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Ayurveda in Modern Day Life

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. We have Dr Deepa Apte, who’s a qualified medical doctor, a yoga practitioner and an Ayurvedic practitioner. She lectures widely on Ayurveda and on yoga in Germany and in the UK. She had her practice in India and Germany and is now based in the UK. She practices under the name of Ayurveda Pura Health Spa & Beauty Centre. She offers ayurvedic consultations, yoga sessions and various workshops. There is so much in this podcast. 

So Dr, tell me, what is wellness to you?

Dr Deepa Apte: For me, when I look at wellness, it is actually a holistic approach. It is all about feeling good and happy in all aspects of life. It has to be physical, emotional, even your energy, energetic wellness, or mental kind of changes in emotions. What Ayurveda says is that yes, physically you may feel really good, but if in your mind you still have something that is still worrying you, you don’t feel good about it. That is not wellness, according to Ayurveda; it’s all about feeling good in all aspects of life. And one other really good way of talking about wellness or understanding if a person is enjoying that journey of wellness or not is when you wake up in the morning, and if you feel happy, if you feel enthusiastic, if you say ‘Yes, you know what? I’m ready for the day.’ That, for me, is wellness.

AB: That’s magnificent. Can you explain to us very quickly what Ayurveda is and what are the basic principles of Ayurveda?

Dr DA: It is an ancient holistic system from India. It’s all about various body types such as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Putting it in very simple words, what Ayurveda says is that it is your aim to find out what your body type or constitution is. Because based on that, you are suggesting either foods or herbs for an everyday routine lifestyle. But the one thing that not many people know is that even when we say Vata, Pitta, and Kapha body types in Ayurveda, we believe that each individual has two different body types or constitutions. The first one, of course, is an Ayurvedic term called Prakriti, which means Mother Nature. That means it is your basic body type; it is your natural constitution, the one that you’re born with. It’s like your DNA imprint; it’s your identity. And this is something that will always be with you and will never change. The second body type that we have is what we are nowadays, based on all the influences around us. It can be food, travel, work, family around us, or weather. All these little things change who we are as individuals. This is called Vikriti, which is today’s constitution. And sometimes people do get confused between “Prakriti” and “Vikriti.” I usually give this example: your Prakriti, your basic body type, is like a solid, hard surface. It can be made of wood, steel, or glass. It’s solid and stable. And your Vikriti, or today’s constitution, is like a layer of dust on this solid, hard surface. You will see that even at home, when there’s a layer of dust on any furniture, we are always wiping it away. And that is what Ayurveda also says. The aim is to find out what your basic body type is and what your current constitution is, and then to apply the five various approaches to help wipe away that layer of death so that you go back to being your original constitution.

AB: So basically you’re saying we’re working with nature versus nurture. And nature is Prakriti and nurture is Vikriti.

Dr DA: It’s not directly Vikriti, but the environment changes around us because even when we say nurture from outside, those nurturing qualities can be nourishing qualities or not; it can be either of them. So we are understanding what those elements are.

AB: Dr Deepa, when a patient comes to you with an issue or a problem, can you tell us the process you go through as an ayurvedic doctor and a medical doctor?

