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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) - Chiropractic Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicine

General Description

Ayurveda, which means the science of life in Sanskrit, originated in India thousands of years ago and is considered to be the oldest known system of medicine. Ayurvedic medicine addresses physical health, mental clarity, and spiritual fulfillment, and treats the whole person rather than just concentrating on one’s disease. It is a complete system of philosophical, as well as spiritual, practices, to help a person regain and maintain health, self-fulfillment, and balance of one’s entire being.

Ayurvedic philosophy dictates that every person is responsible for his or her own health, including physical, mental, and spiritual energies. It is based on the belief that an individual’s characteristics and health are determined by that individual’s dosha, or metabolic body type. It is a complete philosophy of life and holistic approach to medicine.

Although Ayurvedic medicine’s primary focus is preventive, it also offers healing remedies for hundreds of ailments. Ayurvedic medicine is typically recommended for chronic, metabolic, and stress related problems.

History of Ayurvedic Medicine

The basic principles of Ayurveda were discovered at a gathering where holy sages of ancient India (rishis) were practicing deep meditative practices. The principles were then codified in the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit sacred writings from around 1500 B.C.E. The first of these to mention Ayurvedic medicine were the Charaka Sambita and, later, the Susbruta Sambita.

These two texts explain that the body is made up of cells and identify at least twenty microbes responsible for causing disease. These texts discuss surgical techniques such as Caesarian sectioning, suturing, as well as the importance of hygienic protocol.

It is believed that Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, based his entire medical system on Ayurvedic medicine. This is due to the fact that Greek medicine derived much knowledge from Ayurvedic medicine and Western medicine is believed to have come from Greek medicine. The concept of humors was also derived from Ayurvedic medicine.

The growth and practice of Ayurvedic medicine was held back for numerous years due to discouragement from the British Raj. In 1947, India re-embraced its Ayurvedic tradition when its independence was gained.

Today, 85% of India’s population, which is over 850 million people, is helped by more than 400,000 Ayurvedic practitioners. There are 108 Ayurvedic colleges in India that grant degrees after a five year medical school program, followed by a year or more in internship, which is equivalent to Western residency. There are 300,000 Ayurvedic physicians represented by the All India Ayur-Veda Congress.

Ayurvedic Medicine Practice in the United States

Ayurvedic medicine is not a recognized medical discipline and no licensure protocol currently exists for its practitioners in the United States. It is, nonetheless, steadily growing here where two types of Ayurvedic medicine are predominant.

One type is traditional Ayurveda, taught in Indian colleges and based on the ancient textbooks of the master physicians Caraka, Sushruta, and Vagbhata. The other, a more modern type, is Maharishi Ayur-Veda (also their product line name), which has flourished in the United States since the 1960s due to the efforts of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement.

Critics of the Maharishi Ayur-Vedic form question its authenticity and claim that its practitioners are more interested in selling products than helping their patients. Regardless of this criticism, Maharishi Ayur-Veda is the most popular form of Ayurvedic medicine in the United States.

Ayurvedic medicine has also been popularized in the United States by Deepak Chopra, MD who is a western trained endocrinologist and author of several best selling books, and by Dr. Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic physician, author, and Director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Lad is a classically trained Ayurvedic practitioner trained at the University of Pune in India—equivalent to an M.D. in the United States.

Description of Ayurvedic Treatment

There are two basic types of treatment; one is constitutional and the other therapeutic. The constitutional type involves adjustments in lifestyle and taking Ayurvedic preparations to enhance and preserve good health. The principal form of constitutional treatment is called panchakarma, a five step cleansing program that lasts anywhere from three days to three weeks.

The therapeutic type of treatment involves specific healing regimens used to fight disease by eliminating a sludge-like substance (ama) from the body. Ama is believed to result from undigested food and thought to block the digestive system and energy channels. These treatments include herbal remedies, cleansing procedures, such as therapeutic vomiting or herbal enemas, and blood detoxification through bloodletting. Dietary changes are used for both constitutional and therapeutic types of treatment based upon one’s particular dosha type.

Ayurvedic Medicine Theory

Ayurvedic medicine is based on the belief in the existence of seven major factors that can disrupt physiological harmony. These include the following:

1. Genetic 2. Congenital 3. Internal 4. External trauma 5. Seasonal 6. Natural tendencies or habits 7. Magnetic and electrical influences

Ayurvedic medicine is also based on the belief in the existence of five elements (panchamahabhutas). The following Five Elements are believed to be the foundation by which all matter and life is derived. Each of the five elements possesses its own characteristics and corresponds to specific senses and certain functions. It is believed that the five elements combine in various proportions with the soul to create each living being.

