Because stress is related to nearly every aspect of overall health, an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner might call for a number of different techniques used to naturally treat anxiety and depression symptoms, lower cortisol and rebalance the body’s hormones or “energy.” This can include meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, herbal treatments, skin brushing, visualization or repeating inspirational mantras.
Studies have found that transcendental meditation, a component of one branch of Ayurveda called Maharishi, helps lower symptoms of anxietywith regular practice. Pranayama, a series of various targeted breathing exercises, also helps calm nerves and results in better energy, restful sleep and improved hormonal function. And while yoga isn’t always necessarily included in someone’s recovery plan, it, too, offers well-documented benefits for reducing stress and anxiety.
Over the past several decades, efforts have been underway to help find non-pharmacologic therapies to relieve stress and anxiety. Yoga has been shown to be a simple, low-cost and effective option for many people. One large-scale review conducted by St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Massachusetts found that after reviewing over 35 trials investigating the effects of yoga, results from 25 trials showed significant improvements in signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety. Fourteen of the 35 studies also reported biochemical and physiological improvements in various markers of stress and anxiety.
Other research shows that regular yoga practice can improve autonomic nervous functions by triggering neuro-hormonal mechanisms and suppressing sympathetic activity, or the body’s “fight or flight” response. Several reports even suggest that yoga is beneficial for physical health of cancer patients and can effectively fight free radical damage.
Studies have shown that Ayurveda diets and relaxation techniques can lower inflammation and help reduce plaque buildup, even reversing the thickening of artery walls known as atherosclerosis in both healthy adults and those with a higher risk for heart disease. Atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease in which cholesterol, fats and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This buildup, known as plaque, can lead to heart attack and stroke. Thankfully, Ayurvedic techniques lower cholesterol naturallyand naturally lower blood pressure.
Research supports the idea of the Ayurvedic concept of immune-modulation and healing. By targeting inflammation, which is the root of most diseases, Ayurvedic medicine can help lower pain and swelling, improve blood flow and fight inflammatory conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgiajust as well as medication.
A 2011 study published in The Journal of Clinical Rheumatology found that after comparing classic Ayurveda, prescription drug treatment with methotrexate (MTX) and a combination of the two in a double-blind randomized trial, all groups were comparable at healing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in adults over a 36-week period. Adverse effects were also fewer in the Ayurveda-only group, which experienced significant improvements and no side effects or drug interactions.
Ayurveda is also especially helpful in detoxing the body using various herbs, teas, healthy foods and plenty of rest. Certain practices also increase circulation and liver function — for example, Abhyanga is the practice of rubbing the skin with herbal or essential oils to increase blood flow and help draw toxins out of the body through the skin. Ayurveda practitioners might also prescribe various herbs that help lower cortisol such as holy basil or ashwagandha.
Ayurvedic medicine promotes a mostly plant-based diet filled with a variety of real, whole foods. While each person’s diet depends on body type and needs, Ayurvedic diets for the three different dosha types all include various fresh herbs, spices, teas, vegetables, healthy fats, high-antioxidant foodsand protein.
General dietary guidelines of Ayurveda emphasize consuming fresh, hot and easy to digest foods, while taking into account several variations that depend on someone’s ancestry, customs and traditions. For example, Ayurveda practitioners consider social, geographic and climatic variables all when prescribing a diet to balance the doshas.
In coastal areas, cooling and detoxifying fermented foods are common. For example, pickled, probiotic-rich foods are prescribed to help with digestion and temperature regulation. In other regions, and during colder parts of the year, healthy fats and hot foods are emphasized more to help warm the body and promote better circulation.
While fast weight loss isn’t necessarily the primary goal, Ayurvedic medicine can help someone shed excess weight naturally using a healthy diet, stress reduction and even essential oils for weight loss. A 2009 study conducted by the NutriHealth Systems Center in New Delhi, India, found that adjusting someone’s healthy diet to take into account individual food preferences and needs helped participants lose weight effectively. This is likely because Ayurveda promotes compliance and believes that a diet should be balanced, practical and easy to follow.
Among the 200 subjects, 27.5 percent were vatta with lean body types, 41.5 percent were pitta with medium body types and 31 percent were kapha-dominant with larger body types. At the beginning, kapha and pitta people weighed more than vatta people. After the three months of therapy, the pitta group lost the most weight. The decrease in all measurements was higher in pitta and kapha people than in vatta individuals, and the diets based on Ayurvedic constitution proved to be useful in promoting weight loss for those who needed it.
Ayurvedic medicine rests on the assumption that a combination of a poor diet, bad digestion, not enough rest or sleep and insufficient air (vaayu) inhaled cause oxidative stress and inflammation. This results in an imbalance in metabolism — or in other words — in the three doshas.
The focus of Ayurvedic healing looks at using various ways of reducing inflammation with hopes of regulating the heart and circulatory system, digestive tract and the means of elimination of wastes. People are prescribed a combination of herbal treatments, antioxidants to quench free radicals, exercise that is gentle but boosts metabolism and circulation and a combination of phytochemicals from natural herbs. By addressing many factors including stress, individual food intolerances, overstimulation and a lack of nutrients, many people experience lower levels of inflammation and increased energy and healing.
Researchers have found that one benefit of Ayurveda is the belief that one herb or one drug alone cannot cure the imbalance of doshas for everyone. Therefore in most of the cases, Ayurveda practitioners recommend a combination of herbs and plants or staple foods for different inflammatory treatments. A good example is the ancient recommendation for an herbal formulation of beneficial turmeric in combination with black pepper.
Studies have found this mixture together increases the bioavailibilty of beneficial compounds, reduces toxicity and speeds healing. It’s now known that the bioavailibity of curcumin (active ingredient of turmeric) is increased by piperine (an active compound in black pepper) by preventing the glucuronidation of the curcumin.
People have turned to Ayurveda to balance hormones naturally, conceive and have a healthy, natural pregnancy or menstrual cycle for thousands of years. Studies have even shown that various therapeutic effects of Ayurveda have been effective in helping to treat subfertility due to PCOS, a common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, resulting from insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.
A 2010 study done by the Institute of Indigenous Medicine at The University of Colombo in Sri Lanka found that using various essential oils to balance hormones, herbal treatments and lifestyle changes daily for a six-month period resulted in 85 percent of the female patients successfully overcoming Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and 75 percent of the patients being able to naturally conceive. Ayurveda treatment regimens have also helped women for centuries overcome absent periods (amenorrhea) or infrequent menstruation, irregular periods, infrequent or no ovulation, multiple immature follicles, increased levels of male hormones, thinning hair, excess facial and body hair growth and various symptoms of PMS, including acne and oily skin.