Although the practice of yoga has become widespread in western countries, its “sister science,” Ayurveda, is in many ways just now reaching our shores. This ancient form of medicine that began in India around 1500 BC has been popular in that country since its inception, but it is beginning to gain popularity here as well. In India, Aruyveda is an accepted form of medical practice, but so far, in the United States, it is still seen as an alternative therapy. Practitioners report excellent results, though, and as a result, many are seeking out Ayurvedic consultations to help with their ailments as well as with general life balance. Since Ayurveda is focused on finding the proper balance in our lives, it’s no surprise that it has reached the addiction and recovery realm of healthcare, and many are finding that it was just what they needed to find personal success on the path to a clean and healthy life.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means long life, and it aims to create and encourage a long and healthy life for people who seek one. In general terms, Ayurvedic practitioners believe that health problems are due to imbalances in the body, and the way to deal with those health problems is to restore balance. When we are stressed out, it is impossible to be healthy. When we eat too much, or exercise or sleep too little, our bodies and minds are thrown off course, and it therefore should not be shocking that we begin to show symptoms of short or even long term illnesses. Through analysis of our personalities, body types, appetites, and response to stress, among other things, an Ayurvedic practitioner determines a patient’s primary dosha, or which of three energies is most prevalent within the individual. Using this information, various treatments can be prescribed. Suggestions may include dosha-specific changes in diet, sleep habits, and general behavior to help the patient get back to a place of balance.
How Ayurveda Views Addiction
The Ayurvedic field views addiction as a coping mechanism for an over-taxed response. Because people today are always trying to get ahead, they are nearly always on the border of some sort of fight-or-flight response. As a result, our adrenalin and cortisol builds up, and being in that state all the time stresses us out. Unfortunately, this leads some people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. The use and abuse of these substances helps to cloak our imbalances for a time and help us to feel better, which leads to more and more use until many suffer from addiction to this escape. The fact of the matter is that these substances are actually creating further imbalances. We become more and more of a mess physically, mentally, and emotionally, and on top of that we become addicted to drugs or alcohol, as well.
Ayurveda and Recovery
Dr Rajiv Parti, M.D., author of Dying to Wake Up, is a medical doctor in the United States, author, and Ayurvedic consultant. He believes there are eight steps important to all Ayurveda, but they can especially be applied to individuals wishing to become free of addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- First, identify the dosha. Ayurveda believes everything is composed of five elements: fire, air, water, space, & earth. These elements can be combined to form the three doshas: vata, pitta, kapha. Vata types tend to be creative, lean, forgetful, agile, and prone to anxiety, whereas Pitta people are generally known as leaders that are goal-oriented, focused, aggressive, and are sometimes impatient. Kapha type people are mellow, easy-going, slow, and physically heavier, and generally try to avoid conflict. An individual has all of these aspects within him or her, but one or two of the types are more visible than the others in most cases.
The first thing an Ayurvedic doctor or consultant will do upon meeting a new patient or client is ask questions and perform tests to determine that individual’s dosha. This information is vital to know before suggesting any specific courses of action.
- Physical restoration. The next step towards recovery is physical healing. Ayurvedic texts state that a substance called Ojas is our vital life force. When this life force is depleted, we suffer. Restoration of Ojas can be achieved through proper diet. In changing one’s diet to one that meshes well with his or her specific dosha, improvement can begin immediately.
- Mental restoration. In addition to Ojas, our bodies and minds also include Tejas – the radiant vitality of the body-mind’s innate intelligence. Tejas includes the inner body functions such as the carrying of oxygen, healing, and mental processing at the cellular level. By calming our nervous systems, and destroying disease through energetic healing methodologies, addicted individuals can continue to move forward on the path to health.
- Through an Ayurvedic detoxification process known as Panchakarma, practitioners purify their bodies through five steps. Panchakarma is another Sanskirt word, which means five (pancha) and action (karma). This experience takes several hours and includes the ingestion and application of pure essential oils to mobilize and remove toxins from the patient’s body.
- Once a person has been through the Panchakarma detoxification process, now true and total healing can truly begin. Prana is the vital energy brought to us through breathing. Although breathing comes naturally to us, a breathing practice can be extremely helpful to our overall health. Learning how to breathe properly and move the prana energy through our bodies is easy and can be learned most easily through regular yoga practice.
- Replace bad habits with good ones. The yogic lifestyle is full of healthy practices including breathing, mindfulness, and movement. Through a regular yoga practice, our bodies will open up to the many benefits it offers.
- Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is guided, deep meditation practice that can be especially helpful to people battling addiction. A meditation teacher will lead participants into a sleep-like, dream-like state that can help to cleanse the mind of all negative associations that are usually only processed when we are asleep. At the end of a Yoga Nidra session, an individual may feel exhausted, but this is a sign that it has been effective. The mental cleansing offered by Yoga Nidra can be a big help to all who participate.
- Meditation is the final step of the eight and should be viewed as a daily practice for everyday medicine. Taking time to break free from the stresses of everyday life and turn inward, focusing on the breath, can help us to regulate our stress levels and keep us balanced in the mind in order to face all the challenges we encounter each day. Regular meditation is suggested for all Ayurvedic practitioners, but individuals working on their recovery may find it particularly helpful.
Ayurveda as Complimentary Medicine to Modern Treatments
While its unlikely that even a entire Ayurvedic regimen alone will help someone overcome addiction, it certainly can be a helpful part of any recovery plan. These steps, based on tradition and thousands of years of positive results, can help people in addiction recovery to regain the balance they lost while in active addition. Ayurveda, paired with an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program, can help individuals to develop healthy practices to support and encourage continued recovery. If Ayurveda interests you, look online for a local Ayurvedic doctor or consultant, and pay him or her a visit to get started with this ancient method of healing.
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