Ayurveda is an ancient medical modality from India that comes from he words Ayush, meaning ‘life,’ and Veda, meaning ‘science’ or ‘knowledge.’ Admittedly, I’d never even heard of this modality until my CAM class last semester. And now, I just finished my internship rotation in this diet oriented ancient medical practice.
For a patient’s first visit, the intake process is a long one. About 45 minutes! They’re asked everything from their occupation and family disease history, to their diet and exercise routine. Pretty standard so far. But then things really take a turn.
How’s Your Poop?
The patient will be asked to give detailed information about their urine and ‘poop’. Color, smell, frequency… I get it. It’s all about diet and how the body is processing the nutrients, but geez! I really don’t need to know that many details about whether or not somebody’s poop is floating or sinking in the toilet. Yes, that’s a real question!
Anyhow, once the patient answers all the questions, the next steps are to take their pulse, which is quite different. The doctor listens for three different pulses. This is to detect the life forces they called doshas. It’s believe that sickness happens when these doshas are out of balance.
The Three Doshas:
• Vata: a subtle energy that is associated with movement and breathing.
• Pitta: a ‘force’ energy responsible for metabolic function and temperature maintenance.
• Kapha: responsible for anabolic activity such as growth, strength and lubrication of the joints.
The Ayurvedic doctor can feel the three different doshas in the patients body. I watched one doctor feel the pulse of a man and blurt out, “sleep apnea,” which made this patient’s eyes nearly pop out of his head because he really had sleep apnea! That same doctor went on to say he felt high blood pressure and lots of ‘emotion,’ The patient went on to say he just stopped taking his blood pressure medicine, and recently lost his mother three months ago. So how about that!
Herbs and Oils
In the introductory blog about my internship, I mentioned the herbal pharmacy at SCU Health Science. This is where I joined the students in making herb pouches for an herbal massage technique called pinda sweda.
It begins with the right selection of herbs.
In this case, it’s ajwain, fenugreek, cumin, sesame and fennel. After carefully measuring the correct quantity, they’re ground up in this industrial strength spice grinder.
The ground herbs are then cooked for a few minutes to bring out the oils.
Then the herbs are wrapped in cheesecloth and shaped into a ball with a handle.
In ayurveda terms, this is called a bolus. The bolus is then dipped in heated oil, and massaged onto the patient. The treatments I observed were on the back. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the actual treatment to maintain patient privacy, but you can find plenty of videos on YouTube.
Another popular technique, called Shirodhara, involves pouring warm oil on the forehead of the patient using this…
The heated oil is poured into the metal bowl that has a drain on the bottom. Then the oil circulates up through that tube which will be placed in the copper dispenser.
Here a closer look at that dispenser…
It has a handle on the bottom which can adjust the flow of the oil onto the patient. The purpose is to put the patient into a calm, relaxed state, and is believed to have a purifying effect that eliminates toxins while relieving anxiety and stress. Once again, because of patient privacy privileges, I could not take photos of the procedure. But I will say when the treatment was over, the patient was visibly more relaxed than when she came into the office.
During the four days I was there, not that many treatments were given. Mostly the patients had a consult with the doctor, who prescribed herbs and dietary guidelines. The guidelines are rooted in balancing the three doshas I mentioned earlier. The doctor may give a recipe for a tea, or smoothie, instruct the patient what time of day to consume it, and add herbal supplements if necessary.
There’s much, much more to this ancient medical treatment, but this is what I got from the four quick days I was there. My biggest take away from this modality is the care that’s given to each patient, right down to the treatment. Those pinda sweda herb pouches took a long time to make, but the students really put their heart into it. I think that’s part of the appeal of ayurveda. Things move at a slower, more personal pace. Each patient is never made to feel rushed, and they always left the office feeling more relaxed then when they came in. Maybe western medicine could learn a lesson from this?
Take care. ❤️