Dr DA: The way I do things at the moment, of course, I don’t directly apply modern medical practices to my practice. But yes, I’m very fortunate that I come from that medical background in gastroenterology, and that really helps me understand an individual’s imbalances, illnesses, and everything. But then, in principle, when someone comes to me, the aim first of all is to find out why they are there. So in any way that we always say or remember, my mom always tells me this proverb that finds out the answer to why, how, what, when, and where will automatically fall into place. So when someone comes to me for a consultation, I first understand their why, because that makes it easy to understand what approaches are to be applied. But then again, when you’re looking into the whole ayurvedic side of a consultation, it’s amazing because it is very similar to a modern medical practice. In modern medicine, as a GP or consultant, we have always applied four different approaches to any consultation. And that is what today’s doctors should be doing. The first one is history, so we ask questions. The second one is observation, so we are observing the client. The third one is palpation, meaning it is altered with touch. And fourth, we say osculation. So in today’s day and age, no, we’re not using the stethoscope to hear any sounds. But amazingly, all four actually come from Ayurveda. In Ayurveda, we always start off by asking questions first because we need to know what the client is thinking about. Then, as we’re asking questions, we’re observing, and I’m doing exactly that. Now, when I say palpation, we are doing what is called a pulse diagnosis. Or when I say observation, I’m looking at the tongue for tongue diagnosis. And then when I say auscultation, the same thing happens: we are hearing sounds. It can be the sound of the voice or sounds in the body. So that is exactly what is done. So in principle, a consultation contains everything: asking questions, observing, pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis, and based on all the information that I get, I will put a plan together. And then this plan can be a combination of all five approaches to Ayurveda. These can be foods, herbs, manual therapies, massages, yoga lifestyles, yoga practices, or daily lifestyles or routines; all of these are applied as a therapy plan.
AB: So you’re saying you look at the pulse and the tongue to find out what is going on in the patient’s body. Can you explain this in a bit more detail to us?

Dr DA: You will see that what we believe in in Ayurveda is that when a client comes to you with a problem with the presenting symptom or whatever, they are always talking about things based on what they think or who they think they are. When I check their pulse, I get to know who they really are. I also get to know what is happening in various organ systems, like tissues, organs, and everything. So those are two different things. As individuals, I’m always talking about things based on my memory. So I’ve got clients who say, “Oh, no. But I’m very confident that I’m a Vata body type, a Vata Prakriti,” because all that they remember is being lean and thin, like bony personalities. But probably they will not remember how they must have been when they were two or three years old. When I check on the person, if I tell them, “Oh, no, but your body type, your basic body type, is actually a Pitta-Kapha,” and they’re completely surprised. But when I give them an understanding of how it is working, they all say, “Yes, that makes so much sense.” So through pulse and tongue diagnosis, we are getting to know things that the client may not know about here and now. But the amazing thing about ayurvedic pulse and tongue diagnosis is that you can then also assess what tissues or organs may be going weak now. Meaning that if there is a weakness now, I need to correct it now. If I don’t do it, it will lead to some kind of illness or disease later, so it’s all about prevention too. It’s not just about curing whatever ailments they may have at the moment. But again, prevention is a very big part of ayurvedic practice.

AB: When I say that I have gone to Vedas in India, and some amazing ones, I mean that their knowledge is absolutely magnificent. But I found the regime quite difficult to follow because every hour they gave me something. Something has to be mixed in X, something has to be mixed in Y, and it’s been like a full-time job just to stick to that regimen. I found it very difficult to live in London. How do you adjust that for modern-day life?

Dr DA: First of all, it has not been written anywhere in Ayurveda that you have to take herbs every hour. Ayurveda is not about changing your whole life to fit Ayurveda in there; it’s literally the other way around. It’s all about integrating Ayurvedic principles into your everyday life. And hence, from that point of view, you will see that Ayurveda is so amazing. We’ve got all those five approaches: foods, herbs, massages, yoga, and our everyday lifestyle and routine. When you actually look into all those five approaches, you will see that they are holistic. It integrates every part of your everyday routine and lifestyle; everything is in there. And when I get clients, you know what? I travel a lot, and I understand that they may not be able to do much with food. And I’ll say, “Okay, fine, these are the herbs. Have them three times a day after your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” It is possible. I do get a lot of clients saying, “You know what, at the moment, for me to do yoga may not be possible because my lifestyle is so busy,” and then I will tell them, “Okay, fine, do some bits in terms of foods or herbs, or come to the clinic maybe once every two weeks for a massage.” So it’s all about understanding how you integrate all these elements into your everyday routine. Having said that, yes, if someone were to have a bit more severe imbalanced illness, then we are prioritising. It’s not just about how easy it is. Then the aim is to get rid of that illness or disease. So then, yes, I do get clients who may be suffering from end-stage diseases like liver failure, renal failure, cancer, or whatever. Then I tell them, “Are you ready to put two months aside? No more commitment, just two or three months so that you start seeing the change, and after that, we can start easing off the plan.” So it’s all about understanding the client’s needs and wants and then integrating things accordingly.

