Amazing Ayurveda: Sarita’s Blog

As I begin this blog, I have just been privileged to receive a botanical tour of the medicinal garden in Sarovaram Ayurvedic Lakeside Healing Centre in Kerala, India. I am here for a two week Rejuvenation Retreat.

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Amazing healer Suresh

Our guide, named Suresh, is an excellent therapist at the centre, bringing his formidable skills to every type of healing session being offered. For several consecutive days he has been giving me full body massage using only his feet. The therapist offering this type of massage holds a rope for balance, which hangs from the ceiling. His feet have developed so much flexibility that they have become like hands, and can be used for firm and deep strokes as well as delicate and sensitive ones.

A Botanical Tour of the Ayurvedic Garden

The garden contains such wonders as Mango trees (the fruit is eaten and the leaves are used to cure teeth and gum problems), Papaya trees (famously good for digestive enzymes), Coconut trees (this king of healing foods has so many beneficial uses it would take almost a whole book to describe them), Jackfruit and a most gorgeous Cashew tree (did you know cashew oil can be used to protect wood from getting bugs and also polishes it to a lovely tone?).

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The stunning medicinal garden

Continuing our tour we are shown Sandalwood trees, Turmeric root (the open secret to protect against cancer and many other diseases), Tapioca plants, Rudrach trees (these have nuts which are prized by Yogis to make malas with), Tulsi plants (considered to be a great protector of health on all levels), Pineapples (also full of digestive enzymes), Betel nut, Jasmine flower plants and Hibiscus. The beautiful hibiscus flowers can be made into special oil, which gives strength and vitality to the hair and also helps to return color back to greying hair. The leaves can be ground and used as a revitalizing shampoo. The Monkey nut when opened offers bright red seeds, which can be ground to a paste and used as a natural lipstick. And last but not least is the miraculous Neem tree which has a tremendous amount of beneficial properties, including the ability to kill parasites, which is very important in India!

The above is only a small taster of the phenomenal number of healing and beautifying plants in the garden. We were also shown numerous plants for detoxing, or for curing the stomach, ears, eyes, throat, nose and skin problems, and so on. The Healing Centre has its own pharmacy where many of these plants are made into medicines used to treat people who come for healing and wellness retreats.

Third Generation Ayurvedic Physician

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Dr Kiran

The head of this operation is Dr. Kiran, a third generation Ayurvedic physician.  He wanders around the Centre in the relaxed attire of the region, a lunghi and loose cotton shirt. He oversees each minute detail of the daily running of the centre with flawless efficiency. He takes great care to see each guest on a regular basis, checking up on how each person is doing as they go through their healing process. He was very proud last year to be called to Delhi to receive a special award from the Trip Advisor website, rating his retreat centre as the number one destination for wellness in Kerala for 2013.

I met Dr. Kiran’s father, Dr. Nair, at their pharmacy and he told me his story. His father (Dr. Kiran’s grandfather), was an Ayurvedic doctor who used to make his own herbal medicines at home to give to his patients. Subsequently, when the son grew up, he decided to create a bigger Ayurvedic pharmacy to produce the medicines, which are now distributed throughout India. We saw how the medicines begin as plants, or bark and how they pass through an age-old process of refinement to finally become potent herbal elixirs.

Using the technology of machinery must appear like a miracle to Dr. Nair, who saw his father doing this labour all by hand. I chewed on the rough wood of the famed Ashwagandha plant (an aphrodisiac that can awaken a strong flow of sexual energy) and asked Dr. Nair, “Your father must have been very proud of you, that you created this Ayurveda pharmaceutical factory.” He replied, “You touch my heart by speaking from the heart. Yes, he was very proud.” His eyes glistened with deep feeling as he showed us all the neatly stacked bottles, waiting to be shipped far and wide.

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Sarita and Ashwin

My friend Ashwin from Zorba the Buddha, Delhi, is here with me. He was shocked to learn on arrival that he had dangerously low blood pressure, brought on perhaps by his workaholic tendency. In just one week, his blood pressure returned to normal and his chronic asthma showed remarkable improvement. Is this a miracle, or is it science? I offer here a brief history of Ayurveda so those interested in this amazing healing method can better understand it.

Origins of Ayurveda

The origins of Ayurveda are recalled through an oral myth based tradition which recounts that this type of healing came directly from Brahma (God) to Vishnu (a God who is the preserver of life). A sage named Bharadvaja learned these secrets of medicine from Vishnu and then taught his compounded wisdom to a group of sages. The sages then taught aspects of it to their disciples.

