Ayurvedic Healing Methods – Pranayama

Hey guys! It’s been a while since i’ve gotten a chance to post about Ayurveda and the various methods of healing associated with it. I want to focus on a different healing method called pranayama. Pranayama is the philosophy and techniques behind breathing extension and control. The word “pranayama” is comprised of two parts: “prana” which means “breath” or “the life force that is sustaining the body”, and “ayama” which means “to draw out or to pull”. Therefore, pranayama means drawing out and controlling breath. In a deeper sense this means sustaining and healing the body using controlled breathing methods.

There are many different breathing methods that can be used to sustain and heal the body. Each method is based on one’s prakriti, or unique combination of doshas. Most pranayama is best done in the morning on an empty stomach in a room with a generous supply of fresh air. They should be done sitting upright in a cross legged pose. It you’re a beginner doing pranayama for the first time then “Ujjayi” (translates as victorious breath) is the recommended breathing method. It is a relaxing yet energizing breathing method that will help you relax and learn to control each breath. One you’ve mastered Ujjayi then it is recommended that you move into other pranayamas depending on prakriti. Your technique should be the opposite of your dominant dosha. Therefore if you your dominant dosha is the kapha dosha, which is dense, cool, and earthy, then the recommended method would be “Bhastrika”, or bellows breath. Bellow breath will lighten and lift the unnecessary kapha from your body and balance you out. If your dominant dosha is the pitta dosha then “Sitali” breath is the right technique for you. It is done by inhaling through a curled tongue and exhaling through the nostrils slowly and rhymically for several minutes until you begin to feel calm and relaxed. The “Nadi Shodhana” or alternative nostril breathing method is the recommended method if your dominant dosha is the vata dosha. Nadi Shodhana has variety of benefits including clearing respiratory passages, clearing and relieving the mind and lowering stress hormone levels. Another breathing method, “Kapalabhati” pranayama, or skull shining method (this translates into “head or cranium” and “knowledge or light”) helps bring clarity and healing to the brain. The skull shining method thus improves focus and memory, improves concentration, and energizes the brain and the rest of the body as well.

In conclusion, pranayama is an excellent way to harmonize the doshas whenever they get out of sync with each other. Pranyama has great health benefits and can be used proactively to maintain health or reactively if necessary to alleviate stress. Pranayama is important because it establishes consciousness in breathing and in thought and clarity and spaciousness of the mind. This is important to achieve the ultimate balance between body and mind as well as developing self awareness and knowledge.

Ayurvedic Healing Methods – Meditation

Another Ayurvedic method of promoting healing and aligning mind and body is through meditation. Meditation helps realign the prakriti, or each individual’s unique combination of doshas, and restore proper health and bodily function. There are multiple forms of meditation in Vedic teachings. The specific form that is used depends on the individual’s prakriti and the particular mindstate that person is in. There are three states of mind an individual can have according to Vedic tradition: tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is a state of inactivity and darkness that comes from ignorance (ignorance meaning a lack on not only life knowledge, but self knowledge). Rajas is the state of movement, motion, and energy. Sattva is the state of balance, alignment, and life and self intelligence. A basic form of meditation anyone can do consists of sitting on the floor on a folded towel or mat, crossing the legs and placing the open hands on your knees with your palms up and index fingers touching the tip of the thumbs. The back should be straight yet relaxed, and eyes closed. The area they sit in should be as quiet as possible and distractions should be eliminated. Take a slow, deep breath, then exhale. Focus on each breath and nothing else. Continue to take deep breaths slowly, then exhale. They may find they continue to have thoughts coming into their consciousness. Do not dwell on them. I understand it can be difficult not to entertain the constant thoughts that come from your subconscious. Do not worry about these. They will move on on their own. Focus only on each breath you take, one at a time. Do this each day for 5-10 minutes when you first begin your meditation, gradually lengthening the meditation to 30 minutes at a time. The most important thing is to stay consistent. Do a little bit each day and focus on each individual breath.

Meditation is not only beneficial from an Ayurvedic point of view. Western medicine has also shown that meditation has a beneficial effect on physical health. Evidence from a scientific study done by a major university in California showed lower levels of cortisol in the bloodstream and a drop in abdominal fat when meditation was practiced over a four month period versus no meditation whatsoever. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to increased levels of stress in the human body. Too much or too little cortisol over an extended period of time can negatively impact your health and lead to elevated blood pressure, increased body fat, sleep disruption, and blood sugar imbalances. In fact, I have a personal acquaintance who can attest to the power of mediation. She runs a window tinting and car wrap shop and she is the sole owner of her business. Her business is extremely busy because of the warm Texas weather most of the year. I spoke with her one time about her health and she told me she was constantly tired and was getting sick more often. She told me she was getting as much sleep as possible but she still constantly felt tired. I told her to try a week’s worth of meditation when she got home at the end of the day for about 10 minutes each day. Four or five days after that I spoke to her. She told me it really helped alleviate the stress she came home with and the constant train of thoughts that went through her mind during the day. She told me she was able to fall asleep more quickly and get better quality sleep. Over time the daily meditation helped her out immensely. She was able to eliminate her chronic fatigue, become more productive, and improve her decision making during the day.

