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Why does Ayurveda place so much emphasis on factors like diet and lifestyle in treatment?
  • The individual, rather the patient, is an integral factor in the healing process and his/her full co-operation is essential to ensure the success of the treatment. Many a disease occurs when one goes against “nature” – to put it better, when one acts to the detriment of the needs of one’s body and mind on a regular basis. 
  • Thus even as a much abused car will eventually break down, a much abused body will also eventually succumb to the wear and tear of extreme tension. Even as a car requires daily and periodic maintenance, so does the body need to be looked after on a daily, monthly, seasonal and yearly basis. Even as the car cannot run on water or other liquids save what is specifically prescribed for the particular car model, so will the individual not sustain on an excessive and indiscriminate use of junk food as diet. 
  • Even as a car gets over-heated when used continuously without any rest, so does the body get over-heated and exhausted if not given periodic intervals of rest. Thus regulated diet and lifestyle are very important if one is to attain and maintain balance or harmony within and without.

Why is “pathya” (or regulated diet and lifestyle) given so much importance in Ayurveda – isn’t it very difficult to stick to an Ayurveda diet?
  • The importance of pathya has been explained in the previous answer. The concept of an “Ayurveda diet” is quite misleading. For, Ayurveda says that “there is nothing in this world that is not medicine (or food)”. Further Ayurveda says “there is nothing in this world that is absolutely good or absolutely bad”. 
  • Thus the important thing is to become fully aware of one’s own needs in the background of variables like place of residence, climate, foodstuffs natural to the particular place, one’s digestive potential etc., and to act accordingly. Thus what may be good for one person may not be good for another person in the context of all the involved variables. Another important point in this context is the rule that “one must exercise moderation in everything one eats or does” – otherwise even nectar can turn poisonous and thus bely its very purpose. 
  • However for the purpose of easy understanding, and based on some general rules, certain foodstuffs are normally classified as difficult to digest, and since most people do not have a very good digestive system, these foodstuffs are normally avoided. But it must be emphasised, that if an individual has a very good digestive system and if such a foodstuff can be beneficial to him/her, then it will certainly be advised. Thus there is no such thing as “Ayurveda diet” and very often most of the food we eat in a normal day is quite alright, and only small changes need to be made where necessary. For a patient, till the treatment is over or the disease is cured, the “pathya” will be applied more strictly, for here, the importance is given to the “treatment/medicines” rather than the food. 
  • The patient gets the greater part of his/her nutritional requirements from the treatment/medicines and hence it is important that the digestive system keeps its focus on the medicines and is not distracted by unnecessary food (which is mostly difficult to digest). But will I get the necessary nutrition from the food you prescribe? To me, it seems rather insufficient in terms of proteins and vitamins. 
  • As mentioned above, you will certainly get all the desired nutrition from the prescribed food, and more importantly from the prescribed medicines. The food may seem insufficient by itself but in combination with the treatment and medicines, your body is definitely being well cared for.

Does Ayurveda say NO to non-vegetarian food and alcohol?
  • Ayurveda does not say NO to non-vegetarian food and alcohol. The nutritional and therapeutic qualities of these substances are described in great detail in the Ayurveda texts, and in certain ailments, they are prescribed as medicine. Thus it is quite apparent that Ayurveda is not against non-vegetarian food and alcohol. However as described earlier, these substances generally fall in the category of “difficult to digest” foodstuffs and hence they are not normally recommended, especially during treatment. Further, at the mental level, Ayurveda describes 3 states of mind namely sattva or the pure state, rajas or the pro-active state and tamas or the indolent state. 
  • Ayurveda also says that the most subtle essence of the ingested food after digestion, goes on to form the mind. Generally, most non-vegetarian food and alcohol fall into the category of rajas and tamas and hence regular/excessive intake of these substances can lead to the affection of/reduction in the sattva or pure state of mind which will consequently lead to derangement of the thinking process, difficulty in comprehension, increased tension, emotional outbursts, restlessness, excessive sleep etc. based on the level to which one is affected. Since, according to Ayurveda, the mind and body are closely related and all diseases fall into the category of psycho-somatic, the body will also consequently be affected. 
  • Hence as a general rule, Ayurveda advocates vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol. If at all one would like to indulge one’s taste buds, these substances can be consumed “in moderation” on rare occasions, again keeping in mind one’s digestive capacity. During treatment at vaidyagrama and for the recommended period thereafter (as advised by your physicians), non vegetarian food and alcohol should definitely not be consumed.
What is the relevance of restrictions like total abstinence from exercise, talking, walking, cohabitation, exposure to sun, wind etc. – how important is this during the treatment process?
  • Dietary & lifestyle regimen play a key role in the entire treatment process. Ayurveda very clearly states that “all patients and all those who undergo treatment” should strictly follow prescribed regimen in order to get maximum benefit. Several reasons can be attributed to the need for lifestyle regimen. The primary among them is the need to get total physical & mental rest which is what we do not give ourselves. 
  • Even when we go on vacations, we actually try to do all the activities that we are unable to do on a normal working day, &  are ultimately more exhausted than ever before. Thus we never give our body and mind a break and this is why rest is so important in the process of regaining the natural harmony. We must also remember that the treatments we undergo are very intensive and can be compared to a major surgery and hence it is absolutely essential to ensure that the treatment is completed within the prescribed period without a break which may be caused by any untoward happening. 
  • Hence it is always better to be absolutely secluded during the treatment to minimise the risk of infection or any other problem.
Will not the sudden shift from the active to the passive mode create agitation and emotional turmoil which would then lead to the side effects of mental turmoil as described above?
  • It is true that some patients can experience intense bouts of restlessness leading to different types of emotional outbursts due to being subjected to prolonged spells of inactivity for probably the first time in their lives. This is why it is important to have a physician at close call during the period of the treatment so that he/she can continually monitor the patient and spend the necessary time required to help the patient to slowly come to terms with the inactivity, and at the same time ensuring that there is no blockage of any emotional release. It is extremely important here to have total faith in your physician and his/her healing abilities at both the physical and emotional levels as this will ease the pain and turmoil considerably.
Please specify each of the restrictions and the side effects that can occur by violation of the restrictions.
The Ayurveda texts clearly describe the probable side effects that can occur by violating the prescribed regimen. Please do remember that it is not absolutely compulsory that all these side effects occur in everyone who violates the regimen. It is only that there is a greater probability for occurrence of these problems in all those who violate the dietary and lifestyle regimen and that is why these restrictions need to be strictly implemented to ensure that the patient gets the best treatment and consequently maximises the benefit. Briefly put, they are as follows :

