What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda means "the Science of Life." It is the traditional natural healing system of India, having been practiced there for over 6000 years. It was established by the same enlightened sages who composed the Vedas, India's ancient spiritual texts.
Its purpose is to provide a framework of health for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. As such, it deals not only with disease, but also with rejuvenation, virilization and longevity.
The main tools Ayurveda utilizes to achieve health are diet, lifestyle, herbs and bodywork, although it also possesses a sophisticated branch of surgery.
Chief among Ayurveda's outstanding attributes is its recognition of the uniqueness of each individual, thereby allowing treatment to be tailored to that individual and their environment. For those wishing to learn more about Ayurveda, the are a number of excellent books and courses available. We especially recommend the books of Drs. Vasant Lad, Robert Svoboda and David Frawley.
Out of the eight branches of Ayurveda, "Ra-sy-a-na" is one of the most important. Rasa means "food juices", the nutritional essence of food, and Ayana means "movement" or "circulation." Rasayana treatment transports Rasa thoughout the body, nourishing and maintaining cells and systems, encouraging the growth of new cells and expelling damaged cells and toxins.
According to the Charaka Samhita, an ancient and primary Ayurvedic text, Rasayana is a substance that "promotes vigour in the healthy;" - it increases Ojas, complexion, glow and the essence of the seven dhatus (tissues.) Charaka says "long life, heightened memory and intelligence, freedom from disease, youth, excellence of lustre, complexion and voice, optimum strength of body and senses, utterances that always get fulfilled, the reverence of people, body glow -- all these does a person obtain by the use of Rasayanas."
The aim, then, of a Rasayana, is not merely to increase longevity, but to also increase energy and stamina so that one may enjoy one's long life.
Ayurvedic Oil Therapy
"Oil is specific for Vata (wind) disorders. As these constitute the majority of diseases, oil therapy is essential for most forms of treatment. It is indicated in diseases of the nervous system, bones and the deeper tissues. It is useful for the other doshas as well." - Dr. David Frawley, "Ayurvedic Healing.
Called "Abhyanga," oil massage has for thousands of years played an important role in Ayurvedic health care. Beyond the obvious benefits of moisturizing and nourishing the skin, oils transmit their own qualities to the body on a deep physiological and psychological level.
The unctuousness of oil serves as an antidote to many of the scourges of modern life, such as overindulgence, addictions, irregularity, constant travel, stress and loneliness. It benefits the very young and the very old, the undernourished and the over-worked.
In addition, oil massage serves as a vehicle for the subtle powers of herbs, bypassing the digestive system and transporting their properties deep within the tissues.
As an indispensable preliminary to the Ayurvedic purification therapy known as Panchakarma, Abhyanga helps loosen and relocate imbalances so that they can be easily removed from the system.
Shirodhara and Pizichil are ancient and unique Ayurvedic therapies that are now gaining popularity in deluxe spas and health resorts worldwide, both by virtue of their effectiveness and their sensation of utter luxury.
In Shirodhara, warm oil is continuously and rhythmically poured on the forehead, while in Pizichil the treatment is expanded to the entire body. Shirodhara alleviates excess Vata, mental stress and nervous tension, enhances circulation in the brain, improves memory, nourishes the hair, provides sound sleep and calms the body and mind.
Even without access to a Spa, the benefits of Ayurvedic Oil Therapy can be enjoyed. Many health conscious people are making self-massage part of their daily routine. Often this is performed in the morning upon rising. An appropriate oil is selected, then heated to slightly warmer than body temperature. It can be applied to the entire body, or to specific areas of attention. Strokes should be towards the poles of the body and circular at the joints. The oil can either be left on or washed off, after being allowed some time to absorb into the body. A steam treatment or hot bath following the Abhyanga will magnify its effects, although in some cases heat treatment may be contra-indicated.
The Art of Oils
In Kerala, the Ayurvedic Art of medicating oils has reached its fullest flowering. Nowhere else have oils been empowered, through tradition, research and revelation over the centuries, to act on such a panoply of conditions with such effectiveness.
