How ayurveda can help eczema sufferers

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How ayurveda can help eczema sufferers
How ayurveda treats the root cause rather than just the symptom

"Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond" Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana 1.42-34

◆Ayurveda: Life Knowledge
I wasn't familiar with Ayurveda or its philosophy until spending a few months in India recently, but the principles that it's founded upon instinctively made sense to me. I was in Rishikesh to deepen my yoga practice when I discovered the close connection between yoga and Ayurveda. I decided to see what Ayurveda had to offer for my eczema issues.

Ayurveda is an ancient form of healthcare and medicine that has existed in the Indian tradition for over 5,000 years. The wisdom that it has collected over such a vast span of time cannot be undermined. Modern science has only recently begun to discover that the mind-body link is inextricable, yet Ayurveda (Sanskrit for "life knowledge") treats the body and the mind, rather than just the symptom that happens to be causing us trouble at the time. In other words, Ayurveda begins with the root cause of an ailment, and builds up a treatment based on whatever imbalance that is present at that base level. Western medicine works backwards; if the symptom is itchy skin, we apply a cream that suppresses the itch, but the root problem – perhaps a faulty immune system caused by anxiety, or a leaky gut caused by stress - remains.

◆The Dance of the Doshas
Ayurveda is based on the principle of the three doshas, Vata (wind and space), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water). All biological existence is a dance of these elements, and the human body is no exception. The doshas are the factors that produce the physical body and are responsible for its substance and its function. For instance, our digestive system is mainly pitta (fire), and our nervous system primarily vata (wind). When all three doshas are in balance, no disease can be present. However it's a very fine balancing act, and we are each pre-disposed to have an imbalance of one or the other, based partly on our constitutions at birth, and partly on our diets and lifestyles.

I was diagnosed as Vata-Pitta, meaning that my air and fire elements were over-active. As I have always been pre-disposed to anxiety, insomnia, and dry skin, the Vata imbalance seemed obvious. The doctor explained that the Pitta imbalance is mainly in my digestive system. Because my digestive system is over-active, nutrients aren't being absorbed properly, resulting in a build-up of toxins. Almost everyone has this build-up of toxins, but it manifests itself in different ways. In eczema sufferers, the toxins are eliminated through the skin.

◆Ayuskama Clinic
Dr Kumar at Ayuskama Clinic in Rishikesh (http://www.ayuskamaayuryogaschool.com/ was recommended to me by a friend for his extensive knowledge. At the time, I was suffering from eczema around my eyes and neck, and arrived prepared with my list of symptoms to describe to the doctor. But rather than asking what my symptoms were, he immediately started asking things like how often I pee, how regular my periods are, and what time I go to bed. Many of the questions were things I had never even considered important before - what time I eat dinner, and what temperature the water I drink is.

He then diagnosed my constitution, and told me what my symptoms probably were - insomnia, light-headedness, and anxiety, as well as of course skin disorders. I was very much convinced by his gentle yet assertive approach, and resolved to have faith in what he prescribed - an enormous leap for an eczema sufferer who has been in the hands of countless steroid-pushing allopathic doctors in the past.

◆Treatment
The doctor wanted to recommend an internal cleanse where diarrhoea is induced to clear the digestive tract of unwanted waste. However the process required three weeks, and I was only in Rishikesh for a few more days (I'll admit to a slight sigh of relief).

I was given three herbal pills which I was to take twice a day for the next three months. I was also given a list of things that I should and shouldn't eat. Most recommendations were not surprising. I was told to eat less yoghurt and sour foods like pickles, whereas I was told to consume more milk and ghee. I put this down to Ayurveda being linked with Hinduism and the worship of cows - dairy is consumed in copious quantities in India, and so it unsurprisingly features on the dietary recommendations.

The only emollient suggested was ghee (clarified butter), which came in a small pot. It felt strange to apply butter to my skin, and the smell of cow was less than charming, but its anti-inflammatory properties did seem to work, especially on my neck.

In order to pacify my airy Vata qualities, it was recommended that I practice certain breathing techniques (pranayama), in particular alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodan) and full yogic breathing (http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/yoga/full-yogic-breath)

I was also told to take Triphala every evening before bed, the magic combination of Amalaki, Bbibhikati, and Haritaki, which cleanses the digestive tract of old built-up toxins.

◆Results
The herbs had an immediate cleansing effect on my digestive system, and having now taken them for a month, my skin is doing better. It flares less often and heals more quickly. I've also been practicing yoga and breathing techniques every day, and eating vata and pitta-pacifying foods. Most noticeably, my digestion in general has improved since taking the doctor's advice, which is a good sign given that gut health is strongly linked to skin health. However it can take a while for the results to show through.


◆How Ayurveda can help eczema sufferers
Just because I was diagnosed as Vata-Pitta does NOT mean that all eczema sufferers have the same imbalance. Eczema can be caused by any number of internal imbalances, and unfortunately the nature of atopic dermatitis is that we all have to figure out our own solutions. Ayurveda may not hold the key to immediately solving our eczema problems, but we can all certainly benefit from the lifestyle advice it has to offer.

Modern Western medicine undeniably has many advantages, particularly for short-term acute symptoms. However for treating chronic, long-term conditions such as eczema, a more naturopathic approach as advocated by Ayurveda seems far more fitting. Ayurveda's heavy focus on healing from within, from both the digestive system and the mind, makes perfect sense for eczema patients. It may not be a life-threatening condition, but we cannot live life fully if we are suffering. Ayurveda recognises this, and that simply covering up the symptoms with a 'band-aid' of steroid creams and heavy emollients is not the answer. It was a breath of fresh air to be in a country where this attitude towards healing chronic conditions was a given, rather than treated with suspicion as it often is in the West.

Here is a round-up of certain Ayurveda 'rules' that apply to everyone, regardless of constitution or symptoms:
• Drink warm water (not ice cold)
• Chew well
• Do not drink water half an hour before and one hour after meals, as it disrupts the activity of digestive juices
• Rise early, exercise and mediate, and then eat breakfast
• Eat dinner by 7.30pm
• Sleep by 10pm


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