AB: And can you give us some tools and techniques for a healthy lifestyle? Like you’re saying, if you get, say, an averagely healthy client, can you give them tools and techniques to stay that way?

Dr DA: First of all, in Ayurveda, we always say that there are two aspects to our lives, or rather three, but on a daily basis, it’s two. It is our body, and it is our mind. And you’ll see that the body and mind are always having a conversation with each other. The best example I can give is that I’ve worked all day and am really tired. My body is saying, “You know what’s deeper? You’re really tired; you need to sleep.” Then the mind comes along and says, “No, you have to send that email, you have to make that phone call, and you have to finish writing that article.” The body is like, “No, but I’m really exhausted.”  It’s all about the communication between mind and body. I agree that you should always listen to your body; just see what messages it is giving out and act accordingly. So that’s the first thing. Very simple rules rather than saying, “Oh yes, drink hot water in the morning, have your turmeric milk in the afternoon.” We’ve heard of all of this everywhere. I’m giving more general suggestions so that it becomes easier, especially in today’s modern-day life, to follow the second important thing. What Ayurveda says is all about understanding the nature around you. Literally, nature in terms of is it hot or cold? Is it winter, or is it spring? And then follow a lifestyle accordingly. Another very important environment, or nature, if you want to call it, that people don’t really understand is your artificial environment. Yet, you know, when it is cold out there, I will wear something warm. If it is hot out there, I’ll wear something cool. What is happening literally with people around you, with emotional emotions around you, and also working with those? So if you think that someone is a bit more irritable and angry, take a step back, observe, and react accordingly. So first, listen to the body. A second important thing is listening to nature. What Ayurveda also says is that eating only when you are hungry is very important. I know everyone says, “Oh, you have to have breakfast, you have to have lunch, and you have to have dinner.” But it is all about regulating it. But eating only when you are hungry is important. Ayurveda also says not to eat food when you are emotionally distressed, angry, or frustrated, because at such times you will end up eating too much or too little. That means the digestive fire will go out of balance, which may lead to illnesses and diseases. At such times, when you are going through any kind of emotional change, Ayurveda says to drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas because that’s how you regulate your digestive fire. Another very important thing is all about eliminations. Meaning what Ayurveda says is forget your body type, forget if you’re Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Dosha, forget your Agni, or they’ve got all these terms. Put all of that aside on a daily basis and make sure that your stool elimination is regular, your sweat elimination is regular, and your urine elimination is regular. Meaning we need to sweat a certain amount every day. We need to pass enough urine every day. But most importantly, there should be no constipation. In Ayurveda, we believe that 80% to 90% of all illnesses and diseases start with constipation. So that we are listening to your body too, and hence making sure that stool elimination is regular every day. So that is also another thing to follow. And one last thing: Sleep. According to Ayurveda, the first thing it emphasises is that our tissues heal and any imbalances or tissue injuries are addressed during sleep. It is during sleep that the tissues and organs undergo healing processes. Sometimes clients mention that they sleep for 8 hours but go to bed very late, around 12:00 a.m. or 1:00 a.m. I explain to them that it’s not just about the duration of sleep, but also the timing of sleep that matters. In Ayurveda, we consider around 10 or 10:30 p.m. as Pitta time or liver time, when the Pitta organs become more active in the body. It’s crucial to be asleep during this time because if we are awake, there is heat and fire present, along with the liver and other organs trying to work simultaneously. This leads to excessive activity and may result in a reduced lifespan.

AB: To summarise it, you said listen to your body, listen to nature, eat when hungry, eat when calm. And sleep and elimination is very important. Tell me, Dr Deepa, you know, with all your experience, you must have seen some incredible cures through Ayurveda.

