Archive for the ‘Ayurveda’ Category

Ah. Cold and flu season. Now, I know that many of you brave souls have been in the thick of cold and flu season for a few months now, but here in Southern California, it snuck up on us in the last week or two.  Yes, the chill is in the air and the wind has picked up…and my poor Beast is struggling with a little allergy exacerbation.  Not only ’tis it the season, but there is the fact that we live with these hairy hooligans:

And do a lot of this:

Looks like its time to pull out the neti pot.

For those of you unfamiliar, a neti pot is a small pot, usually made out of ceramic, that looks a bit like a tea pot (see photo below). You use it to irrigate your nasal passages. You fill it with a warm saline solution, insert the spout into one of your nostrils, and, while leaning over your bathroom sink, allow gravity to draw the solution out of the other nostril (see photo below).

What’s the point? Nasal irrigation was believed to originate with the ancient practice of Ayurveda. However, it is now widely used in western medicine as a treatment for chronic allergies, colds, and mild sinus infections. The popularity of the neti pot exploded several years ago when Oprah and Dr. Oz did a segment on nasal irrigation. Here’s Dr. Oz’s segment on spring allergies and why a neti pot works:

The first time I told The Beast about it, he was not sure he wanted to try it. He preferred the more ‘civilized’ approach to allergy treatment – some nasonex and an over the counter pill. Plus, I made the mistake of saying that using a neti pot isn’t scary but does give you a sensation like you’re swimming and got a little water up your nose. He’s a city boy, and not much of a swimmer, so it was a bad analogy. But I showed him how easy it was, he said he’d give it a try.  So, I doctored him up a pot, and he closed the bathroom door and told me not to listen (sometimes, you do have to gently, very gently, blow the water out of your nostrils…so it does sound a bit like you’re – pardon the expression – blowing a snot rocket). He came out of the bathroom with a pleasantly surprised look on his face, and has been a convert ever since.

Here are some more resources for nasal irrigation and using a neti pot. Check them out:

  • Information on neti pots from the Mayo Clinic
  • A fantastic site from the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Complete with video demonstration and information on medical research regarding use of nasal irrigation/neti pots.
  • The Himilayan Institute, makers of the original neti pot since 1972.

Happy irrigating!


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Last week, I posted a story about the increase in ayurvedic tourism associated with the Commonwealth Games being held in India this year.  Today, MSNBC picked up a story from the Associated Press about the rise in tourists flocking to Kerala, India for ayurvedic treatments.   I have posted the whole article written by Karin Laub of the AP here:

Photo Courtesy of AP. Sabine Steiger, 28, an anthropology student from Vienna, left, tries the "nasya" treatment at the Athreya Ayurvedic Resort in Kottayam, India. To perform this treatment, which is aimed at clearing the head, the therapist lights a cloth soaked in camphor and other substances, and the patient inhales the smoke.

KOTTAYAM, India — Eyes closed and ears plugged with cotton, a guest at a health resort lies on a fiber table padded with pillows. Warm, herb-infused buttermilk flows steadily on her forehead from a small hole in a bowl suspended low from the ceiling.

It’s one of the treatments used in Ayurveda, or “science of life,” the ancient Indian method of healing.

In the West, Ayurveda is perhaps most closely associated with oily spa massages, but a trip to India uncovers Ayurveda’s deep roots and diverse techniques. Ayurveda’s tools include herbal extractions, a wide range of body treatments, a light vegetarian diet and yoga.

In India’s southwestern state of Kerala, Ayurveda is deeply embedded in the culture. It’s administered to India’s poorest in gritty urban clinics, but also to pampered Westerners in tranquil resorts in tropical settings.

Dr. Balakrishnan Gireesh, a fourth-generation Ayurveda doctor, spans both worlds.

He’s an Ayurveda practitioner with a storefront clinic and pharmacy on one of the noisiest corners in Kottayam, a congested town of 60,000 in Kerala. His patients come with a broad range of complaints, from swollen knees to postpartum pain and high cholesterol.

In one of Kottayam’s suburbs, Gireesh runs the Athreya Ayurvedic Centre, a resort for tourists and well-to-do Indians. Patients stay for two or three weeks, some seeking relief from the side effects of chemotherapy or anti-depressants, while others try out Ayurveda as a last resort for sometimes hard-to-treat problems like psoriasis and herniated discs. Yet others just come to relax.

Regardless of the setting, the basic principle remains the same — to cleanse the body and, practitioners believe, give it a chance to balance itself.

The treatment
Sabine Steiger, 28, an anthropology student from Vienna, said she hopes to ease tension headaches and improve her skin.

“I was always interested in Ayurveda and wanted to experience it,” said Steiger, who spent two weeks at Athreya. “It might also be useful for my studies.”

Dr. S.P. Sreejith, medical director at Athreya, says he tells patients what to expect from Ayurveda, including its limitations. For example, Ayurveda is of no use to someone who just suffered a heart attack, but its emphasis on a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease.

At Athreya, a patient typically has two or three treatments a day in gender-segregated buildings. Here’s what to expect in a two-week general cleanse, though the course of treatment is adjusted for specific complaints.

For the first few mornings, you lie on the treatment table as two therapists, synchronizing movements, slowly pour warm herbal water over your body, up and down, back and front, for about an hour. In the afternoon, you get the buttermilk-on-forehead treatment. Called Sirodharda, the practice is meant to calm the mind, but according to Sreejith, it can also ameliorate psoriasis and other ailments.

Photo Courtesy of AP. This undated photo released by Prasad Ushus shows Sajo John, a yoga teacher, right, as he demonstrates the steam bath usually taken after a massage for 10 minutes or more at Athreya Ayurvedic Resort in Kottayam, India.

