Chronic Disease: Treatment with Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy

Ayurveda, the traditional system of healing in India, is an oral tradition that dates back over 6,000 years. It is offers a well established and holistic paradigm of health and disease that has much to offer in the management of chronic diseases of all kinds. Ayurveda understands the world in energetic terms and acknowledges the central place of consciousness in healing.

In an Indian context, the divine healing power within all of us is embodied in the form of Dhanvantari, the patron God of healing. This is essentially a personalised aspect of consciousness, also known as the Self or the Higher Self. In a contemporary western context, it could be described as the Holy Spirit, our Buddha nature or our innate healing potential.

The healing process involves supporting in various ways this basic birth rite that we as human beings have been gifted with. Ayurveda honours both the rational and intuitive sides of our nature, both being utilised in its approach to healing. The client’s subjective experiences, as well as empirical experience over thousands of years, are both honoured. Ayurveda is also part of a tradition of Vedic sciences that include Yoga, Vedic astrology (Jyotish) and Vaastu Shastra (Vedic architecture). Each of these sciences inform and complement each other.


Pursuit of Good Health and Well-being

Ayurveda describes three stages in the pursuit of good health and well-being:

(1)   Swasthavrtta – which literally means ‘establishing oneself in healthy habits’ and refers to daily, nightly and seasonal routines of health. These are the basic foundation for good health and are the things you do for yourself on a regular basis.  Whatever the changing circumstances in your world and whatever dramas might be unfolding in your personal or working life, these rituals remain unchanged.

(2)   Treatments which aim to pacify or balance the doshas of your body mind. This would include visits to health care practitioners such as massage therapists, acupuncturists or herbalists.

(3)   Treatments which aim to purify the body and mind of aggravated doshas and toxins which have built up through the process of living. These treatments are known as Panchakarma – the five deep cleansing therapies – and are often undertaken in a residential setting, in a health retreat or in a hospital.


Our Five Senses

Ayurvedic treatments make full use of our five senses.  As such they include:

Ayurvedic Massage (abhyanga) – including the application of herbally medicated warm oil and the stimulation of vital energy points known as marma points. In the south of India, specialised warm oil treatments have been used for thousands of years to facilitate healing.  These treatments include shirodhara, in which a steady stream of warm oil is poured over the forehead to induce deep relaxation and rejuvenation of the nervous system, and kizhi, in which herbal pouches are dipped in warm oil and massaged into both inflamed joints and muscles to relieve pain and stiffness.

  1. Diet – food and kitchen herbs appropriate for your unique body-type, the season and any health imbalances you might be carrying.
  2. Aromatherapy – uses specific aromatic oils which are mixed with carrier massage oils and/or can be vaporised using an aromatherapy burner.
  3. Colour therapy – uses the colours of built environments, clothes, gemstones and coloured water elixirs to balance the energies of the body mind.
  4. Sound – this includes subtle sounds or mantras as well as audible sound, and includes music which induces different moods as well as chanting of sacred sounds.


Yoga Therapy’s role in treating chronic diseases

Yoga is one of Ayurveda’s sister sciences, and aims to harmonise the body, mind and spirit in how we live our lives. Yoga aims to teach us the value of living our life going “with the flow”, rather than against it. Various “margas”, or paths, are described in Yoga and will appeal to different kinds of people. Yoga therapy is the therapeutic application of these approaches, supported by various yogic practices, to help people better manage their health and in facilitating healing from chronic illness.

Yoga therapy is practised by experienced yoga teachers who are also trained as health care practitioners.  They may be qualified as medical practitioners, physiotherapists, naturopaths or acupuncturists. Yoga therapy makes use of practices such as:

  • Yoga postures known as asanas, which help to stimulate the flow of vital energy or prana around the body.
  • Yogic breathing practices known as pranayama, which purify the subtle channels of the body (nadis) and help stabilise the mind.
  • Meditation practices to help rejuvenate and relax the body, to release physical, emotional and mental tension and give the individual mental rest and peace of mind.
  • Yogic salt water cleansing practices known as shatkarmas – which help to purify the body and mind and prepare the body mind for higher meditation states.


These practices require ongoing supervision from a Yoga therapist who is well versed in their therapeutic application. The regular practice of these processes helps the individual to tune into and listen to their bodies and can open them to the intuitive dimension of life. As this connection develops, the client is better able to utilise intuitive guidance in their healing journey.  This intuition may relate to knowing which foods to eat, which therapist to see or what kind of people to avoid. The approach empowers the client, helping them to become their own physician.

An important aspect of the therapeutic process is the quality of the relationship that exists between the client and the therapist. Respect is the hallmark of this relationship, an aspect of which is paying careful attention to the client’s experience of illness on the therapist’s behalf and being a nurturing presence in their life. Chronic illness tends to be an emotionally confronting experience which requires understanding and a considerate, client approach from the therapist. This is an invaluable aspect in supporting the client’s healing from chronic illness.

Other aspects of Yoga therapy include the healing benefits of connecting with spiritual communities (sangha) that can support the individual’s healing process, and satsang, keeping the company of spiritual teachers that you resonate with, or at least have contact with from time to time. In a contemporary western context, this could include seeing a psychotherapist or involvement in personal development seminars.

In my own practice, I find that individuals with a broad spectrum of professional support tend to get the best outcomes in their recovery from chronic illness. Along their healing journey, they meet and form meaningful relationships with a range of health care practitioners. These relationships become fundamental support lines that help them to negotiate the ups and downs of living with a chronic condition, and the healing of it.

Ayurveda encourages an attitude of self-responsibility, empowering the client to become actively involved in their own healing. When used in conjunction with Yoga therapy, clients are given tools, including dietary strategies, yoga postures, meditation and lifestyle modification to better manage their health and well-being. In my experience, they can be used most effectively in a complementary fashion with mainstream medical treatments to facilitate healing from the inside out. In this regard, the potential of Ayurveda in our present age is yet to be realised.