Vasant Lad, M.A.Sc., is an Ayurvedic physician and president of the Ayurvedic Institute, an educational nonprofit in Albuquerque, N.M. The institute teaches the principles and practices of Ayurveda, the indigenous Indian medical science. The author of several books, including The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Lad teaches worldwide. The Natural Foods Merchandiser spoke with Lad about the history, practices and future of this ancient healing system.
NFM: What is Ayurveda?
Vasant Lad: Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word: ayur means life, veda means knowledge, so it is the knowledge of life. And knowledge is science; therefore it becomes the science of life. It is an ancient Vedic healing art with a deep relation to Vedic philosophy, which has been practiced in India for thousands of years. Ayurveda is a way of life, an art of living in harmony with the environment and in our daily relationships with one another.
NFM: How did Ayurveda arrive in the United States?
VL: Several scholars came to the United States and shared their wisdom—I am one of them. I?ve been here since 1979 and have traveled to different parts of the world and given lectures on Ayurveda. I established the Ayurvedic Institute in 1983.
NFM: What are some of the basics of Ayurveda?
VL: Ayurveda believes that every human being is a unique expression of cosmic consciousness. Every individual is indivisible—indivisible meaning undivided, unique—and Ayurveda helps us to understand the uniqueness of the individual.
There are five basic elements in the world—ether, air, fire, water, earth—and these are present in every human body. Ether is space, and it?s necessary for communication and gives us freedom. Air is the principle of movement, and in the human body every cell is breathing, creating movement. The fire element includes body temperature, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and amino acids. Fire [governs] digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food into energy. Fire gives us temperature and warmth, and it creates appetite, hunger and thirst. Water is plasma. Our body is 99 percent water. Water is necessary for our nutrition and nourishment. Calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron—these are all minerals and earth elements.
We can perceive these five basic elements at the microcellular level, and we can experience these elements on the physical?mega?level.
The structure [of the body] is governed by the fire element, but the [body?s] function is governed by three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. Space and air together constitute vata. Pitta is fire and water. Kapha is earth and water. So vata, pitta, kapha?VPK?are present throughout the body in the cells, in the systems, in the organs and in the organism. They are functional organizations that govern psychosomatic, psychophysiological and psychopathological changes in the body. They are present in all activities. They are present even in the single cell, like the sperm and the ovum. And therefore, at the time of fertilization, an individual?s unique constitution is developed.
A person?s constitution is called prakruti, and it is constantly acting and reacting to the environment, diet, lifestyle and medicine. Due to seasonal changes, dietetic changes, lifestyle changes and emotional changes, the vata, pitta and kapha undergo change. These changes are called vikruti. Prakruti is constitution, and vikruti is the present altered state of the dosha.
An individual can be monodoshic—vata, pitta and kapha—dual-doshic—vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, kapha-vata—and tridoshic. But every individual has these three doshas in a certain permutation and combination.
NFM: How do prakruti and vikruti interact?
VL: Ayurveda says that medicine, food, lifestyle and emotional environment play a very important role in maintaining health and happiness. Prakruti has proneness to vikruti. This means vata people are prone to arthritis, sciatica, rheumatism, insomnia and anxiety. Pitta people are prone to acidity?acid indigestion, gastritis, peptic ulcer, colitis (inflammation of the colon), ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, repeated urethritis (inflammation of the urethra), cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder and ureters) and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Kapha people are prone to conditions like colds, congestion, cough, as well as slow metabolic activity and overweight-related problems.
NFM: What should one look for when finding an Ayurvedic practitioner?
VL: One should find a proper practitioner who has studied at least four or five years under an experienced Ayurvedic physician. Ayurveda is more than a medical science; it is a science and art of healing the body, mind and consciousness, so it must be followed with the proper guidelines and a properly experienced physician who has a great experience of the science.
NFM: Can you give some practical advice for retailers selling Ayurvedic herbs and remedies?
VL: Ayurveda is the medicine of the individual. One has to create unique herbal formulas based upon an individual?s prakruti and vikruti. It is very important that one takes the proper herbs based upon one?s constitution and vikruti, because if one takes wrong herbs they will disturb the dosha at the deeper connective tissues, and in terms of healing it will create chronic illness.
NFM: Are there any Ayurvedic tonics for everyone?
VL: Chyavanaprash in general is OK for everyone. This is a very ancient tridoshic herbal tonic. Similarly, triphala is a combination of three herbs and is the best laxative, but in small doses it is the best rejuvenating tonic. Ashwagandha is for vata people. Shatavari is for pitta. Pippali is for kapha. So these are good tonics generally. And there is draksha; it is an herbal wine and a good general tonic for everyone.
NFM: Can you tell us the Ayurvedic understanding of vitamin and mineral supplementation?
VL: Ayurveda says that because our diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals, it?s OK to take vitamin supplements. But again, one should not take excess vitamins. [For example], vitamin C. Some people take 10,000 or 20,000 mg of vitamin C and that is not accepted, not absorbed, not assimilated by the body, and it may increase pitta. And if the tongue is coated heavily, it means there is a clogging of the gastro-intestinal tract with ama—a toxic morbid substance—and vitamins and supplements are not going to help. So before taking vitamin supplements one should do panchakarma, an ancient Ayurvedic detoxification program.
NFM: What do you think is the future of Ayurveda?
VL: Even though the modern [Western] science is technologically developed, it is still missing the individual, proper nutrition, the lifestyle and the harmony between body, mind and consciousness. Auyerveda will fill the gaps of different healing modalities. As long as people are seeking perfect health, perfect happiness and perfect long life, people will always look for Ayurveda.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 3/p. 108-109