ancient medicine

Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation
The Liberator Magazine 2.1 #3 2003, 3.1 #5 2004, 3.3 #7 2004

Your First Visit to a Vaidya

What to expect: Ayurvedic physicians (vaidyas) follow a healing tradition that dates back thousands of years—5,000 years at the very least. Their textbooks are written in Sanskrit, and the body of knowledge that the enlightened sages of those ancient times left behind is truly astounding in its depth and volume. What this means, in modern times, is that a vaidya is required to be more than a healer—(s)he needs to be a good communicator. This also means that your first visit to a vaidya is going to be an experience with a difference.

What is a vaidya: A person earns the title of vaidya when he has, through training, acquired a deep Ayurvedic knowledge about the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of healing (veda = knowledge). This is because in Ayurveda, disease is not treated on just the physical level—it is always seen in the context of a person's overall personality and circumstances—which includes factors like profession, family life, seasonal influences, and daily habits. Therefore, vaidyas study the whole field of life, individual and cosmic, not just the field of medicine. Because they look for personal unique causes of imbalance, vaidyas do not imply conventional diagnostic tools like the blood-pressure instrument, thermometer, etc. They hold your wrist and take your pulse, for it is the wave of your pulse that is their most reliable source of information about your individual physiology and balance needs.


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How vaidyas diagnose imbalance: Pulse diagnosis is known in Sanskrit as naiad vigyan. You could call it a healing art of a science—whichever way you look at it, it is fascinating. Indiana-based Maharishi Ayurveda physician John Peterson, who combines Ayurvedic healing with his practice of modern medicine, describes pulse-diagnosis beautifully: "It is so intimately communicative that some healing occurs even while I am taking the pulse. The patient is relieved and is comforted by the settled attention she receives and then gives back to herself. The doctor feels refreshed. While taking the patient's pulse I must refer to my own pulse, a self-referral process that infuses bliss into physiology. It's always the joy of the doctor to be able to take the pulse."

Vaidya Ramakant Mishra, Director of Research and Product Development at Maharishi Ayurveda, describes the finer points of pulse-diagnosis thus: "I take the radial pulse with three fingers, which represent the three basic energies or doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The first finger feels Vata, the energy/dosha responsible for movement, space, and air. The second finger feels Pitta, which represents the elements of fire and water. Pitta governs areas where there is heat, digestive enzymes or metabolism—areas where transformation is at work. The third finger picks up Kapha, representing water and earth: Kapha governs structure and fluid balance and has the qualities of heaviness, slowness, and thickness."

Besides pulse-diagnosis, the vaidya makes observations about your personality, mostly without you even guessing he is making them. "I notice your face, your eyes, your irises and conjunctiva, the texture of your skin—or obvious tightness in some areas of the face of neck—I notice it all. Using all the senses is what makes the seemingly simple examination so comprehensive," explains Vaidya Mishra.

How vaidyas heal: Based on his findings, a vaidya makes his healing recommendations, primarily relating to your diet and lifestyle. Diet in particular forms a vital part of Ayurveda's healing strategy, because vaidyas know that the right foods taken at the right time and in the right manner can correct most imbalances. You can expect to receive a list of food no-nos, as well as suggestions on what to cook, how, and when to eat it. Feel free to ask questions and seek clarifications as the vaidya gives his advice. Besides diet, the vaidya will talk about your daily routine. Having already received information from your pulse and personality about your possible imbalance, he will ask you come targeted questions. Don't be surprised if he says something surprisingly accurate like, "Have you been sleeping late?" He knows because his diagnostic methods are very subtle and deep. When the vaidya tells you to readjust your bedtime or drink more water during the day, heed his advice. These seemingly small things can be precise and permanent solutions to even chronic problems. Dr. Peterson recalls curing a woman with severe digestive problems just by recommending that she drink warm water every 30 minutes.

Finally, you will benefit tremendously from an Ayurvedic consultation if you read up a bit on the basic concepts like the three doshas and the six tastes.

