The ´Ayurveda facts´ you´ve heard: Are they really true?
Experience with Ayurveda
Ik heb Ayurveda gestudeerd met European Institute of Vedic Studies, en het eerste jaar genaamd "Ayurvedic Practitioners Program" afgerond. In 2015, ben ik gecertificeerd als ´Ayurvedic Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner´. Ik werd gemotiveerd om Ayurveda te studeren nadat ik mijn beide ouders aan kanker verloor. Hoewel ik op dit moment niet als een Ayurvedisch therapeute werk, voel ik me wel gedreven om soms de kennis te delen die ik mijn opleiding heb opgedaan en ook de ervaring door het toepassen van Ayurveda in mijn eigen levensstijl.
The myths about Ayurveda
Soon I will write an article to introduce Ayurveda, but before that I would like to get some myths about this beautiful ancient health system from India, out of the way. There are many myths about Ayurveda and in general people like to have an opinion about something, without knowing the true facts.
" The highest form of ignorance if when you reject something you don´t know anything about"
- Wayne Dyer
Naturopathy vs Ayurveda
In my experience with talking to people about Ayurveda, I came to realise that people have some ideas in mind about Ayurveda in general. Maybe they have become confused reading a lot about Naturopathy or other alternative health systems. Especially Naturopathy has gained popularity over the past years, but it doesn´t necessarily agree with Ayurveda. Better said, many statements in Naturopathy contradict the Ayurveda philosophy completely. This has a lot to do with the fact that Ayurveda classifies each person individual, I will get back to this in myth 10. Please don´t take statements from Naturopathy and blame Ayurveda for it, after you realise it´s not giving you the desired effect. I think that some of the myths I name in this article, come from the fact that people confuse Ayurveda with Naturopathy.
Ayurveda and other alternative health systems
You have to be very careful with combining Ayurveda with other alternative health system, since Ayurveda is a complete system on it´s own. In some cases the two can cause each other the opposite effect. The philosophy behind why certain things are having the effect on your health the way they do, can be completely different from one system to another. In Ayurveda you work with the cause, rather than the effects, so it is very important to keep this in mind. But even in Homeopathy, which also works with the underlying cause, the theory can completely contradict each other. For example, in Homeopathy the foundation lays in ´like cures like´. I´m not an expert in Homeopathy, but very simply said I use an example that you feel very hot and drink a hot drink to activate your body´s system to cool down. In Ayurveda, it works completely the other way around. Ayurveda is all about balance and helping your body to attain the balance. Beside of that, it might be a complicated system to learn, but in it´s essence it´s very simple: If you´re hot you should take in products with qualities which are cooling to your system. There might be ways in combining Homeopathy with Ayurveda, and what I´ve heard is that Homeopathy is working with the energy field rather then directly with the body, but please make sure you know what you´re doing.
History of Ayurveda
Before I start with the first myth, please note the following. The Vedic era is said to be more than 40.000 years old. Ayurveda has its roots there, but how long Ayurveda exists as a health system is not completely clear since its origin was communicated orally. It is thought that the first texts have been created a few thousands years BC. Over time, some different branches and texts have been developed within Ayurveda. My teacher has mainly taught us knowledge from the oldest Ayurvedic text, which is called the ´Caraka Samhita´. My insights and knowledge therefore might differ from other branches within Ayurveda.
The motivation to teach Ayurveda for my teacher was, and still is probably, to bring it into our Western society. Sometimes, certain advises might have been adapted to our culture since some practises from ancient India might simply not be possible in our society today. I´m very grateful for everything I´ve learned in this full time study. However, I can´t take any responsibility for things seen in a different way or learned in another form then what I write here. Nevertheless feel free to share your opinion with me in the comments below and I´m always open for discussion or to learn something new. Now, to the point: The 10 myths I´ve heard so far.
Myth 1: "If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you should be 100% vegetarian."
What I´ve learned during my studies in regards to meat nowadays, includes two important things:
- The amount of meat, especially in our Western culture.
- The quality of meat.
