Although it may be considered a new alternative
medicine in America, Ayurveda,
as the world’s oldest known health-care system, is the
“granddaddy” of healing traditions. Developed over centuries of use,
it is a mind, body, and spirit approach to healing that attempts to keep
people healthy and disease-free. Ayurveda’s focus is the prevention of
disease, including the sort of chronic health problems that frequently
afflict individuals with physical disabilities, including spinal cord
injury (SCI), and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Ayurveda originated in ancient India over 5,000
years ago. In spite - or perhaps because - of these ancient roots, its
influence in today’s world may be greater than people think.
For example, according to legend, Buddha, a great
admirer of Ayurveda, sent teachers to different countries to integrate
Ayurvedic perspectives into local healing traditions. These traditions,
in turn, became the foundation for many of today’s approaches to
Ayurveda survived various threats over the
millennia because it was deeply ingrained within Indian family customs
and culture. These threats, in part, resulted from foreign conquests of
India by Muslim nations and later the British, who imposed their medical
conventional medicine) on Indian society.
After Indian independence in 1947, Ayurvedic
medicine began to resurface in popularity. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,
Transcendental Meditation Program founder, facilitated its introduction
into western society. Ayurveda’s
visibility soared after the popular author Deepak Chopra began
publishing best-sellers on the subject.
In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, Ayurveda
means the “science of life and longevity.” It attempts to make sense
out of life through living in harmony with nature. Because of its
ancient origins, Ayurveda is explained with concepts and terminology
developed without the benefit of modern anatomical and physiological
People steeped in 20th- century medical
thinking may view Ayurveda’s tradition-based theories as archaic with
limited healthcare relevance in today’s world. Nevertheless, ancient
wisdom often has much validity. Modern
science is increasingly proving the effectiveness of many Ayurvedic
therapies and approaches, and explaining how they work in scientific
Ayurvedic Mind-Body Type:
According to Ayurvedic theory, all individuals are
made up of three basic energies or doshas
called vata, pitta, and kapha
These are present in unique proportions defined at birth. Like a
fingerprint, your characteristic mix, called prakruti,
will distinguish you for life with respect to physical, mental, and
emotional predispositions. It
reflects your true, essential self. Although your prakruti may be set
for life, your day–to-day mix of vata, pitta, and kapha may vary
greatly depending how well you interact with your environment (e.g.,
stress, dietary choices, exercise patterns, and seasonal changes).
Your current mix is called your vikruti. If your vikruti is identical to your prakruti (i.e.,
born-with Ayurvedic ideal), your health should be excellent. Simply
stated, if you can remain true to who you are from an Ayurvedic
perspective, you will be healthy; if you cannot, you will invite
The vata, pitta, and kapha doshas are associated
with different individual characteristics:
Vata is the pranic life-force energy associated with physical and
psychological movement, circulation and the nervous system. People
predominately influenced by the vata dosha tend to have thin, light,
flexible bodies and are characteristically quick, changeable,
unpredictable, enthusiastic, and talkative. They often possess quick
minds and are creative. When
out of balance, vata individuals experience nervous-system disorders,
energy or intestinal problems, insomnia, dry skin, and anxiety. The vata
dosha is balanced by regular habits, quiet, attention to fluids,
decreased sensitivity to stress, ample rest, warmth, steady nourishment,
and oil message.
Pitta energy governs metabolism. Pitta individuals are often of
medium height and build; and tend to be fiery, intense, possess a sharp
and creative mind, a penetrating look in their eyes, a ruddy complexion,
a competitive streak, and a hot temper. When out of balance, they
experience fevers, inflammatory disorders, heartburn, ulcers, skin
rashes, anger, and irritation. Moderation, coolness, leisure, exposure
to natural beauty, and decreased stimulants balance the pitta dosha.
Kapha energy governs the body’s structure and provides strength,
vigor and stability. Kapha individuals usually have a strong, large,
healthy, well-developed bodies that tend to gain weight. They are
even-tempered and calm, and have impressive endurance. When out of
balance, Kapha individuals are predisposed to respiratory and congestion
disorders, sinus problems, obesity, tumors, and lethargy. The kapha
dosha is balanced by regular exercise weight control, variety of
experiences, warmth, dryness, and reduced sweetness.
