Part 1: The Effects of Ayurveda on the Body, Mind and Identity
Before modern medicine became what it is today, the sages of India developed Ayurveda, one of the world’s most ancient, sophisticated and powerful health systems. Dating back more than 5,000 years, Ayurveda is the oldest recorded method of medicine. The literal meaning of Ayurveda is the science of life. It is a Sanskrit term, Ayur meaning life, veda meaning science. It is a sacred and ancient knowledge that has been passed down through generations of scholars and Vaidyas (doctors).
In real terms, Ayurveda is the art of healthy living and believes in the energy-based relationship between mind and body, viewing these as inextricably connected. Within the Ayurvedic practice, individuality is considered in every facet. The practice looks to heal and support the health of the human body through the power of daily routines, diet for specific body and mind types, assistance of natural herbs, yoga, meditation – and of course by living a life of positivity and absolute kindness. It is known that nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind itself. Ayurveda gives us the tools to understand our body and mind so we can be our own best doctor.
My name's Malak Kader and my personal journey with Ayurveda began unexpectedly, like all the best journeys do. I had been struggling with depression for a few months. Although my depression was mild it was taking a toll on me. Taxing me daily, I could almost feel the life force inside me being depleted in a way that I couldn’t really understand. I felt as if my life was out of my own control, I felt unmotivated, ungrounded, I was lost. Eventually, I was presented with a crossroads of sorts. I could either give up and succumb to what I felt had overtaken me and fall deeper into depression, or I could start to take control and dedicate my efforts to bettering and strengthening myself, with hard work, dedication and commitment.
I had naturally become a bit reclusive, deciding that I was no longer going to give my energy to things that didn't nurture my mind, body and soul. Instead I found myself wanting to invest in rebuilding my roots; the very core of my being which had been weakened after many years of wearing the mask of someone that I didn't feel I innately was.
Kerala is known as the home of unbroken traditions of Ayurveda due to the concentration of pure and ancient Ayurvedic knowledge that has been taught and practiced there for the past 5000 years. It also offers the best Ayurvedic health treatments due to the profusion of medicinal herbs that grow in its warm and wet climate. (Kerala offers more than 900 different Ayurvedic herbs as well as medicinal plants).
I found a place called Greens Ayurveda in a small town called Azhiyur, in the north of the southern state where I enrolled in a 3-month course which meant I would live and study on the premises. Greens is an Ayurvedic hospital and school that offers treatment and education to village locals as well as foreign visitors who come from all over the world to study and receive treatment. It was formed in 2000 by Dr Ashgar, the owner and head doctor of Greens Ayurveda.
The hospital and school is situated in the middle of the village between the locals dwellings. Everything is close and interlinked by terracotta sanded streets, draped with trees and beautiful hibiscus flowers. I found myself happy to be there, a stark contrast to where I was only 6 weeks prior. Out from a dark hole of depression feeling hopeless, now I found myself in India all by myself embarking on a beautiful journey. I couldn't help but feel impressed, empowered and proud of my commitment.
The Keralites were some of the kindest and warmest people I had ever encountered. I quickly learned that day to day life in Kerala very much follows the Ayurvedic teachings and it seemed logical why the Kerala natives, were as they were. The staff at Greens were all Kerala locals, mostly women. Dr Ashgar explained that he hires women from the local village as a way to support and evolve the community. In India it is much harder for women to find jobs so he made it his purpose to do what he can to counteract this societal imbalance and provide opportunities for the wider community.
Dr Ashgar came from a small village in the north of Kerala, his father was a farmer and his mother was a midwife. At that time there was no such thing as a Gynaecologist and women wouldn't go to the hospital to give birth. His desire to become an Ayurvedic doctor stemmed from this unmet need that existed, a desire to give back to his community and to society. He considered his calling to be a spiritual one - he explained it felt like a natural ascension from the careers his parents had.
Modern travel and communications has allowed for him to spread awareness for Ayurveda, reaching even me, a lost girl from London...