What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, the traditional Indian art of healing, is "the knowledge of life" and has been practiced with great success for about 5000 years. Keeping body and mind in health is at the very core of this science, an aim supported holistically on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of being. With its wide range of massages, cleansing methods, plantbased remedies, diet recommendations, and movement therapies, ayurvedic medicine addresses both prevention as well as treatment of specific diseases.
The Mythical Origin of Ayurveda
Hindu mythology tells the following story about the descent of Ayurveda. Legend has it that the Asuras (the forces of evil) were on the verge of overpowering the Devas (the forces of good), so that people were suffering from physical and mental diseases. The only solution was to request Lord Brahma to pass on the divine science of Ayurveda, which had until then been limited to the Gods. Brahma recollected this knowledge from universal consciousness and passed it on to humanity. After constant churning of the milk ocean, the Hindu primordial sea, Lord Dhanvantari emerged from it with a chalice full of heavenly nectar of immortality. Ayurveda had been born.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Early references to the ayurvedic science can already be found in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu texts which are thousands of years old. As a Sanskrit word, Ayurveda is made up of Ayus (life) and Veda (knowledge) and stands for the profound knowledge about life with all its aspects. The most essential concepts of Ayurveda were put in verse, the following one explaining the aim of Ayurveda: “Swasthasya swaasthya rakshanam, aaturasya vikaara prashamanam“ – “Steps to maintain the health of a healthy person, steps to cure the disease in a sick person”. It should be noted that the priority is on preventing rather than healing disease. Prevention is better than cure, so why not promote health in the first place instead of having to cure diseases after they break out?
Vata, Pitta, Kapha
With its unique understanding of a person's individual constitution, Ayurveda provides us with important insights on how to lead a balanced life. According to Ayurveda, biological existence is a dance of three forces – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – moving with each other in a variety of ways and thereby determining health or sickness. These three factors, called Doshas, generate the physical body and determine its substance and functioning. In each individual, there is one dominant Dosha prescribing one's personal constitution: according to individual habits and inclinations, body structure and emotional expression, people can be seen to be either Vata (air) types, Pitta (fire) types, or Kapha (water) types and then treated with the appropriate ayurvedic therapies.
Healing with Ayurvedic Therapies
By regulating the Doshas with specific treatments, Ayurveda is used as a preventive, so as to bring the organism into a longlasting state of balance and harmony. But if imbalance has already created health problems – be it common diseases or lifethreatening conditions – these can also be effectively treated in line with ayurvedic principles. The course of treatment, such as the use of highly effective herbs, purifications, or oil massages, are usually prescribed by an Ayurveda doctor and administered under the doctor's supervision.
A Harmonious Lifestyle
Lifestyle changes are another important aspect. Ayurveda reveals how we can live in harmony with our individual constitution, not only to prevent disease, but also to make full use of our very own potential. Here, Ayurveda suggests general lifestyle practices which can be applied to everyday life and are therefore within our own power.
Food and Exercise as Medicine
Adequate nutrition is the foundation for all other healing therapies in Ayurveda. Food is the first and primary form of medicine – without a proper diet, no other treatment can be successful. To provide the physical body with health and balance, the different Dosha types are put on different diets. Besides nutrition, exercise is the most important therapy for the body, and especially Yoga is recommended, not just as a preventive, but the physical exercises are also prescribed to treat various diseases. Breathing exercises, mantra singing, and meditation are also crucial therapies in an ayurvedic sense.
Professional Medical Care
Ayurveda is a science to heal the Self, aimed at liberating body and mind from disease. This does not mean that the help provided by therapists and doctors is not needed. In fact, medical practitioners are indispensable when dealing with the complexity of disease and different health requirements. Especially the intensive cleansing procedures to detoxify the body are carried out under the expert guidance of an Ayurveda doctor, often in the form of inpatient care over the course of several weeks.
When an imbalance of the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Doshas has created disease in the body or mind, its severity will determine the course of ayurvedic treatment. A mild imbalance can be adjusted with internal medicine, a diet change and exercise (Shamana). But in the case of a more severe disturbance, a specific set of treatments is conducted to expel the excessive Doshas (Shodana), which is called Panchakarma (Pancha: five, Karma: procedures).
Panchakarma is administered in several steps. The first phase Purvakarma comprises oil treatments (Snehana) – internally by taking in ghee and externally with massages (Abhyanga) – as well as steam therapy (Svedana) to make the body sweat. These preparations release toxins, so that they can then be expelled.
Pradhanakarma constitutes the main cleansing and includes five procedures: therapeutic vomiting (Vamana), effective in eliminating Kapha Dosha; purgation (Virechana), effective in expelling Pitta Dosha; nasal administration of medicine (Nasya) to remove Doshas from the head; enemas (Basti), mainly to remove Vata dosha; as well as bloodletting to purify the blood (Raktamokshana).
Depending on the patient’s condition, more treatments may follow: oilpouring on the forehead (Shirodhara) to treat anxiety, insomnia, and stress; oil application on the waist, knees, or head (Kati Basti, Janu Basti, or Shiro Basti); herbal stamp massage (Pinda Sveda) whereby a cloth bag with leaves, powder, or rice is heated and applied to the body, especially to treat pain, swellings, and neurological disorders; localised steam treatment (Nadi Sveda); oil treatment around the eyes (Tharpana) to treat eye diseases; enemas via the urinary tract (Uttar Basti); as well as powder massage (Udvartana), effective in removing excess body fat and tightening the skin.