Starting with oils such as Sesame, Castor or Coconut, which absorb quickly and are easily digested by the tissues, the recipes draw from a pharmacopoeia of well over 100 herbs, to combine and concentrate numerous healing properties, some strong, some subtle. Bitter herbs induce the tissues to expel toxins. Astringent herbs enhance cellular secretions. Pungent and aromatic herbs remove obstructions in the channels. Sweet and tonic herbs nourish and strengthen the tissues. Other herbs direct effects to specific systems and parts of the body. Each oil provides a synergistic action for a particular range of constitutions and conditions.
Abhyanga (Oil Therapy) - Called Abhyanga, the application of oil to the skin has for thousands of years played an important role in Ayurvedic health care. Beyond the obvious benefits of moisturizing and nourishing the skin, Oil Therapy treats Vata conditions, emaciation and weaknesses of the lungs, bones and nervous system. It is good for the old and the very young; it helps reverse the effects of over-indulgence, irregularity and loneliness.
In Kerala, in the far South of India, the Ayurvedic art of making medicinal oils has reached it's fullest flowering. Pure, easily absorbed oils such as sesame, coconut and castor are combined with herbs according to recipes from ancient texts. These formulas provide a deep-reaching, synergistic action for the skin, muscles, blood, nerves and organs.
As an indispensable preliminary to the Ayurvedic purification therapy known as Panchakarma, Abhyanga with medicated oils induces the tissues to expel toxins and enhances their secretions. It lubricates and protects the tissues, pacifies and nourishes Vata and removes obstructions in the channels. With the luxurious yet powerful treatments of Shirodhara and Pizichil, Abhyanga is finding it's way into deluxe Health Retreats and Day Spas throughout mainstream America.
For many health-concious people, Ayurvedic self-massage is becoming a part of their daily routine. First, the appropriate oil is selected (Tri Health offers 24 unique massage oils, each suited for different constitutions and ailments.) Ideally, the oil is heated to slightly warmer than body temperature. It is then applied to the entire body, or to specific areas of attention. Strokes should be towards the poles of the body, not across. The oil can either be left on, or washed off (after being allowed at least half an hour to absorb into the body.) A steam treatment or hot bath following the Abhyanga will magnify it's effects, although in some cases heat treatment may be contra-indicated.
Is the continous and rythmic pouring of warm oil on the forehead. This unique therapy, developed thousands of years ago by the sages of Ayurveda, is currently enjoying a vogue amidst deluxe Health Spas and cutting-edge therapy givers.
The reason? Shirodhara is not only exceedingly effective in alleviating high Vata, mental stress and nervous tension, all of which are rampant in modern society, but it feels utterly luxurious and nurturing, like a guilty pleasure that is actually good for you. Regular Shirodhara enhances circulation in the brain, improves memeory, nourishes the hair, provides sound sleep and calms the body and mind. Naturally, the quality and effectiveness of a Shirodhara treatment consist largely in the quality and characteristics of the oil used.
Massage therapists in America have customarily paid little attention to the nutritional and medicinal capabilities of oils, yet inappropriate or unmedicated oils will severely limit the benefits incurred by a Shirodhara. Tri Health is now making available the traditional thaila (medicated sesame oils) of Kerala, South India.
One of the most striking aspects of Ayurveda in Kerala, as it evolved somewhat isolated from the cultural masalas that influenced Ayurveda to the North, is it's amazing array of medicated oils developed and retained over the centuries. Nowhere else in the world is to be found such a sophisticated knowledge of the medicinal capabilities and powers of herbally infused oils. Thaila are several which are specifically indicated for Shirodhara. According to the Ayurvedic Texts, Dhanwantharam, Chandanadi, Ksheerabala, Bala, Mahanarayana, Prabhanjanam and Sahacharadi are all outstanding Shirodhara oils. Which one is used depends upon the constitution of the patient and the desired effects.