Sunday, 13 June 2010


Ayurveda: when body and mind make friends

OM TAT SAT (Sanskrit Ayurvedic quote)
= Goodness is with you

As western medical doctor, I appreciate the current sense of malcontent towards traditional medicine which has failed mass expectations at many levels. Having said that, there are many reasons for which I am truly grateful to it. Emergency and critical care (which are some of my fields of specialization), for example. For having offered hygienic solutions to the world. For having introduced the concept of germs and infections. And for having developed bone care and various types of surgery, to name a few.

Unfortunately, though western medicine may beunparalleled in some areas, when faced with issues such as chronic disease and illnessprevention, it has some big holes. Why? Western doctors and scientific research have focused their efforts on developing symptomatic treatments. In some specific cases they are invaluable (try to have surgery without aneasthesia or post operative pain care drugs and tell me if you don’t just thank God for the pharmaceutical companies ..), but in other cases medical drugs could and should be avoided. Sometimes, (in fact, even more often then previously believed), drugs are not the answer at all, but rather lifestyle and diet patterns,quality rest, and happier relationships, among others.

Well, as I have come to believe, the truth seems to always lie somewhere in the middle. Sometimes western medicine is the number one choice, but other times it is not.

Almost a direct opposite approach is Ayurveda Medicine, which offers solutions and treatments that Western Medicine cannot. I could see the two Medicines becomingpartners, each helping the other in its shortcomings.

Ayurveda is an ancient science, born more than 7000 years ago. Firstly transmitted through generations thanks to the patient oral teachings of the masters to their disciples, it was later transcripted in textbooks, some of which are still alive and in use today.

Ayurveda is where the body and mind can finally make friends. The Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners have observed, studied and reported human behaviors, conditions and reactions for thousands of years, learning about relationships between the mind and the body, the beings and their environments. The human being is seen as a complex unity of mind, body and soul, where all are equally important and strictly interdependent. It is anintegral part of the Universe, a microcosm in a macrocosm. If the Universe is modified,the changes are reflected in human beings. Man can not escape its relationship with nature. Therefore, the environment where one lives, i.e., the food that is eaten, thechanging seasons, air pollution, water, etc., all play all a crucial role in making the difference between health and disease. This is the wonderful approach that Ayurvedic science and its philosophy can offer us.

According to Ayurveda, each individual’s state is dominated by the three so-called "doshas”, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They are the representatives of the body’s functions. Every individual has one (or more) predominant doshas which will affect things liketastes, tendencies to certain diseases, likes and dis-likes, and even certain personality traits. Just as the three doshas act as the functional components of an individual, the seven ‘dhatus’ are the structural parts. Those are blood, plasma, adipose tissue, muscles, cartilage, bone marrow, and reproductive fluids.

If the doshas become unbalanced, one or more dhatus will suffer, resulting in signs and symptoms of a disease. The Ayurvedic doctor, through a detailed analysis and consultation, evaluates the underlying dosha’s vitiation and offers effective solutions correct the imbalance. Unlike western medicine’s symptomatic approach, Ayurveda goes deep down to the real cause of a disease.

The three doshas can fluctuate depending on things like age, the different seasons, andeven the time of day. Doshas are present in all individuals as body constitution (Pakriti) which is unchangeable, determined at the time of fecundation of the egg by the semen.

The doshas each have different qualities:


dry, cold, light, rough, subtle, movable


slightly oily, sharp, hot, light, bad smell, liquid


oily, cold, heavy, dull, smooth, shiny, stable.

During a person’s lifetime, certain doshas can get aggravated, leading the person tovarious diseases (Vikriti). The vitiation of doshas is understood by the analysis of signs and symptoms. The doshas fluctuation also is affected by the environment and weather conditions. For example, windy and dry landscapes will increase Vata, while the jungles or other very humid places will aggravate Kapha.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha are present all over the body but manifest predominantly in a specific anatomic region in each of us, controlling specific body functions. Vata is located below the navel, Pitta in the mid-region (duodenum and lower GI), and Kapha in the chest and head. Likewise, Vata, Pitta and Kapha manifest differently during last, middle and early periods of life, the night, the morning and the evening and also the three phases of the digestive process.


