर्म
The frequently quoted and renowned “Panchakarma” is considered to be the supreme discipline of deep cleansing. The literal translation from Sanskrit is „5 actions“. Through the application of numerous different treatment methods the body is cleaned of metabolism by-products, undigested food components (mala) and environmental poisons (ama). „Spiritual purification“ (burdening experiences, unresolved conflicts etc.) is also a part of such a cure. This is a clear indication that Ayurveda is far more than wellness: The purpose of this cure is the fundamental realignment of the metabolism so that the body can regain its original balance. At the same time the immune system is stabilized and the body’s own self-healing power is reactivated. This thorough cleansing takes place not only physically, but also spiritually. It is also a process of “letting go“. Therefore, Panchakarma presents itself as a unique concept of rejuvenation, prevention and healing.
Because of the intensity of such a cure, a duration of two weeks minimum is highly recommended, three or four weeks will show even better results.