The GREAT DEBATE about the practice of ayurveda rages over social media and in the halls of ayurvedic schools.
My response to the debate is everyone is allowed to practice ayurveda. Everyone should practice ayurveda. Ayurveda is not limited to office visits and retreat centers. This does not mean that everyone can and should give advice to others or self diagnose.
Ayurveda is the study of life. As far as I can tell each life is different. Each person is the authority of his or her life. Studying and practicing ayurveda provides authority over your own health process.
Here are some questions answered about the scope of ayurveda.
1. What are the different points of study within Ayurveda?
There are traditionally eight sections into which the study of ayurveda is divided. These eight sections are clearly stated in the Ashtanga Hrdayam Su 1.5: They are:
- Kaya – internal medicine
- Bala – pediatrics, gynecology and obstetrics
- Graha – psychiatry, medical astrology and spirits (metaphysics)
- Urdhvanga – upper part of body (head neck and face)
- Salya – surgery
- Damstra – toxicology
- Jara = rejuvenation and geriatrics
- Vrsan – aphrodisiacs, virility, fertility, dealing with procreation and health of reproductive system
These eight topics concerns each and every one of us as owners of “a body”. Many of these studies have been “professionalized” but we each have a responsibility to know some of each of the eight branches and how they relate to our lives.
2. What types of therapies can I practice at home?
The best types of ayurvedic therapies that can be practiced at home are those that are the least invasive. You have a responsibility to eat, sleep, exercise, breathe, manage mood and thoughts properly. You also have a responsibility to manage relationship, to yourself, other humans, your surroundings and the earth. Let’s not forget the other inhabitants of the earth. These are the keys to health.
It is good to know, however when you should consult a professional or a doctor for more serious issues and when to use more invasive methods.
3. Do I need to study the Brihat Trayi?
The short answer is no, you do not need to study the Brihat Trayi, if you want to put some ayurvedic principles into practice in your life.
I love studying traditional texts. The Brihat Trayi are the three main texts of Ayurveda. The Charaka Samhita focuses on internal medicine. Sushruta Samhita which focuses on a surgical perspective. Finally, the Ashtanga Hrdayam by Acharya Vaghbata is a compendium of the literature of ayurveda put into a succinct book by Indian standards.
There are many other great texts of ayurveda as well.
4. How should I start my Ayurvedic studies?
The best place to start the study of ayurveda is to start studying yourself and surroundings. Get in touch with your food, your body rhythms… find out where you are now. The next place to go is to find a good book or teacher. There are a few book reviews on this website, with more being added regularly, you could start by reading these reviews.
If you decide that ayurveda is your calling, yes, study the ancient texts. At the very least study the Ashtanga Hrdayam. Join a study group. We have an ongoing online study group, if interested, join the newsletter for more information as it comes.
5. Ayurveda is Famous for doshas, is there any other anatomy?
The dosha-s, vata, pitta and kapha have become part of a yogic and ayurvedic lexicon. The dosha-s are not the only parts of ayurvedic anatomy. Basic organs and tissues are named as well. There are seven specific functional tissues that relate to western body systems which are call dhatu.
The agni-s and the prana-s are also considered as part of the anatomy. The wastes of the body are also studied; urine, feces and sweat. There are 17 major channels or Srotamsi. The Srotamsi are the pathways through which substances both physical and subtle travel. As an example, the entire digestive system from mouth to anus is called the anna vaha srota or food channel.
There is also a specific study of the mind, its mood and its relationship to the higher self. The mind is divided into several parts and the organs of the senses along with the senses themselves are part of the study.
6. What does “Food As Medicine” mean in Ayurveda?
You don’t need to have a degree in nutrition to have good nutrition in ayurveda. Ayurveda describes basic principles that anyone with taste buds can follow. If you want to start your studies with Ayurvedic nutrition and cooking then reading Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners by Amadea Morningstar is a good start.
7. How do I learn about herbs? Turmeric and Ginger have been recommended to me.
Ayurveda has described many herbs in healing, of which turmeric and ginger are now the most accessible. If you want to start with the study of ayurvedic herbs here’s the review of “The Yoga of Herbs” by Dr. Lad and David Frawley.
I want to stress that herbs are considered more invasive than foods. If herbs are needed therapeutically then I would suggest consulting a practitioner. You can however put herbs and spices into your meals and get long term therapeutic affects from the practice. The regular use of turmeric and ginger in your diet will give you some benefits as well as kick start your digestion.
8. Are Chakras and Kundalini connected to Ayurveda?
Chakras come from a different system altogether. They come from the tantric tradition and are more subtle than the ayurvedic anatomical systems. However they have been incorporated into some ayurvedic teachings. Marma therapy does incorporate the kundalini and chakra system.
9. Is yoga part of ayurveda? Is Ayurveda part of Yoga?
There is a melding of yoga and ayurveda as both systems are being awakened from their ancient roots. Yoga is concerned with the body/mind complex. We are mostly familiar with the physical practice of yoga to harness the mind and move on to liberation.
Ayurveda is concerned with the health of the body, which the mind is a part of. There is a subtle difference in the emphasis of how the body/mind complex is treated. Some yogic asanas (postures) heal the body. The mind finds it difficult to be still without a healthy body. Ayurveda mainly focuses on longevity of the body and progeny, although there are practices that are more subtle. When the body is healthy, the mind has opportunities to move in similar pathways of the yogic tradition.
The ayurvedic world is debating what are proper ayurvedic protocols, who can practice, and what certifications are needed.
I advise that you, my readers and friends, use ayurveda daily to make regular informed life style changes to improve health.
Here is where to start:
Start by studying yourself Read : Dinacharya
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