What It Is
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of sub-continental India. With an archeological record going back 7000 years and an unbroken written history dating back to around 1500 B.C., Ayurveda is easily the oldest medical system still in existence and is also one of the most comprehensive. Though it's often treated by westerners as nothing more than folk medicine, Ayurveda in India is always practiced alongside technology-based medicine. Unlike other "natural" medicines Ayurveda happily embraces techniques like micro-surgery and CAT scans.
Modern medicine, both mainstream and alternative, owes much to Ayurveda. Ancient practitioners studied medical theories including psychiatry, optometry, general wellness and surgery. Both Chinese acupuncture and Chinese herbology were build on Ayurvedic foundations and Ayurveda offers the largest catalog of herbal therapies ever known.
Perhaps the thing that sets Ayurveda apart from other therapies is its use of body typing. Ayurveda groups people according to how the natural forces, or elements, influence them emotionally, mentally and physically, then assigns nutritional, meditative and herbal therapies according to the dominate "dosha" each person displays.
What It Can Do For You
Today's Ayurveda is strongly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist practices and that can make it difficult for Americans to fully appreciate. But if you have the right motivation and are willing to keep an open mind Ayurveda can be a powerful ally in your search for wellness. Ayurveda teaches that the spiritual and the physical aspects of healing are equally important and that neither takes place without the other. Detoxification is an important part of Ayurveda and practitioners strive to balance the natural forces (or doshas) in the body through nutrition, exercise, meditation and massage. Ayurveda is primarily concerned with longevity and quality of life and puts great emphasis on disease prevention.
Finding a Qualified Practitioner
American Ayurveda is very different from authentic Indian Ayurveda and you may have considerable difficulty finding a qualified practitioner--most American practitioners focus on the herbal side of Ayurveda and virtually ignore the rest. But if you can find a well-trained practitioner (preferable an M.D.) he or she can take the place of your existing family practitioner.
What The Critics Say
Critics of Ayurveda dismiss it as just another folk medicine and point to its emphasis on spirituality as proof that it's outdated and backward.
When I started working on my Ayurveda Certification I was looking for just enough information to confidently answer my clients' questions. Years later, I'm still learning and no longer describe Ayurveda as a "Indian folk medicine".
Lisa Barger is a traditionally trained naturopath specializing in illness prevention counseling. Ms. Barger holds certification in Ayurveda, Iridology, Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and American Herbology.