Ayurveda: Could it work for you?

Ayurveda, an ancient healing practice from India, aims to treat the mind, body and spirit as one. Find out how it works and how it could help heal your health problems.

Ayurveda: An alternative therapy

This story was originally titled "Healing with Ayurveda" in the November 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

I’m lying on my stomach on a massage table, my face cradled in a terry-cloth "doughnut" above a steaming bowl of stuff. I think I see chunks of orange and a shelled walnut floating in the brine down below. The fragrant steam wafting through the hole in the table’s face cradle is part of an ayurvedic massage offered at the Andrea Olivera Centre for Ayurveda in Toronto. As the steam massages my sinuses, I revel in the glorious sensation of hot oil being dribbled and swooshed in long, rhythmic strokes across my back.

If you’re looking for indulgent pampering, this is the way to go. And if you’re looking for relief from a health problem (I suffer headaches), this is also the place to be. No wonder ayurvedic medicine seems to be gaining in popularity across the country.

What is ayurveda?

Ayurveda (meaning "the science of life") is a holistic healing system that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It treats mind, body and spirit as one, and strives to balance the essential elements that exist in all of us to attain our natural state of pure health. It does this through a variety of cleansing and rejuvenating treatments and practices that can include diet, exercise, meditation and, yes, massage. Yoga is part of the ayurvedic tradition, too – when you perform some yoga positions, you’re engaging in a physical and spiritual exercise that is rooted in ayurvedic philosophy.

"Ayurveda is a whole system of living," says Olivera, an ayurveda spa specialist who created many of the beauty treatments for Aveda, a manufacturer of plant-based skin- and hair-care products. "Only when the entire person is considered – not just a specific complaint – can you expect to achieve optimum levels of health and well-being," she says.

Nitin Shah, an ayurvedic practitioner in Toronto, agrees. "The ayurvedic doctor is more like a teacher than a Western doctor," he says. "We teach people how to take responsibility for their own health and longevity by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If there is no balance, there is no health."

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