What’s the deal? Ayurveda
Feeling a little ‘meh’? It could be time to take a (holy basil) leaf out of the yogi’s book and investigating Ayurveda.
It’s an ancient Indian health system, which originated in India 5000 years ago. But these days, it’s gorgeous and oh-so-healthy celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston who are getting more and more people in the UK into Ayurveda.
‘We provide a holistic way of living in balance with nature,’ says Sebastian Pole, ayurveda practitioner and author of The Pukka Life (Quadrille, £14.99). Ayurveda’s key principle is the connection of mind and body, and ractitioners use a combination of food, herbal remedies, exercise, and therapeutic treatments to achieve this balance.
But it’s not all patchouli and Eastern mysticism, promise. You know the trend for drinking hot water and lemon first thing in the morning? That’s a ‘vedic’ principle.
How does it work?
Ayurveda focuses on preventing illness and keeping well physically, mentally and emotionally. According to the teaching, people are made up of three forces, known as ‘doshas’:
1. Vata (the energising element responsible for change)
2. Pitta (metabolism, enzymes and hormones)
3. Kapha (structure and cohesion).
These are comprised of the five elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. The theory is that disease comes from an imbalance, so by aligning these elements the body can heal itself. ‘For example, if someone has a fever, or acne, they will have too much heat in them, and the practitioner will focus on a treatment plan which emphasises cooling and detoxifying,’ explains Pole.
What’s the science?
Clinical trials have backed up ayurvedic claims about herbs and their therapeutic effect. For example, the herb bacopa (or waterhyssop) was shown to improve participants’ anxiety and depression in a study in the journal Complementary Medicine. Ayurveda’s other benefits, such as easing anxiety and stress, have been reported in the Journal Of American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine. Tell that to the skeptics.
What can it help with?
A lot. Common problems tackled by Ayurveda are mental and emotional stress, and stress-related conditions, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, skin problems or weight issues. Digestive complaints are another common reason people seek ayurvedic treatment, and practitioners aim to heal these using the principle of ‘agni’, or ‘fire’.
‘It’s not so much the case that we are what we eat, but more of a case of we are what we digest – or more often what we don’t, or can’t digest,’ says Geeta Vara, a London-based ayurvedic practitioner. ‘Jatharagni’, the main digestive enzyme or ‘fire’ for breaking down food, is crucial for our overall health. If operating poorly, it can lead to a build up of ‘ama’, a sticky toxin that accumulates in the digestive tract when our system is weak or overloaded with the wrong foods.
I’m game! What happens in a session?
You’ll be asked questions to get an idea of your health, focusing on key areas such as your digestion and menstrual cycle. ‘I use traditional ayurvedic techniques like taking a pulse, looking at a patient’s tongue, eyes, or nails to map out any physiological imbalances, or do a physical examination when necessary,’ says Vara. Then a practitioner will suggest a healing plan covering your diet, what herbs you should use, exercise and lifestyle issues to bring the doshas back into balance. An ayurvedic massage treatment may also be recommended. Say Ommmmm.
Want to find a registered therapist in your area? Visit the Ayurveda Practitioners Association, www.apa.uk.com. Prices start from £40 for a 30-minute session.