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With modern science supporting the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, the phrase “going back to the future” has never been more accurate. This is reflected in every article I write here at LifeSpa.
With the ancient teachings of Ayurveda, I get to predict where the new science is heading and what the next experiments will be aiming to prove. I love my job; I scour the scientific literature for studies that support the principles of Ayurveda that have been practiced for millennia.
Modern science on its own is not reliable enough. For example, for every study that says coffee is good for you, there is another study that says it’s bad for you. Soy, gluten, dairy, fat, chocolate, diets, herbs… the studies go on and on, some touting the pros and others touting the cons of the very same thing. How do we trust such unreliable results?
The Ayurvedic principles I write about have been time-tested for thousands of years, and we now have the modern science to back it up — there’s a lot of credibility there and any logical mind would have to take notice! This suggests that Ayurveda is still not only relevant but on the cutting edge, still, after all these years. And now, with the research backing it up, Ayurveda’s time has come to shine.
Scientists are slowing chipping away, asking logical questions about the subtleties of the world we live in, while Ayurveda long ago created a blue print, a trail of breadcrumbs that modern scientists are beginning to follow.
Of course, most scientists would not put much logical credibility in ancient wisdom regarding its insights into the future of medical research. However, the exciting fact is that it is already happening, and both the Ayurvedic community and the modern Western scientific community are only just beginning to realize that they are so intricately connected in such a symbiotic way.
For example, in a recent issue of Scientific American, two top researchers in circadian biology were quoted as saying, “A deeper understanding of our internal clocks could revolutionize medicine.” They are calling this “circadian medicine,” the science of our connection to the natural cycles of nature… Doesn’t that sound like Ayurveda?
Syncing with the Seasons
Ayurveda goes much deeper than just circadian medicine! Ayurveda, as the science of life, describes fundamentally how we can live in harmony with the cycles of nature. Scientists are finding out that syncing up with both day-to-day and seasonal cycles are fundamental to our health.
For instance, studies have shown that mice disconnected from the circadian rhythms were found to eat incessantly. Their gut microbiome shifted to that of an obese mouse. (1,2)
In similar findings, the gut microbes were measured in a group of people who were jet-lagged, which disturbed their circadian clocks. These travelers had a very similar gut microbe shift to the mice who had a disrupted connection to the circadian clock. These travelers’ gut microbiomes shifted towards an obese profile as well! (2)
Herbs like ashwagandha and bacopa have been studied to help buffer the circadian impact of jet lag and other circadian stressors. In fact, science has discovered that there are herbs that help the nervous tissue repair and even regenerate new nerve cells. These are called brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs).
I remember back when our parents would tell us that if we drank alcohol, it would kill brain cells and you can’t grow them back – that it was permanent damage. Well, now we know that this is not true. To date, scientists have discovered four herbs they are calling BDNFs, and three out of the four are Ayurvedic herbs… ashwagandha, bacopa, turmeric and fish oils.
I like to tell “the deer story,” an excerpt from a book called The Forest Unseen to highlight the importance of following the seasonal rhythms. To preface this story, let me explain that herbivores have evolved to have two stomachs — the first of which is called the rumen, where grasses, bark, and plant matter are digested by millions of plant-eating microbes.
“Sudden changes in the diet can disrupt this elegant molding of the rumen community and its environment. If a deer is fed corn or leafy greens in the middle of winter, its rumen will be knocked off balance, acidity will rise uncontrollably, and gases will bloat the rumen. Indigestion of this kind can be lethal.” (4)
Understanding the circadian day and night cycles, the microbial seasonal cycles, the monthly cycles, and the annual nutritional cycle that takes a year to complete is the new science they are calling, “circadian medicine.” What they are discovering and scientifically verifying each day has been known for thousands of years in Ayurveda, such as the fact that we digest better during the day and store fat at night if we eat late. (5,6)
Discovering The Truth of Your Life
While coming into balance with the natural rhythms is extremely important, it is not Ayurveda’s most profound gift to the world. ‘Ayur‘ means ‘life’ and ‘veda’ means truth – so Ayurveda is the science to reveal the truth of your life. This is the definition of Ayurveda I prefer, as it highlights this powerful gift that Ayurveda has offered for thousands of years. All Vedic sciences including yoga, breathing meditation and Ayurveda are Vedic Sciences, aimed at spiritual transformation.
From Balance to Transformation
Ayurveda is the science to help restore balance to the physical body and remove its pain, imbalances, and density. The goal of Ayurveda is to remove the density and thus enhance self-awareness. With self-awareness, we can than have the awareness to choose and change.
Ayurveda is a science designed to bring the body into balance, and to allow the body to release what is no longer serving it so that we can function with more awareness. From an Ayurvedic perspective, with more awareness, we have the ability to make conscious choices in life, aligned with our greatest truth. We have the choice to function from childlike protective patterns of behavior that may no longer be serving us, or we can choose to take action based on our truth – the truth of us, as the science has confirmed beautifully, which is love. It is our true nature to shine like the sun; to be love instead of need love.
While I could easily explain how the principles of Ayurveda translate into the science of life, what I feel is most compelling about Ayurveda in our day and age is the fact that modern science is supporting the tenets of Ayurveda as an encompassing science of physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation.
Ayurveda and Molecules of Emotion
It all started back in the late 1990’s when the now-late Candace Pert came to our clinic for Panchakarma while she was researching for her book Molecules of Emotion. (3) She described peptides that travel all over the body carrying emotional charges, called “mental ama” in Ayurveda. These are the biochemical substrata of emotion in our bodies.
Pert stated in her book that while there were receptors all over the body for these emotional peptides, they were mostly concentrated in the brain, spine, skin, gut and lungs. (3)
It struck me that, in Ayurveda, there are many therapies concentrated in these areas, as if somehow the ancients in Ayurveda knew that therapies in these areas would help free up old emotions. For instance, in the brain, Ayurveda offers practices of meditation, shirodhara, nasya, and marma therapies, to name a few out of a seemingly endless list. In the spine – which is an extension of the brain – yoga, breathing, and massage are a few of the many ways to support spinal function from an Ayurvedic perspective. The skin, gut and lungs are home to the trillions of microbes that support the health, immunity, function and genetic expressions of every system in the body. Perhaps the main focus of Ayurveda was to bring these areas of skin into optimal balance.
The skin that lines the lungs supports breathing, and affects how our nervous system responds to stress and life itself. The skin of the intestines is the direct link through the microbiome to the brain, through what is called the gut-brain axis. (7,8) Both the outer and inner skin turn out to house microbes that are genetically modified by exposure to other plant and environmental microbes. It is through our inner and outer skin that we genetically change, morph and adapt to our ever-changing world. (9-12)
The potential of balancing these specific areas of the body can have far-reaching effects on our physical health, our emotional well-being, and even our spiritual evolution. Ayurveda continually proves itself to be a time-honored, tried-and-true science of the ages, proved by modern science, and continues to provide us with the tools for reaching our highest human potential.
How have you come into greater health, balance, and awareness through aligning with nature’s cycles and Ayurvedic practices?