The amount of meat
Even though I don´t eat any meat myself, Ayurveda doesn´t state in the text that people should be 100% vegetarian. It does say that meat is harder to digest then most other food. And because it´s harder to digest and if eaten too much or at the incorrect time, it can create toxins in our body (called ´Ama´ in Ayurveda), causing sickness on the longer term. From an Ayurvedic perspective, certain body types can eat certain kinds of meat like twice a week if they really want to, but for lunch only. Because it takes longer to digest, it´s not very recommended to eat it for dinner since our body doesn´t have the time to digest the meat in the proper way, looking at the different stages of digestion and the natural rhythms of our body and what its function should be doing at night.
The quality of meat
Another aspect is the quality of the meat today. In the Ayurvedic texts fresh meat is to be considered an animal killed and eaten within a few hours. Since this is not very possible anymore looking at the way we are living today, you might want to think about how your meat is kept fresh and what products are used to keep it fresh, before it lands on your plate. Another concern is where the meat comes from and what is injected in the animal like hormones to grow or antibiotics. It will end up in your body, and I would highly recommend to eat meat which has an organic origin.
Did you know: Reducing your meat consumption will affect the hunger situation in the world!
By reducing your meat consumption, you´re not only helping your own body but also helping to reduce the hunger problem in the world. Recent studies are showing that the amount of meat eaten in the world has a very strong influence on the rest of the hunger in the world, due to the crops, water and place needed for the animals which become the meat. I´m not here to convince people and certainly not to judge anyone. But this article is very interesting:
Myth 2: "A lifestyle in Ayurveda is very complicated and time consuming."
I agree that Ayurveda is a complicated system to learn, mainly because it´s very complete. Next to anatomy and physiology, it also includes psychology, different body types, rhythms and functions of our body, tuning into nature, working with their cycles and connecting to the area you are living and much more. However, the fact that something is time consuming to learn, doesn´t mean the same thing is true in applying it to your lifestyle. I would recommend to educate yourself or find an Ayurvedic therapist before you start in order to do the right thing for your body type.
In its basics, Ayurveda is very simply, although it might be complicated to learn. The main thing in Ayurveda is becoming aware of your body type and which qualities inside ourselves are out of balance and then which qualities we put in our body, mind and soul. You work with nature itself and you don´t need to know about the whole philosophy behind it in order to see results. If you consult an Ayurvedic therapist however, I do recommend you that he or she is trained in the whole background including Samkhya Dharshana. This will most likely provide you the person with the right ethics.
Once you understand your own body type and the basics of Ayurveda or follow the advise of somebody who does, you can make it as complicated and spend as much time on it as you want. You don´t necessarily need to have a huge selection of herbs and spices in your kitchen cupboard and neither is it necessary to spend hours in the kitchen for each meal. However, if you like to do so, you can of course. One nice thing about Ayurveda is that you can bring it into your lifestyle the way you choose yourself.
If you drink a ginger tea to improve your digestion or to cleanse some toxins from you system, you´re already using Ayurveda. It´s up to you how much you would like to change your lifestyle because in the end of the day we all are responsible for our own health.
Also, from an Ayurvedic perspective, almost everything can be used as a medicine, once you understand the basics and know the qualities of your food and activities.
Myth 3: "If you take Ayurveda serious, you have to live as a monk with a strict diet, meditation and weird mantras!"
This is only, but only true, if you like to live as a monk. I have been in periods in my live that I told myself to be super strict, I meditated full on, didn´t drink any alcohol and only ate healthy food. However, it didn´t last very long and it also didn´t make me very happy since I became too isolated. Ayurveda wants us to be happy and stimulates what makes us feel good in a way that promotes activities and food intake that serves the well being of our body and mind. Detoxing once in a while can be a good thing, but do it correct, in the right season and temporarily.
In case you would like to get more serious with Ayurveda, I share what I´ve learned in my course in applying it to our Western lifestyle. In general for an Ayurvedic lifestyle, my teacher recommended to follow the Ayurvedic diets for like 15 or 16 of the 21 meals you have in a week. This means that you can choose to keep the weekends to do whatever you like or every lunch at work in the weekdays, for example. Being too strict usually doesn´t last very long so it´s better to do something in a way which makes it sustainable than being super strict but let it only last for a couple of weeks.
Meditation and mantras
Meditation and mantras can be useful for your psychological and spiritual health, but are not a must at all. In Ayurveda, the texts state that health is interrelated between body, mind and soul. But you can take whatever you want from Ayurveda. The main part I have been studying was regarding nutrition, since actually all diseases have their roots in the digestive system somehow. Everything what comes into our body either through our mind and senses but mainly food, affects our well being.
