When I began my series of studying East Asian health, I had frankly no idea what was involved in ayurveda besides herbs. It wasn’t until I arrived in India at the beginning of October that I even began to get an idea of diagnostics, treatment methods, etc.

Presuming I’m not the only one completely unfamiliar with Ayurveda, then this should be an informative and enlightening post (I hope :P).

Modality: a usually physical therapeutic agency (merriam-webster.com)

So what modalities are used in ayurveda?  The methods can roughly be divided into 3 major categories: external, internal, and comprehensive/supplemental.


  • Abyanga (oil massage)
  • Shiro Dhara/Pizhichil (continuous pouring of medicated oil over the head or entire body)
  • Takra Dhara (continuous pouring of medicated buttermilk, usually over the head)
  • Netra Tarpana (medicated washing of the eyes, typically with ghee)
  • Shiro Vasti (retaining of medicated oil over local area for some time)
  • Dhanyamla Dhara (continuous pouring of fermented liquid)
  • Udwartana (dry powder massage, typically used for obesity)
  • Nasya (pouring medicated oil into the nostrils)
  • Swedena (induced sweating)
  • Ksheera Dhooma (sweating induced by boiling medicated buttermilk)
  • Dhooma Pana (inhalation of medicated smoke)
  • Patra Potala Sweda (massage and inducing sweating by rubbing with leaf bolus)
  • External oil application to head, palms, and/or soles
  • and many more, but you get the idea


  • Kashaya (decoction made of fresh-dried herbs)
  • Gulika/Vati (tablets or soft pills)
  • Choorna (powder, made from dried herbs)
  • Ghritam (medicated ghee)
  • Bhasma (metal compounds that have been repeatedly fired to prepare them for ingestion)
  • Taila (medicated oil, typically using black sesame seeds as a base)
  • Fermented preparations
    • –> Yes, you would swallow all of these


  • Panchakarma (1st: pre-prep, 2nd: internal and external oleation (depends), 3rd: purification, 4th: peyadi krama (food regimen), 5th: vasti (daily enemas))
    • Virechna (purgation)
    • Vamana (vomiting)
    • Vasti (oil or decoction enema)
    • Blood letting
    • Nasya (pouring medicated oil into the nostrils)
  • Food therapy
  • Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, prayer or mantra chanting
  • Exercise

With some combination of these, ayurveda treats everything from mental illness to whooping cough, dysmenorrhea, and obesity.

What I like about ayurveda: pharmacopoeia (materia medica), emphasis on digestive system (especially lower digestive tract), largely herbal, plant, or natural remedies, no quick-fixes, recognition of mind-body connection using yoga, mediation, and spiritual satisfaction to improve health, consideration of diet factors, and surprising palatability of powders and decoctions (relative to Chinese medicines).

What I don’t like about ayurveda: mass quantities of oil or ghee for both external use and ingestion, dietary theories, yuck factor, rare usage of single herbs and heavy reliance on pre-set formulas, proclivity to advise panchakarma and belief that everyone has the time, money, and ability to undergo, strongly influenced (perhaps detrimentally so) by Western/allopathic medicine, lack of universality, significant daily time investment (for daily external treatments, such as abyanga), and perhaps more…

What do you know and like about ayurveda?


Personal Update:

Today was the last day of my study at the ayurveda center (but don’t worry, I have plenty more to share).

Even after 5 days of treatment (massage, patra potala sweda, sudation, and paste) my ankles are still swollen, stiff, and sore almost to the point of being painful.  My knee has shown some improvements. How did 8 days of Tracy Anderson cardio so totally ruin my joints?  I kept up with my yoga after TAM cardio was nixed, though perhaps I shouldn’t have. And after a couple more days rest, yesterday I started level 2 of the mat workout.