Ayurvedic Medicine

Photography by: Tom Collicott
Ayurvedic Medicine
According to ayurveda, each dosha has different dietary and lifestyle requirements. To complicate matters, different seasons, ages and cultures have doshas as well. Summer, for example, is the time of "hot" pitta, according to Lonsdorf, while winter accentuates "cool" vata. As we age, she adds, we all become more vata. "And in many ways we are a vata culture: rootless, mobile, creative."

How does this translate into a practical healing approach? An ayurvedic practitioner will take a detailed history to determine an individual's constitutional makeup and to evaluate whether each dosha is in balance. Based on this, guidelines for diet, herb and lifestyle are recommended. "The herbs are prescribed according to the doshas that are out of balance," says Lonsdorf, who supervises in-house ayurvedic treatment programs at The Raj, a spa in Vedic City, Iowa, near Maharishi University in Fairfield.

If the condition is chronic or the individual wants fast relief, then a practitioner will usually prescribe a series of balancing and cleansing treatments called panchakarma. Special care to diet is critical before, during and after panchakarma.

"First off, people start eating a simple vegetarian diet," says Lonsdorf. The diet includes mostly cooked vegetables and simple grains. For four or five days, those undergoing panchakarma also take clarified butter, or ghee, on an empty stomach. It is thought that ghee is absorbed into the body and helps move toxins out of tissues and into the intestines. After four to five days, the person takes a laxative to move the accumulated toxins out of the intestines. Then, over the next three to seven days, herb-infused sesame oil is gently massaged into his or her body daily, opening the circulation and moving additional deep-rooted toxins into the bloodstream.

Steam is offered to further speed detoxification; and finally, mild herbal enemas may be prescribed. In addition, practitioners recommend proven stress-reduction techniques like transcendental meditation.

This approach has proved extraordinarily beneficial in some cases. Tracy Marks, a 38-year-old Minneapolis resident, suffered from severe fibromyalgia and herniated disks in her neck after a car accident. "I tried every type of [conventional] medicine," she says, "including pain medications and physical therapy. Then I went to The Raj in August 2003, and I'm a lot better. I don't feel like I'm fighting with my body anymore. Most of the pain in my neck is gone."

In lieu of hands-on treatment with a practitioner, you can adopt some of the insights of ayurveda into your own life. The ayurvedic lifestyle is an early-to-rise, early-to-bed approach that is in harmony with nature's rhythms; it advocates setting aside quiet time in the morning for meditation and yoga, and daily massage with appropriate oils. The vegetarian diet emphasizes healthful cooked grains and vegetables.

"The root of disease lies in our choices and our lifestyle," explains San Francisco-based practitioner Pratichi Mathur, who healed her own illness, a painful and progressive condition of the spine, through ayurvedic techniques. "I used to take painkillers but they disturbed my entire system. Now I follow the ayurvedic way and I'm on top of my disease. The symptoms are much less, I can stand straight, I practice healing. I try to lead my life from the inside out. With ayurveda, you learn who you are and what your body really wants."