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7 Major Misconceptions in Modern Ayurveda
Just like its counterpart Yoga, Ayurveda is now on the selling block both in western countries, even India herself. This unique interchange has prompted some scholars to call these trends in the importation of modern Ayurveda to the west “New Age Ayurveda”. Modern Ayurveda has only a superficial relationship to the depth of knowledge this ancient subject has to offer.
This leads to “practitioner” programs where little more than basic daily advice can be given, or at worst, real clinical procedures administered without proper education or supervision. Sadly, even the extensive Phd level university education model in India has its own issues with implementing what has traditionally been a lineage based subject outside of academic constraints.
In order to call some light to this situation, let’s look at some of the largest misconceptions that have seeped into the mass market. These misconceptions are due to this complex interchange of ancient knowledge and modern dissemination that is leading the vast majority of Ayurvedic consumers astray.
7 Major Misconceptions in Modern Ayurveda
1. To List or Not to List?
It is important to remember that while the doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) can cause disease in their imbalanced states, the doshas can also be considered a dhatu or stable substance that is necessary and inherent for proper bodily function.
Imagine you are eating off of a “kapha list” year-round, since that appears to be your dominant dosha. Even though you do not have any strong kapha imbalances, you will end up destroying the very foundation of your being over time.
Traditionally the only reason you would eat a dosha pacifying diet would be if you had an imbalance, and even then it would be tempered by numerous other factors.
For those of us who were more or less healthy, or had mild disturbances, the best route of action would be to eat a seasonal diet and follow daily routines. Through the seasons, each of the doshas are pacified naturally through following seasonal regimes. This must also be strengthened by a variety of factors that are not as simple as the lists found in many popularized Ayurvedic books.
2. Gotta Pass the Test
To properly ascertain someone’s prakruti (natural state of balance) is a very difficult task. With so many little tests all over the internet and in books to find your prakruti, it creates an impression that Ayurveda is more simple than it really is, or limited to Vata-Pitta-Kapha logic. These tests and figuring out your dosha type are akin to astrological newspaper columns that have simplified astrological techniques to appease popular culture. This mindset only blinds the masses to the true depth of such subjects. Or at worst, causes people to dismiss it completely.
It is not often recognized that even trained doctors can have a difficult time assessing prakruti properly. I know of loved “masters” of pulse diagnosis assessing the same patient as having a different prakruti in different scenarios. Since many/most of us have lived out of balance for so long, many vaidyas do not even approach treating patients from this angle, but instead look to treat a patient’s vikruti and assume everyone has a baseline prakruti of earth/water predominance, which are the building blocks of our body. There are other approaches to this too, but the general prakruti/vikruti diagram is one that needs more knowledge than a simple test or weekend training program to work with on a clinical level.
3. A Raw Deal
Ayurveda does not advocate a raw food diet, nor would it take juicing seriously, as the entire qualitative make up (what Ayurveda is all about). Raw foods is antithesis to the makeup of the body and properties of agni for the most part. Numerous slokas speak to this and advocate a diet that is primarily warm, moist, and easy to digest. There is really little to debate about this topic, unless you are just calling whatever you want “Ayurveda.”
There is also no such thing as using Ayurvedic principles to make a raw food diet “safer”, which defies Ayurvedic logic and is merely modern invention. I am not demeaning systems other than Ayurveda, or people who choose such diets. These diets may have some therapeutic/cleansing effect in the short term under qualified help. However, I think we owe it to this ancient science to try and understand what it teaches if we want to talk about it properly, let alone considering ourselves to be practicing it.
Please note that any “expert” (that I am aware of) touting raw food Ayurveda has no legitimate Ayurvedic credentials past popularity.
4. The Great Miraculous Nothing
Oil pulling does not have all of the insane benefits many people are attributing to it in the least, according to Ayurveda that is. There are actually two main types of what is commonly called oil pulling and it is a specific therapy primarily for the oral cavity in which sesame oil is the most widely used. Coconut oil and other substances (water, ghee, milk, medicated gruel, etc.) are used based on specific patients and specific cases for specific times – like all Ayurvedic protocols. It is not just a use whatever you want proposition as each component used will have different effects over the long run and can even harm patients if administered improperly. This goes for anything in regards to Ayurveda, no matter how natural or safe it may seem.