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Punarvasu Atreya

A great rishi and master healer of ancient India named Punarvasu Atreya, had six disciples who also became masters of healing. One of his disciples, Agnivesha, created a compendium based on the teachings of Atreya. The name of the book was Agnivesh Tantra. Later, in the 1st Century A.D. a physician by the name Charaka compiled, edited and added to the original manuscript by Agnivesha and in this format it became known as Charaka Samhita. This massive tome of wisdom has approximately 1,990 varieties of medicinal plants listed, each one having gone through an extremely rigorous process of empirical testing before it was eligible to be included in the Charaka Samhita.

Sushruta in about 1000 B.C, created a pivotal textbook inspired by the father of surgery, Dhanvantri, (also known as the God of Ayurveda.) This textbook is known as the Sushruta Samhita. It is astonishing to know that hundreds of years before Ayurveda became a systematised form of medicine, specialists were already performing intricate surgery for many types of medical problems, including head, inner organs, and even plastic surgery to repair ears, eyes or nose.

The Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita were two textbooks  used as a base for understanding medicine in all its eight forms at great universities in India, such as Takshashila (700 BC—500 AD) and Nalanda (500 AD—1300 AD). These were the world’s first universities. The Charaka Samhita recounts a dialogue between many physician sages gathered in the Himalayas, who held impassioned debates about the science of healing. Each time they reached a unanimous decision, this finding would then be included in their timeless system of medicine. They decided to call this system, Ayurveda, meaning the Science of Life, or The Art of Living.

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Buddha’s influence on Ayurveda was key

Another great name in the history of Ayurveda is Chakrapani Dutta, (1038) who was the physician for King Laxman. He wrote a compendium called Chakradutta, which is thought to hold the very essence of Ayurveda. There are many other authors of great repute who have added their wisdom into the river of Ayurveda over hundreds of years.

Gautama the Buddha’s influence (beginning 500 years BC) was supreme in the development of Ayurveda as we know it today. His meditation-based teaching dispelled of Gods and the caste system. His influence paved the way for the folk medicine of India to let go of the trappings of superstition and be formed into a complete science of healing and wellness.

The eight branches of Ayurveda are:
1)   Kayachikitsa (general medicine, including all organs)
2)   Shalakya (treatments for the head and neck including eyes, ears, throat, nose and mouth.)
3)   Shalya (surgery)
4)   Bhuta Vidya (spiritual healing; for mentally based or supernatural based phenomena not explainable by normal medical logic)
5)   Kaumarabhritya (The healing of children)
6)   Agadatantra (using antidotes to treat poisons of all kinds)
7)   Rasayana (wellness and rejuvenation treatments)
8)   Vajikarana (sexual healing and the enhancement of libido and fertility)

Ayurveda inspired Syrian, Babylonian, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Greek and other medicinal orientations, just as Ayurveda has benefited from streams of wisdom coming from outside of India, such as Middle Eastern approaches to healing.

A wonderful quote, which sums up the Ayurveda approach to medicine came from the teacher of Sushruta: “Ayurveda has two purposes: to release the ill from illness and to serve the health of the healthy.”

The Philosophy of Ayurveda

The philosophy of Ayurveda is eternally relevant. In a nutshell, it is based on the 5 elements (bhutas) and the seasons, (Ruticharya) and how these influences fluctuate within our body. The wisdom of the Ayurvedic physician lies in his or her ability to diagnose which element may be uppermost in a person’s body, and what has to be done to bring balance, so that all the elements find a way to bring forth their essential qualities in harmony. When the eco-system of the earth is balanced, we have a paradise condition on the earth. Likewise, when the eco-system of the body, which is a microcosm of the macrocosm, is balanced, we have health. This state of balance in Ayurveda is called ‘dhatu samya’. Dhatu are the various constituents arising from the five elements that form our body and physical universe.

Charaka says: “The universe and the individual are a continuum. Whatever exists in the cosmos exists in the individual; reciprocally, whatever constitutes the individual exists in the universe.”

When a person carries a state of imbalance, this is called Dosha. A Dosha condition will arise according to the basic constitution of a person (which is believed to be activated at the time of conception), how their food is being assimilated and waste is being processed. Normally waste elements are released through sweat, urine and bowel movements. However, if there is mental, emotional and physical stagnation, the normally smooth process of waste elimination may be retarded, leading to imbalance and disease.

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The Three Doshas

There are three Dosha states, Vata being Air and Ether (including wind), Pitta being Fire and Kapha being Earth and Water. If someone carries an aggravation of one or more Doshas, this needs to be balanced using the opposite element. This is achieved through Dosha balancing foods, herbal medications, massage, acupressure points (called Marma) detoxing and purging.

A quote from Sushruta is a good reminder to physicians of our contemporary world: “In the absence of a sound understanding of food, its varieties, preparations and functions, physicians would neither be able to maintain the health of the healthy nor control the disorders of the ill.”

(Buddha is recounted as saying that there were originally three diseases, desire, hunger and aging, which multiplied to ninety-eight as a consequence of slaughtering animals.)

