The facts

Ayurveda is a holistic medical system with origins in India dating back thousands of years.

The Sanskrit word Ayurveda breaks into two pieces: ayu is life, and veda is science or knowledge. Thus Ayurveda refers to the science of life. Combining a number of natural or alternative therapies - such as massage, herbal medicine, and dietary restrictions - the goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to achieve and maintain a balance between a person's body, mind, and spirit. Imbalance is thought to lead to illness. Harmony is also sought between the individual and the universe, of which we are all composed - a goal of interconnectedness.

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine examine a person's constitution, or prakriti, to determine their overall health, fitness, and resilience. Part of a person's constitution is the balance between their doshas, the major life forces or energies. A person will be dominant in one of the three doshas - vata, pitta, or kapha - and this tells an Ayurvedic practitioner something about the diseases or health conditions to which a person may be vulnerable.

To asses these qualities, a practitioner may ask about a person's diet and behaviour or examine a person's teeth, tongue, skin, eyes, urine, or stool. Treatment will be customized to a person's unique makeup and dosha balance, with aims of eliminating bodily impurities, reduce symptoms, increase disease resistance, or to increase harmony and reduce anxiety. Depending on a practitioner's diagnosis, treatments may include herbal medicine, exercise and stretching, breathing and meditation, massage, or dietary changes.

A word of caution

Canadian provinces do not impose regulations on Ayurvedic practitioners, and prices for services will vary.

Some Ayurvedic dietary supplements and medications can be hazardous, toxic, or cause interactions with other medications that you're taking. Only use Ayurvedic medicinal products authorized for sale by Health Canada. You can tell a product is Health Canada approved if it bears an eight-digit drug identification number (DIN), a natural product number (NPN), or a homeopathic drug number (DIN-HM).

Be sure to tell your health care providers about any Ayurvedic medications you have used or treatments you have undergone.