Ayurveda Philosophy in Western Culture

Reposted from the Spiritual Sunflower blog, originally posted on June 4th, 2019

This written piece was a part of my junior thesis project at Florida Southern College. It explores the relationship between Ayurveda health and modern western medicine.


Ayurveda introduces new philosophies and ideas that can contribute to Western society and medicine.

In American medicine, our approach so far has been that being healthy is the absence of disease. Considering that over 50% of Americans are suffering from chronic diseases, this is a very limiting mindset. 

With so much of Western medicine immediately turning to drugs, which has given scientific evidence that it really does help, there’s actually health conditions and individuals that are becoming resistant to the first choice of treatment. 

“If the National Prevention Council is smart, it will incorporate Ayurvedic principles into its recommendations: movement, clean food, mental cleansing, emotion management, connection with inner self,” Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MD, MPH, Ayurvedic physician and pioneer in Ayurvedic education, said.


What can Ayurveda contribute to the west?


Western medicine and tradition has so far been based on science, which lead to the creation of drugs to kill bacteria and achieve “health.” But now some bacteria is drug resistant, others like a virus cannot be cured with drugs, and in many situations such as surgery, the body is actually being further hurt in order to heal. 

“Now that we have learned the concept of Western medicine has limitations, we have started to learn about alternative medicine,” Professor Marshall at Florida Southern, said.

Nutrition and digestion is at the heart of Ayurveda, similar to Western medicine’s practice. When visiting a health professional, the first aspect observed of a patient’s life is their diet and exercise because these keep our body systems regular. 

“Roughly 80% of all chronic disease has its root in poor diet and dysfunctional digestion,” Dr. Rothenberg, MD, said.

Often times the term “diet” has a negative or limiting connotation because of popular fad diets, but for a nutritionist like Abigail Elias at Florida Southern College, the term diet is really how an individual lives their life, and what their nutrition looks like on a daily basis.

“Your diet is going to look a lot different than my diet, because of your shape, because of your size, maybe whatever you’re going through that year because a lot of the times food is attributed to emotion, and even activity level,” Elias said. 

Ayurveda also introduces principles that the Western culture does not have, which can be incorporated into American medicine.

Catie Moat practices meditation.


“The most important principle is that there is an underlying, unified, inner field of intelligence which governs the entire body,” Dr. Rothenberg said. 

Things such as an imbalance in stomach PH, bacterial overgrowth and enzyme dysfunction can all lead to improper digestion and inflammation that can spread throughout the body and cause further complications. Ayurveda describes this process as an imbalance in Pitta that leads to the buildup of improperly digested food byproduct called Ama.

For example, a physician may observe signs of “fire” or excess Pitta building in the body which may later show itself as ulcers, joint inflammation or skin problems such as rashes or acne. In this way, Ayurveda can be used in conjunction to Western disease classification.

Ayurveda also utilizes simple routines to help balance the body and prevent any health troubles or disease.

“For someone who has a hard time with bowel movements, I would recommend waking up early enough to do a little stretching and movement, then drinking a cup of hot water and relaxing on the toilet before rushing into the day,” Ms. Garivaltis, with Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, said.

Alternative medicine such as aromatherapy uses essential oils for holistic healing and can be used in addition to Ayurveda philosophy.


Ayurveda practice incorporates an intense detoxification process, called Panchkarma. The Vedas outline these detoxification programs, which can be altered to suit any individual’s needs.

“The purge has to be done in a very controlled way, and it’s very important that during the process, the diet be very light,” said Dr. Rothenberg.

Panchkarma is often done in special locations such as spas so that patients can get a break from their daily lives wand detox with the help of trained professionals. Detoxification can also be simplified so patients can do it at home. 

It may take numerous trials and error to find a diet and detoxification process that works for an individual. Elias recommends keeping a food and activity log to help build connections between how someone is feeling and their daily life, as well as visiting your physician regularly and being as open with them as possible. 

By taking into consideration not only your physical health, but also your mental and emotional, Ayurveda provides insight for how an imbalance in life can lead to disease.


