If you’re looking for a natural, dietary approach to chronic pain that is customized to your body, the system of Ayurvedic medicine might be the one.
Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine. It began in India thousands of years ago and incorporates specific foods, spices, and health practices to maximize health and achieve harmony between the body, mind, and environment.
Ayurvedic medicine defines health as a state of balance with the mind, body, and world
Pain, according to Ayurveda, is caused by particular interactions between the mind and the body, says the The Chopra Center. That experience is highly subjective and dependent upon each person’s experience.
However, each person has untapped healing potential. The brain has within it the capacity to produce a variety of pain-relieving chemicals, including natural opioids and other painkillers made by the body. The Chopra Center says:
“Subjects unknowingly self-regulate their pain. This isn’t just the mind fooling us. Brain scans show that a placebo, when effective, changes the brain in the same ways as do active pills.”
Ayurvedic practices work to harness the body’s innate healing potential to minimize pain and encourage healing. It’s customized because it recognizes that all people are unique and not all healing modalities or diets work for everyone.
What causes pain?
Pain is a highly subjective experience, and nobody can truly understand what it feels like to be in another person’s body. People’s pain tolerances vary, too.
Sensitivity to pain may be influenced by gender, genetics, cultural background, and past experiences of pain. Along with these fixed factors that can’t be changed, pain is also influenced by stress, emotions, the quality of life relationships, rest, and diet. These changeable factors are those that Ayurveda focuses on to balance and strengthen the body while making a person less vulnerable to pain.
Achieving balance among all those parts first requires a look at a person’s particular body and personality tendencies, known as doshas.
What are the doshas?
Ayurvedic medicine has three doshas: kapha, vatta, and pitta. To determine your dosha, try this quiz from The Chopra Center. Each person typically exhibits at least a small portion of all three doshas, however one or two tend to express themselves more fully.
When you try the various healing modalities offered by Ayurvedic medicine, take care to notice how they affect your body and feelings of pain. Then, modify, eliminate, or incorporate into your life as necessary.
Going deeply into Ayurvedic medicine, each season has a dosha as well, and so habits may need to change seasonally to extract the most benefits from the medical system.
Vata energy is fast and light, and people with predominately vata energy are prone to chronic pain and related health conditions, such as arthritis. People with vata tendencies have thin frames, and they start and stop things quickly. Emotions tend toward anxiety and worry, especially when under stress. People with vata tend to be creative, but have low endurance.
With weak immune systems, they get sick easily. Vata tends to result in poor circulation, with hands and feet feeling cold.
Vata energy dislikes cold, dry conditions, and staying warm is important to keep this dosha in balance. Eat warm, oily, and heavy foods that are sweet, sour, and salty. Minimize the amount of bitter or astringent foods ingested.
In terms of seasons, vata is represented by fall, when the weather tends to be cold and windy. This means that people with a predominantly vata dosha may feel a little off balance during this time.
To balance vata, try to keep a regular daily routine and get enough rest. Foods beneficial to vata energies are sweet fruits, such as pineapple, peaches, and strawberries, according to Maharishi Ayurveda. Try to stick to cooked vegetables, as opposed to raw, including beets, asparagus, carrots, and cauliflower. Warm, cooked soups are also good to stay in balance.
Physically, the pitta dosha involves a medium build, with a ruddy complexion. Pitta is related to fire, and people with this dosha tend to be perfectionists who are passionate, but like to argue and debate.
Pittas generally dislike hot weather and common health problems may include fevers, infections, acid reflux, or inflammatory diseases. People with the pitta dosha may be competitive and have sharp minds and a good ability to concentrate.
To balance pitta, practice moderation, talking time to rest and play. Keep regular meal times and seek out foods that are cool in taste and temperature, according to Maharishi Ayurveda.
The pitta season is late spring through summer, when it’s hot.
Eating sweet fruit helps to balance the pitta dosha, including watermelon, pomegranate, and pears. For vegetables, try to eat sweet and bitter varieties, including leeks, okra, and broccoli, according to Maharishi Ayurveda.
On a personal level, the kapha physique is typically stocky and large. Kapha people tend to gain weight easily and may have pale skin. Energetically, kapha energy is sluggish and slow, but also very calm and stable. The kapha dosha is loyal, content, and sentimental.
Although slow to start, kaphas generally have good endurance. The kapha constituency is prone to sinus problems and allergies. Because of this dampness that can accumulate internally, kaphas like sunny, dry places.
To balance kapha, seek out warm temperatures and aim to exercise vigorously every day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good to balance this energy, as well as seeking out new experiences to avoid feeling sluggish.
In terms of seasons, winter is the season of kapha, when conditions tend toward the cold and wet.
To balance kapha with diet, eat astringent fruit, such as cranberries, prunes, and pears. Pungent and bitter vegetables, such as garlic, kale, and eggplant are also good for this dosha, according to Maharishi Ayurveda.
How do I implement Ayurvedic medicine principles into my life?
Incorporating the Ayurvedic lifestyle into your life is ultimately about balance. If you tend to be stressed and erratic, trying to slow down, eat warm, comforting meals and taking a few things off the to-do list can help minimize chronic pain.
Conversely, with more kapha energy, you may need to make a greater effort to engage in vigorous exercise and eat lighter foods to help the body process and eliminate them from the system.
Have you ever tried an Ayurvedic lifestyle?
Image by Andrew Nourse via Flickr