Life is a balancing act. When everything's in sync, we feel at our best — both physically and mentally. But when life is off kilter, perhaps due to excessive worry, work, eating or drinking, it can take a toll on our well-being.
That's a simple explanation for why more people are turning to Ayurveda, one of the world's oldest healing systems and a staple of health care in India for thousands of years.
Ayurveda is all about discovering your natural balance and how to restore it.
In the United States, it's considered a form of alternative healing, although many of its components, including massage, yoga, meditation and healing herbs, are growing increasingly popular.
According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine use by Americans, more than 200,000 U.S. adults had used Ayurvedic medicine in the previous year.
Ayurveda considers sickness an imbalance in the body that can be resolved by restoring equilibrium rather than treating symptoms. So instead of popping pills to treat indigestion, the Ayurvedic approach would correct the lifestyle, diet and environmental factors responsible for turning mealtime into gastric distress.
"I am very interested in the whole science of Ayurveda as opposed to taking medications. I'd rather take a natural approach," explains Rya Lauber, 50, a St. Petersburg marketing executive who practices yoga and Ayurvedic principles daily.
"I work in a tense environment under deadlines and pressure. As with everything, if you don't practice it (Ayurveda), it doesn't work. If I slack off, then I notice I get more stressed out."
Ayurveda in practice
There are a variety of medical professionals and consultants who practice Ayurveda in the Tampa Bay area.
Lauber is a client at Balance and Bliss in St. Petersburg, the only local center affiliated with the National Ayurvedic Medical Association in Santa Cruz, Calif., which has education and certification requirements for membership.
Balance and Bliss, created in 2005, is not a medical facility. It provides consultations, massage and other body treatments, yoga instruction, educational workshops and restorative retreats.
It's impossible to characterize the people who seek Ayurvedic balance because it's not a one-size-fits-all discipline, says founder and president Denise O'Dunn, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga instructor.
"The majority of people who come here have daily quality of life challenges. They know something isn't right," she says. Problems can include insomnia, headaches and digestive issues.
Some clients have tried traditional medical approaches to chronic conditions without much success. Others are in good health but want to incorporate the ancient practices into their healthy lifestyle.
And for some clients with illnesses, Ayurveda works in tandem with conventional medical care, O'Dunn says.
(It's always important to tell your medical doctor about any herbs or supplements you use, especially if you're on medication, due to possible interactions.)
Rya Lauber visits the center several times each year to discuss her health issues with O'Dunn and receive Ayurvedic treatments, including dry brushing of skin to stimulate circulation, massage with specially formulated oils and to stock up the herbal tea O'Dunn blends.
"It's more than just going for a massage. It's more like a tune-up," says Lauber. "You learn about yourself. You learn how to keep yourself balanced. This is my little oasis in St. Petersburg."
The three life forces
According to Ayurveda teachings, each person is born with a unique nature based on body type, behaviors, needs, predispositions and natural energies or elements. Ayurveda holds that there are three life forces that determine one's basic nature.
These three "doshas'' are balanced differently in each person; when you lose that balance, health problems can result.
The Internet is full of information about the doshas and even quizzes to determine which are dominant in your nature, but do any research at all, and you'll see it's a complicated matter indeed.
Just as each person's balance is different, so is restoring that balance, O'Dunn says. The process can include lifestyle and dietary changes based on the seasons, self-care practices and therapies such as massage, enemas, nasal cleansing and sweating in a cabinet filled with oil-infused steam.
Quieting the mind and body is especially important in these times of economic uncertainty, notes O'Dunn. "We are doing everything in a way that increases stress. It's putting people out of balance."