A Practical Guide to Complementary Therapies

 

Ayurvedic medicine and HIV

Ayurveda, meaning "the science of life,” originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It is an extensively developed science and the oldest known medical system in the world. Ayurveda describes the world as a system of interacting forces. It aims to balance the forces that influence the mind, body and spirit, enabling a person to live in harmony and optimal health.

Balancing the tridosha

Prana means "before breath." It is the life force that must exist before anything can live. Prana is similar to the Chinese concept of Chi (see section on traditional Chinese medicine). It is the source of the five elements recognized by Ayurveda: fire, earth, water, air and ether (space). These elements make up all the matter in the universe. They are the building blocks of the human body. The five elements are condensed into three forces, or humours, called vata (wind), kapha (phlegm) and pitta (bile). The interactions of these forces are used to describe the workings of the human body and, together, these forces are called the tridosha. The basic aim of Ayurvedic treatments is to maintain the proper balance of the tridosha.

Balancing the humours

Ayurveda acknowledges that each person has a unique combination of humours, although one or two usually dominate. During diagnosis, an Ayurvedic physician identifies a person’s natural balance of humours. As part of this process, the physician assesses a person’s dietary intake and lifestyle. Pulse reading, tongue diagnosis and an evaluation of a person’s skin, nails and complexion are other diagnostic tools.

Ayurveda has a strong preventive aspect focused on maintaining a person’s optimal balance of humours. Dietary counselling to maintain health is a central component. Massage, meditation and yoga are also used to maintain the body’s health.

When Ayurvedic treatment is necessary, it is individually crafted to return the body to its natural balance of humours. Since each humour is associated with a particular part of the body, treatment is directed to that area where the out-of-balance humour would accumulate. In chronic illness, treatment is much more complicated, because each of the humours affects the others, eventually influencing all of the body’s systems.

Ojas

Maintaining the balance of humours supports the Ojas, or essential energy of the body. In Ayurveda, all living things are viewed as constantly evolving dense energy. Ojas is the essence of this energy. It is described as a sap or nectar that resides primarily in the bone marrow. When it has sufficient Ojas, the body is healthy; when Ojas is deficient, disease develops. Ojas is essential to the immune system and to proper digestion. HIV is treated by correcting the imbalance of humours that contribute to specific illnesses, malabsorption and weakening of the immune system.

Once the body constitution of a person with HIV is determined, the practitioner will prescribe treatment to gently assist digestion and the absorption of nutrients as well as to facilitate circulation and elimination. Treatments can include a combination of dietary changes, herbal medicines, cleansing therapies, chakra therapy, massage and meditation. Specific foods and tonics may be used to enhance the Ojas. In addition to strengthening the body, these foods and tonics may also nourish the mind and spirit.

Clearing blockages in the chakras

Located in various parts of the body, chakras are energy centres that vibrate at specific frequencies. Although there are thousands of chakras, there are seven major ones, situated along the spine between the tailbone and the top of the head. When the chakras become blocked, the body manifests disease.

Meditation and prayer

Meditation and prayer are also used to promote spiritual well-being. However, like many other forms of mind–body medicine, these treatments may be beneficial to a person’s physical well-being as well. In prayer the individual asks the higher Self or God for guidance. Meditation focuses on an awareness of the body and the thought processes of the mind. (See section on mind–body medicine.) Mantras and incense are other forms of treatment. Mantras consist of repeated sounds used to calm the mind and provide a glimpse of bliss. Their vibrational quality is thought to heal when used correctly. Incense is used to calm the mind and promote mental clarity.

Baths, massage and herbal therapies

Oil baths and massage are major components of Ayurvedic medicine, used to both treat disease and maintain general health. For general health, warm oil (often mixed with herbs) is massaged into the skin and left on for a specific time. Its application is followed by a warm bath. A variety of herbal therapies are also used in Ayurveda.

Panchakarma, which means “five therapies,” is a cleansing therapy used in Ayurveda to detoxify the body. It is ONLY undertaken when a person is strong and relatively healthy. Panchakarma is a complex therapy involving several stages of intense detoxification procedures, which include oil massages, enemas, purgatives and detoxifying steams. This therapy has risks and may be detrimental if performed improperly, so supervision by an experienced practitioner familiar with HIV and its treatment is necessary. After detoxification, a pacification treatment is used to rebalance the tridosha and protect the system.

Regulation of Ayurvedic practitioners in Canada

Ayurvedic practitioners are not regulated by legislation anywhere in Canada. To qualify in India, physicians must take a five-year university-level course. No such course is offered in Canada.