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Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient form of healing that arose in India and which is still widely used and available on the Indian subcontinent. Literally translated, ayurveda means the ‘science of life’ and, as such, it purports to be a total medical system that can treat mental, physical or emotional conditions.

It was made famous in the west by best-selling author Deepak Chopra. Although many ayurvedic principles have been adapted to fit with western culture, the basic principles remain the same. In ayurveda, each person’s health is thought to be governed by three interlinked factors, vatha (or vata), pitha (or pitta) and kapha. These are known as doshas.

Illness and disease are believed to stem from imbalances in the doshas so treatment, with herbs and attention to diet, aims to restore the balance. Ayurvedic medicine’s concept is that an individual with well-balanced doshas should enjoy perfect health.

How does it work?

Each of the three doshas are represented by certain physical and emotional characteristics in the individual. According to the proportion of each of the three doshas in the body, patients are classified as a certain ‘type’.

For example, a ‘vatha’ is often alert and active but prone to restlessness and worrying. Physically they may be small-framed or underweight with pale skin. A vatha person may be advised to avoid spicy foods or increase intake of sweet, sour and salty foods to try and restore balance between the doshas. By assessing your constitution, the practitioner aims to ensure that doshas are well balanced to aid healing in the present and prevent illness in the future.

What does it involve?

Each individual is treated differently, even if the symptoms they display are the same, but treatments do follow a similar format. At the initial consultation, the practitioner will ask detailed questions about the client’s health and then do a physical examination and pulse diagnosis (which is thought to indicate the state of the doshas).

After the examination, the practitioner gives advice on lifestyle, diet and exercise, which may include recommending massage, breathing techniques, meditation or yoga to assist with tension. Some practitioners may recommend intestinal ‘cleansing’ through the use of laxatives or enemas, and the client will often be given herbal preparations suitable for their individual condition.

In addition, ayurvedic therapy centres offer special therapies such as panchakarma (detoxification treatment); shirodhara (relaxation treatment); abhyanga (herbal body massage) and swedhana (herbal steam bath).

What are the benefits?

Because ayurveda is a total system, emphasising the benefits of a healthy diet and moderate lifestyle, it can have dramatic effects on general well-being if clients are prepared to adopt its principles wholeheartedly. On their own, a series of treatments may help the client to detoxify and reassess life choices that may be having an adverse effect on their health.

What are the side effects and when should it be avoided?

There are unlikely to be any negative side effects from the treatment session itself, or the recommended meditation or yoga. (Do make sure that you go to a teacher who is fully insured and recommended by the British Wheel of Yoga). Some people may experience adverse effects from herbal preparations, and diet recommendations may not be suitable for people with restrictions, such as diabetics.

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