Ayurveda: Myths & Facts
Myth 1: Ayurveda is a wellness / massage system mainly for relaxation
Fact: This probably has to be the biggest misconception about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not a massage system. It is not a spa procedure. Ayurveda is a full-fledged medical system with its own theoretical base, pharmacology and clinical practices. Ayurveda uses mainly plant origin products for treating health issues. Active ingredients in this herbal material do the healing job. This process is 100% logic based.
Oil applications in Ayurveda are for specific purposes and are done at specific stages of the treatment plan. The type of oil selected is based on the underlying health issue. There are also many clinical conditions /stages where application of oil / massage could be counterproductive.
Ayurveda is not something that can be learned by a few weekend courses. Bachelor’s studies in Ayurveda take a minimum of five and a half years in India.
Myth 2: Ayurveda works only in India
Fact: Principles of Ayurveda are universal. One could even argue that it works better in Europe where the four seasons are clearly distinguished unlike in tropical regions where the difference in temperature and sunshine throughout the year is limited. This differences in temperature and seasons affect the equilibrium of the Doshas (constitutional elements) and create health issues. Preventive and therapeutic aspects of Ayurveda could be used to address these imbalances.
Differences between human beings in India and in the West is not that huge. Chemical medicines used in modern medicine are effective in the East and West alike. Even in one particular geographic region, there may be minor variations in the way the body reacts to a particular chemical or herbal product. It’s the same with Ayurveda preparations.
Myth 3: Ayurveda is religious or spiritual belief system
Fact: Ayurveda is a science which simply follows logic. It is a medical system that has been practiced in India for over 3000 years. Over centuries, gradually social or cultural practices creep into medicine and vice versa. It is part of the evolutionary process. We should just separate the wheat from the chaff.
Modern medicines work in patients from all religious beliefs and also in atheists. It’s exactly the same in Ayurveda.
Medicine accepts that mind plays a very big role in the healing process. There are dedicated areas for prayer or quiet reflection and counsellors in many medical facilities in the West also. It does not make Western medicine any more unscientific. It’s the same with Ayurveda.
If a patient’s religious beliefs or spirituality gives him strength and keeps him positive, let it be. One should just draw a line and make sure that blind beliefs do not overrule evidence based clinical practices and logic.
Myth 4: Ayurveda is vegetarian
Fact: It is a misconception so prevalent in the West that Ayurveda is vegetarian. Nutrition in Ayurveda is decided based on one's constitution, current Dosha balance, level of digestive power (Agni), age, strength, physical activity and the seasons.
Ayurveda textbooks describe the qualities of different types of meat and fish and suggest methods to cook them while discussing food items. There are also therapeutic preparations where meat or animal products are an ingredient. So, one can safely infer that there is no blanket ban on non-vegetarian food for healthy individuals. One's nutritional requirements and metabolic capability should be taken into account while opting for non-vegetarian food though.
When someone is sick, the body is trying to focus its energies on the healing process and often the appetite is low. That explains the use of predominantly light, easy to digest vegetarian diet during Ayurveda treatment programmes. Also, in some disease conditions and in people with a relatively weaker digestion, it is better to at least temporarily avoid meat or hard to digest food items.
Myth 5: Coffee and alcohol are prohibited in Ayurveda
Fact: Ayurveda does not prohibit anything completely or endorse anything without limits. There are descriptions in classic Ayurveda texts about different types of alcohol and methods of consuming alcohol according to the seasons and Dosha status. There are also widely used Ayurvedic preparations that contain alcohol.
Coffee or any similar drink might also have its role. Key factors to consider are the quantity, season or time of day and the health status of the individual concerned. Excessive use obviously should be discouraged. Ayurvedic way of life does not mean abstaining from all the small pleasures of life.
Rules of the game are simple in Ayurveda. There is no universal “yes”. Neither is a universal “no”. It is all based on circumstances as is always the case with life. The goal is to follow the “middle path” and maintain one’s physical and mental equilibrium and live a long fruitful life.