Panchakarma does not only remove toxins from the physical body, but also cleanses the subtle body. It has strong purificatory and rejuvenating effects on the bones, muscles, sense organs, and the mind, thereby supporting a balanced life, good health, and vitality.
Ayurveda Treatment in Europe or Asia?
Nowadays, it is possible to enjoy high quality ayurveda right on your doorstep, without having to go on long flights, adjusting to different climates and time differences, or applying for visas. Browse through our list of numerous European centres to find an offer which is suitable for you.
If you would like to receive your treatment in the very birthplace of ayurveda, India and Sri Lanka do not only offer cheaper stays than Europe, but also put you in direct contact with the people and the culture in which the ancient ayurvedic art of healing is embedded. Here are the roots of ayurveda, and it is also where the ayurveda doctors and medicines come from.
However, a longdistance flight is necessary – and while there are direct connections to Sri Lanka, a stopover is required when travelling to Kerala in India where many ayurveda centres are located. Depending on the season, the unfamiliar local climate can present a challenge, too. While for Sri Lanka it is relatively easy to register and pay your entry online, a visa is needed for India, which has to be applied for some time in advance by submitting forms and photos, and which is more expensive, too.
What kind of ayurveda trip would you like to take: a rejuvenating wellness holiday or a serious ayurvedic cleansing regimen?
If you are looking for an ayurvedic feelgood holiday, be sure to choose a centre offering gentle ayurveda infused with that perfect holiday atmosphere. These ayurveda resorts are usually surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, e.g. set right at the seaside where you will be inspired to take walks along the beach and explore the area on tourist trips. You have the choice between small familyrun hotels and big resorts with dozens of separate cottages which are rented out separately. Relaxing ayurveda massages and optional ayurvedic meals ensure profound recreation and rejuvenation. On site, you will not only find ayurveda therapists, but also doctors who supervise the ayurveda treatments. If you decide to choose a more expensive centre, you can expect a higher degree of luxury with regard to service, rooms, and food.
On the other hand, if you decide to go for a complete detoxification of the body, or if you have a disease which calls for a consistent ayurveda regimen, a more traditionally oriented ayurveda centre might be the right choice for you. In Asia, these centres are not necessarily located in the tourist areas, but are often found inland, and they generally operate more like a hospital, or a health resort. The ayurveda doctors practising here are often renowned specialists for particular diseases, and they use ayurvedic remedies which are manufactured inhouse. Regular intake of medicine and a strict ayurvedic diet are not just an option, but rather seen as crucial elements of the whole ayurvedic course of treatment for which you should plan at least two to three weeks.
How much time do I need for ayurveda?
Are you curious about ayurveda but haven't tried it yet? An ayurvedic weekend can be a great introduction to this healing method. You will start off with a dosha test to find out if you are more of a vata, pitta, or kapha type, and how you may use this knowledge to ease your health into a state of balance. You will have the chance to experience different kinds of soothing massages at first hand and get a taste of the deeply relaxing and rejuvenating effects of ayurvedic treatment. Make sure to sample some light and delicious ayurvedic food, it might whet your appetite for more. A weekend like this will not only provide you with practical tips on how to prepare healthy meals at home and integrate new helpful habits into your everyday life, but you will leave with some expert advice on further therapies and retreats that could really benefit your personal well-being.
While a week is too short for a full panchakarma treatment, it is a fair amount of time to go through some preliminary treatments for stress reduction and relaxation. Especially if time or money constraints don't allow for a longer stay, an intensive ayurvedic wellness week can provide you with much-needed regeneration, which will have you return to your daily life significantly refreshed. Some centres offer the possibility of a one-week detox retreat, if you agree to start with the necessary preparations at home: this means taking ghee for a few days and eating only light food, as well as scheduling a day for purgative treatment before the retreat starts; all the necessary information can be obtained from the organisers. A detox week is suitable for people who are in good shape and can schedule sufficient downtime at home in the days leading up to the actual retreat.
Ten to fourteen days
A complete panchakarma treatment takes at least ten days, even better are fourteen, so that you are sure to have enough time, including your arrival and departure days. The therapeutic programme follows a specific structure and unfolds in several consecutive steps with a variety of treatments tailored to your individual needs; find out more in the paragraph "On Panchakarma". Don't underestimate time as a great healer, helping you with this comprehensive process of detoxification and regeneration. For this period of ten to fourteen days, immerse yourself in the ayurveda concept of holistic healing by eating according to ayurvedic principles, moving your body with yoga, and resting your mind with the help of meditation. A panchakarma retreat is a powerful experience which will provide you with just the right incentives to incorporate well-being and ayurveda in your everyday life.
An even more intensive panchakarma programme lasts three weeks and is especially recommended if you are travelling far. An exhausting long-haul flight, a local climate you are not used to, let alone the effects of time difference – all these are reasons to schedule a longer ayurvedic stay. This way you can really take your time to settle in and literally acclimatise. Even if your favoured retreat will not take place far away but right on your doorstep, a three-week stay is strongly advised if you have specific health problems or suffer from a chronic disease. Indulge yourself in some extra time dedicated to your health and regeneration.
A month or more
Ideal for those with medical conditions or chronic complaints would be a one-month ayurveda programme, or longer. It is especially recommended for the elderly or weak. This may also be the case for people who have just gone through chemotherapy and have not fully recovered yet. And if you have the time and the money for a longer stay such as this, just feel free to indulge and treat yourself to some wonderful ayurvedic downtime!