Patients must also undergo one unpleasant but brief session of induced vomiting. Afterwards, synchronized therapists administer daily massages with medicated oil for several days, each time followed by 10 minutes of sweating in a wooden box filled with medicated herbal steam.

In the second week, you begin at dawn each day, clearing your head with a head massage, nasal drops, facial steam and finally by sniffing smoke from a burning cloth soaked in camphor and other herbs (don’t try that at home).

After a break, the therapists, again in synchronized movements, pound and slather your body with rice-stuffed poultices, on the first few days soaked in warm oil and then in a mix of milk and herbs.

Daily yoga sessions and herbal extractions taken before and after meals round out the day.

Sreejith or his wife, G. Jayalakshmi, who is also an Ayurveda doctor, check on you once a day, sometimes coming by your cottage for a chat on the porch. They might adjust the program depending on your body’s responses. Each patient fills out a health questionnaire before arrival and Sreejith recommends a preliminary consultation via Skype.

Athreya, with a capacity of 35 patients, is a family business (Jayalakshmi is Gireesh’s daughter) and the style is informal.

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says “scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Ayurvedic practices varies.” The center also cited several studies of over-the-counter Ayurveda remedies found to contain toxins like lead or mercury, though Sreejith says Athreya’s pharmaceuticals company operates under strict government supervision.

About 600,000 foreign tourists, many from Europe, visit Kerala, a state with more than 30 million people, every year, said Chandri Nambiar, a Kerala tourism official, and nearly 35 percent are repeat visitors seeking Ayurveda treatments.

This is God’s medicine’
At Athreya, a private cottage with meals and treatment runs $90 to $120 daily (single occupancy). Prices at other resorts vary; some operate in more luxurious beachfront settings, with the feel of a spa rather than a medical retreat. In all, Kerala is home to 92 government-approved Ayurveda resorts, rated either with the top Green Leaf or slightly lesser Olive Leaf rating, based on the level of Ayurveda they practice, Kerala tourism officials say.

Sreejith says visitors can avoid glorified massage parlors posing as Ayurveda centers by checking whether male therapists treat female patients and vice versa (a no-no) and whether there’s a doctor on the premises (a must).

Foreigners who come to India for Ayruveda may find it’s more affordable here than in the West even counting travel costs. It’s not uncommon for U.S. spas to charge $100 an hour for Ayurveda-style treatments.

Other advantages to seeking treatment in India include the availabilty of herbs and other ingredients. Kottayam has a weekly herbs-and-spices market, and if a therapist needs another palm leaf to scrape oil and milk off a patient’s body, she can just break one off the nearest coconut tree.

Sreejith says getting away from daily pressures can also contribute to the success of treatment. Kerala’s lush green landscape offers a change of scenery, and several day trips are available from Athreya, including to the “backwaters” — a huge network of lakes, lagoons and canals near the Arabian Sea — and to the tea plantations in nearby mountains. In Kottayam, about 15 minutes by car, large fabric stores lure shoppers with a vast array of colorful silks and cottons.

On a recent afternoon at Gireesh’s clinic in Kottayam, patients included a pharmaceuticals salesman seeking to lower his cholesterol, an older man with swollen arthritic knees (treatment: hot herb-soaked bandages) and a woman suffering from anxiety after falling off a roof.

Gireesh says his patients’ attitude is important. “This is God’s medicine,” he said. “With faith, it works better.”

Sreejith, who works at a government Ayurveda clinic during the day, has started videotaping some of his treatments of Indian patients, such as a medicated water rinse and leech application for a leg abscess.

“We would like the world to see what Ayurveda is capable of, and also what it is not capable of, and to show it as far as possible with evidence,” Sreejith said.

Gireesh says Ayurveda is experiencing a renaissance among Kerala locals. He started working in his grandfather’s private clinic in Kottayam in 1979. At the time, the rich opted for Western medicine, and Ayurveda was for the poor, he said. Today Kerala’s public health care system employs 1,500 Ayurveda doctors and patients can choose between Western medicine, homeopathy and Ayurveda.

“In Kerala, everyone has access to Ayurveda,” said Nambiar, “from the simple man to the affluent.”

As I’ve been researching ayurveda for these posts, I’ve come across a number of studies on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatments.  However, most of these studies seem to be flawed for one reason or another, so it will be interesting to see how (and whether or not) more extensive, peer-reviewed studies will be performed in the future.  I’ll keep you posted!


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Photo courtesy of the examiner.com


Indian news outlets are reporting that Indian business sectors including ayurveda and “medical tourism” are expected to generate large sums of money as a result of the influx of tourists to the subcontinent for the Commonwealth Games.

One notable tourist seeking rejuvenation at an ayurvedic spa?  The Times of India is reporting that none other than the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles, spent four days at the Soukya Holistic Health Centre at Whitefield.

Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional Indian medical practice, which has been around for over 3,000 years (according to some estimates), and is still widely practiced in South Asia and all over the world.  However, in the Western world, ayurveda is considered a system of complementary and alternative medicine.  Ayurveda’s focus is prevention of disease and extension of life.

The practice and use of ayurvedic medicine has been increasing in the United States.  In 2007, the National Institutes of Health conducted a comprehensive survey of Americans, and over 200,000 American adults responded that they had used Ayurvedic medical treatments in the past year.  I suspect that number has been steadily climbing.

I must admit that my knowledge of ayurveda is minimal, despite the fact that it is sometimes referred to as the “sister science” to yoga.  But if its good enough for the Duchess of Cornwall…

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