Modern wellness catches up to the ancient healing system

In our busy, challenging world, we tend to obsess over the new. The latest tech gadget. The newest fad diet. It’s understandable why. But as the saying goes, everything old is new again. And that helps to explain why a 5,000-year-old healing and wellness system is having its moment now.

Ayurveda originated in India alongside yoga as a way to promote optimal health and balance in life. Specific diets are part of its practice. A famous Ayurvedic saying goes, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

That assertion is a bit jangly to Western ears, where medicine’s “magic bullets” are relied upon to bail us out after we have ignored changing the way we live—including how we eat, exercise and handle stress—which might have warded off disease in the first place (think Type II diabetes and coronary disease as examples).

Hollywood, as ever, has helped to shine a spotlight on what Ayurdeva is, and promises. Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler and other celebs have rhapsodized about Ayurvedic regimens, such as panchakarma, a series of detox treatments. One of these treatments, shirodhara, is from the Sanskrit words shiras (head) and dhara (flow); it involves gently pouring warm herbal oil in a steady stream onto the forehead, or “third eye,” an experience described by one patient as feeling “like a balm on a my constantly buzzing mind.”

The Mind-Body Connection

Yet if today’s resurgence of Ayurveda can be pinpointed to any one specific thing, it would be the increasing scientific awareness of our mind-body connection. Sanskrit for “knowledge of life,” Ayurveda is based on understanding your individual dosha, or mind-body type. “The doshas express unique blends of physical, emotional and mental characteristics,” according to The Chropra Center, headed by Deepak Chopra, the Indian-born medical doctor who is perhaps the most eminent voice in alternative medicine. “In Ayurveda, health is defined as the dynamic state of balance between mind, body and environment.”

The ancient Hindus who developed Ayurveda believed that there are three primary energies that exist in the body, and their characteristics are related to the common elements everyone knows. These are vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (water and earth). Each of us is thought to have a unique blend of doshas, and the balance between them can shift at different times in our lives.

You don’t have to go to an Ayurvedic spa (although many spas at luxury hotels now offer treatments based on Ayurvedic principles) to learn more about your own doshas, or to begin to be mindful of an Ayurvedic lifestyle. The Chopra Center, for one, offers a free online quiz to pinpoint where you fit on the dosha continuum. Ayurvedic cookbooks have seasonal recipes tailored to dosha types; they often feature spices such as turmeric, cumin, cardamom and ginger that are said to enhance metabolism and ease digestive disorders such as gas and bloating.

Ultimately, however, the primary takeaway is that the principles of Ayurveda are in harmony with eating healthy, organic food, employing mediation and yoga to restore mental clarity and reduce stress, and enjoying the therapeutic benefits of nature.

In other words, you don’t have to live every moment with the discipline of an Ayurvedic guru. Just heed what Dr. Frank Lipman, author and expert in integrative medicine, has to say: “My whole philosophy is that health is not just about what you eat—it’s about your community, the love in your life, spending time in nature, how you’re moving and more. If you go on vacation, enjoy your vacation! If you’re in Italy, eat pasta. Being obsessive about your food is not healthy, but being healthy about it most of the time is important. Actually creating long-term daily habits is the most important thing.”

The Meeting Hack

Healing isn’t just for yogis any more. Following are some simple ways to bring ancient wellness to a modern meeting.

1. Integrate in the agenda. This can be as simple as offering opportunities for yoga, meditation and other stress-relieving activities, nature outings and breaks, and healthy food choices. Promote the connection of these things to the ancient practice of Ayurveda on your meeting app, signage and elsewhere.

2. Book a wellness keynote speaker. They can be found in many areas in the United States and in wellness-focused resort destinations. For instance, Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, who the Chicago Tribune calls “one of the nation’s most prominent” Ayurvedic authorities, is a speaker specializing in women’s health issues. Based in Fairfield, Iowa, she also teaches at The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, and University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

3. Partner with the venue. If the spa—and spa kitchen—at your hotel offers Ayurvedic treatments and Ayurveda-influenced cuisine, take advantage of this opportunity to provide attendees with education and options for experiencing them.