Time (day/night)




2 to 6

Above 35

First digestive phase


10 to 2

16 to 35

Mid digestive phase


6 to 10

Up to 16

Post digestive phase

I am truly fascinated by the attention that Ayurveda doctors offer to their patients. Nothing is missed, nothing is irrelevant. Ayurveda takes into account every detail of a person’s life. Seemingly irrelevant aspects such as the time a person wakes up in the morning, the order of his daily routine, his mental state, emotional satisfaction, and the environment and quality of his relationships are all taken into account, just as important asdietary and drinking habits.

The word Ayurveda comes from the two parts Ayu = life, as time from birth to death, and Veda = Knowledge or learning. This perfectly sums up its approach to studying and learning "all”. Ayurveda it is not just the science of diseases, but it is the knowledge oflife itself. Only when everything is known-- the good and the bad, the healthy and the sick, the happy and the miserable, the dark and the light, only then can the doctor truly help the patient fight the diseases.

Health is not just lack of sickness, but it has an active meaning as well. Health is that state of physical, emotional, and mental balance. According to these noble principles, treatment is a system of action for preventing and completely curing diseases. The list of treatments includes massage therapy, oils and herbs, drugs, food and lifestyle regimes, and other various procedures such as purgation.

Based on fundamental principles, treatments mainly fall into two categories: eliminative (Sodhanam) and curative (Samanam). Elimination is a system through which the vitiation of the dosha, responsible for the disease, is completely eliminated through normal openings (Panchakarma is the most common system of purification). In the curative treatments, the vitiated. dosha is balanced without elimination of it. Curative treatments include fasting, exercises, exposure to sun and wind, use of digestive or carminative drugs.

I spent a month at the Nagarajuna Ayurvedic Centre in Kalady ( India) for treatments and an intense crash course on Ayurvedic basic principles, diagnostic tools, treatments, pharmacology. The centre is located in the heart of the Kerala region in Southern India, on the bank of a long river, close to a small and traditional Indian village (Kalady). The staff is amazingly helpful and the medical team is very attentive to each individual’s needs. Vegetarian cuisine is the rule, though ghee and cow’s milk are used. I never saw any cheese. I did enquire about the possibility of vegan meals and I have been reassured it is possible.

Personally I only ate fruits, so I can not express opinion about cooked food, but I overheard enthusiastic comments. My mornings were spent between incredible and long massages with medicated oils and lectures. Usually in the afternoon I would have a second treatment, either a local application of oils to my joints or a 45 minutes of pouring oils over my forehead to relax and de-stress.

Ayurveda, I found, is not just a science but also a philosophy. Prior to any treatment, the therapies chant a prayer to the god of Ayurveda. The room is immediately filled with a magical sense of ancient times.

I had truly a wonderful time, felt and looked very good and I am confident that all this new knowledge will be of great value and help also for my every day practice as Western Doctor in Europe. I would recommend Ayurveda to everybody, especially for chronic ailments.

Photo information: Oil massage: Abhyanga

Abhyanga is usually performed by two therapists that work in synchronism. It lasts 45 minutes. The type of oil used depends on the individual dosha vitiation.

The massage is firm and has many benefits, such as improved circulation, metabolism, elimination of toxins, and aid in rejuvenation. The massage is done in a special wooden table called a "Droni”, traditionally made of Neem tree or Nuxvomica.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stefania,

    I'm working on an article about ultrarunning, and need a run down of an ultrarunner's typical day of meals and training.

    I know every ultrarunner is different, but would you mind shooting me an email with your typical day of eating and training.

    I truly would appreciate it.

    Run on,

    Clint Cherepa