Ayurveda Philosophy


Ayurveda philosophy also centers around the three Doshas, or ways in which Atma, the universal life force, manifests itself. According to Ayurveda, every individual has a unique balance of the Doshas in their body, and imbalances can lead to health complications or mental blockages in life.

One of the Doshas, Vatta, represents air or wind and delegates the nervous system and inner activity such as breathing and circulation. Another Dosha, Kapha, represents the earth and water elements and provides structure, helps build tissue and stores energy. The last Dosha is known as Pitta, or fire, and is in control of digestion, metabolism, tissue breakdown and is responsible for any inflammation.

The balance of the Doshas is constantly changing and influenced by things such as diet, lifestyle and even the surrounding environment. By taking a close look at elements such as body structure, skin and hair type, diet, physical activity and even work life, one’s Doshic balance can be discovered and cared for. 

In today’s society, where it seems like it’s almost impossible to catch a break from work or school or family and the millions of other commitments everyone seems to have, Ayurveda shares an endlessly flexible practice that encourages the individual to slow down and listen to their body in order to live a life of health and abundance. Ayurveda is also the sister science to yoga, which has grown exponentially in Western culture.

Catie Moat practices yoga on Lake Hollingsworth. 

“In many ways, Ayurveda is a logical next step for Americans who’ve benefited from yoga,” Erik Goldman, Editor in Chief at Holistic Primary Care, said. 


Concerns with Ayurveda Intermingling with Western Culture


With Ayurveda’s rise in popularity across the world and particularly in American culture, there come many concerns that the authenticity and integrity of the practice may be compromised. In many ways, the culture of the United States is actually opposite that of Ayurveda, which poses some complex questions.

A few of these questions in exploration involve Ayurveda’s diet specifically. For example, in the Veda’s, the foods described are native to that region.

When it comes to Americans practicing Ayurveda, is it necessary for them to switch to this foreign diet in order to preserve Ayurveda, or is it pushing patients too far by by asking them to adapt to these new foods? In America this question becomes even more complicated because every individual has different ancestry and therefor come from cultures whose diet may differ from that of America and Ayurveda.

“You can’t eat all this processed food and be healthy because there’s ingredients in it that damage your body and throws off your balance. So you should be eating raw foods that provide energy and health,” Marshall said.

Alakanandra Ma, M.B., B.S. (Lond.), and Ayurvedic doctor and co-founder of Alandi Ayurvedic Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula, explains that there’s a couple different ways in which cultures meet.

The first is called Inculturation, where a new philosophy adopts the attire, language, food and even customs and architecture of the native culture. The second is called Sanskritization, which refers to the Sankrit language but also a gradual adoption of the diet, attire and Vedic culture. Sankritization also upholds the belief that Indian culture is more refined than that of the west.

“The advantage to this [Sankritization] approach is that we can be certain that, when we use the word Ayurveda, that is really what we are offering, in the most classical sense. We are taking full advantage of the wisdom of the sages, as well as of centuries of experience,” Ma said.

On the other hand, disadvantages to this approach of adopting Ayurveda are that some herbs imported from India, such as kutki, may soon be unavailable forever, and by taking a classical approach indigenous healing plants of other regions are not being used.

Moving forward, if western culture begins to depart from classic texts and modify Ayurveda’s philosophy to meet the culture of the west, we have to ask if it’s truly Ayurveda.

“Among ourselves, we must come to agreements regarding the proper and appropriate use of the term "Ayurveda", so that this sacred name of the Science of Life not become a mere exotic tagline, or a label for yet another form of self-indulgence for privileged people,” Ma said.

Ayurveda’s classics are the only source of its authority and authenticity, and while they can enrich and change many lives, if fame is the motive for adopting her into the west’s culture we will surely distort the philosophy until there is nothing left.  

“With this new outlook on Holistic healing, where if we can get our mind in a better mental state, our body will kind of follow with it, I think this new way to look at it is helpful,” Elias said.

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