Eat to Live

Life extension/evergreen secrets from Ayurveda: Elders in India traditionally bless the young with the words: Shataayu Bhavah!" which means, "may you live a hundred years!" The blessing is not too removed from the literal. According to Ayurveda, the human body is indeed engineered for a full five score years and more. The three pillars of life—diet, sleep, and self-mastery—form the foundation on which Ayurveda says you can build good health and longevity. Here are some tips from Vaidya Mishra to help you chart your course to a long, happy life.

Eat to live... long: "Aaharah Praanah," says Ayurveda. Which means, food is a synonym for life. Food nourishes more than the body. It determines the quality of your very consciousness. What you eat, how you cook, when and in what company you eat... these seemingly small details have a big impact on your overall health and, ultimately, your life span. Vaidya Mishra likes to use plenty of spices and herbs in his cooking. Spices, he says, are not only taste-enhancers, but also great healers. Sprinkle some freshly cracked black pepper on your sandwich and it helps you absorb nutrients readily. A pinch of turmeric in your soup adds not only color but also works as an excellent antioxidant. Combined in the right proportions, spices lend their synergy to everyday soups and curries. To derive maximum benefit from your spices, sauté them in clarified butter or Ghee before adding them to prepared foods. Ghee helps the body absorb the lipid-soluble part of spices with ease. It's highly aromatic and delicious, too.

Sleep your way to a longer life: Ayurveda believes that disease and disorders develop as the result of accumulated "Ama" or toxins in the body. While physical "Ama" leads to disturbed digestion and forms the breeding ground for disease, mental "Ama" can impact resistance to day-to-day stress. Lack of good quality sleep is a major factor in generating high levels of mental "Ama." Nature intended sleep as a nightly ritual of rest and rejuvenation. When sleep does not come easy or is disturbed, the day's piled-up stresses or Ama fails to be cleansed. A good night's sleep, on the other hand, increases "Ojas" or vital life force. Ayurveda has several remedies for disturbed sleep. Drink a glass of warm milk with a little honey just before you sleep. This has a settling influence on the mind and body. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin, a brian chemical that facilitates sleep. Use honey that has not been heat-treated and be sure not to heat it over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as this eliminates its beneficial qualities. Transcendental medication helps combat the daily build-up of stress, making it easier for the mind to shutoff for the night.

Routine matters: Ayurvedic healers have always emphasized the value of regularity in everything, be it rest, play, or work. They observed it in the daily and seasonal rhythms of life itself, and adapted it to their own lifestyles. Most of it is practical advice: go with the flow of nature as often as you can, sleep on-time never after 10pm if possible, wake up early, spend time and attention on your morning ablutions including the daily self-massage, eat a good fibrous breakfast and have lunch at noon when the bodies "Agni" or digestive fires at at their peak, meditate twice a day—transcendental meditation is a proven stress-reduction technique, spend time with your family.

Keep in step with the seasons: Though you can choose any time of the year to cleanse your body, Ayurveda believes that spring is king. It is, after all, nature's own chosen time to regenerate, renew, and cleanse the environment of winter's accumulated rough, dry, and cold qualities. Panchakarma, done at this time, is a wonderful way to cleanse and detoxify the body through healing massages and baths. Research on panchakarma indicates that it is a very powerful way to increase biological youthfulness and improve overall well-being. If you meet the demand of the seasons year round, you can maintain both body and mind in peak health. In summer, stay cool with healthy shakes and sherbets, cool, not ice-cold, and eat lots of sweet juicy fruits. In the fall, fill up on figs, prunes, and raisins to fortify the body and improve elimination. Let the winter months be as nourishing as you can make them, for both body and soul.

Herbs to help you along: While your own efforts will take you a long way in your journey towards a long, healthy life, a little help from Mother Nature will make matters much easier. Nature has an astounding pharmacy, each herb it creates has its own concentrated synergy and intelligence. Researchers at Maharishi Ayurveda pick the best and ripest of herbs, fruits, and spices, then combine and process them to ensure maximum benefit.

