Ayurveda - how to balance your Dosha

Janet Brice discovers how ayurveda – the oldest holistic healing system in the world – is helping us to cope with modern-day pressures.

The stresses of living in a material world has led celebrities such as Madonna, Demi Moore and Naomi Campbell to seek solace in the ancient Indian therapy of ayurveda.

This 5,000 year-old holistic treatment aims to balance a persons ‘dosha’ and create harmony within the mind and body by combining massage with diet and exercise.

Ayurveda, which comes from the Sanskrit words ayur which means ‘life’ and veda which means ‘knowledge’, is known as the ‘science of life’. According to this science each of us is believed to possess a pattern of energy that corresponds with ayurveda’s three dosha types which are: vata types which tend to be thin, creative and highly strung; pitta types which tend to be of medium build and driven while kapha’s are large-sized and stable.

The science of life - Ayurveda

Ayurveda is one of the oldest treatments known to man

Each dosha is said to be made up from a pair of the five elements; water, fire, air, earth and ether. An ayurvedic consultation begins the minute you walk through the door, with the practitioner observing your gait and general appearance among other things. You will then be asked about your medical history and your eyes, skin, abdomen and tongue will be examined before the final diagnosis.

All this helps the therapist determine your dosha type and the nature of any problem. Treatments range from external therapies, such as massage, to internal therapies, such as herbal medicines. In addition you may be advised to make amendments to your diet and lifestyle changes which could include taking up yoga.

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Ayurveda is becoming so popular around the world that it currently accounts for US$60 billion of a US$120 billion global herbal market.

Once your diagnosis has been completed, the therapist will tailor a massage to suit your specific needs – no two ayurvedic massages will be the same.  The massage is performed using herbal oils, selected to complement your constitution. Pressure is applied directly onto the skin with an aim to loosening the excess doshas and directing them towards the organs of elimination. It also promotes circulation, flexibility and relives pain and stiffness.

The massage techniques used include tapping, kneading and squeezing as well as the more traditional massage strokes you would expect. The style and flow of the massage is determined by who you are, and what your body needs for balance and wellbeing at the time.

An ayurvedic therapist is trained to focus on the marma points which are similar to pressure points in
reflexology, acupuncture, acupressure and Shiatsu. They are points along the energy paths that map your body, which when pressed, release tension and unlock pain.

When combined with other ayurvedic principles (eating a range of food
prescribed by one’s dosha or exercising at certain times of the day), the massage is designed to:

•  detoxify and cleanse

•  boost the effectiveness of the immune

•  keep healthy people in good health

•  help those with medical conditions to
    improve their overall well-being.

During the massage, which can be quite oily, the therapist (or therapists) may utter dosha mantras designed to help balance the body, mind and spirit.

Afterwards you’ll probably want to relax for a while, taking a long, leisurely shower to wash off all the herbal oil. Sip some cool water to re-hydrate yourself and enjoy feeling calm, composed and balanced for the rest of the day.

Different kinds of ayurvedic massage include:

•  Ayurvedic Indian head massage
•  Abhyanga: An individually prepared herbal oil massage
• Abhyanga-Garshana: A dry lymphatic skin brushing followed by a herbal oil massage
•  Vishesh: A deep muscular massage using herbal oils
•  Pizichili: A two-therapist massage using warm herbal oils
Shiro-Ahhyanga-Nasya: A combination of a deep head, neck and shoulder massage, a facial lymphatic massage and aromatic steam

• Ayurvedic foot massage: A deep massage in which the therapist use his feet to massage you

• Udwarthanam: A slimming treatment involving deep massage with herbal powders
• Ayurvedic Shirodhara: A treatmentusing oil poured on the forehead.
• Ayurvedic face and marma therapy: A facial using a herbal mask and individually prepared oil
• Chavutti thirumal: is a full-body massage performed using the bare feet of the therapist. Massage strokes vary between long and short ones.

This treatment was developed from the ancient Southern Indian art of Kalarippayattu - a fighting system - and was practised as a way of loosening soft tissue and joints and lengthening the spine, to keep soldiers ready for battle.

Today, this massage is particularly recommended for athletes, sports participants and dancers. As the need for natural therapies, disease prevention and a spiritual approach to life becomes ever more important in this modern age it is not surprising more people than ever are turning towards ayurveda.

A-Z of treatments

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