To maintain health, you must strive to adjust your
vata, pitta and kapha mix to match your born-with Ayurvedic ideal. To do
this balancing, you must know 1) your current mix of vata, pitta, and
kapha (vikruti), reflecting your present state of health; and 2) your
born-with Ayurvedic constitution (prakruti), reflecting what you wish to
regain. In other words, you
need to know where you stand now and what you are aiming for These
assessments can be obtained using questionnaires included in many
Ayurvedic reference books.
Once you understand your doshic imbalance, you
should take appropriate actions to help you realign your mix of vata,
pitta, and kapha in the desired direction. For example, although you may
have been born with a kapha constitution (prakruti), the stress of
modern living and a fast-food diet has aggravated your vata dosha. As a
result, you are now experiencing vata-associated disorders, such as
anxiety, insomnia, or intestinal problems. To remedy this imbalance, you
would take steps to reduce vata aggravation and promote kapha
In Ayurveda, these steps emphasize diet and
nutrition, exercise, rest and relaxation, meditation, breathing
exercises, medicinal herbs, and rejuvenation and detoxification
programs. Modern science is increasingly recognizing the benefits of
many of these lifestyle factors. For example, meditators visit doctors
half as much; have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and substance
abuse; and age more slowly.
In Western medicine, the five senses have little
therapeutic role. For example, if you are given a drug, its taste or
smell isn’t important. However,
in Ayurvedic medicine, the senses play a key role because they are
considered doorways to your internal physiology. As such, Ayurvedic
therapies frequently attempt to evoke various sensory combinations. With
this view, food and spices will trigger physiological responses not only
through its nutrient value but also through taste and smell.
Thus, with Ayurveda, the whole is greater
than the sum of the parts.
For example, acquiring your vitamin C through
freshly squeezed orange juice is more meaningful than a vitamin C
supplement. In general, this approach reflects a major difference
between Eastern holistic and Western reductionism medical philosophies.
Where Western medicine would attempt to isolate and, in turn, market a
plant’s physiologically active component, Ayurveda would use
preparations of the whole plant. In addition to the active ingredient,
Ayurveda believes that other synergistic components and
sensory-provoking aspects of the plant are also important.
Ayurveda, digestion is the foundation of good health. The doshas produce
a metabolic fire, called agni,
that transforms nourishment from food, feelings, and thoughts into a
form your body can use. If your digestive fire or agni isn’t working
properly due to doshic imbalance, you will produce toxins, called ama.
Ama will clog both your body’s physical (e.g., intestines, arteries,
etc.) and nonphysical (e.g., energy) channels. To prevent ama
accumulation, individuals should favor different types of foods
depending upon whether they are more influenced by vata, pitta, or kapha
doshas (see resources listed below for dietary recommendations).
According to Ayurvedic theory, the American diet
aggravates the vata dosha, which has resulted in many of the health
problems that characterize American society.
Spinal Cord Dysfunction
People with spinal cord dysfunction often have an
increased incidence of chronic health problems.
It is speculated that these problems stem from, or are aggravated
by, the considerable physiological and metabolic shifts that occur in
the body after paralysis. From
an Ayurvedic perspective, these shifts increase the divergence between
your vikruti (your current mix of vata, pitta, and kapha) and your
prakruti (your born-with vata, pitta, kapha ideal).
For example, spinal cord injury promotes a vata
imbalance. If this is not corrected, ama (toxins) will accumulate,
clogging your body’s channels and, in turn, causing disease. Hence,
people with SCI need to be vigilant in their efforts to regain a good
doshic balance, especially with respect to foods and behaviors.
According to Dr. Rama Mishra, a leading Ayurvedic
physician trained in India, certain spices are recommended for clearing
channels of ama after any sort of injury. These include turmeric, black
pepper, ginger, coriander, fennel, and licorish. He also notes that his
company, Maharishi Ayur-Ved Products, headquartered in Colorado Springs,
markets a multi-herbal product (only through health-care
professionals) called “Regen – Nerve.” One of the herbs is derived
from a plant called Mimosa pudica (common name: the “sensitive” or
“touch-me-not” plant”). According to animal studies, this herb
promotes neuronal health.
Specifically, scientists have observed in rats with
experimental injury of the sciatic nerve (which runs through the pelvis
and upper leg), regeneration was 30-40% higher in the animals treated
with the Mimosa pudica extract.