Beside of this, there are many Western psychologist and many researches are done over the recent years, both confirming that breathing exercises and meditation can be very good to calm an anxious or burned out mind. Also there´s becoming more evidence now that emotions do get stored in your body and in certain body parts.
Myth 4: "Ayurveda is in competition with Western medicine."
A lot of people don´t know what Ayurveda actually is and I will soon write an article to introduce this amazing ancient health science from India. But throughout history, many health systems have their roots, or part of their roots, in Ayurveda, including the Egyptian, Greek, Romans, Tibetan, Chinese and even Western medicine. In its essence we all work with the same goal: a healthy body. One big difference between Ayurveda and Western medicine nowadays, is that Ayurveda works with the cause rather than the symptoms. In other words, Ayurveda would stimulate to change your lifestyle in order to bring the balance back in your system in order to prevent sickness, while Western medicine is trying to fight the symptoms. From an Ayurvedic perspective, symptoms will come back or tend to manifest elsewhere in our body, if we don´t treat the cause.
My teacher has always emphasized not to take away any Western medicine ever unless the patient´s Western doctor has said so. We´re not trained to be a doctor, but to be a therapist. It´s about creating a lifestyle that supports our health, not about fighting a disease. However, after this said, I know that there are many situations in which people started to follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle and over time serious illness disappeared and their Western doctor took them off medicines they needed to live with before. Keep in mind that it takes time before your body is completely back in balance in order to heal itself.
Myth 5: "You can´t take any sugar, cow-milk or alcohol if you follow an Ayurvedic diet."
Ok, this is an interesting one and I prefer to split them up. Also, here again, I like to emphasize that Ayurveda works with different body types and in fact there are very few ´general recommendations´ for products. But especially these products are considered damaging to our health according to many Naturopathic statements today.
The Ayurvedic texts say that it´s important to use a totality of our tastes. Certain tastes are better for specific body types then others, and could therefore be used in smaller or bigger amounts, but the recommendation is to use all tastes in our nutrition. So completely banning things with a sweet taste from our diet, is not very recommended.
White sugar has not any nutritional value at all. In my own opinion it is addictive too and damaging to your health. But natural sugar, from an Ayurvedic perspective, can be very nutritious and beneficial to certain body types. Especially raw, unrefined sugar and cane sugar. ´Diet products´ in which sugar gets replaced by artificial sweeteners can be damaging too since our body doesn´t recognize these things and is not able to digest it well, again creating toxins in our system. Chocolate can be good for us, not the ones containing a lot of white sugar and other artificial products to conserve it, but raw, organic chocolate can have certain health benefits.
Cow milk can be very beneficial to certain body types and shouldn´t be banned the way it is nowadays, but we should consider the quality.
The issue with cow milk today is similar to the problems as I named in regards to meat. Many animals are injected with antibiotics and grow hormones, which will end up in their milk and finally in your body. But another, even bigger, problem with cow milk is that it gets processed in order to preserve it longer, usually using heating techniques like pasteurization. These methods make the enzymes in the milk inactive which our body needs to digest it properly. Again, if your body can´t digest it properly, it will create toxins in our system. That are the biggest issues today in regards to cow milk. If cow milk is organic and fresh, it can be a very nutritious ingredient in our diet.
Because fermentation is used to produce alcohol, it effects our later stages of digestion. Therefore, if alcohol is consumed too much or on a regular base, can create toxins in our system. On the other hand, one glass of red wine with a meal for example can stimulate or be supportive to our digestion and can sometimes be beneficial, again, to certain body types and in the right circumstances.
Ayurveda wants you to be happy in life so it´s all about balance. Of course, it´s not recommend to drink alcohol every day or in big amounts, as we probably all know. But we are human beings and if we have a party one night, then we better enjoy it and balance it back the next day(s).
For all above products, keep your own common sense in mind and if something doesn´t get digested very well, try to reduce it´s intake and try not to take it on a regular base in order to prevent toxins getting build up in your system.
Myth 6: "By following an Ayurvedic lifestyle, you have to go to Yoga class everyday or twice a week."
Surprisingly, this is not true based upon what I´ve learned.
