Nisha Saini grew up in India, and at eight years old, she had almost no hair. So her dad took her to a doctor of Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian health system that dates back at least five millennia.
Saini left the doctor with a prescription to herbal compounds, which she applied to her scalp almost weekly. And they worked! Her hair began to grow—and it continued to growing normally straight into adulthood.
Saini’s introduction to Ayurveda came early in life, and it ignited a lifelong passion. In 2004, she founded the New York Ayurveda and Panchakarma Center, where she still practices today.
We asked Saini, plus Ed Danaher, a manager and Ayurvedic therapist at the Panchakarma Department at the Ayurvedic Institute, to explain the growth of Ayurveda in the West. Here’s what you should know.
What exactly is Ayurvedic medicine?
Translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “knowledge of life.” In practice, it dictates that you’re “living in harmony with nature on a daily basis,” says Saini.
In some cases, like Saini’s delayed hair growth, Ayurveda calls on the use of natural herbs to heal yourself. But at the same time, it prescribes more quotidian routines to optimize your overall wellbeing. One common Ayurvedic practice, for example, is to align your diet with the weather, so you’d eat hot soups in winter and fresh salads in summer.
One important Ayurvedic principle is that nature extends beyond what you probably think of as the outdoors. It also exists inside you, says Danaher. Each person contains three distinct energies: vata, pitta, and kapha.
Vata is associated with air and motion; pitta with fire and metabolism; and kapha with earth, water, and growth. “Someone may be predominantly vata, pitta, or kapha,” he says. “Or [the energies] may all be equal.”
Your energy balance is set at the moment of conception, and while there’s no changing it, life has a way of disturbing it. Work, stress, travel, trauma, and food can contribute discordant energies, and “when that accumulation becomes pronounced enough, one begins to experience certain signs of dis-ease or dis-order,” Danaher explains.
Why is Ayurveda suddenly so popular?
Eastern traditions have become respected siblings of Western medicine, with acupuncture, Thai massage, and meditation all paving the way for Ayurveda’s growth.
“Many people are looking into mind-body medicine these days,” says Saini, who credits millennials for driving the trend through better research and an instinct for sharing their findings online. “There’s a lot of [Ayurvedic] stuff coming up in social media,” she says. “Many popular products that people are using for bodybuilding or detox or skin care—they have Ayurvedic ingredients.”
Many of the healing compounds in our Performance Skincare, such as eucalyptus, lavender, and bergamot, have roots in Ayurvedic medicine. And increasingly, these ingredients are finding traction in the Western medical community. Already a state-sanctioned form of medicine in India, Ayurveda is now receiving more attention from American hospitals and universities, such as Mount Sinai, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, offers one example of Western medicine catching up with Eastern tradition. The National Institute of Mental Health identified SAD in 1984, and more recently, awareness has become widespread. But in Ayurveda, the link between seasons and human psyche dates back millennia. For problems like this, natural remedies can offer a safer alternative to pharmaceuticals.
So how do you practice Ayurveda?
Incorporating herbs into your life is one easy option. For men, Ayurvedic practitioners commonly recommend ashwagandha, gokshura, bhringraj, and shilajit.
At Asystem, we believe strongly in ashwagandha, which is why we include 600 micrograms of KSM-66 ashwagandha root extract in our Superhuman Supplements. The funky name translates to “horse smell,” which comes from the notion that ashwagandha imparts the vigor of a horse. Both it and shilajit boost libido, while goksura soothes the urinary tract and bhringraj supports hair growth, says Danaher.
In addition to herbs, Saini recommends Ayurvedic morning practices such as drinking water the moment you wake, and then scraping your tongue and swishing coconut or sesame oil in your mouth. Then before bed, it’s common to wash your feet and massage them with oil.
To go even deeper, it’s common to begin an Ayurvedic practice with a professional consultation to determine your natural balance of vata, pitta, and kapha, Danaher says. You can contact the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine to find a provider, who will conduct a pulse analysis and offer advice on which foods you should eat and avoid to prevent disrupting your natural balance. (An alternate option for determining your energy balance is to take an online questionnaire. It’s less reliable, but it’ll save you $200 on a consultation.)
Whatever Ayurvedic approach to health you take, it’s good to underpin it with a system that fits your routine, maximizes your energy, and ensures that you never end up deficient in core nutrients. That’s the philosophy that started Asystem, and you can learn more here.