Herbal cleansing: One of the key elements of regular routine is good elimination. Although getting more fiber in your diet can help, Maharishi Ayurveda's detoxification system is a highly effective support system for good digestive health. It helps purify the liver, supports balanced fat metabolism, reduces digestive impurities, curbs the buildup of impurities in fat and muscle tissue, strengthens the entire urinary tract and aids liver function for pure blood and better absorption of nutrients.

Potent Ayurvedic formulation: The most respected of Maharishi Ayurveda rasayanas is "Amrit," which strengthens the immune system and refines the functioning of the physiology. Amrit promotes "Bala" or vital energy. Scientific studies have now established that Amrit fights free radical damage a thousand times more effectively than any other antioxidant. While Amrit is excellent for overall mind/body health, targeted herbal formulations can help you address many specific imbalances you encounter.

Special Types of Ayurvedic Massage

The Ayurvedic full-body self-massage, called "Abhyanga," is traditionally performed every day for overall mind/body support. However, Ayurvedic texts discuss other ways to use massage therapy in addition to basic oil massage. Here are some of them:

The warm oil scalp massage: Massaging the scalp and hair is recommended to stimulate the scalp, nourish the hair roots, relieve mental fatigue, and help enhance mental clarity and focus, and balance and nourish the emotions. Traditional oils for this purpose have beneficial herbals extracts combined with the base oil for added benefit. Some herbs are included for their beneficial impact on hair health and growth, and some for their balancing effect on the mind and emotions or their stimulating effect on the mind and nervous system. Brahmi is famous in Ayurveda as a "medhya" herb—it can help improve focus and calm the mind, promote a better quality of sleep, enhance memory, balance the emotions and help withstand the effects of day-to-day stress. Brahmi is extensively used both in supplements as well as in topical hair oils. Other Ayurvedic herbs frequently found in herbal hair oils include amla (Indian gooseberry), bhringaraj (eclipta alba)—literally "King of Tresses," tulasi (holy basil), ashwagandha (winter cherry), sandalwood, and hibiscus. The base oil is generally sesame, which is reported to have antioxidant properties, or coconut, which is reported to nourish hair color, thickness and growth.

How it's done: Gently warm a couple of teaspoons of the oil. Persons with longer hair may need more, to cover all the hair as well as the scalp. The oil should be warm enough to be soothing, not uncomfortably hot. Pour the oil on your palm and apply it evenly all over the scalp and the back of the neck close to the hairline. Using your fingertips, gently massage the oil into the scalp, working the oil in for about 4-5 minutes. Ideally, the oil should be left on overnight (use a shower cap to protect your bed linens) and shampooed off the next morning. If leaving it on overnight isn't practical for your, leave it on for 2-3 hours, then shampoo your hair well to rinse it off. Do the message at least 2 or 3 times each week.

Massage to promote better sleep: Sleep imbalances, according to Ayurveda, occur when one or more of the three Ayurvedic principles of Vata, Pitta, or Kapha is out of balance. Massage is one of the techniques recommended to restore balance and aid the process of getting an adequate amount of rejuvenating rest. This massage is performed on the peripheries to improve circulation and relax the body and mind. Massage oils for this purpose combine herbs and essential oils with a base oil. The rejuvenation massage oil for me or women is ideal for this massage.

How it's done: Apply the massage oil to the lower arms, hands, lower legs, and feet a few minutes before bed and gently massage into skin. Pay special attention to the soles of the feet and the nail beds of the hands and feet. Pat off any excess oil with a clean cloth. The rejuvenation massage oil is easily absorbed, and non-staining, so it can be left on all night.

Dry garshana massage: The garshana massage is done without oil. Performed regularly, it is reported to gradually help break down fat deposits by enhancing blood and lymphatic circulation. This massage helps clean and exfoliate the skin, making it more receptive to herbs and therapeutic oils.

How it's done: Wearing raw silk gloves available for the purpose, use light vigorous strokes to perform the garshana massage. This can be done everyday.

(SOURCE:, This Ayurvedic information is educational and is not intended to replace standard medical care or advice.)

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