Maintaining the health, functionality and flexibility of the joints takes some basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, so that we can know how and why our body operates the way that it does and when there are problems, what can be done to support healing. Looking at the body with an Ayurvedic perspective can support the health of joints even further by incorporating important diet and lifestyle principles. Ayurveda looks at everything holistically. To have true, sustainable health, it's essential that we look at our body the same, especially if we want to have flexible and strong physicality, even into our later years.
Our Joints and the Doshas
Joints are like glue. They hold our bones together and support movement and flexibility within the frame of our skeletons. Bones support our entire physical system. The synovial joints are where the ends of a bone are connected by a joint cavity containing synovial fluid, allow freedom and fluidity in our movements.
Much of our movement is dictated by Vata and Kapha Dosha.
- All of our supportive tissues, bones, ligaments and tendons tissues are Kapha Dosha.
- The joint cavity where bones meet is an element ruled by Vata Dosha.
- The joint cavity provides a container for synovial fluid (a Kapha substance) that lubricates the ends of the bone surfaces and also accommodates a protective covering into which the ligaments and tendons enter.
- Ligaments transmit nerve impulses to the muscles signaling movement, a function of Vata Dosha.
According to Ayurveda, Vata Dosha in excess can create serious imbalance within the joints resulting in pain and discomfort. You may already experience that the most commonly affected joints are the ones that we use the most and take the most impact: knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, fingers, and toes.
When there is an imbalance in the Doshas in the joints, as an Ayurvedic practitioner, you must discern whether the Doshic imbalance is occurring with or without ama (toxins). Fortunately, there is a simple test can be done with organic sesame oil.
- Massage organic sesame oil into the painful and inflamed joint. If the symptoms are aggravated, such as the pain worsening, after the oil is massaged in, then there is ama present. This condition is known as Amavata.
- If the pain and inflammation is alleviated by the oil massage or no change occurs, then the treatment should begin by taking away the causative factors and focusing on balancing Vata Dosha.
Vata Dosha has dry and cold qualities, which can quickly and easily deplete the lubricating qualities of Kapha Dosha in the body. Joints become dried out, rough and weak. Common symptoms of excess Vata in the joints are dryness, popping, cracking, muscle tics and spasms.
Common causative factors that exacerbate Vata Dosha are:
- Excessive exercise
- Eating too much dry food like crackers and salads
- Living for long periods in cold, dry climates
- Irregular eating habits and lifestyle
Once you are 50 years or older, you are in the Vata season of life. During this time, Vata dosha increases naturally throughout the body, especially during the Vata season of autumn, when it's cold and windy. It's especially easy under these conditions for older people to experience even more aggravated symptoms. If not cared for properly, the body can decline quickly.
Ayurveda offers simple guidelines and potent herbal remedies to support healthy function of the joints. A few lifestyle therapies and herbal components for balancing excess Vata in the joints are:
- Maintaining a regular sleeping, waking and eating schedule. Try to do these three things at the same time each day.
- Abhyanga (self-oil massage) every evening. Choose organic sesame oil or Brahmi Oil.
- Massage Maha Narayana directly onto sore, stiff joints.
- Follow a vata pacifying diet, eating meals at the same time each day.
- Practice gentle Yoga with plenty of slow, circular movements to decrease vata and increase lubrication in the joints.
We talked earlier about amavata. If you are experiencing amavata, that means the toxins in the body are being carried by imbalanced Vata Dosha throughout the body. When the vitiated Vata Dosha interacts with Kapha Dosha in the joints, the synovial fluid loses its lubricating quality and becomes sticky toxins. This ama can block the vital channels that carry nutrients to the tissues. Without proper nutrients, your immune system could begin to attack the ama that's being stored in the joints, causing inflammation of the lining in the joint. Consequently, inflamed tissue can result in uncomfortable symptoms: heat, redness, pain, stiffness and swelling.
Acute inflammation can cause damage to the joint and bone tissue over time, resulting in a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The primary causes for accumulation of ama are simple: improper diet, excessive exercise, exhaustion due to overwork, stress and anxiety, and drinking alcohol. These degenerative diseases are especially aggravated in cold, damp climates.
When amavata is accumulating, removing the factors that are causing it and eliminating toxins from the body simultaneously are the next steps of action. Here are several simple lifestyle tips to help reduce ama and restore balance:
- Eat warm, heavier, easy-to-digest meals such as kitchari, which is additionally cleansing for the body.
- Avoid white sugar and alcohol completely.
- Avoid dairy, particularly ice cream and cheese, at least while you are in the cleansing process.
- Sip hot ginger tea in the mornings.
- Meditate daily to reduce stress.
Introduce these guidelines little-by-little into your life and watch your health change. Support your bones and joints with Ayurveda, and they will continue to support you for many years to come!
All views and information shared here is only for the sharing of Ayurvedic knowledge. Please do not try or prescribe or take any of the remedies and suggestions here without talking to your regular, qualified doctor. Kottakkal Ayurveda and no other person associated with Kottakkal is responsible for unwanted side-effects or contraindications in your health.