Dr. Vasant Lad, M.A.Sc., is one of the world's foremost experts in Ayurveda. He holds a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery (B.A.M.S.), a Master of Ayurvedic Science (M.A.Sc.) and his academic and practical training includes the study of allopathic medicine (Western Medicine). In the U.S., he is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the Ayurvedic Institute, which he founded in 1984. Vasant Lad is the author of numerous books and respected throughout the world for his knowledge of Ayurveda.
MBG: How did you start practicing Ayurveda and what made you want to learn about it?
VL: When I was a kid back in the 50's my grandmother got very sick. We were very close and it was painful for me to see her so sick. She had a Nephrotic Syndrome with high blood pressure and swelling. The doctor at the local hospital was not even able to feel her pulse due to swelling. There were no powerful antibiotics or diuretics at that time and we were told that there was no way to help her. Reluctant to give up, my father called an Ayurvedic doctor, who made a special formula for my grandmother. He gave me precise instructions that I had to follow to prepare a daily ayurvedic concoction for her. Using 7 different herbs, carefully measuring their correct proportions, I would boil them down into a thick brew to give to my grandmother. Miraculously, in three weeks grandmother's swelling was gone, blood pressure was back to normal and kidney function improved. My grandmother happily lived until 95 and an old ayurvedic doctor who had me making the daily concoction told my father to send me to an Ayurvedic Medicine school. Here I am now.
Do you think a person has to be sick to introduce Ayurveda into their lifestyle?
Definitely, no. Ayurveda is useful for everyone because the main objective of Ayurveda is to preserve and maintain health. Those who are healthy will benefit from ayurveda by becoming stronger and having more energy; while those who are sick will be able to bring back their health in a natural way.
Ayurveda says that a poor digestion is the root cause of many diseases. However, modern doctors rarely ask about diet and digestion. Why is digestion so important in ayurveda?
Ayurveda talks a great deal about digestion and Agni. Agni means gastric fire, enzymes, and metabolism. A healthy strong Agni is really important for maintaining health. If Agni is low, then food will not be digested properly and undigested food will create toxic morbid metabolic waste. Undigested waste products create AMA - an ayurvedic term for toxins. According to ayurveda, Ama is the root cause of all disease. Ama is very sticky by nature and clogs up internal channels in the body. Toxins accumulated in the body weaken the immune system and we become vulnerable to infections; they adversely effect our digestion and eventually can lead to serious neurological problems. As you can see, low digestive fire (agni) and excess production of toxins in the body is the main reason that we get sick according to ayurveda. Ayurveda put a great emphasis on maintaining a healthy efficient digestion and elimination.
Some people say that our body naturally knows what it needs to be healthy and we just need to learn how to listen to it. What if someone hears only a constant craving for a chocolate cake?
To understand whether craving is healthy or not, one should be familiar with the Prakruti-Vikruti paradigm. According to Ayurveda, every person has a unique constitution called Prakriti – Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Prakriti is similar to a genetic code - you are born with it. However, during lifetime Prakriti has a tendency to change depending on the diet, age, lifestyle, job, environment and seasonal influences. External and internal influences produce an altered state of the constitution that is called Vikruti. Vikruti can create imbalance and lead to disease. Ayurveda says that a person should know his original constitution and take appropriate measures to keep it in balance.
Suppose my Vata is out of balance, then my body will crave hot spicy and oily foods. This is a healthy craving as the body is trying to create a natural balance for a dry and cold Vata. If Pitta is high then one will crave sweet and bitter tastes, which help to cool down fiery Pitta. And if Kapha is high, a person will crave something hot and spicy.
Understanding Prakriti and Vikruti paradigm allows to become fluent in the language of our own body and understand the origin of cravings. When the Vikruti imbalance is present, a person is more like to experience unhealthy cravings. Suppose a person has an excess of Kapha in the system and toxins are accumulated in the body. Over time accumulated Kapha will influence a person's nervous system and intelligence. As a result, a person with a Kapha imbalance who experiences weight gain, frequent colds, congestion, and cough will crave for ice cream, cheese, or yogurt. This craving is unhealthy and will lead only to more imbalance. Knowing you inborn constitution (Prakriti) and understanding your present state (Vikruti) will allow you to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy cravings. Our body knows how to create a perfect balance but we need to learn body’s language first to understand it.
Lately, there was a huge boom of energy drinks that are flooding supermarket shelves. Modern day people seem to be perpetually tired and the energy drinks are flying off the shelves. Is there a natural Ayurvedic energy drink?
In Ayurveda, a perfect energy drink should stimulate Agni (internal fire), improve digestion, and nutrient absorption. There are several energy boosting ayurvedic recipes. For someone with a chronic fatigue, a date shake would be very helpful. (Recipe: soak 3 fresh dates, remove the seed, blend with 1 cup of water, a pinch of ginger and cardamom.) One cup of a date shake will provide a lot of healthy energy. Similarly, almond milk is very nourishing and gives good energy. (Recipe: Soak 10 almonds and blend them with 1 cup of milk or water.) These 2 are wonderful Ayurvedic energy drinks. They are sattvic, pure, and natural. They give vigor, vitality, and a boost of energy.