1. Ether 2. Air 3. Fire 4. Water 5. Earth

The three doshas (tridoshas) are derived from the five elements and used to diagnose and treat patients. Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatment plans are determined by using the three doshas to classify people into certain personality types, anatomy and physiology characteristics, and particular susceptibility to disease. Every person is made up of different proportions of the three doshas, but most display a predominant one, influenced by all life experiences. The essential character (prakriti) of each person is determined by the relative dominance of one dosha over another. The three doshas and their corresponding characteristics are:

1. Vata

A vata person, which relates to the element of space and air, exemplifies the following qualities: quick witted; resourceful; speaks quickly; quick to grasp ideas; active; alert; enjoys being on the move; creative; restless mind; poor long-term memory; light, cool, dry skin; slender with predominant features, joints, and veins; curly hair; highly active; frightened; easily changeable; unpredictable; moody; exuberant and expansive; imaginative; impulsive; insecure; and good at starting things but poor at finishing them. A vata person is prone to anxiety, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, flatulance, tics and twitches, aching joints, nerve disorders, and constipation.

Foods appropriate for a vata constitution:

1. Increase intake of sour, sweet, and salty foods such as carrots, bananas, rice, onions, grapefruit, oats, green beans, melons, and mung beans.

2. Decrease intake of bitter, pungent, and astringent foods, such as buckwheat, millet, unripe fruit, cold/raw foods, yeasted bread, coarse beans, strong spices, caffeine, and sugar.

2. Pitta

A pitta person, which is the element of fire, usually has soft, fair hair; strong digestion; medium build; strength and endurance; determined; strong willed; passionate; clear headed; ambitious; enthusiastic; successful; works well under pressure; courageous in emergencies; well proportioned and maintains weight easily; fair with red or blonde hair, freckles, and a ruddy complexion; quick, articulate, biting intelligence; critical; passionate; explosive temper; efficient; regular eating and sleeping habits; perspires heavily; warm; thirsty; good appetite; and likes foods with strong flavors. A pitta person is prone to acne, ulcers, hemorrhoids, and digestive problems.

Foods appropriate for a pitta constitution:

1. Increase intake of sweet, bitter, and astringent foods such as leafy greens, apples, barley, squashes, melons, rice, mushrooms, coconut, and mung beans.

2. Decrease intake of sour, salty, pungent foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit, corn, garlic, papaya, buckwheat, peppers, honey, rye, meat, eggs, alcohol, yeasted bread, and coffee.

3. Kapha

A kapha person, which is associated with the element of water, typically has thick, cool, damp, and pale skin; oily hair; large, solid, heavy and strong build; oily complexion; large, soulful eyes; slow digestion; slow to anger; slow to eat; slow to act; tendency toward overweight; sleep long and heavily; procrastinates; obstinate; caring; soft-spoken; forgiving; relaxed; and emotionally secure. A kapha type is prone to high cholesterol, colds and flus, allergies, sinusitis, and obesity.

Foods appropriate for a kapha constitution:

1. Increase intake of bitter, pungent, astringent foods such as leafy greens, apples, buckwheat, peppers, cranberries, millet, raw vegetables, pears, roasted grains, and mung beans.

2. Decrease intake of sweet, sour, salty foods such as potatoes, oils, wheat, other root vegetables, dairy, avocado, fried foods, and heavy foods.

Other than balancing the doshas, Ayurvedic medicine focuses on six other aspects important for health that create a sense of physical and emotional well- being. They are:

1. Proper functioning of the tissues (dahtus)

2. Normal flow of the channels (srotas)

3. Proper burning of the digestive fire (agni)

4. Proper production and elimination of sweat, urine, and feces (the three malas)

5. Normal functioning of the five senses

6. Harmonious mind and body

The Experience of an Ayurvedic Session

An initial consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner lasts about an hour with the end purpose of arriving at a diagnosis through questioning, observation of appearance, and examination through touch. It includes a thorough personal and family history as well as comprehensive examination that address physical condition and appearance, emotional aspects, spiritual nature, lifestyle, diet, relationships, family history, health history, and astrological aspects. This may include examination of the pulse, tongue, voice, skin, eyes, nails, urine, and stools.

During pulse diagnosis, the Ayurvedic practitioner examines the radial pulse for three deep and three superficial pulses on each wrist to arrive at the current state of one’s dosha. The pulse positions are related to each dosha and reveal specific existing imbalances, the particular state of the body’s organs, and the vitality of the person’s life force (prana) and the channels (nadis) throughout which the life force flows.

Following this information gathering part of the initial consultation, the Ayurvedic practitioner makes suggestions to the patient about ways to bring the doshas into balance, such as diet, relationships, meditation practices, astrological influences, lifestyle changes, and exercise. Next, an Ayurvedic treatment plan is presented by the practitioner, which includes both a combination of treatments done to restore balance, as well as those done to address a specific complaint.

