An Introduction to Ayurveda, and Organic India’s Role in Helping the Planet
I have been on a life long journey to learn as much as I can about health. It all started when I was in grade school, some 40 years ago. I wound up going to medical school as that seemed the logical choice to learn more about how to stay healthy and prevent disease.
But, as you can certainly imagine, that was not the case.
While I appreciate the required knowledge base of medical sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and biochemistry, the primary focus was, and still largely is, on disease and diagnosis. Very little attention is given to what you can do to harness the innate healing power of your body.
I have studied many different disciplines over the last 40 years, and have reached some conclusions and developed certain principles of how to stay healthy that have served me and many others very well. However, of all the different approaches to health that I have reviewed, the one discipline that I most strongly resonate with is Ayurveda. Although not a common practice in the U.S., it has been used for over 5,000 years in India. At the end of this article I have compiled some of the reasons why I believe this to be the case.
However, I want to share with you a new and exciting part of my journey.
Last summer my team became aware of one of the leading companies of Ayurvedic medicine, called Organic India.
I ended up meeting with the founder of the company here in Chicago, and he shared with me their amazing story. His story was so compelling that last November I took a nonstop 15-hour flight from Chicago to Delhi, and then traveled many more hours by car over very slow Indian roads (where it is perfectly legal to pass any vehicle at anytime under any circumstances and under any conditions so long as you loudly blow your horn) to meet their organic farmers in person, and participate in their annual Tulsi Harvest festival where I was a guest speaker.
While in India, I was able to speak to many thousands of the farmers regarding my admiration for their work and setting a great example for farmers around the world.
It was one of the most incredible journeys I’ve ever taken, as you can imagine just by looking at some of the more than 3,000 pictures that were taken while I was there.
While I was there I also had the opportunity to interact extensively with one of the most well respected Ayurvedic physicians in the world, Dr. Narendra Singh.
Over ten years ago, the founder of Organic India, his wife, and a small group of friends, had a vision to produce high quality, organic Ayurvedic herbs as they were becoming progressively more difficult to find in India. This was largely a result of the effective penetration of chemical companies, which had the majority of farmers using pesticides and fertilizers and other chemicals that resulted in very poor quality plants.
Now you might think that Organic India was looking at this as a marvelous business opportunity, but the truth is they truly did not need the money -- they were already financially secure. Like Bill Gates, they decided to use their wealth for philanthropical purposes.
They recognized that the traditional Indian farming community was highly oppressed, largely as a result of Western introduced agribusiness principles that had devastated this class of people. The situation was so bad that the most common cause of death among Indian farmers was suicide, typically by swallowing the very same pesticides they used to grow their crops.
So the founders of Organic India, against enormous political resistance, attempted to start an organic farming community that would grow the highest quality Ayurvedic herbs on the planet.
Initially the farmers were highly skeptical of Organic India because they were foreigners. Most farmers refused to cooperate with them.
However one of the elder farmers agreed to participate, along with eight others from his village. This pioneering farmer is still alive, and I had the privilege of meeting him personally while I was visiting. He is the Indian gentleman in the middle of the picture saying Namaste’ -- bidding me goodbye -- as I left his farm.
So, Organic India started their first project with just nine farmers, 11 years ago. They encountered several major political hurdles as the certification community wanted each independent farmer to go through the expensive and detailed organic certification process, rather than letting Organic India do it for everyone.
But eventually Organic India prevailed. It is estimated that 150,000 farmers, tribal people and their communities around India have been touched directly or indirectly by the work of Organic India -- a true testament to the major impact just a handful of people with a vision can have on a larger community, and the world at large!
Not only has the financial status of these frequently poor farmers improved and their dignity returned, but Organic India has also built schools and hospitals to care for these workers and their families.
So Just What is Ayurveda?
The word Ayurveda roughly translates as “The Science of Life.” According to Ayurveda, first noted by the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Charaka: human life is the combination of mind, body, senses and soul.
Ayurveda acknowledges that your senses and your mind work in conjunction with one another and greatly influence your physiology.
Ayurveda is not just a medical system. It sees human beings as an integral part of nature. It believes that you should live in harmony with nature just as the animals and plants do, and utilize the laws of nature to create health and balance within. It adheres to this focus in guiding you to maintain health by using the inherent principles of nature to bring you back into equilibrium with your true self.
Today, these spiritual aspects of Ayurveda have taken a back seat to the medical focus. As Ayurveda becomes more commercially viable, the spiritual aspects may continue to lose ground. Yet there are a growing number of practitioners who employ these spiritual therapies and find better results than limiting their approach only to the medical, physical realm.
Ayurveda describes three fundamental energies that govern our health and well being, and are seen both in our internal and external environments. Called ‘doshas’, these three energies are known as:
- Vata (Air/Wind)
- Pitta (Fire/Sun)
- Kapha (Earth & Water)
Ayurveda sees these primary forces in a unique combination in every individual, and as relating to the characteristics of your mind and body, and designs treatment protocols that specifically address your underlying health challenges.
Herbs are often recommended to supplement the nutritional requirements on a regular basis to build and maintain a healthy physiology. Many Ayurvedic herbs are now recognized to be the most potent and powerful adaptogens on the planet. Adaptogens are natural herb products that can increase your body's resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue, and since stress is now known to be a significant factor in over 80 percent of all illnesses, these herbs are very useful and beneficial in any health program designed to promote and maintain your health.
The Controversy and Competition Grows Over Ayurvedic Herbs in the West
Growing awareness in the west of the efficacy of Ayurvedic herbs and formulations has led to controversy and battles with the western pharmaceutical companies trying to patent these herbs.
Only recently appreciated in the west, Ayurvedic herbs such as Neem, Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Turmeric, and Brahmi as well as traditional preparations have long been known to have significant medicinal value without adverse side effects.
Several pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions in the west have come into conflict with Indian academic institutions and traditional Ayurvedic practitioners over the intellectual property rights of herbal products researched by the western agencies.
Ayurvedic practitioners have known about the efficacy of such products for centuries, and so contend that they carry precedence with regards to patent rights on such products.
Unfortunately, as is usually the case, anything that cannot be patented and monopolized by Big Pharma rarely gets much attention in Western medical practice. So despite the fact that Ayurvedic medicine IS a recognized medicine, which has been proven and successfully used for over 5,000 years, the West is still lagging behind in widespread acceptance within conventional medicine.
The Future of Ayurveda in the West
Although clinical practice, research and education in Ayurvedic medicine remain the most authentic in India, increasing attempts are being made by westerners to export the essence of Ayurveda to complement their own medical systems. The NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association-USA) is one of several groups seeking to set standards for Ayurveda in the west.
There are currently 26 schools in the US and dozens in Europe that teach 500+ hour courses to certify Ayurvedic Health Practitioners.
In the United States, the NIH NCCAM expends some of its $123 million budget on Ayurvedic medicine research, and the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine, established by Dr. Scott Gerson, is an example of a research institute that has successfully carried out research into Ayurvedic practices.
Hopefully, as awareness grows about this ancient holistic system of medicine -- in fact, the oldest known form of healthcare in the world -- Ayurveda may rise to the forefront of alternative medicine here in the west.
I will do my part by sharing more information from my journey to India, and the heart of Ayurvedic practice, in the near future.