It is true that the origins of Yoga, like Ayurveda, come from the same knowledge, the Vedas. Also the Caraka Samhita says Yoga to be beneficial for balancing the mind and to change our perception, to become more real. However, it mainly refers to Raja Yoga which is focussed on the mind rather then the body.
The problem actually becomes the word ´Yoga´ and how we nowadays relate to it. There are many different streams in Yoga and some of them, like Hatha Yoga, are focussed on the body or the body-mind union. The Yoga philosophy is coming from the Samkhya in which the focus of Yoga was on the mind. Looking at some Ayurvedic purifying therapies, Yoga these days like Hatha Yoga, focussing on the body with postures and exercises, can be damaging to our health, especially for certain body types, looking at the intensity and duration of the classes. Also, the diet and climate should be considered in choosing which asanas (postures) are actually health improving.
Traditionally, the physical asanas come from Ayurveda. But Ayurveda works with certain body types and different body types need different exercises, speed and duration of exercises. Therefore it is not recommend to do the same Yoga asanas in a group with different body types. In traditionally India Yoga wasn´t taught in groups.
Personally, I won´t say that you can´t benefit from a Yoga class. I think it can be a great activity for your body, mind and soul. But be careful doing it long term on a regular base, if you´re not aware of the effect of the relation between things like your diet, direct environment and your own body type. Looking at the information in the Ayurvedic texts, it´s not encouraged to practise Yoga in classes if they do teach the same exercises and rhythms to all the people in the same group.
Beside of this, I would encourage to do Yoga with a teacher who has studied the philosophy and Samkhya, and even better has an Ayurvedic background. Use it as a way to balance your mind and soul rather then participate in it as a sports class. A good Ayurvedic therapist can also advise you which exercises to be practised by yourself.
Myth 7: "Ayurvedic food is Indian food and therefore always hot and spicy!"
Like I mentioned in myth 3, in Ayurveda it is recommended to use all of our tastes in our daily food. Spicy food, especially with hot components like chili should be used in moderation. Warming elements can be good for certain body types in Ayurveda, but we still strive for balance. So, to eat hot and spicy food on a daily base, is mostly not recommended at all. Especially for the body types which already have a higher ´fire´ content in the body, and tend to have a higher ´digestive fire´, spicy food might cause an imbalance here by having too much heat in the body (and mind). Specific spices are used for different meals, unbalances and body types. Also it is recommended to eat a variety of food rather then sticking to one type of food or to eat curry every day. I would say that Ayurveda is rather complete in taste then hot. Ayurveda and curries might both have their origins in India, this doesn´t mean that they are the same thing.
Myth 8: "Ayurveda is only about beauty and massages."
Ayurveda is a very complete system, and it originates from the Vedics. The Ayurvedic medicine system is divided into 8 branches, which one of them works with rejuvenation. Sometimes Ayurveda gets promoted as a natural beauty and massage therapy, which in my opinion is not correct. There are many Ayurvedic products in regards to skincare on the market, which might be good for you but I can´t tell. Surprisingly, in my study I have not had any theory on that and if you´re lifestyle, and especially your diet, is balanced according to your body type, you will have a balanced skin too. If you´re looking into improving your beauty in an Ayurvedic way, I would rather work with the inside then the outside. I believe that all beauty comes from inside, and not only from the foods we eat but also from the thoughts we think and the things we do...!
What I´ve learned from the texts, is that daily auto-massages can be very beneficial to your health and is often recommended to your lifestyle, but it´s only a part of it. Like I said before, nutrition has a much stronger influence. Also, specific kind of oils are recommended for the different body types so I won´t recommend going to a random massage salon doing an ´Ayurvedic treatment´ unless the massage therapist is trained in Ayurveda and makes sure to question your body type beforehand.
Myth 9: "If you want to loose weight you should take in more smaller meals instead of having 3 meals a day."
This one is absolutely a big ´no´ from an Ayurvedic perspective and it contradicts the texts completely. It might be a way to speed up your metabolism or digestion in order to loose weight, but will, in my opinion, be damaging to your health on the longer term, without a doubt.
