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My Ayurvedic Treatment

by Judith Kurens

When I first consulted with Vaidya Vasudha Gupta, a founder of American Ayurveda, five years ago, I had given up hope thatI would ever recover my optimal physical and emotional health.  I was cut off from my body’s natural rhythms –my energy levels peaked and plummeted, again and again, all through the day,leaving me alternately revved up or lethargic.   I was very anxious.  I was starting to age prematurely.  Plus, body functions that most people take for granted, like digestion and moving my bowels, were stubbornly blocked creating acute abdominal and lower back pain and bloating.  I had by that time, tried countless traditional western medical “remedies” but my ailments remained the same.  A friend told me about Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient holistic health care system. Ayurveda, which is practiced as traditional medicine in India and as an alternative medicine in other parts of the world, restores health by correcting imbalances that exist between all aspects of the individual’s life - physical, mental,emotional and environmental.   Once Vaidya Gupta determines what the imbalance is she prescribes a corrective, healthy diet, encourages lifestyle changes including stress reduction and exercise, and prescribes herbal remedies which she makes herself.

At the time I first visited Vaidya Gupta, I would jump-start myself every day with a pot of coffee and Kellogg’s cornflakes with an iced strawberry drink made from powder. I drank at least another 4 cups of coffee throughout the day.   When my body felt fatigued, because the caffeine levels were low, I’d just drink another cup.  I didn’t realize, then, that so much coffee was actually suppressing my body’s natural energy from manifesting and feeding my anxiety level, which was already abnormally high.  It was not just the coffee.  Coffee exacerbated my body’s natural tendency toward dehydration.  Back then I even had a dry eye syndrome:  my eyes were not producing enough tears, causing vision problems.  At this time I was also addicted to Klonopin,an anti-anxiety medication.

When I arrived at Vaidya Gupta’s office I was surprised by her address:  it’s located in the heart of the diamond district near Times Square.  I would learn later, that she shared the office with her husband, a gemologist, who handles all her administrative tasks.  I was equally surprised how quickly I became acclimated to her office. She both put me so at ease and also got my full attention.   She confirmed that I felt comfortable in my seat across from where she sat behind her desk. Then she asked me to tell her the salient features of my personal past and present  - emotional, psychological and physical.  Unexpectedly, she asked me what my favorite food was.  I told her coffee.  Then she said she wanted to take my pulse.  I extended my right arm and then the left.  As we sat for several minutes in silence, I was taken by the aura of serenity that seemed to emanate from this tiny woman and fill the room. I sensed that this woman, with the big heart and keen mind, would restore my health.

As she averted her glance while reading my pulse, I gazed at her beautiful face.  The only makeup she uses is a red dot between her two eyebrows.   For Hindus, it is an ornamental marker for the sixth chakra, the seat of wisdom,and it is known as a “bindi”.   I still would have recognized her faith without the bindi because her face radiates health, compassion and wisdom.  In turn she read my signs without my telling her of my addictions, my poor eating habits, my physical and emotional ailments.  She read this in my pulse and summed it up in one word:  vata.  When a Western medical doctor takes a person’s pulse, the only thing he/she detects is the rhythm of the heart.  Not so for Vaidya Gupta. Through her training in Pulse Analysis she can access multiple levels of the radial pulse, enabling her to read and interpret the status of the organs, the symptoms of the body as well as the physical and mental constitutions of the individual.  Imbalances and potential disease states canbe detected in their early stages and corrected early on.  This diagnostic gift enables Vaidya Gupta to achieve extraordinary medical reversals. She earned the degree of Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery  (BAMS) from R.A. Podder Medical College of Mumbia University, in India after finishing the required 5 ½ years of study and a mandatory medical internship.  Afterwards, she completed a concentration oftwo years of post-bachelor studies in both Allopathy (Western Medicine) and Ayurveda which enabled her to practice both medical disciplines in India, where she practiced for 10 years.  She also studied Sanskrit, the language in which the original texts of Ayurveda are written, to enhance her understanding of this ancient form of medicine.  She earned the title of Vaidya, a term used in India to refer to practitioners of Ayurveda. 

When I asked her what “vata” means she explained to me the meaning of the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.  According to Ayurveda, the body, and everything in the universe, is made up of the five basic elements:  earth, water, fire, air and ether.   Vata represents air and ether.  Pitta is the fire along with water.  Kapha is water and earth.   These are biological principles whose articular combination in one’s body determines one’s constitution.  When these forces are in equilibrium, the person is healthy.  When there is an imbalance, say, due to an unhealthy diet or stressful lifestyle, as is true for many people, the body gets sick.  There are many variations of imbalance based on any of a number of possible combinations of vata, pitta and kapha acting in conjunction.    But inmost people one, possibly two, of the three conditions are manifesting in such a way to cause the body to be out of sync. Vaidya Gupta arrives at a medical determination by making an analysis of the pulse; evaluating the condition of the hair, nails and tongue; assessing the foods and addictions the patient craves. These factors, tallied together, indicate how the person’s current constitution (vikruti) has diverged from the constitution he/she was born with (prakruti).