Foods in Ayurveda are of prime importance for the maintenance of health and the cure of disease. Foods are divided into three categories, Tamas (inertia), Rajas (fiery) and Sattvic (essence, or wisdom foods). An example of this in today’s world would be: meat and junk foods: Tamas, over stimulating highly seasoned foods: Rajas, and a well-balanced diet of organic vegetarian or vegan foods: Sattvic.

Ayurvedic Diagnosis

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Reading the pulse

One of the mysteries in Ayurveda are the methods of diagnostics. Some portions of diagnosis can be understood through logic, and some can only be explained as the art of telepathy. A doctor who is a Master of Ayurveda is able to read the pulse, tongue, eyes and other indications in such a way that they know everything about the person within a matter of seconds, including all the diseases they have ever had and all they will be prone to. It is said that 20 years of dedicated study is needed in order to be able to read the pulse in this way, and that even then, it is inborn for some persons to be able to do it while others may strive for many years without ever being able to master the technique.

During British rule in India, Ayurveda was thrown aside for modernisation. Now ironically, people from the West flood into India seeking Ayurvedic cures while the ‘Medical Mafia’ in the West rakes in huge profits at the expense of the sick and dying, a result of the non-holistic approach of modern medicine.

Charaka states, very practically: “By treating diseases with medicines endowed with virtues opposed to their originating causes, we succeed in fully restoring the patients to their normal condition.”

The Science for a Joyous and Fulfilled Life

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At one time, Tantra, Yoga and Ayurveda were three branches of the same Tree Of Life: offering health, equilibrium and spiritual expansion for a life of joy and fulfillment. It has been my experience that for true health and wholeness to be experienced, we need to have a balance of body, mind, emotions, soul and spirit. All of these aspects within us need to be in harmony, otherwise disease will be the result. In this sense, Ayurveda has really captured the essence of healing with its focus on the art of living a balanced, healthy and joyous lifestyle.

One of the most potent ways of achieving balance and wellness is through the Ayurvedic process of Pancha Karma, which is to be done as a residential retreat for either 7, 14, 21 or 28 days.

Vagbhata, an Ayurvedic physician said: “Doshas which pervade the gut, tissues, body channels, limbs and bones are loosened by lubrication and liquefied by fomentation; they enter the gut to be eliminated by purificatory measures.”

My Experience of Pancha Karma

I am a great believer in wellness and preventative medicine. It is for this reason that I go through a cleansing and healing process at least once a year. So far, I am so impressed with the Ayurveda style of rejuvenation therapy that I intend to continue this marvelous time tested healing approach on a regular basis!

In the two weeks I have been here at the retreat centre, I have been going through the branch of Ayurveda, which is for Rejuvenation: (Rasayana). For maximum wellness, it is recommended to do a 21 day Rasayana Pancha Karma each year. So far in my retreat, I have been massaged twice a day with hands, feet, or healing herbal packs. Medicinal scrubs or a lot of medicinal oil has been used in this process, making my skin soft and supple. I have been offered simple and delicious food and herbal medicines coming from recipes that date back through thousands of years of experience and refinement.

I have also received cool buttermilk poured gently over my forehead for up to 45 minutes at a time, a profound and mysterious process that clears mental toxins and karma.

My two therapists; male (Suresh) and female (Jayanthi) have both been excellent in their session giving skills and professional, loving presence. I felt completely surrendered in every session due to their impeccable style of working.

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Sarita glowing after her retreat

I have also experienced a day of purging, which is challenging to pass through but has a very positive outcome. After long preparation, the body is ready to let go of all the toxins. A herbal pill is given together with lots of water. And the dam opens, allowing the body to release through vomiting and diarrhea. After a few hours of purging, I slept like a baby and woke up feeling reborn. Ayurveda really has healing down to a fine art! I found most of the Pancha Karma process to be pure pleasure, so this one day of purging, though difficult to pass through, was effective and brought immediate positive results. In other words, I FEEL SHINING AND CLEAN THROUGH AND THROUGH!

A Glimpse Into The Era of Compassion

This quote is a very poignant passage written by a Chinese traveller named Hiuen Tsiang who visited India in the 5th century AD (This passage is recounted in M S Valiathan’s excellent book, An Introduction To Ayurveda).

“The nobles and householders of this country have founded hospitals within the city, to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, cripples and diseased may repair. They receive every kind of help, gratuitously. Physicians inspect their diseases, and according to their cases, order them food and drink, medicines or decoctions, everything in fact that may contribute to their ease. When cured, they depart at their convenience.”

This glimpse into the past can certainly offer inspiration for our society today, showing us a world where wisdom, love and compassion rule.

Love Sarita x

Sources for research

  • Wikipedia
  • An Introduction to Ayurveda by M. S. Valiathan
  • Forever Young; Unleashing the Magic of Ayurveda by Reenita Malhotra Hor

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