Dr. Sudhindra Uppoor is a renowned Ayurvedic physician, who has been practising for over 20 years. He has done his graduation in Ayurveda from Mangalore University and his post-graduation (M.D in Ayurveda) from Gujarat Ayurveda University. We discuss where ayurveda originated from, how it differs from conventional medicine and how we can apply lessons from this ancient healthcare system to help us through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
1. Ayurveda is one of the oldest healthcare systems in the world and has gained popularity recently with many celebrity followers due to its holistic and bespoke way of addressing health. Where did Ayurveda originate from?
Ayurveda is the most ancient medical system in the world. The first written manuscript on Ayurveda, called Charaka Samhita, dates back to 6th Century BC but it is much older than that as prior to then knowledge was spread by recitation from one generation to the next. The second key text in Ayurveda is Sushruta Samhita, written in 4th Century BC. It is the first book on surgery in the world. The author mentioned how to heal wounds, fractures and was the first person to dissect a dead body. Did you know that the English word cadaver comes from the sanskrit term ‘cadevorum’ which means dead body? He conducted the first dissection of a cadaver by tying a dead body to the flowing banks of a river to allow it to not spoil, and studied human anatomy. Ashtanga Sangraha is the third key text, which is a compilation of the previous Ayurvedic knowledge in an easily comprehensible form. It was published in 4th Century AD and is well read today due to its ease of understanding. These books are written like poetry, so when you read them aloud you feel like you are singing a song.
2. How is Ayurveda different to the conventional medical system from the West?
If you visit a conventional doctor, an allopathic doctor, they focus on your symptoms i.e. if you have a fever you will be given medicine to stop it. When it comes to Ayurveda, you have to analyse two important things: the prakriti, also known as the body constitution of the patient and the vikriti, the body disbalance of the patient. Treatment is then prescribed based on the physical and mental state of the patient and by taking into account their individual body type. Ayurveda places an emphasis on the root cause of the disease.
We also place a lot of emphasis on the mind in Ayurveda. For example, rituals like reciting a chant or a prayer before a detox treatment are carried out to boost the psychological confidence of both the patient and the doctor. It provides them with mental confidence to go forward. You can say it cleans your mind before you clean your body. Ayurveda also attributes a lot of diseases in the body to a dysfunctioning gut. A healthy gut can treat most of your issues and we say that following a proper diet is as important as the medicines you are taking in helping to cure disease.
3. It’s fascinating as the importance of understanding an individual’s body type and the importance of the gut in disease are concepts that conventional medicine is only starting to incorporate now, while it has been written in Ayurvedic texts thousands of years ago. Why is diet so important for our health?
Every person, both looks-wise and health-wise is just a reflection of their gut. Therefore, it is very important to keep excellent gut health. Food is one of the three pillars of Ayurveda. They are ahar (food), nidra (sleep), and abrahmacharya (activity). You must be eating well, sleeping for at least 7 hours a night and engaged in physical activity to be in good health. Importantly, these three pillars differ depending on your body constitution. The food you eat and the type of physical activity you require must be tailored to your body constitution. The food that is good for me, might not be good for you. Each and every plant on our planet is a medicine to one and a poison to another.
4. How does Ayurveda help control your mind?
In Ayurveda a lot of emphasis is laid upon the mind, it is mentioned in the texts regarding sadh vrita , sadh means good and vrita means conduct. Here the text discusses how you should emphasize good conduct, like respecting fellow beings, keeping away from greed, anger, envy and jealousy, respecting teachers and elders, and giving back what you have to society. By doing all these, one can prevent a huge list of autoimmune diseases, which are so predominant in today’s society, the root cause of these diseases being a disbalanced mind.
5. How have you introduced your own understanding of health into your ayurvedic practice?
When you follow Ayurveda, you follow two things: the texts and your intuitions. You need to learn how to connect the lines. For example, in Ayurveda the practice revolves around the patient’s body constitution and understanding the individual’s body type for determining the course of treatment, but in the traditional text, the entire concept of body constitution is mentioned just in one stanza. So one has to read in between the lines, get guidance from mentors who are well versed in the science, and have a strong sense of intuition.
6. How can Ayurveda be used to treat patients suffering from COVID-19 and help us build immunity to fight off the virus?
Pandemics are described very well in the ancient Ayurvedic text called Sushruta Samhita that I mentioned earlier. This text describes the etiology for the pandemic, the symptoms and the line of treatment very clearly. Interestingly, one of the reasons mentioned in the text for the pandemic is mistreatment of fellow living beings and not following a righteous path. The symptoms mentioned in the text for the pandemic are cough, breathlessness, vomiting, running nose, sneezing, headache, and fever which exactly matches COVID-19 symptoms today. While discussing the line of treatment for the pandemic, the text has used an interesting word called prayaschita which means to renounce or to repent, indicating that hurting fellow living beings, and polluting and disrespecting the rules of nature are the main causes of the pandemic. Apart from repentance and following a righteous path, the text also mentioned various rejuvenating and immunity boosting medicines as the line of treatment for the pandemic.
7. Ayurveda also places a huge importance on preventative health and building our immune system so that we are more resilient to such public health crises. What can we be doing to build our immunity at this time?
One home remedy that I suggest everyone to drink every morning on an empty stomach is the following: 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper powder, half a lime squeezed in, one teaspoon of honey, all mixed in a glass of warm water. This drink helps build immunity. One herb that I suggest is ashwagandha, which is a rejuvenating, immune boosting herb and also has the capacity to balance both body and mind, which is really important during this uncertain time. The part used in ashwagandha for its medical value, is the root. Other important herbs worth mentioning are Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) and herbs like kalamegha, bhumyamalaki for its excellent antiviral properties.
8. What are three top tips you think are most important for us to incorporate into our daily routine?
Here I would like to give one tip for the mind, one for food and one for activity. For the mind, it is so important to be happy and cheerful and to keep away from negative thoughts such as jealousy and anger and envy. It is vital to experience the joy of living. The second tip for food follows three aspects: hit bhuk, to eat the food which is wholesome to you based on your body constitution, mit bhuk, to eat in moderation and kshut bhuk, to eat only when you are hungry. The third tip on activity is to do 45 minutes of physical activity every day and to sleep for at least 7 hours a day. These three tips are essential for good health.