Your First Visit to a Vaidya

What to Expect

Ayurvedic physicians follow a healing tradition that dates back thousands of years — 5,000 years at the very least. Their textbooks are written in Sanskrit, and the body of knowledge that the enlightened sages of those ancient times left behind is truly astounding in its depth and volume.

What this means, in modern times, is that a vaidya today (ayurvedic physicians are called vaidyas) is required to be more than a healer — he needs to be a good communicator.

This also means that your first visit to a vaidya is going to be an experience with a difference.

What is a vaidya?

A person earns the title of vaidya when he has, through training, acquired deep ayurvedic knowledge about the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of healing. This is because in ayurveda, disease is not treated on just the physical level. It is always seen in the context of a person's overall personality and circumstances, which includes factors like profession, family life, seasonal influences, and daily habits. Therefore, vaidyas study the whole field of life, individual and cosmic, not just the field of medicine.

"'Ayu' means life in the simplest sense," says an ayurvedic expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians. But in the Vedic tradition, every word has deeper, more detailed definitions. Ayu actually has four components — the physical body, the senses, the mind and heart and their coordinated functioning, and the soul. Veda means knowledge, but it also means the interpretation of the knowledge so that it serves as a guide for practical use. The whole objective of ayurveda, then, is to find out, for each individual, what is good or bad for each of the four components of ayu and then to assess what would be of therapeutic value for the individual in terms of diet, lifestyle, daily and seasonal routine and behavior.

Because they look for personal, unique causes of imbalance, vaidyas do not employ conventional diagnostic tools like the blood pressure instrument, thermometer, etc. They hold your wrist and take your pulse, for it is the wave of your pulse that is their most reliable source of information about your individual physiology and balance needs.

How vaidyas diagnose imbalance

Pulse diagnosis is known in Sanskrit as nadi vigyan. You could call it a healing art or a science — whichever way you look at it, it is fascinating.

Indiana-based Maharishi Ayurveda physician John Peterson, who combines ayurvedic healing with his practice of modern medicine, describes pulse diagnosis beautifully: "It (pulse diagnosis) is so intimately communicative that some healing occurs even while I am taking the pulse. The patient is relieved and is comforted by the settled attention she receives and then gives back to herself. The doctor feels refreshed. While taking the patient's pulse I must refer to my own pulse, a self-referral process that infuses bliss into the physiology. It's always the joy of the doctor to be able to take the pulse."

In ayurveda, the radial pulse is taken with three fingers, which represent the three basic energies, or doshas — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The first finger feels Vata, the energy/dosha responsible for movement, space and air. The second finger probes Pitta, which represents the elements of fire and water. Pitta governs areas where there is heat, digestive enzymes or metabolism — areas where transformation is at work. The third finger picks up Kapha, representing water and earth. Kapha governs structure and fluid balance and has the qualities of heaviness, slowness and thickness.

The Council describes the finer points of pulse diagnosis thus: What the vaidya gets from feeling the deeper levels of your pulse is, firstly, your birth body-type or doshic make-up — how much of air, space, fire, earth or water is in your original constitution. According to ayurveda, the microcosm of your body is made up of the same five elements that the macrocosm of the universe is made of. Then the vaidya probes the status of the seven types of body tissue in terms of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, ama (toxins in the body) and ojas (the finest product of digestion and the substance that supports life), and the shrotas — the channels of the body that carry nutrients to the cells or wastes out of the body. This helps the vaidya figure out where any imbalance exists, and what the nature of the imbalance is. The vaidya also assesses from the pulse what the state of your heart, mind and senses is and how coordinated they are with one another. Thus, in less than three minutes, an experienced vaidya can find out what he or she needs to know to make appropriate recommendations for the individual.

Besides pulse diagnosis, the vaidya makes observations about your personality, mostly without you even guessing he is making them. He observes your face, your eyes, your irises and conjunctiva, the texture of your skin — or obvious tightness in some areas of the face or neck — he notices it all. Using all the senses is what makes the seemingly simple examination so comprehensive.

How vaidyas heal

Based on his findings, a vaidya makes his healing recommendations, primarily relating to your diet and lifestyle.

Diet in particular forms a vital part of ayurveda's healing strategy, because vaidyas know that the right foods taken at the right time and in the right manner can correct most imbalances. You can expect to receive a list of food no-nos, as well as suggestions on what to cook along with how and when to eat it. Feel free to ask questions and seek clarifications as the vaidya gives his advice.

Besides diet, the vaidya will talk about your daily routine. Having already received information from your pulse and personality about your possible imbalances, he will ask you some targeted questions. Don't be surprised if he says something surprisingly accurate like, "Have you been sleeping late?" He knows because his diagnostic methods are very subtle and deep.

When the vaidya tells you to re-adjust your bedtime or drink more water during the day, heed his advice. These seemingly small things can be precise and permanent solutions to even chronic problems. Dr. Peterson recalls curing a woman with severe digestive problems just by recommending that she drink warm water every 30 minutes.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.