We have many words to express concepts of health and wellness. Marketers use key phrases to engage and attract a broad audience. Researchers test products and sometimes express their findings within the frame of desired results. Western medical research is often based on the premise that there is little discernable difference between people. This leaves us with unanswered questions about why a product will work well for some people but not others. There is no philosophic underpinning to gain insight on why this is.
Ayurveda is a philosophic platform that gives us a sound understanding of how, when and with whom a diet, yoga practice or herbal remedy will yield results. The Ayurvedic practitioner provides a platform for balance and wellness of body, mind and spirit. One role of the practitioner is to help the client understand his or her unique make-up, so the individual can determine for him- or herself whether an activity or food choice is going to enhance wellness based on the qualities present in that choice.
One part of Ayurveda that can be easily adopted is using Ayurveda’s 20 Qualities to balance one’s diet (see table). A particular group may advocate the benefits of raw foods such as salad. For a person who is very thin, has dry skin, a mobile mind that is spacey and ungrounded, and if the person tends to be constipated and unable to sleep, this may be a poor choice. According to the Ayurvedic understanding, the dry, light, mobile and clear qualities of the salad are increasing her body/mind’s dry, light, mobile and clear qualities. These qualities are causing the lightness of the body, dryness of the skin, mobile-ness of the mind, and the clear quality that leads to spacey-ness. Even though this diet may have many beneficial qualities in terms of nutrient content, the symptoms are telling us that it is not properly digested and causing “dis-ease.” So, this diet is not right for that person, although it may be right for a person exhibiting the opposite qualities: oily, heavy, static and cloudy.
My clients generally realize that they feel much better when they begin to apply this concept of opposites in their life. Because people have different needs, the conventional idea of there being a single great choice—of food, herb, drug, exercise—for everyone is instantly disproved when we see how the choices themselves are in conflict.
The Journey of Ayurveda to the West
Ayurveda is an ancient medicine. Ayurvedic texts say that Ayurveda is eternal because it provides understanding of truth in Nature, which itself is eternal. The systemization of Ayurveda was written down nearly 5,000 years ago, and it has been in practice in India ever since. It is only in the last 50 years that it has moved west. Ayurveda is relatively new in the United States, so the professional structure is still growing, as is the awareness of the medicine itself.
In the year 2000, a group of people committed to the professionalism of Ayurveda in the US incorporated the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA). NAMA was the first national, professional association dedicated to preserve, protect, improve and promote the philosophy, knowledge, science and practice of Ayurveda for the benefit of humanity.
NAMA has worked to create standards of competency, relationships with other associations, and a professional network through committees, conferences and communication. This year’s NAMA conference, “Longevity Through Ayurveda,” will be held in Albuquerque (April 18-21). It’s a great way to gain firsthand understanding of Ayurveda. Many of the premier teachers and practitioners in the United States will attend and speak. Visiting the exhibition hall will be free. For more information, visit the “Conference” page at www.AyurvedaNAMA.org
Those who live in New Mexico are fortunate that the practice of complementary and alternative medicine like Ayurveda is legal in our state. This law, New Mexico “Unlicensed Health Care Practice Act,” HB 664, was passed in 2009. New Mexico is one of the very few states that have such legislation. Organizers of the legislation created a website that details this initiative: www.nmcaamp.org
To live in a state of wellness, to provide a platform for healing, we must remember that health is not limited to symptoms. Symptoms that are reoccurring are deep. The cause of illness is in the mind as well as the body. Ayurveda shows us the inability to separate the body, mind and spirit. I watch my clients. I watch my students. I watch all those I meet and revel in their moments of understanding about their health and the role they can take in transforming their personal well-being.
The Twenty Gunas or Qualities of Existence