7 Major Misconceptions in Modern Ayurveda - Ayurveda | Everyday Ayurveda

7 Major Misconceptions in Modern Ayurveda

By on June 12, 2016
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.

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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.

Conclusion

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?

 

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About Frank Vasquez

Frank has been studying various Vedic disciplines for the last fifteen years with teachers both east and west. He is continuously amazed at how little he actually knows about the universe. He is currently curating www.darshanproject.org in order to introduce people to the Vedic sciences and create more discussion around the representation of this knowledge.

10 Comments

  1. bcharles@earthlink.net'

    Bruce

    July 14, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I have been wanting to learn Ayurveda for a while, so I can guide myself and ultimately others into better health practices. The main reason I haven’t is that, being in my sixties, I feel that by the time I have learned enough to get a true understanding, I will be past the time to help others for very long. Even learning pulse diagnosis takes half a lifetime, it seems. So I understand the western mentality of wanting to shortcut the knowledge. And I can’t bring myself to do that. Thanks for reinforcing the desire to keep the knowledge pure.

    • jacqueline.dellasanta@gmail.com'

      Jacquie

      July 17, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Hi Bruce,
      I took 2 corro course with Dr David Frawley, I found his Ayurvedic Healing course really good for self care and daily living, even if I can cook the right food for friends and family, based on the seasons and small imbalances, and also understanding of herbs and many deeper aspects of Ayurveda.
      At 60 plus, you are a mere spring chicken still, according to Yoga, you would have a good 35 – 40 years left….so plenty of time!!!

    • bryan.vazquez@gmail.com'

      Frank

      July 21, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Bruce,

      Yes, I didn’t mention in the article but they have done blind clinical studies on pulse diagnosis and there is not much reliability with it. A lot of the hype I think is due to people wanting something mystical in their medicine. Pulse diagnosis was not in classical Ayurveda either and was a much much later adaption to the science as there are many more ways to assess and implement this knowledge without it. In fact many esteemed doctors do not even use it at all.
      As for the recommendation of Frawley’s course below, I would not vouch for that even for “self healing”. For example, he teaches to eat an anti-kapha diet in the winter in his book which goes against all Ayurvedic teaching and logic. See my article on the seasons for more information on some of that. I’d say still study and see what you can uncover, but tread with caution and take your time…It’s a worthwhile endeavor no matter what age.

      • 7809xm32bl@mail.com'

        Veruca

        December 20, 2014 at 10:11 am

        That’s a creative answer to a diiffcult question

  2. jacqueline.dellasanta@gmail.com'

    Jacquie

    July 17, 2014 at 12:57 am

  3. Auntpenney@gmail.com'

    PJ

    July 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    An excellant article to point out some of the misconceptions of, and depth of, this ancient, revered healing system. It is very discouraging however, not giving any advice on who, where, what one can study/learn and benefit from Ayurvedic principles, nor does it give hope one can benefit from Ayurveda without a life devoted to learning it. I too, in my 60s, know time and energy is limited for such an endeavor, but what I have learned over 30 years of self study, working with several practitioners, taking a “weekend” course, and a long distance course, has, though inadequate to make claim to any deeper understanding or knowledge, been beneficial through some very serious health challenges. Understanding the principles of Ayurvedic as well as food preparation, diet, simple herb combinations, and lifestyle recommendations can, and does, help many people. While I agree with everything written, it is also important to remember Ayurveda has always been a growing, fluid system, even the “ancient” texts were written over a very long period, added too as new awarenesses, “research” you might say, showed new ways.

    • frankbvazquez@gmail.com'

      Frank

      July 26, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Hi PJ,

      Points well taken. I agree with your comments as well and that is exactly what my own project aims to give, free of commercial concerns, so I can’t really agree that I give no options if you have taken the time to look a little further. I can only cover so much in one little article and even this was edited down extensively. As far as newer “researches” and adaptations of this knowledge, that is a huge topic which I delve into on my site a bit as well – all it takes is a few clicks. Hope this helps.

  4. vivek-1-@hotmail.co.uk'

    Vivek

    September 2, 2014 at 1:38 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. For me though, I have benefited greatly from ayurveda being ‘broken down’ to simpler terms in the west. I followed a high raw vegan diet for a long time and I too depleted my body and weakened my digestive fire. Using Ayurveda I have helped my body to recover greatly but I still feel ungrounded and underweight. I realise I should seek help boost my health instead of going alone (because that didn’t go too well last time when I went raw). Where can I find this help though?

    I understand you went through a similar experience. How did you regain strength and stamina? I have conflicting thoughts over whether to eat meat and fish to gain weight and feel warmer and stronger; I live in England which is generally mild throughout the year so I need to stay warmer somehow. However, I currently only eat dairy and eggs as I feel that it is ‘wrong’ to eat meat as I don’t need it to survive. Would you be able to give some advice on this? Thank you very much in advance!

    • frankbvazquez@gmail.com'

      Frank

      December 11, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Vivek, if you diminish muscle mass, eating flesh is about the only way to get it back properly from an Ayurvedic standpoint. It gets complicated since you have to mind your now low digestive fire to make sure your assimilating it properly and not further damaging your system. Despite being a vegetarian for man years I had instinctively followed this protocol for a little while until I felt stable enough again – just what has to happen sometimes. I’d like to think the ones pushing such vegan /cleanse diets would accrue some of the karma for getting ourselves healthy again….Best thing is to find a well trained Ayurvedic physician to work with on all of this ideally. Track me down and I can give you a contact or two that might be of help.

  5. Kathy Gehlken

    June 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks Frank, excellent article!

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