Dr DA: During my 18, 19, and 20 years of practice here in the UK, with the exception of five or six clients who reported no improvement, everyone else has expressed that Ayurveda has been truly beneficial. People often inquire about those few clients who didn’t see positive results and wonder what went wrong. In those cases, it seemed that those individuals were either not ready for Ayurveda at the time or didn’t have faith in its effectiveness. While other factors can also contribute, I can share specific examples of medical conditions where Ayurveda has made a significant impact. For instance, I have had clients with deteriorating vision caused by various medical factors, even after undergoing surgical procedures without success. Through Ayurvedic practices or Veds, their vision was restored. Additionally, I have been fortunate to assist clients with conditions such as thyroid issues, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and fertility problems. Many of them had been struggling to conceive but are now not only pregnant but also blessed with children. Although there are numerous similar examples, these are the ones that come to mind immediately.

AB: Wow. So I think you have a lot of very happy clients.

Dr DA: People do tell me, “Thank you, Dr Deepa, you’ve helped.” And I tell them, no, it’s not me, it’s actually Ayurveda, because there’s these Ayurvedic approaches that they follow, and that is how they see changes.

AB: So in that case, tell me, you know how what a lot of people say is that when we go to a holistic therapist, it takes longer. When we go to a medical doctor, we pop a pill. Now, of course, it’s very different, but typically, if someone comes to you with an issue, how long would you tell them to try it before they can say whether it’s working, beginning to work, or not working.

Dr DA: See, again over there, Ayurveda is very clever, and I’ve got a big smile on my face because that’s not just clever but progress and advancement. In Ayurveda, we’ve got the whole what is called a tissue system. Dhatus is the term that we use. And there are like seven primary tissues. The amazing thing is the way these seven tissues are formed, one after the other. And then, just to make it easy so that people will understand, the first tissue is plasma, which takes approximately six days to be formed once we’ve eaten food. Then, after plasma, comes blood tissue, which takes another six days. And I’ll just give the example of the third one, which is muscle tissue, which is again another six days. That means whatever I eat or drink today, it will take approximately 18 days for that food to be converted into healthy muscle tissue. But interestingly, the same principle is followed when you’re looking to correct illnesses and diseases. So I do get clients who may be coming with no arthritis or, like, no reproductive tissues and reproductive problems, and I tell them that they have to wait at least 40 days before they see any changes because that is how tissue conversion works. Someone who may come with skin conditions, plasma-related problems, low blood pressure, circulatory problems, I might tell them, “You know what? Within the next seven days, you might start seeing changes.” So it is, again, very cleverly put in Ayurveda that, based on the presentation, the time period that they may see an improvement in will also change.

AB: If someone is following another regime, whether it’s medical, like chemotherapy, or whether someone’s doing something like homoeopathy, would you then recommend that they can still come and do Ayurveda?

Dr DA: Again, that is another beauty of Ayurveda: it is very compatible with any other treatment modalities, especially nowadays. I understand that a lot of people do take allopathic medications, so I get a lot of clients who may be on chemotherapy, radiotherapy, blood thinners, or have cardiovascular problems. I will never ask them to stop that medication because, interestingly, in India, when I was first studying, my teachers actually taught me to integrate allopathy with Ayurveda, and I was so used to that kind of practice. But when I moved here from Germany at the end of the year, it took a bit of time in my head to adjust to that. You know what? Over here, they treat them as two very different systems. But amazingly, if you were to combine allopathy, ayurveda, or any of the other modalities, you would see much better and faster results.

AB: Oh wow. I’m completely blown away by our chat today. I’ve been into Ayurveda since I was a child, but this has been so informative. What should we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner as per ayurveda?

