herbal medicinal system

Ayurveda: More than just a herbal medication system

Kerala-based ayurvedic physician, Dr Ganesh Narayanan, talks about about the relevance of this alternative form of medicine in the 21st century.

We live in paradoxical times. We are born amidst nature, yet we live in concrete jungles; we have an endless supply of healthy food, yet we eat the unhealthiest kind; ever-evolving technology keeps us connected with each other, yet we remain emotionally disconnected; we have a rich culture, heritage, and religion to draw from, yet we are spiritually malnourished; we have an abundance of disposable income, yet we are poor as human beings; we have everything available at our fingertips, yet we don’t live a balanced life. Such a paradox robs us of the equilibrium of life. As people become more educated, work harder and longer, and earn more, stress levels soar, lifestyles become flawed and the peace of mind disappears.

That’s when people look for quick-fix solutions to restore the balance. Ayurveda, which literally translates to science of life (ayur – life, veda – science or knowledge), aims to restore this balance between the mind, body, spirit, and the environment through lifestyle changes and natural remedies. This universal interconnectedness helps us lead a stress-free and healthier life.

Soulveda spoke to Dr. Ganesh Narayanan, a Kerala-based ayurvedic physician to know more about the relevance of this alternative form of medicine in the 21st century. Our conversation with him made us relook at the very definition of health. It helped us comprehend the underlying philosophy behind this ancient life science, and why following a lifestyle as recommended by this system of medicine can not only prevent but also reverse chronic illnesses.

Recent advancements in the field of quantum science are proving that we are all interconnected; that we are not just part of the universe, we are essentially one with it. Ayurveda, too, is based on a similar premise, isn’t it? Can you shed more light on the same?

Ayurveda is primarily based on the philosophy of Pancha Maha Bhutas. According to this viewpoint, our human body, like the universe, is made of five elements—Akasha (ether), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), Jala (water), and Prithvi (earth). So, whatever changes occur in the universe (the macrocosm), the same manifests within each of us (the microcosm). To explain, our bodies constantly interact with the universe; there is a continuous exchange of the elements between our human body and the universe to attain a state of homeostasis. As long as this interaction occurs in a wholesome and balanced way, we experience good health. When this harmony is disturbed, illnesses manifest.

Just like Ayurveda talks about the connection between microcosm and macrocosm, it also talks about the synergy between the body and the mind. Can you explain this concept?

Yes, indeed! The body and mind are interconnected in Ayurveda. Simply put, our mental and emotional states directly affect our physical health, according to Ayurveda. It is impossible for a physical body to survive without a healthy state of mind. This connection which Ayurveda purports is very evident in the present-day scenario wherein increased levels of stress and poor psychological health in the lives of people translate to the prevalence of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases. So, to be healthy, it is important that we remain mentally happy and at peace.

Many of us perceive Ayurveda as a mere herbal medicinal system. But, Ayurveda recommends daily and seasonal regimens as well. Could we then say that Ayurveda is more than just a system of herbal medicine, and is essentially a lifestyle?

Ayurveda is a life science that takes the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ quite seriously. If we analyse ancient ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhitha, Susrutha Samhitha, and Ashtanga Samgraha, we’d notice that they all begin by explaining how to lead a healthy life, instead of talking about the anatomy of the human body or the classification of diseases. From what time to wake up and how to clean ourselves, to how to cook and eat healthy food and how to conduct ourselves throughout the day, ayurvedic texts cover all the dos and don’ts to lead a healthy life in extreme detail.

To quote an example, in Ayurveda there are references to Sadvrutha which essentially means ‘code of conduct’. This section explores how to have positive interactions with people in our day-to-day lives so that we can live a stress-free and peaceful life. In addition, ayurvedic texts emphasise yoga as a daily regime. Yoga helps control our mind, through postures called asanas and breath-control methods. So yes, Ayurveda is certainly a lifestyle—it is a lifestyle that can empower us to take charge of our own health and prevent (and cure) illnesses.

Given that Ayurveda can enhance our wellbeing, can you describe a day in the life of someone who practices ayurvedic lifestyle? What would his everyday routine be like?

We live in a fast-paced world where life is mechanised as we rely heavily on machinery to get things done. Automation, as it is called, is not a bad thing as it can save us a lot of time and increase productivity. But the only drawback is that, with the machines doing all the work, we are becoming more and more immobile. And, being sedentary impacts our health in the long run.

This is because, our body is designed to not just ingest food, but also use up the energy produced as a result. With an inactive lifestyle, our metabolism gets disturbed. In fact, this is the root cause of several chronic illnesses. This is where a disciplined ayurvedic lifestyle helps. Ayurveda advocates a regimen called Dinacharya to be followed daily. Here’s what a day in the life of someone practising an ayurvedic lifestyle looks like:

The person wakes up peacefully, early in the morning preferably during the ‘Bramha muhoorta’ which is between 3:30 AM to 5 AM. He spends some time in solitude and chants self-affirmative verses first, before ensuring the food digested the previous day is properly excreted. This is followed by Dantadhavana, which is essentially brushing his teeth and Anjana, which is the application of a medicated eyewash.

Post that, he does Abhyanga which is the application of oil.  As per Ayurveda, the oil should be applied to the scalp, ears, and feet daily. This helps in achieving good eyesight, sleep, and wellbeing. The next step is Vyayama or exercise. We all know the importance of meditation and yoga—it is a proven fact that these practices improve not only our mental and physical health but also our spiritual wellbeing.

After exercising he takes a bath or an ablution which is referred to as snana. Bathing helps in digestion and promotes longevity and vitality. Only after the ablution, does he have his breakfast.

According to Ayurveda, he should eat two important meals per day—breakfast and lunch—unlike the conventional three-meal routine. And, it is better to have dinner before 7 PM so that he has adequate time to digest the food whilst spending time with family. He then falls asleep by 10 PM.

By following these guidelines, one can expect to stay aligned with the macrocosm. And the more we’re in sync with the world around us, the more we can prevent and sometimes, even reverse chronic illnesses that have manifested within us.

But, good health is much more than just the absence of illnesses. Could you explain what health is according to Ayurveda?

In 1948, World Health Organisation defined health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Ayurveda purports something similar—that health is not limited to the healthy state of the body, but also that of the mind and spirit.

The ancient ayurvedic text Susrutha Samhitha defines health as:

Sama dosha, sama agnicha, samdhatu malakriya,

Prasanna atma, indriya mana, swastha ityabhidheeyathe

In the literal sense, the verse means, health is dependent upon the normalcy of the three doshas (biological energies), the agni (digestive juices), the seven dhatus (synonymous to tissues), and mala (excretions). An absolute homeostasis of all these factors is necessary to experience overall wellbeing—physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Incidentally, this can be easily brought about by strictly following the lifestyle Ayurveda practitioners prescribe.

  • Dr Ganesh Narayanan is an experienced ayurvedic physician with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and health care industry. He is skilled in clinical research, holistic health, and preventive medicine. Currently, he is the Managing Partner at Arsha Ayurvedic Hospital in Kerala, India.

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