By Dr. Daisy Kuchinad M.D.
Ayurveda approaches disease on a continuum from wellness (which it defines as perfect consciousness brought about by a well-balanced body, mind and spirit) to the point of manifested disease or illness. State of well being or illness is dependent on the balance of factors that define the person’s constitution.
According to Ayurveda, an organism receives its basic constitution at the moment of conception.
This constitution is based on factors like the parents’ wellness or state of mind at the moment of conception, the genes or “memory of the past” that each one of the parents contribute, and the external “forces” (e.g.; gravitational pull, weather conditions, season, etc.) on the egg and sperm at the moment of conception.
These factors define the constitution are divided into three categories called Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kappha (VPK) in Sanskrit.
Doshas are biological energies governing all the processes of the body and mind. Doshas supply a unique template to every being for health and wellbeing.
Every organism exhibits Dosha qualities which feature predominantly in its constitution at birth, and will also exhibit elements of the other Doshas as well. Predominance of a certain Dosha is exhibited in their physical, mental and emotional qualities.
A good demonstration of how Doshas are expressed in an organism is the fight or flight reaction. When a living organism encounters a threat it will either take flight protect itself or stay and fight. Ayurveda adds a third element to this: freeze. The organism is stunned into non-action.
The flight reaction corresponds to a Vata person, the fight reaction corresponds to a Pitta person, and Freeze corresponds to a Kapha person.
An Ayurvedic physical exam involves taking a general history of the patient’s complaints and lifestyle, including general diet, exercise, spiritual practice, relationships, occupation and sense of purpose and wellbeing etc. Critical to the Ayurvedic exam is also a thorough observation of the patient, their physical appearance, hair, nail, and the whites of their eyes, speech, gait and a hands. The Ayurvedic exam and ultimately the Ayurvedic pulse exam gives the physician an indication of which Dosha is out of balance. Based on the patient’s complaints and the physician’s findings, the physician makes a determination of the basic constitution of the patient and the current imbalance in the constitution.
For example, a person who has a Pitta prominent constitution comes to an Ayurvedic physician complaining of heartburn. An Ayurvedic physician will take a history and do a physical and confirm the patient’s basic constitution. Next, the physician will determine which system is currently out of balance. In this patient the physician will come to the conclusion that the patient is manifesting symptoms of Pitta aggravation perhaps, because of pitta aggravating diet, increased chronic stress at work or home or even pitta aggravating exercise etc. This lifestyle has most likely resulted in an accumulation of toxins (AMA) exhibited in this case in the GI Tract and throughout the body, which has now caused overt disease.
Based on this assessment the Ayurvedic Physician will prescribe primarily a series of treatments called Panchakarma which are detoxifying procedures including herbal oil massages, herbal poultice massages, and Pitta pacifying diet and herbal remedies. In Ayurveda, the physician also prescribes yoga exercises, breathing exercises and meditation during the course of therapy.
All this is aimed at drawing the toxins from their hiding places and eliminating them to bring Doshas back into balance. In this process the treatment most likely will avert the symptoms of heart burn progressing further into esophageal ulcers or even cancer in the long term, while simultaneously educating the patient to life changing practices that help keep the Doshas in balance and prevent imbalance and recurrence of the disease.
Ayurveda focuses on returning the body systems to balance so that imbalances do not progress to diseases. So in a patient (who we discussed in Blog1) who initially presented only with headaches, with no objective physical findings and a negative MRI, began to produce cancer cells in her brain. Modern medical treatments focus on treating only her symptoms and waits to start effective treatment until the Dosha imbalance manifests as a tumor. Once a tumor is detected, the focus moves quickly to eradicating the tumor with radiation, chemotherapy, surgery etc. without necessarily determining the underlying problems that caused the disease in the first place.
In Ayurvedic treatment, the focus on a person with headaches, with no physical or objective findings, would be to study the whole patient to understand the imbalance that caused the headache in the first place. Once that imbalance is determined, an extensive treatment plan to physically dislodge material toxins with Panchakarma and herbal oral medicine and appropriate diet would be instituted. Concurrently, to eliminate mental and spiritual imbalances, appropriate yoga, meditation, counseling and other stress management practices would be added to the treatment plan.
The goal of the treatment in turn would be to normalize functioning of the endocrine and immune systems to strengthen and rebuild it. Once the immune system becomes strong, the body can handle cancer, infections, autoimmune diseases etc. at an early stage, never allowing these vulnerabilities or weaknesses to manifest as overt disease.
In the person with the headaches, it is conceivable that initial Ayurvedic treatment would strengthen and restore the immune system, which could detect and eliminate cancer cells early before they were able to multiply and become a tumor.
Ayurveda’s focus is on balancing the Doshas so that they work optimally to enable the functions a human body is already capable of doing.
Ayurveda incorporates a spiritual, physical and mind element, enabling human beings to attain optimal health. In so doing, Ayurveda optimizes consciousness, awareness and quality of life.