Dr DA: The first rule to be followed in Ayurveda is to avoid consuming anything cold. Therefore, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it is recommended to have warm food. Traditional choices for breakfast include warm porridge with a hint of cinnamon and the option to add a bit of Chyawanprash. It is important to note that cold yoghourts and cold milk should be avoided. Moving on to lunch and dinner, Ayurveda advises considering both your body type or constitution and the prevailing weather conditions. When it comes to food in Ayurveda, there are specific guidelines to follow. Fruits should always be eaten alone or left alone. They should not be mixed with other ingredients, grains, vegetables, or meats. However, it is acceptable to combine fruits with nuts, but cooking, stewing, baking, or roasting fruits should be strictly avoided. While having fruits for breakfast is permissible, it is crucial to remember that fruits should never be cooked, stewed, baked, or roasted.

AB: Okay, wonderful. Something I get asked a lot where people ask for help with constipation and you said that’s one of the worst things that can happen to you.

Dr DA: So with constipation, first of all, in Ayurveda, we have an herb called Triphala. And classically, always take Triphala in the evening, around 8:00–8:30 or 9:00 p. m. That is the best time. Usually I go with capsule forms because that is what my company says; I take two capsules every evening. If someone has a severe form of constipation, then I will always recommend mixing Triphala powder with a bit of olive oil, ghee, or some hot oils and having it with a glass of water. That’s the first thing about a general thing. If people don’t want to take herbs, one really good remedy to help correct constipation now is a combination of a very small amount of hot milk, a spoonful of ghee, and half a teaspoonful of turmeric. So all of this happens every evening. So this, again, when taken over a period of time, also helps with constipation. Another very important thing is to avoid raw salads or raw foods. I know everyone eats raw food thinking it is really helpful. But it is the worst thing for constipation because there’s too much coldness in the colon, and then the stools will become dry and cold, which may lead to constipation. So these are the three things that they can follow.

AB: You know the herbs that you recommend, like the Triphala, can you do it as a lifestyle or do you have to give it a break?

Dr DA: No, amazingly, all the Ayurvedic herbs are such that you can take them long-term too, if you want to. But of course, if you’re taking it long-term, you’re not taking loads every day. It might just be one or two capsules on a regular basis. In fact, talking about Triphala, there is a very interesting fact. I’m sure you know about garam masala, the one that we put in cooking. I know that when we talk about garam masala, we talk about things like cinnamon powder, ginger powder, or whatever. The actual, very ancient recipe of garam masala would have had approximately 20 or 30% Triphala in it. That means we were actually using it for cooking. So if someone wants, if they have their own home masalas, not garam masala, just add 20% of Triphala powder to it, and it goes into the cooking. So bear in mind that in English we are calling them herbs. But when we look into the word Triphala, tri is three and Phala is fruit. So if we can have all the other fruits every day, why can’t we have these three fruits on a daily basis?

AB: Oh wow. I just don’t know what to say. I had no idea that garam masala had Triphala in it. Can Ayurveda help with weight loss?

Dr DA: Absolutely, very much so. In fact, speaking of which, I actually run Ayurveda and yoga for weight loss programmes. I’ve also had clients who followed it, and they have seen that over four weeks, people have lost 5 to 6 kgs or 9 kgs. It is very much possible. But do understand that, like any other plan or protocol, commitment is needed. Now, when I say commitment, when I run my weight loss programmes, it’s not because you’re starving. In fact, I tell all my clients and students that to enjoy life, you need to enjoy food. But it is all about how you are becoming clever with food; that bit is important, and yes, Ayurveda can definitely help with weight loss.
AB: Do you know, how you’re talking about Triphala, you’re talking about our Indian cooking and the Indian herbs we use in the cooking. What if the likes of the gingers and the turmerics don’t suit someone? Because those are something which is there, which are prevalent a lot in Ayurveda.