In my case, vata predominates.  Vata characteristics start in infancy with a predilection to sucking the thumb.  When vata ceases we die because it regulates the life force:  breath. I have all the following attributes of vata: dry, light, cold, rough,subtle, mobile, and clear.  Vata is the principle of mobility, determining how quickly thoughts pass through the mind to how quickly food moves through the intestine. Vata individuals walk and talk quickly.  They have rapid mood changes.   With irregular appetite and thirst vata individuals often experience digestive and absorbent problems. Vata individuals are dry:  they have dry skin, hair, lips and tongue.  Because of a dry colon they tend toward constipation.  They tend to ave a slight build and are often underweight. They hate cold and love heat; have cold hands and feet and poor circulation.  They have rough, cracked skin, nails, hair, teeth, hands and feet.  They are astringent: have dry choking sensation in throat; get hiccoughs and burping, crave sweets, sour and salt.   Yes, amazingly, all of these attributes fit me perfectly 

After we confirmed the fit, Vaidya Gupta then counseled me on what to eat and what habits and addictions to give up.  She told me starting the morning with coffee and an iced drink was poisonous to me. She said coffee triggers the vata tendency to anxiety and cold exacerbates the vata proclivity to dryness, which in turn triggers the anxiety.  When she told me I was mistaken to believe that a tossed salad was good for me I was as surprised as if she had told me binging on sugar was actually good for my health.  She stood her ground, and told me that in fact people with vata dispositions become more imbalanced by eating cold vegetables.   Also, she says even if I eat healthfully, if my food is cold my body can’t absorb the nutrients.    I am essentially eating empty calories which leaves me low in energy and craving stimulants like coffee.  The tuna fish sandwich I’d customarily eat for lunch is likewise a poison:  it has a high level of mercury.  As if this wasn’t too much to digest, she said,  “Say ahhh.”  She confirmed that my gums had cankerous sores, which I was aware of but had no idea as to its cause.  She told me I was allergic to the artificial sweeteners in chewing gum.  Also she taught me that certain foods that are fine when eaten alone are noxious to the body when eaten in combination:  together they can overload agni, the digestive fire, inhibiting the enzyme system and resulting in the production of toxins. For a long time after being treated by Vaidya Gupta I experienced indigestion every morning after eating oatmeal and melon until she told me that melon, in combination with most foods, is toxic.  My skin was just another manifestation of my dry, vata nature.  She told me that water is the only beverage that adequately hydrates the body and that I should drink 6 to 8 cups a day. 

She devised a diet for me rich in nutrients,fibers and antioxidants like fruit, vegetables and green tea.  She explained to me that certain spices and foods aid digestion – like ghee (Indian butter), ginger root, fennel seeds, anise and black pepper.   She encouraged the lifestyle changes I was then setting in motion, including exercise and meditation.   Knowing that it would take me a long time to stop my addictions and adopt a healthy diet she promptly prescribed her hand made herbal remedies to balance the salient vata features:  Brahmi Vati that treats the condition at its source, Erand Harataki to assist my bowel movement,and Nutri-F capsules to nourish my skin.

 Ittook a long time to achieve, but I’ve been off coffee and Klonopin now for years.  I am demonstratively less anxious.  Vaidya Gupta’s relaxation techniques  - especially a deep breathing exercise - give me palpable relief.   Also efficacious are self-massaging practices like applying pressure at my temples and bridge of my nose.  As far as my energy level goes, now when I feel low I eat a simple, and quick to cook, vegetarian meal or snack on fruit.  I eat foods that are high in fiber and antioxidents. I eat lots of grains and cereals.  I do not eat red meat.  As a result of these practices, I have good energy throughout the day.   My skin no longer has that harsh and pasty look that people, who imbibe chemicals and don’t hydrate, have.  I don’t chew gum or eat food containing artificial sweeteners.  My dentist now tells me that I have great gums.

Vaidya Gupta teaches Ayurveda at New York University Medical School, the Open Center and at the DINacharya Institute.  DINacharya offers courses in Ayurveda, holistic health, nutrition and related studies geared to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine practitioners, yoga instructors, nurses and doctors who wish to integrate Ayurveda into their existing practice, aswell as to the layperson who wishes to incorporate Ayurvedic self-care into their lifestyle.  There are no prerequisites for Vaidya Gupta’s course and students who complete it are awarded an Ayurvedic Health Coach Certificate.   In addition, Vaidya Gupta works as a consultant to medical doctors seeking an holistic approach to their practice.  She has nearly completed a cookbook.

 Uday, Vasudha’s husband, has been handling all of his wife’s administrative tasks since she started her practice in New York in 2005.  He always greets me cordially; he treats me with the same care he would show a relative.  He explains that his wife’s practice generates so much work for him that he has been neglecting his own career as a gemologist.  He explains he does so joyfully.  “I feel I must support Vasudha.  What she does helps so many people.”  He says she can’t both carry her caseload and handle the billing, record keeping, and mailing and tracking of herbs and oils.  “We both enjoy giving back.  We both have to make a living and doing something that helps people is the highest honor.”  However, he jokes that he is aging out of his administrative position and that in time Vasudha will have a new administrative assistant.  Although Vasudha says proudly a replacement that meets his perfectionist standards simply does not exist, they both anticipate the time when he will focus on his work with jewels and pursue his wish to teach astrology.

Both Uday and Vasudha are  passionately eager to spread the word about this priceless ancient heritage, not only because it saves lives but because if more people practiced the Ayurvedic path of nutritious eating, yoga and meditation the world would be a better place. 

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