5. Melt This
While there may be many things being called ghee, the type of ghee referred to in the ancient texts – the one that “stokes your agni” and all that good stuff, is not made by just melting butter. It is actually made out of cultured cream which is then made into butter and then into ghee. This is more costly and labor intensive, which is perhaps why clarified butter is being sold as ghee. Do a little research and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you do get the real thing, it should never be refrigerated like a lot of health food stores do.
All this, once again, has to do with the specific properties of the substances used. Without doing the proper procedure, all you are doing is lubricating your channels, or in some cases inviting disease if your agni can’t handle a bunch of melted butter. I have seen high doses, upwards of 8 tablespoons plus of ghee recommended for purgation in some of these mass group “cleanses”. These “cleanses” are being administered without proper clinical assessment or supervision. This is not safe and has never been practiced before the advent of cleansing became a quick way to make money over the internet.
6. Pancha what?
Pancha = 5. However only 3 out of the 5 main procedures in pancha karma are usually administered in the western world and without which pancha karma cannot be safely, nor properly, administered. This is about as crazy as trying to drive a car with ¾ of the wheels if you are doing the procedure to treat a serious illness. What most people practice in the west is purva karma, which is the step prior to a real pancha karma experience, though even this is lacking.
There are many other issues, such as length of time and herbal access, that makes authentic pancha karma nonexistent outside of India, and possibly very dangerous practiced under the hands of inexperienced and poorly trained “PK specialists”.
For example, an acquaintance underwent “PK” at an Ayurvedic school in the U.S., only to have severely increased health issues after the fact which would never happen under Ayurveda proper. This was most likely due to the fact that when ama/excess dosha is dislodged from the system and not properly eliminated it can actually harm you further since you have just awoken some deeply toxic stuff and let it have a field day with your body. Such things happen more often than most people are aware of and are not just relegated to this single incident or institution.
7. Just “listen”
Just like the “listen to your inner guru” advice thrown about in the yoga circles, I’m starting to see many modern alternative health enthusiasts tell people to “just listen to your body” more and more. While this definitely has some utility and something we all should try to do to a certain degree, it takes a long time under a real guru to tap into the inner teacher/physician. These are more esoteric subjects that are fraught with pitfalls and why all ancient texts laud their preceptors.
Unless you have some solid knowledge and experience, or are working with someone who has the same, just listening to your body often times may not be enough. Just like many people are doing all sorts of new health regimes with what they think is great benefit, the room for delusion is great – particularly the more “advanced” you may believe you are becoming.
I remember when I listened to my body by doing master cleanses every 6 months for many years and thought it was working wonders due to the increased energy and euphoria I was experiencing. This was showing signs that my “toxins” were being digested. In reality, I was destroying my body and digestive capacity, getting really high “naturally”, increasing vata. Plus I was refusing to listen to anyone who told me otherwise (which can be another sign of vata vitiation).
This continued until there were drops of blood in my stool and recurring rashes started appearing. That’s when I stopped listening to myself and tried to get some real help. This wasn’t easy due to the lack of regulation or real standards with regards to alternative health in the world.
I hope I have made it clear that just because Ayurveda is natural, this does not make it safe. Just because it is ancient, does not mean we should listen to every doctor that pretends to have credentials (this goes for Indian ones as well). Just because we can understand some of the ideas, does not make it simple to implement properly. Even in the ancient times such false information and charlatans appear to have been rampant as the classic texts warned continuously about quack doctors.
Take it from Charaka:
It is better to die than to be treated by an ignorant physician. Because, like a blind person moving with the help of his hands or like a boat being driven by the wind, a quack physician applies the course of treatment with anxiety and fear because of his ignorance. Such an inefficient physician may cure a few patients by chance, whose ailments might get cured automatically, but he is likely to kill patients in quick time, who would have otherwise survived if treated properly.
– Charaka Samhita. Sutrastaha. Ch. 9. Sl.15-17.
What are your thoughts and observations of Modern Ayurveda in the West?