The practitioner chooses the appropriate treatments based on 4 main methods by which an Ayurvedic practitioner treats disease. These are cleansing and detoxification, palliation, rejuvenation, and mental hygiene. They are accomplished through a combination of meditation, tonics, enemas, sweat baths, inhalations, massage, dietary regimens, medicinal herbs, yoga, breath work, and cleansing techniques such as fasting, laxatives, or enemas to create and maintain balance of one’s dosha.

Contact: the International Ayurvedic Institute, 508-755-3744, or the Ayurvedic Institute, 505-291-9698. The Ayurvedic institute also has a web site,, which includes a national directory of Ayurvedic practitioners.

Future Growth and Understanding of Ayurvedic Medicine

  • The World Health Organization recognizes Ayurvedic medicine and supports continuing research and its integration into modern medicne.
  • The National Institue for Health is investigating Ayurvedic medicine. Numerous research studies are underway to determine if Ayurvedic remedies successfully treat breast cancer, arthritis, chemotherapy side-effects, surgery recouperation, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and heroin addiction.
  • Ayurvedic Conferences have been held in England, Brazil, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Soviet Union, and Japan; Ayurveda continues to spread and become a popular healing method worldwide.
  • The National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (NIAM) was established in 1982 by Scott Gerson, M.D., who holds degrees in both Ayurveda and conventional medicine. Current research on Ayurvedic medicine is being done through the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine ((NIAM) on its own as well as in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Description of Ayurvedic Treatment Techniques

Cleansing and Purification

  • Purwakarma is a treatment to prepare one for more vigorous detoxification procedures. It involves oil massage and sweating brought on by steam baths.
  • Panchakarma is a more rigorous cleansing program, which aims at overall purification and rejuvenation. It may include warm sesame oil massage, avoidance of certain foods, alternate breathing exercises, herbal saunas, herbal laxatives, emesis, blood cleansing, nasal douching, drops or snuff, and oil or herbal enemas.
  • Palliation uses a combination of herbs, fasting, chanting, yoga stretches, breathing exercises, meditation, and lying in the sun which focus on the more spiritual dimensions of healing.
  • Rejuvenation is a tonification program that enhances the body’s ability to function after detoxification. It is accomplished through certain herbs, mineral preparations, and exercises, such as yoga and breathing techniques.

Mental Hygiene and Spiritual Healing

This is a method for reaching higher spiritual awareness through the release of mental stress, emotional distress, and release of underlying negative beliefs. It is accomplished through sound therapy, concentrating on geometric figures, meditation, color therapy, aromatherapy, and the use of gems, metals, and crystal for their vibratory healing affect.

Ayurvedic Medicinal Remedies

Ayurvedic remedies are derived from a vast natural pharmacopoeia comprised of more than 8,000 herbs, minerals, fruits, and vegetable preparations used for treating particular conditions.

Ayurvedic Dietary Therapy

Ayurvedic dietary therapy is based on the principle that one’s diet should reflect one’s constitution, the season, and any imbalance in the doshas. Foods are classified according to their particular taste and quality.

Massage and Marma Puncture

These techniques are based upon restoring the proper flow of life force throughout the 107 marma points on or near the surface of the body. These therapies are similar to those of acupuncture and acupressure. There are many forms of Ayurvedic massage including self-massage. Oils are oftentimes recommended based on one’s particular dosha. Aromatherapy is often combined with the application of oil during massage.

Sun Treatment

Ayurvedic medicine considers the sun not only a heat and light source, but also a source of higher consciousness. It is believed to improve circulation, aid absorption of vitamin D, and strengthen the bones. Each of the doshas benefit from specific amounts of time in the sun.

Meditation and Yoga

This ancient mind-body exercise, which originated in India, combines physical postures with meditation and breath work. Yoga is a means of achieving a sense of physical and mental well-being. It is also a way to relieve a variety of health problems. There are many forms of Yoga, Hatha yoga being the most common. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit for union or oneness with the universe as a whole. An important aspect of yoga is the belief in prana, the universal energy that gives structure and form to matter, life, and spirit. We participate in the flow of prana when we breathe, which is why correct breathing is an important part of Yoga. The flow of prana within the body is considered to be fundamental to inner harmony and health. The yogic exercises are designed to direct the flow of prana and to release the body’s internal energy to create spiritual awareness.

Contact: The International Association of Yoga Therapists, 415-332-2478, or the Yoga Research and Education Center, 707-928-9898. Visit the website of the Yoga Research and Education Center at or the American Yoga Association at

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