  • Excessive talking gives rise to insomnia, headache, piercing pain in the temples and ear, obstruction in ear, dryness in the mouth, palate and throat, defects of vision, thirst, fever, feeling of darkness, lockjaw, stiffness in the carotid regions, need to spit often, pain in the chest and sides, hoarseness of voice, hiccups and breathlessness.
  • Too much of sleep and travelling in vehicles will lead to laxity in big and small joints, pain particularly piercing one in the jaw, nose, ear and head, irritation in abdomen, gurgling sound in the abdomen, obstruction in the heart and senses, pain in the buttocks, sides, groins, scrotum, waist and back; weakness in joints, shoulder and neck, distress in the body, swelling in the feet, numbness, tingling sensation etc.
  • Walking can cause pain in the feet, shanks, thighs, knees, groins, buttocks and back; weakness in legs, piercing pain, cramps in the calf muscles, bodyache, distress in the shoulder, dilatation of veins and arteries, breathlessness, cough etc.
  • Excessive sitting will lead to the same problems as those while travelling in a vehicle and in addition, giddiness, nausea and immobility may develop.
  • Intake of food during indigestion and before the previous meal has been digested will lead to dryness of mouth, flatulence, colic, piercing pain, thirst, lassitude, vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting, fever, tenesmus and food poisoning.
  • Indulging in irregular and unwholesome diet will lead to loss of desire for food, debility, abnormal complexion, itching, eczema, lassitude and disorders caused by vitiated vata such as dysentery, piles etc.
  • Intake of uncooked food will cause the production of toxins, vomiting, fever etc.
  • Day sleep can lead to aggravation of kapha and its complications like enlargement of the spleen, anaemia, oedema etc., loss of appetite, indigestion, loss of digestive fire, feeling of wetness; paleness, itching, eczema, burning sensation, vomiting, bodyache, heartblock, dullness, drowsiness, excessive sleep, appearance of nodules, debility, smearing in eyes, palate etc. There can also be complications of jaundice etc. by day sleep.
  • Indulgence in copulation can lead to instant loss of strength, lassitude in the thighs; pain in the head, pelvis, anus, genitals, groins, thighs, knees, shanks and feet, palpitation in the heart, pain in the eyes, laxity in body parts, genital bleeding, cough, breathlessness, feebleness of voice, weakness in the waist, scrotal swelling, retention of flatus, faeces and urine, dullness, trembling, deafness and depression. There can also occur life threatening diseases like convulsions and hemiplegia, a feeling as though consciousness is fleeing or pain as if the rectum is being torn or a feeling as though hot smoke is coming out of the genitals or as if the mind is going into darkness.
  • By suppressing the natural urges like need to pass flatus, urine, faecus etc. the vata moves in the upward direction causing trouble to the entire body.
  • Mental turmoil like a fit of anger agitates pitta and produces pitta originated problems like thirst, burning sensation etc.; grief causes a distracted state of mind.
  • The use of cold water and other cold things tends to aggravate the Vata and brings on an aching pain in the limbs, feeling of fullness of stomach, distension of abdomen and shivering.
  • Undue exposure to the sun and wind produces fever and discolouration of the complexion.
It is actually said that these restrictions are applicable for not just the duration of the treatment, but for double the period after the treatment or till the disease is completely cured whichever is later.