Ayurveda: An Ancient System of Health for the Modern World

Sue Clark, of the Ayurvedic Professionals Association shares why more and more people are looking towards Ayurveda to improve their health and wellbeing.

TWO conversations struck me this week, both observations, neither spoken with any malice. Firstly, a Western lady struggling to pronounce Ayurveda asked, “How can something so old be relevant today?” In the other, an Indian Guru commented, “the smartest thing about most people is their phone!”

We live in a world filled with technology. We have a huge amount of information at our fingertips potentially unlimited knowledge, but does that equate to smart? Is the Guru correct in his observation of humanity? Have we the patience and ability to truly understand, or do we simply jump from one health fad to another, in search of perfection or the next big thing? Are we too concerned with keeping ahead that we forget what has already been shown to work for thousands of years?

Ayurveda roughly translates as the science of life. It contains a wealth of knowledge developed over 5000 years in India. How can anything so old be useful today? Our lives have – in almost every conceivable way – changed.

Ayurveda is fast becoming the next big thing, thanks to the huge popularity of turmeric, which has introduced many people to the concept. People are adding Ayurveda into their Yoga practice or life. But what, I wonder, are they doing or adding? Chanting? Turmeric latte? Indian food…? In reality, Ayurveda covers so many areas that even those trained in Ayurveda find it hard to quickly define. It is a way of living that is both ancient and spiritual, built on a knowledge of health, and especially gut health. For me, Ayurveda is the original Functional Medicine, it covers so much, gut health and the microbiome, massage, herbs, diet, food, lifestyle, planets, architecture, mental and physical health…in short, a much needed manual for living.

Ayurveda looks at each person as a whole being with an emphasis on health and wellness. Should problems-illness arise, then understanding and finding the root cause becomes the priority. The popular treatment known as Panchakarma was originally used for rejuvenation with processes designed to detoxify the body and mind in order to renew and so lead to rejuvenation. Undergoing Panchakarma required preparing the person both physically and mentally. Like most Ayurvedic treatments, it takes time. Ayurveda is not a quick fix detox to try over a weekend.

What does Ayurveda in the West mean in practice today? Is it possible, given a hectic modern lifestyle, to entertain let alone embrace Ayurveda? Ayurveda cannot be as easy as medicinal approaches that in some cases mask symptoms and allow normal function to continue, perhaps regardless of the consequences tomorrow.

To see results in Ayurveda, apart from quick responses like massage, most of the work needs to done by you. You need to make dietary and lifestyle changes. You need to take time to look back see the issues and possible causative factors, as well as looking forward to create a realistic vision of your health future. All of this can be difficult, but there are trained Ayurvedic professionals practising in the UK with an understanding of not just Ayurveda, but the pressures of modern European life. Yes, it can mean changes to diet and lifestyle but alongside these will come a greater understanding of you as an individual with suggestions that can help your digestion and overall personal health. Ayurveda is never a one-size fits all approach.

Why try Ayurveda if it takes work and commitment to a make any life changes? If you have a chronic lifestyle –related health problem that is not being resolved by medical modalities, I would say consider Ayurveda. Sometimes it’s hard to make smart health decisions for the future especially when young and having fun, however, you probably already know that life changes could be needed to help to achieve the healthiest you possible.

What can you do? Firstly and most importantly congratulate yourself for even considering any lifestyle change, this is a huge step and one to which in general we do not give enough credit for making.

Secondly, go slowly. Understand that wherever you are now took time and wherever you are reaching for in the future in terms of health changes will also take time, patience and steadfast commitment. It’s not a quick fix. So reduce expectations in order to grow good health. Thirdly, become well informed and consider current health problems. Do you remember when or how they started and what happened around this time? If you can prepare the ground, any changes you make should be well-considered and lead to sound foundations for health. Yes the Turmeric latte may seem to be working for your skinny friend at yoga, but do you really think that is your answer?

Most importantly, start with just one change, this could be reducing sugar, journaling, meditation, yoga, dietary changes or simply committing to walking every day. Whatever you do, try to avoid becoming overwhelmed with a to-do or change list that would discourage a champion multi-tasker.

Lastly, consider using a professional for advice and help. In Ayurveda, understanding the individual and their makeup is essential. You may have heard Ayurvedic buzz words like Vata or Pitta dropped into conversation. These are just terms that help us understand tendencies. For example, if you are enthusiastic, lean and love new things but can also fade to point of exhaustion and have then forgotten what you were told…the clue could be the Vata element is overloaded. If the clock reaches 12 and the food is late, and you wish the floor would open up to avoid the verbal explosion of your Hangry friend, Pitta may not be too balanced. This person can also be logical, intelligent and may suffer from itchy red eyes. Then there is Kapha, often depicted as heavy or slow, overweight with sinus problems but let’s not forget those beautiful eyes, lush hair, an enviable ability to remember and keep going when all around been worn out or stopped for food. Most people will be a combination and an Ayurvedic professional can provide clarification and individual advice.

Ayurveda is not just old, it is ancient, which means there is wisdom and truth that can be as relevant today if we use our intelligence. An Ayurvedic professional is a guide to help us on the journey, helping us to understand ourselves better and to set and achieve our health goals. Each of us is a whole-being with a body, spirit and mind, all of which deserves much more care, consideration and attention than we expend on our cars and computers.

SUE CLARK is a member of the APA committee. For Sue, Ayurveda – continually learning, teaching, practising, and serving as committee member on the APA - has become a life journey.
A leaf symbolizing Ayurveda health in the hectic modern world
Ayur ~ Life. Veda ~ Science or Knowledge.