Dr DA: See, again, in Ayurveda, it is not that you have to have all of it or none of it. Ayurveda says this based on your body type, your constitution, or your tolerance. Yes, you can choose what you want to eat, understandably, so that turmeric or ginger may not suit everyone because of the constitution, and hence understanding what the imbalance is going on or what the changes are happening and accordingly, foods are also suggested. So just because someone does not have turmeric, I would never say, “Oh, they are not following Ayurveda,” because, let’s be honest, as the word goes, Ayur is life, Veda is science, and Ayurveda says that Ayurveda exists everywhere, wherever there is life. Thousands of years ago, out here in the UK, people lived, but they never had turmeric, yet they were living an Ayurvedic life because you are reacting to nature. Ayurveda is also that science where all your everyday reactions and responses, which are natural and in line with nature, are also Ayurveda. So it’s not about specifically what you’re following or not; it’s all about where you live, Desha, your local geography, and following things accordingly.

AB: What would you advise for high cholesterol due to genetics?

Dr DA: One of the best suggestions would be every morning on an empty stomach to have half or one teaspoonful of turmeric mixed— amount, not a lot, some amount of hot ghee and one quarter teaspoonful of cinnamon. All of this mixed together on an empty stomach and then to have a glass of hot water. So do this every day, that will help. Another really important thing is on a daily basis to have more steamed greens, things like spinach, coriander, lettuce so the more greens you have, all these greens you literally combine with that excess cholesterol in the blood and throw it out of the body. So that is another important thing. People who may have high cholesterol, very important is that they should not starve because that is how the gallbladder is kind of reacting sometimes. They should nourish their body properly, of course, as we all know, to avoid excess fats and stuff like that, but never to starve. That bit is important and as and when possible, first thing in the morning or even during the day, lots of hot water like herbal teas like ginger, lemontea or warming foods like cinnamon, ginger powder, of course, turmeric, even cumin powder, they can mix all these powders together, make like a churma and have one quarter teaspoonful of this in a glass of hot water two, three times a day.

AB: Can ayurveda help with menopause?

Dr DA: Absolutely yes. And one thing also to bear in mind, according to Ayurveda, menopause is not an imbalance of illness, it is a transition of life. A lot of times women are waiting for menopause to happen the moment they are 40, 41, 42. I must be honest, I’m 48 now. I’m not expecting menopause for at least five, six years. I get my periods regularly. Because it is all in your mind too. It’s the mindset, your attitude. But if someone is going through any kind of transitional changes like hot flashes or osteoporosis, there are many suggestions that can be talked about in Ayurveda. So yes, it can help.

AB: And anything you can recommend to people to prepare for it, to prepare for menopause?

Dr DA: Whenever there’s a preparation towards menopause, bear in mind, when menopause is happening or approaching, the body is going dry. So it is all about nourishing the body. So plenty of hot oil massages or oil pulling— so having tiny like maybe half a three teaspoonful of tea or oil on a daily basis. That is one thing. Second important thing is once again to make sure that there is no constipation. Because when there is constipation, it makes the whole menopausal transition even worse. Then as they are approaching or one other way of preparing is one particular herb called Shatavari. And that is really good for menopause too. But again, for that I would tell everyone who’s listening there are a few things to bear in mind in terms of any other accompanying illnesses, conditions. So if you’re looking to take Shatavari, please consult an Ayurvedic practitioner so that they can tell you how to take it. So these are two three things that can be done as an everyday lifestyle routine for menopause too.

AB: Do you have any last advice?

Dr DA: The only thing, a few things that I will say is I remember while growing up, my mom, who is my most important teacher and then my Ayurvedic professors, they’ve always said, ‘No matter what, enjoy life because every moment going by will never come back.’ And because of that, of course, on one hand we need to be a bit cautious of what we do, but that does not mean that you get so kind of bound down to all these rituals and practices where you actually forget to enjoy life. So it’s all about finding that fine balance. So yes, I do get clients who may be saying I want to lose weight, but once every two weeks I might go to see my friends and I might have a glass of wine. Should I stop that? I say no, go ahead. Enjoy life every moment that comes because it will never come back.

AB: That’s lovely advice. Thank you so much for the wonderful information. This was Dr Deepa Apte. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you leading your best life.