The back-to-basics approach of holistic health is scoring points among everyone these days.
In particular, the ancient Hindu practice of Ayurveda, which translates to "knowledge of life," can be found in the daily regimens of stars like Madonna and Christy Turlington, and in decadent treatments at upper crust day spas. Ayurveda is a five-millennia old science that believes health is a balance of diet, exercise, lifestyle, meditation, and environment. "It's a system that empowers people to take care of their own healing," said Ayurvedic consultant Mary Kay Wolstrom. Ayurveda asserts that matter is composed of five basic elements--water, earth, fire, wind, and space--and that the human body is composed of derivatives of these elements.
The main principle of Ayurveda is the three Doshas, or "body compositions." The Doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha: Vata governs movement and can be looked at as the force that directs processes like circulation and respiration; Pitta represents transformation and is responsible for cellular metabolism; and finally, Kapha is responsible for growth and protection, and functions mainly through bodily fluids.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that most of us are made up of unique proportions of each of the three Doshas, but most of us have a predominant one. "Thin, high-energy people tend to be Vata; fiery, muscular people are Pitta; and heavier, contemplative folks are Kapha," said Radha Mukherjee, M.D., a general practitioner who has been incorporating Ayurveda into her treatments for a number of years. "The idea is that the Doshas must be in balance, or sickness ensues. For example, if we are predominantly Vata, an imbalance in Pitta or Kapha can sometimes lead to ailments," said Mukherjee. So what to do if you're out of balance? "Usually, I suggest herbal supplements that speed up healing," Mukherjee said. And if there are a lot of toxins present in the body, a cleansing process called Pancha Karma is recommended. Eliminating toxins through sweat therapies or warm oil massages is popular in Ayurvedic medicine. Posh day spas are even beginning to employ these time-honored treatments.
Shirodhara is a treatment in which warm oil is rhythmically poured over the center of the forehead, creating relaxation and eliminating stresses associated with depression or fatigue. It's also one of the many treatments offered at Safronya Retreat, an Ayurvedic wellness center in San Rafael, California, that includes traditional spa treatments and cooking classes. Safronya is quickly making waves in a community with an increasing appetite for the fruits of time-honored eastern wisdom. "We don't want Ayurveda to be an esoteric study," owner Vijaya Jhothi said. "It's the perfect fusion of spiritual and physical health, and our goal is to share that with everyone."