Ayurveda works with the cycles of nature and our cycles in the body are tuned into that. If we go against these cycles we mess up our own digestion cycles affecting their proper role including the after stages and on a longer term our organs and tissues. It will cause malfunction in absorbing nutrients and leave toxins in your body over the longer term and both of them will create illness. To explain this is more detail, I would have to go into the complete systems as learned in my study and it will be way too long for this article. But just ask any Ayurvedic therapist, and you will get the same answer. Rhythm and following a diet with 3 meals a day, is very important in Ayurveda and in only some rare cases a snack in between meals in recommended.
One thing to consider here is, do you want to be skinny or healthy? In our culture a common problem is people being overweight, and an Ayurvedic diet can definitely help you loosing weight over a longer term. But there are no short cuts if you want to be healthy. Another problem in our culture is the fashion industry modelling super skinny as beautiful with a wrong example to strive for. From an Ayurvedic perspective, being too slim is not very healthy. In fact, we need a small amount of body fat to lubricate our system and to stay healthy.
Myth 10: "Vegetable / Fruit X´ or using a certain herb is very good for everybody´s health!"
In Ayurveda, it´s very rare to classify something (a certain food or activity) in general as good or bad. Nowadays, you can read many advises stating that a pineapple is good for this and lemon juice is good for that. We have to be very careful with these kind of advises since it can be good for one person but damaging to another. It´s true of course that specific fruits and vegetables contain their own nutritional values with certain elements and vitamins. But I will shortly explain why we should be careful with general stated health advises like above.
Ayurveda classifies each person into a specific body type or a mix of specific body types. Basically, it looks at certain body traits, characteristics, skin type, the shape of the body, psychological traits and much more. One of the main characteristics of the body type is how their digestion works and that´s the reason why in Ayurveda we even look at your tongue or ask you to describe how your stool looks. Different body types have a different rhythm and capacity of digestion which has to be taken in mind. But it´s not only that. A mix of certain qualities (for example hot/cold, heavy/light, oily/dry, quick/slow etc) define the certain body type (called Dosha in Ayurveda). The main thing is to work with your body type, in order to support it and to prevent one Dosha to get too high in one´s system creating unbalance. This is why one certain diet which its kind and quantity of foods and herbs can be good for one person but damaging to another.
Another thing to be aware of is asking yourself if the thing you´re going to eat is in your season and from your area. Be careful with statements like ´papayas are healthy´, because they might be by looking at the nutritious components they contain, but if our digestive system can´t absorb them or don´t assimilate them well it might not benefit you. If you live in Canada and it´s winter time right now, an imported papaya from Mexico might not be very good. Simply because we are not having the correct enzymes to digest the fruit, since it´s totally out of or season and out of our area. And if you´re body doesn´t contain the right enzymes, it affects the digestion without a doubt. We are interrelated to nature, with it´s cycles and how it surrounds us. So keep that in mind.
I hope you now have a better understanding about Ayurveda and why certain myths about Ayurveda are not true. Again, I would like to repeat that I just share what I have learned in my course during studying and practising. To me, it all makes so much sense and has given me good results, that´s why I felt I would like to share with others who are interested. Please don´t blame me on things you see in a different way or have learned in another way, since I strongly believe that ´one way´ doesn´t exist.
Also I encourage to do what makes you feel good, rather then follow a strictly Ayurvedic diet. I have tried a few times before to be super strict but first of all it didn´t last very long and second I was acting purely upon my fear to get an illness if I didn´t follow the diet. In my experience it´s not going to work that way. And especially not if your actions are based upon fear. Listen to your own feeling and do you eat something what is not recommended, enjoy it instead of feeling guilty about it. When I became easier on myself, I actually started to eat more conscious automatically and I feel much happier since then.
I became motivated to study Ayurveda after I lost both of my parents of cancer, even before my 30th birthday. Also I lost some other close people of cancer, like most people do these days. If you´re interested in reading my experience in dealing with this and the journey I started after my loss in order to find my happiness in life, click here to read more about the book, ´Safety Stop, I´m currently writing.
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Do you have a believe about Ayurveda from which you´re not sure if its true or just a myth? Let me know and I might be able to shine some light on your question or open a discussion.
A big thanks to Unsplash for providing all the pictures in this article and to my teacher Atreya Smith and the European Institute of Vedic Studies for being very professional, helpful and patient during and after my study and for making this study available to us not living in India.
Labels: Ayurveda, Body Mind Soul, Lifestyle