Ayurvedic Healing Methods – Yoga

For the past month or so, i’ve experienced tightness in my lower back. This tightness is a result of my second job as a valet at a local hotel and indoor water park, where I worked during the spring and summer of this year. The main cause was the casual hi-tops I wore to work. Although they were all black as required by my job, they lacked the cushioning needed for the frequent back and forth running I did. Although I later began to do stretches before each shift, by the time summer ended I was experiencing lower back discomfort. This was the first time in my life I had encountered back tightness to that extent. Last week I was still experiencing discomfort in my back so for the first time in my life I tried a couple of basic yoga poses to provide some relief. I tried a hamstring stretch laying on my back, then something called the sphinx, then a two knee twist, and finally a stretch called the pigeon. These, along with a hot towel I placed at the sight of the tightness really provided my with some relief. I definitely noticed a difference in the way my back felt.

Yoga is one of the most popular and most enduring forms of exercise. It’s used to strengthen muscles, improve core strength, relieve stress, improve blood flow, eliminate toxins from the human body, and provide relief from acute pain and discomfort (as im my case). Yoga’s origins date back almost 6,000 years to the forth and fifth centuries BCE. Although yoga has a physical component to it and it highly beneficial to the physical body, yoga is actually a complete set of philosophies whose purpose is to unite the body, mind, and spirit. In fact, the word yoga come from the Sanskrit language meaning “to join” or “to unite”. To engage in yoga in the truest sense is to unite the mind with the Self. By Self, we refer to the body, its thought processes, its physical processes, and its spiritual being. Yoga is a holistic philosophy like Ayurveda is. The purpose of both is to achieve the highest level of balance one can achieve. Through this balance and optimization of mind, body, and spirit we can obtain true self knowledge and liberation from struggle and suffering, i.e salvation. We find our highest levels of self consciousness we can achieve. In other words, we achieve nirvana.

The conclusion can be made that neither ayurveda nor yoga cannot be done without the other. As I’ve covered before, Ayurveda is a Vedic philosophy that focuses on holistic physical healing though “pre-emptive” (eliminating detrimental relationships, diet, environment, stress reduction) and “after the fact” means such as panchakama in order to balance the doshas. Yoga is the process of “yoking” the body to the mind to achieve the highest self attainment and enlightenment possible. Yoga is also one of the methods used to promote healing and realign the doshas. The two therefore are best utilized together.

 

Ayurvedic Healing Methods – Panchakarma

In my previous posts I focused on the philosophy behind Ayurveda. I described some of the basic ideas involved with Ayurveda and I briefly went into some pre-emptive measures, so to speak, that could be taken to encourage optimal health and prevent an imbalance of that person’s doshas. Those measures included exercise, a diet based on “clean eating” (which is a diet based on the reduction of the amount of highly processed foods and the increase in the amount of fresh food in order to, among other things, maximize vitamin, mineral, and fiber intake), and stress reduction. Here, I will focus on one of the Ayurvedic methods used to heal the body body of its ailments. This method is called panchakarma.

The word “panchakarma” comes from the Sanskrit language. It is comprised of two words, “pancha” (the number “five”) and “karma” (meaning “actions”). Panchakarma is a five step treatment comprised of vomiting, massage, purging of toxins from the blood, introducing enemas or laxatives, and administering medicine such as herbs and oils through the nose. It is designed to cleanse the inside of the body of undigested food (referred to as “ama”) and toxic materials. This undigested food and and toxic material is not only a result of an individual’s doshas becoming imbalanced but also each dosha’s reduced effectiveness to perform it’s essential duties. This is especially true with the vata dosha and pita dosha. The vata dosha controls the nervous system, blood flow, and the elimination of waste from the body, while the pita dosha controls  the digestive process and regulated the body’s metabolism. According to Ayurveda, an imbalance in your doshas can occur as a result of poor diet, lack of exercise, the accumulation of toxins in the body as a result of less than optimal function, a change in daily routine, or an increase of stress. The doshas gradually become unbalanced, resulting in a progressive buildup of ama and residual toxins. Panchakarma cleanses the body of this buildup and restores the doshas to their proper balance.

Before panchakarma can be applied, a pre-treatment process must be undertaken to prepare the person for application of each step. This ensures all toxins and ama are removed from the body and maximizes the overall effectiveness of the entire treatment. The first step is called snehana. Snehana is the oral ingestion of medicated oils or ghee (a type of clarified butter) to soften and lubricate the bodily tissues so the ama and toxins can be eliminated later on in the process. The second step in the pre-treatment process is called swedana. Swedana is an herbal steam bath designed to induce sweating. The head and chest are kept cool while the rest of the body is immersed in warm water and steam is allowed to penetrate the pores of the skin. This helps liquefy the excess doshas and waste in the system so they can easily trickle into the digestive system. They can then be eliminated by vamana (vomiting) or by virechana (purging).

