Q: Hello, Dr. Shree Varma, welcome. You are from a long lineage of Ayurvedic practitioners. Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
SV: Happy to meet you, Marion. I’m from the Durango tradition and my birth village is on the border of Tamil Nadu and the Kerala Kanyakumari district in South India. The family has treated chronic ailments with Ayurveda, yoga and varma for nine generations. I’m the first graduate in Ayurvedic medicine from the family. My father believed that Ayurveda has been proven over centuries, but he also wanted me to be qualified and sent me to Chennai to Dr. MGR Medical University to do a Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery. From that degree, I have the title Ayurveda acharya.
We teach preventive healthcare for a disease-free life, maintaining positive health in a healthy person, and curing diseases with the help of Ayurveda, yoga and varma.
Q: What is the relationship between yoga and Ayurveda?
SV: Ayurveda is not a medical science alone. We say it is shraddhayu – if someone has the desire to live for 100 years without disease, Ayurveda will teach that philosophy and the associated principles, and it has three different dimensions.
The first is prevention: the guidelines of dinacharya, the daily regimen, and ritucharya, the seasonal regimen. It speaks about the principles of life, how to start the day, how to design your day. It prescribes a healthy life. You get up one and a half hours before sunrise and start your day with breathing practices. And it speaks about meditation, and physical exercise. So the first priority in the morning is yoga to ensure a healthy life of 100 years.
What is the definition of health in Ayurveda? A blissful state of body, mind, and soul. We talk about equilibrium of the energy in the physical doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha; and balancing the emotional doshas for the mind, sattva, rajas, and tamas. So, start your day with yoga to lead a healthy life. That is dinacharya, how to design your day.
And ritucharya describes how to adjust the daily routine as the seasons change – what to eat, how to drink, how to breathe, how to keep your physical body and mind flexible, and your soul peaceful. They decide your inner health. So Ayurveda and yoga are absolutely interconnected.
The first philosophy of Ayurveda is preventive health – yoga and meditation. The second philosophy is about cures. For someone who doesn’t practice yoga, doesn’t take care of their body and mind, there is the possibility of disease due to improper food, improper lifestyle, accidents, infections, and heredity.
There are causative factors that produce toxins in the body, leading to disease. So, Ayurveda cures from the root cause, so how to disconnect from the causative factors is the first line of treatment. First, understand what has produced the disease, then practice pratyahara by disconnecting from the disturbing substances, or withdrawing from your senses, which give you discomfort inside. Once the disconnection is done, then the treatment can start.
Treatment is based on curative principles that have to be followed until the healing completes. When someone doesn’t follow them, they don’t heal from the root, so the disease becomes deep-rooted, and it is termed incurable. Even if your disease is termed incurable, Ayurveda says that an excellent physician can teach you how to heal yourself. With the practices of yoga and the medicines that eliminate toxins, the physician can guide the patient to recover permanently. Somebody has to handhold and support the patient – it can be a yoga teacher, a doctor, or a family member. They give confidence and aid in recovery. However, unless the patient makes an effort, recovery is a challenge.
So Ayurveda looks at prevention, cure, and rehabilitation, and reduces the suffering of miseries. When Ayurveda and yoga are combined, we can reduce the suffering of the individual. Yoga is a tool for Ayurveda to help the patient not necessarily recover, but at least stabilize their health.
Q: How does Ayurveda tackle mental health? Is it something new or is mental health something that has been treated for a long time in Ayurveda?
SV: Ayurveda specializes in healing the mind. We look at a human being as a combination of five koshas: Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vignanamaya and Anandamaya, the metaphorical layers that comprise the human body and mind, and house the soul.
An excellent physician of Ayurveda learns how to heal through these five koshas. The Annamaya kosha is the very basic structure of you, and the Pranamaya kosha is the energy that connects the human body and mind. The Manomaya kosha is very dominant in a human, as manushya comes from the Sanskrit manas, meaning mind. A human being is absolutely mind dominated in their world. Any sickness that comes starts from the koshta, the stomach, and affects the Annamaya kosha, the physical body; and when it’s not taken care of, it affects the Pranamaya kosha,which then makes an impact on the Manomaya kosha.
As human beings, we have emotions.When the emotional challenges or requirements are not properly addressed, we encounter an improper lifestyle, improper association of people, improper understanding of emotions. This leaves samskaras or impressions on the mind. When they are not properly cleaned, this emotional imbalance can impact the Pranamaya kosha, which in turn can bring on the onset of physical diseases.
In Ayurveda, although we address all five koshas, the Manomaya kosha is very, very important. In this we differ from allopathic medicine, which says that diseases are either curable or incurable. Ayurveda says that when you define a disease as “incurable,” the mind takes it very strongly, feels nothing can be done, and won’t make an effort to cure it. There is a lot of research and good documentation on the benefits of Ayurveda; even our ancestors committed themselves to write about everything they did. But we don’t rely only on these papers.We look at the person as a living example of this.
A good physician takes his knowledge as a base, and with every patient he decides how Ayurveda can improve their life. Whether it is an emotional challenge, a mental disorder, or a physical problem, we take a positive approach to healing and convey to their mind, “Yes, it’s possible to cure you.” Of course, they have to make the effort, otherwise it’s a false promise – we help them to cure themselves. The physician, the medicine, the therapies, yoga and meditation, all comprise 75% of the healing; the remaining 25%, the rogi or the sufferer, must believe it’s possible to recover and make an effort to work toward it.
If the patient is not able to put in the effort, Ayurveda treats the Annamaya kosha, the physical body. It does the detox and teaches the basic breathing practices. That’s the Pranamaya kosha, which gives energy. When the Annamaya kosha has toxicity, trying to reach the Pranamaya kosha is difficult. After the Annamaya kosha is cleansed through the Panchakarma, you can start very simple breathing practices.It gives a lot of confidence, a lot of energy inside, to understand what is happening in your mind.
Ayurveda has a very deep understanding of the mind. So treating emotional challenges are easy with Ayurveda and yoga.
I really like the teamwork between the patient and the therapists, the doctor and the yoga teacher, to restore health. I really feel it is important. We start from the physical body by doing a detox. This generates energy and also helps the mind so the patient can take over their own healing.
To be continued.