In Sanskrit ayur means life and veda means knowledge or science… Ayurveda or knowledge of life is a natural system of healing that originated in India about five millennia ago. Ayurvedic medicine is still practiced widely in India and there are ayurvedic clinics in most countries around the world.
Some conventional or Western medical practitioners consider Ayurveda a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and may include it alongside their conventional treatments.
Ayurveda: How the ayurvedic healing system works
In Ayurvedic medicine, good health is defined as a state of equilibrium within yourself plus between you and your environment. To achieve this equilibrium your ayurvedic clinician will prescribe changes to your individual lifestyle and diet. These changes will be based on your personal body type or constitution, called your dosha.
This health system lays great emphasis on ayurvedic lifestyle practices, along with personalized nutrient-dense diets, to help prevent disease and optimize well-being, both physically and mentally.
It targets the whole person? the body, mind and spirit? which means that diet, use of herbs and supplements, stress management, sleep, and movement all combine to promote overall health. It may also include CAM treatments such as homeopathy, massage, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and exercise.
In order to follow the Ayurveda, your particular dosha must be determined.
The three basic doshas
Each person’s dosha or body type is different and unique.
However, there are three different basic doshas… vata, pitta and kapha… and every individual has a unique combination of these three doshas that determines his or her physical and psychological characteristics.
Here’s a brief overview of the three basic doshas:
Vata… these people are usually thin with smaller bones, find it difficult to put on weight and have digestive problems. They are curious, open-minded, creative and energetic, yet tend to be fearful, stressful and scatter-brained.
Vata energy plays a role in essential functions, such as breathing, circulation, mobility and motion. Vata people are susceptible to physical problems such as neurological disorders, insomnia, arthritis and heart disease and mental issues like fear and grief.
Pitta… these people are mainly of medium build and find putting on weight or muscle easy. They are smart, hard-working, ambitious, competitive but angry and aggressive at times.
Pitta energy plays a strong role in metabolic functions, such as digestion, absorption of nutrients, energy expenditure and body temperature. They can over-exert themselves and are prone to heart disease, hypertension, infectious diseases and digestive problems.
Kapha… these people usually have a big solid build and tend to be overweight. They are realists, supportive, loving and forgiving but tend to be lazy, envious, sad and insecure.
Kapha energy plays a role in lubrication, fluid balance, nourishment, rest, relaxation, caring for others, reproduction and building a strong immune system. Their health problems include diabetes, cancer, obesity, fluid retention and respiratory illnesses.
These doshas are general types and an individual’s personal dosha will be a combination of the three basic types in a proportion that is unique to that person.
Your dosha is be determined by an ayurvedic practitioner. However you can have a go at working it out for yourself by reading a companion article How to determine your unique personal dosha yourself.
How your ayurvedic practitioner determines your personal dosha
To determine your dosha, your consultant will take your medical history, check your skin and your tongue and gums, check your vital signs (heartbeat, pulse, reflexes etc) and so on.
He or she will also discuss your personal relationships and ask you about your sleep patterns, exercise routines, work and so on. His questions will examine a very wide number of variables, such things as… your physical characteristics… you personality traits… the food you eat… your level of activity… your mind, emotions and moods, and so on. Determining your primary dosha can be a lengthy process.
Once that is done, the consultant will figure out which aspects of your doshas are out of balance and why… perhaps, for example, because you are not eating a healthy diet, not sleeping enough or are overworking and so on.
In Ayurvedic medicine, good health means ensuring the three doshas are in a state of equilibrium within yourself and between you and your environment.
To find out where this balance is, you need to:
- tune in to the natural rhythms of your body, and
- synchronise your lifestyle with nature and its cyclical patterns, ie aligning your food choices, sleep patterns, and level of activity etc with the seasons, time of day and, if you are a woman, your menstrual cycle.
Thus, after determining your unique personal dosha and what aspects of your dosha are out of balance, the ayurvedic consultant will prescribe a lifestyle and a particular diet combined with specific herbs and restful practices.
The ayurvedic diet is discussed in a separate article Can the ayurvedic diet help control blood glucose levels?
Key points about an ayurvedic lifestyle
Your consultant will determine the lifestyle you need to follow to bring your dosha back into balance. The following are some of the key points he or she will cover:
Environment… creating a calm environment for your work and home by decluttering it (removing all unnecessary materials), allowing fresh air in, and adding plants or flowers to brighten it up.
Meditation… getting into the habit of waking up at about the same time every day and meditating quietly for about 15 minutes on what you intend to do for the day.
Avoiding certain foods… these are foods that are not appropriate for your dosha and therefor harmful, such as processed foods. You consultant will give you a list.
Eating nourishing foods… that are specific to your dosha, such as vegetables, legumes, spices, etc. Again, your consultant with provide you with a list.
Exercise… engaging in regular exercise that is appropriate for your body type… not too vigorous, but strong enough to improve circulation and functionality.
The benefits of an ayurvedic lifestyle
The core belief in the Ayurvedic health system is that illness and disease are the result of an imbalance in the three doshas and a disconnection from nature. It’s aim is to make you healthy by restoring that balance and reconnecting you with your environment.
But is this lifestyle beneficial?
Yes… according to a report published by the University of Maryland Medical Centre in 2015. The report stated that Ayurvedic medical practices coupled with a personalised ayurvedic diet can help in the treatment of a variety of inflammatory, hormonal, digestive, and autoimmune conditions.
Of particular interest to type 2 diabetics, Ayurveda:
- Helps you reduce your high blood pressure
- Helps you reduce your cholesterol
- Reduces you weight and especially your tummy fat
- Gives you better control over your stress
The first three bulleted points refer to the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders concerning certain biochemical processes… high blood glucose levels, increased blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, or excess body fat around the waist… that very often occur at the same time in your body and are inter-related. If you have three of these conditions, you have metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome arises before you become diabetic, and it increases your chances of developing diabetes and heart disease or of suffering a stroke. If you have one component of the syndrome, you are likely to have the others.
Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that the ayurvedic lifestyle will benefit you control of your blood glucose, and in any case, as a diabetic, there’s an 85% chance you have problems with your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
When people with type 2 diabetes are under mental stress, they generally experience an increase in their blood glucose levels. When they are under physical stress, due, for example, to injury or illness, their blood sugar can also increase.
Better control of stress seems to be one of the primary benefits of Ayurveda, according to a western medical viewpoint. We know that chronic stress can ruin your quality of life and that lower stress levels are correlated with better health, longevity, weight management and overall happiness There is no doubt that the ayurvedic lifestyle may help you beat your type 2 diabetes.