Healthy diet as part of Ayurveda

One of the most important things that can be done to affect your overall health is to modify your diet. Diet, along with stress, is perhaps the most important factor that determines your overall health. I say this not necessarily from a the standpoint scientific standpoint (although a good diet has numerous medical benefits) but from an Ayurvedic standpoint. Auyrveda emphasizes not only curative procedures but preventative maintainance (such as a health diet) to prevent an imbalance of each person’s doshas.

I have always been a big believer in holistic methods of maintaining good health. This is a perspective that fits into Ayurveda extremely well. I’ve done weight training, treadmill and trail running, and i’ve eliminated as much highly processed food from from my diet at possible. I’ve also maintained positive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers while either repairing broken relationships or casting negative relationships aside.

Additional preface on Ayurveda

Hey guys and gals. In this post I want to offer you some additional information on Ayurveda. Again, Ayurveda originated in India and is a Sanscrit word that translates to “knowledge of life”. Ayurveda is a philosophy whose primary aim is holistic maintenance of health.  This holistic perspective of the enhancement of health is designed to prevent sickness from entering the body. However, Ayurveda does prescribe methods to eliminate sickness from the body should that need to do so arise. I will go into these methods in a later post.

In Ayurveda, every person is comprised of five basic elements. These elements are fire, water, space, air, and earth. These five elements combine in different combinations to produce various life energies called doshas. There are three main doshas:

Vata (formed from air and space) – The vata dosha is associated with movement. Since air and space can be thought of as free-form, always moving and shifting, then this view makes sense. Your vata dosha controls anything in your body associated with movement-cellular health, blood circulation, muscle movement, respiration, bowel movements, and respiration. When your vata dosha is balanced, you are said to possess vitality. When it is unbalanced, you experience anxiety, fear, nervous system problems and heart disease. External factors can influence your vata dosha as much as internal influences can. Examples of external factors include strained relationships with family and friends. Internal factors can be fear of losing a job or the loss of a loved one.

Pita (formed from fire and water) – The pita dosha is most associated with the aspects of energy-combustion, usage and transformation. For example, you might think of how someone puts a log in a fireplace. That fire consumes the log, using it as fuel and producing warmth for the person who built the fire. Or you can also think of the waves in the ocean during a storm, or a coming down a waterfall. At this point, the water has an extensive amount of energy and has the ability to absorb other substances as well as transform or even destroy them. The pita dosha controls the functions of digestion, metabolism, and energy absorption. When your pita dosha is in balance, you experience happiness and contentment. When it is out of balance, you may experience inflammation and pain. Ulcers, heartburn, and infections are some of the symptoms associated with a imbalanced pita dosha.

Kapha (formed from water and earth) – The kapha dosha is associated with density, mass, thickness, and structure. You could imagine a handful of clay or earth and you would think of the same sort of characteristics. The essence of the kapha dosha shares these same characteristics. In terms of the human body, your kapha dosha forms your bodily tissues-your muscles, internal organs, bone, fat, skin and hair. It also maintains your immune system and controls your weight. An imbalance of the kapha dosha leads to obesity, diabetes, and nausea after eating.

Each person possesses a unique mix of these three doshas. Usually one dosha is in an more dominant position than than the other two. According to the Ayurveda, having a proper balance of each dosha is essential for optimal health.

Starting out with Ayurveda

Hello everyone. My name is Ben. I’m glad you’re joining me on this tour of Ayurveda. I’ve decided to get my life in order and one of the ways to do that is to practice some of the concepts of Ayurveda. I’m in the beginning stages of Ayurveda but from what I understand states that everything in the Universe is connected. It states that you are in harmony with the Universe-your mind, your body, and your soul. When you are out of harmony with the Universe, you can experience illness and below-optimum health.

Ayurveda medicine originated in India about 2000-3000 years ago. I’m doing this and returning to my clean eating practices and working out at least 3-4 days a week after taking extensive time off. I’m also working on relieving stress from my job. I’ve been doing pretty well with that thus far. I leave my work problems at work. When I’m home I don’t think about work. I also want to learn about yoga. Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and strengthen your core muscle groups. I’ll share some basic poses with you as I learn them then in time move into some more advanced positions.

One of the things I like about Ayurveda is it’s not simply a pharmaceutical treatment to illness. It’s a spiritual, behavioral, and physical approach to well being. It’s not reactive-it’s proactive. Ayurveda is a holistic approach. That means it looks at everything in your life when treating illness. It also looks at everything in your life when maintaining well-being. It’s a “whole” approach. By everything I mean it looks at things around you from pollution in the atmosphere to your relationships with family and loved ones. You’re not just medicating a symptom or treating a virus. You’re strengthening your body, mind and spirit.

I also want to add that I am not speaking in a negative tone of medical treatment. Medicine has either reduced or eliminated numerous diseases that only 100 years ago ravaged much of the world, even many Western countries. It would be a mistake to downplay the field of medicine and pharmacology, especially after decades of scientific research. Ayurveda is simply an alternative way to view human health and promote total and complete health and harmony within oneself and with the Universe.

May everyone have a great weekend and i’ll return with more on Ayurveda!

Ben