Ayurveda has been successfully utilized in India for thousands of years and is one of the oldest known systems of medicine still employed today. The longevity of this system, in tandem with new scientific studies, supports its efficacy and potential to complement traditional western medicine.
The principles of Ayurveda were first organized around 3000 B.C. (an alternate date is 1500 BC in the ancient Indian scripture Atharvaveda) but have probably been practiced since 5000-6000 B.C. Translated from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, Ayurveda means "the science of life" and is a system of traditional healing that originated in the Indian subcontinent. There are three seminal works that form the historical and practical overview of Ayurveda. The Charaka Samhita (third century B.C.) outlines the system of internal medicine and the use of lifestyle, diet, and therapeutics. The Sushruta Samhita (300 A.D.) describes Ayurvedic practices with a focus on surgical procedures. The Ashtangha Hridayam (500-700 A.D.) is a more concise summary of the preceding two works.
As the practice evolved, it slowly became more comprehensive; however its roots lie in herbal and other natural treatments. The Indian Medical Central Council Act of 1970 aimed to standardize qualifications and accreditations for the practice of Ayurveda and continues to promote its teaching through state institutions.
Ayurvedic philosophy looks at the world as the manifestation of the five elements – ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements are then organized into three doshas, or functional principles: vata (air and ether) – the principle of movement, pitta (fire and water) – the principle of transformation and metabolism, and kapha (water and earth) – the principle of stability and substance. Ayurvedic medicine sees the healthy being as having a balance of these doshas. When the doshas are out of balance they spill into the tissues and cause disease. They must then be rebalanced or eliminated through the use of diet, lifestyle, herbs and minerals, and a highly developed system of detoxification called panchakarma.
Panchakarma treatments usually involve a specialized diet and an array of daily therapies including oil massage, sauna, and herbal treatments. Many Ayurvedic centers in the U.S. and abroad practice all of these methods including 7 to 21 day long panchakarma programs used to rebalance and eliminate toxins and excess doshas from the body.
Ayurveda, as the science of life, addresses the multidimensional nature of life in its approaches to restoring health and wellness to the body, mind, and spirit. Practitioners generally focus on prevention and wellness as well as the maintenance and treatment of chronic disease. Practitioners in Ayurveda are often knowledgeable in Ayurveda’s sister sciences of astrology, yoga, and meditation and utilize practices in these fields in conjunction. The majority of practitioners provide treatments in their own in private practices, but centers such as the Chopra Center and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health as well as larger spas have multiple practitioners and staff on hand and may employ the extended treatments of panchakarma. Ayurveda massages and treatments are also becoming increasingly popular in spa settings.
Ayurvedic healers receive training from various institutions but there is no set curriculum. The National Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (NAMA) is working at setting standards for curriculum and length with an average length of 750 hours of study for most practitioners. Full-time training programs can span 16 to 18 months and there are several major educational institutions that offer these, including: the California School of Ayurveda, the Ayurvedic Institute of New Mexico, Kripalu School of Ayurveda, Maharishi Ayurveda, New World Ayurveda, Mount Madonna Ayurveda and others. Correspondence, weekend, and short-term seminar courses are also options.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
There is no current set regulation of Ayurvedic practices in the United States. The National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) has a suggested set of standards with the aim of increasing the level of education and further legitimization of the practice. Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed by the state. Peer review and professional organizations try to maintain standards of care.
The National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) is one large professional Ayurvedic association in the United States. Another notable organization is the Association of Ayurvedic Practitioners of North America (AAPNA). Both associations seek to advance the profession of the Ayurvedic Healer and set high standards of practice for its members.
Sessions with an Ayurveda practitioner usually starts with a consultation and then follow-up appointments as needed. The consultation is $90 to $150 on average. Follow-up appointments are $50 to $60 on average. The Ayurvedic practitioner may prescribe herbs which will be additional to the session fees.
To learn more about Ayurveda, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at www.nccam.nih.gov.