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Understanding the Six Stages of Disease
Consider the following scenario. A middle-aged woman complains to her doctor that she “just doesn’t feel well.” She’s says she’s more tired than usual, a little depressed. The doctor does a physical exam, but doesn’t find anything unusual. She also orders blood tests, but these too come back normal. The doctor reassures the patient that she is well, and perhaps encourages her to get more exercise and to “come again in six months.” A year later the patient is diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
Unfortunately, this is a common experience in conventional medicine—that the disease cannot be diagnosed until the patient complains of specific symptoms or lab tests demonstrate specific findings. And by the time the findings are manifest, it’s too late to prevent the disease.
“The great advantage of the Ayurvedic approach is to identify imbalances before they actually manifest as a disease,” says Stuart Rothenberg, M.D., Director of Maharishi Ayurveda Association of America. “This can allow the Ayurvedic practitioner to take remedial action and reverse the imbalances at an earlier stage of development, thus preventing the emergence of the full-blown disease.”
Prevention is the Key
Prevention has always been the first and major goal of Ayurveda. According to the most ancient Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, only when the physician has failed in that first goal does he or she need to resort to the second goal—which is cure.
“How disease develops, the field called pathogenesis, is an important area of Maharishi Ayurveda,” says Dr. Stuart Rothenberg. “Maharishi Ayurveda identifies six stages in the development of disease. In the first two of the six stages, there are no symptoms. In the third stage there may be vague, non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and general malaise, which become more pronounced in the fourth stage. Only in the fifth stage do symptoms manifest that are specific to a particular disease.”
While conventional medicine uses valuable diagnostic tools to detect disease in an early stage, such as blood tests and X-rays, they are able to detect disease only after it has become physically manifest—for example, a small tumor or an elevated blood sugar. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, this would be in the fourth or fifth stage of pathogenesis. Maharishi Ayurveda aims to detect disease at an earlier stage, before it becomes clinically manifest, when the disease process is easier to reverse.
Diagnosing the Patient, Not Just the Disease
Dr. Rothenberg notes that Maharishi Ayurveda supplements the diagnostic approach of conventional medicine by emphasizing two phases of diagnosis: diagnosis of the patient (rogi pariksha) and diagnosis of the disease (roga pariksha).
“Before attempting to diagnose the disease, the first step is to determine the patient's ‘nature’ or prakriti—the constitutional type of the patient,” says Dr. Rothenberg.
Constitutional type provides a diagnostic framework completely overlooked in modern medicine. It includes attention to details such as complexion and quality of skin, prominence and shape of joints, body build, shape of the eyes, color undertones of the whites of the eyes and tongue, prominence of tendons and veins, the patient’s speed of walking and talking, personality traits, preferences for weather, types of dreams, and many other features.
“The constitutional type tells the Ayurvedic expert the kinds of diseases and risk factors that the patient would likely be vulnerable to,” says Dr. Rothenberg. “For example, if we diagnose the individual as a Pitta prakriti, which is the constitutional type that is characterized by more heat in the body, we know that individual will be more likely to develop diseases involving excessive heat. These kinds of diseases might include inflammatory conditions, such as gastritis, colitis, ulcers, acid reflux, and inflammation of joints, eyes, and other organs.”
Dr. Rothenberg explains that the common root cause of these seemingly different diseases is excessive heat, or Pitta. He says, “By knowing this, it allows us to prescribe preventive measures to cool Pitta, to prevent the manifestation of these inflammatory conditions. These preventive measures would include a Pitta-balancing diet, cooling herbal preparations, mind-body techniques including the Transcendental Meditation® program, and daily and seasonal behavioral routines to balance Pitta.”
Pulse diagnosis (nadi vigyan) is another special feature of the diagnostic repertoire of the Maharishi Ayurveda practitioner. The Ayurvedic expert places his or her fingers on the radial pulse of the patient (the pulse at the wrist) and, through this technique, is able to detect imbalances in the doshas, the tissues (dhatus), and the microcirculatory channels of the body (srotas).
“This sophisticated procedure is a remarkable tool in detecting imbalances in the first stages of disease, before clinical signs and symptoms occur, when the disease can still be prevented,” says Dr. Rothenberg.
The Importance of Early Detection
“The earlier the stage that the disorder can be diagnosed, the easier it is to reverse the underlying imbalance,” says Dr. Rothenberg. “For example, in Stages One and Two, simple dietary measures or adjustments to the daily and seasonal routine are often sufficient to reverse the imbalances and prevent the manifestation of disease.”
In Stage Three and Four, additional approaches, such as herbal therapies, and cleansing procedures can help. By purifying the toxins and accumulated doshas from the body at each season, the build-up of the doshas can be avoided.
“In Stages Five and Six, typically multi-modality approaches are needed, including physical, mental and environmental approaches,” says Dr. Rothenberg. “These could include intensive in-residence physiological purification therapies (Panchakarma), herbal therapeutics, Maharishi Vedic Vibration Technology and Vedic Sound therapy, Vedic exercise, therapeutic aroma therapy, Ayurvedic light therapy, and environmental therapies.”
“And of course if anyone is suffering from significant symptoms, they should see their family physician for conventional diagnosis as well,” says Dr. Rothenberg. “Maharishi Ayurveda is complementary to conventional medicine and is not a replacement for it, especially in the case of serious diseases.”
To discover your constitutional type, identify underlying imbalances, and receive an individualized program of dietary, lifestyle and herbal recommendations for your body type and imbalances, schedule a Vedic Health Assessment with a Maharishi Ayurveda expert (vaidya). For more information, please call 800-379-6353, email email@example.com, or visit the Vedic Health Assessment website.