Dealing with cold and flu season

Dealing with cold and flu season

(pictured above Ligusticum canbyi) 

Well, it’s that time of year, and people are dropping like flies. Why is it that almost everyone succumbs to sickness during that fall, and how can we prevent it?

From the perspective of medical science, a cold or flu is caused by one of over 200 different viruses, most commonly one of the rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, influenza viruses or the adenoviruses. Typical symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and fever, and while most people get better in about seven to ten days, some symptoms can last up to three weeks or longer.

While the science isn’t clear, it is generally thought that susceptibility to viral infection occurs during this time due to factors such as decreased humidity, which increases viral transmission rates by allowing tiny viral droplets to disperse farther and stay in the air longer, as well as the fact that most of use spend more time indoors, which enhances viral transmission. But apart from that, medical science doesn’t have too much to say, and when it comes to treatment and prevention, there are few options, including the flu vaccine that researchers say provides only a modest benefit at best, with a small risk of certain diseases including Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Thankfully, we have other options. But before we review these, let’s look at why we get sick.

Is the common cold caused by cold?

For almost a hundred years now doctors have dismissed the idea as an “old wive’s tale”, that it is exposure to cold weather that causes the common cold. Given my healthy respect for “grandma wisdom”, I have always railed against such an attitude, not only because it easily dismisses this kind of non-technical assessment, but also because it denies the very experience of getting a cold, which itself FEELS cold! Thus, despite the non-technical use of the term “cold”, it is a term that defines not only the experience but the basic pathology, which relates to a down-regulation of the bodily heat, and the diminishment of the immune response which relies upon this heat to function. I think it is important to honour the language of disease, because even simple words like “cold” not only tell us about the experience itself, but provide clues for treatment. Likewise are our use of idioms such as “venting the spleen”, which allows to connect emotions like anger and frustration to the health of the visceral organs. After all, when you feel frustrated and angry, where do you feel it? In some discrete part of your cerebral cortex, or in your belly? In this way, simple terms like catching a “cold” provide us with more information than we might immediately be aware of.

Dispelling the cold

It is no co-incidence that we catch colds more frequently during the fall and winter. In the classical system of medicine of India, called Ayurveda, the period from the summer solstice to the winter solstice is called the “dakshinayana”, when the north pole tips away from the sun and the northern hemisphere is plunged into increasing darkness. It is said that during the dakshinayana the empowering influence of the sun diminishes, and in response all life hunkers down to wait out the season of death and dissolution. Thus during the dakshinayana the dominant quality is one of coldness, and thus it should be no surprise that archetypal diseases such as “cold” become more dominant. Part of this relates to our growing inability to synthesize vitamin D3 from sunlight, and with diminished vitamin D3 production immune function begins to weaken.

Here in Vancouver, we stop producing vitamin D around mid-September, when the shadow cast by your shadow at mid-day (when the sun is highest in the sky) is now longer than your height. The low angle of the sunlight means that too much ultraviolet B light is filtered out by the atmosphere, and without sufficient UVB, the body cannot produce vitamin D3. Thus traditional fall/winter foods such as marrow broth, little oily fish (e.g. smelts and herring), liver and blood pudding are relied upon to help boost vitamin D levels, although because many people don’t eat these foods regularly, they don’t get their full benefit. This is why for most people supplementing with vitamin D3 is a good idea, and to this end I recommend liquid vitamin D3 drops that contain 1000 IU per drop, usually in the neighbourhood of around 3-5 drops per day (3000-5000 IU).

Not everyone gets the full benefit of an oral dose, however, particularly if you suffer from chronic diseases of the digestive tract and liver, including malabsorption issues. Thus I frequently recommend topical administration, either as a transdermal cream, or the judicious use of sun-beds. While the latter might raise some eyebrows, there is a growing body of evidence that a non-erythemal dose, i.e. not allowing the skin to even become slightly pink, is an excellent way to boost vitamin D3 status. There is further evidence that UV light not only promotes vitamin D synthesis, but is an independent factor in supporting immune function generally. Thus there should be little surprise that judicious UVB exposure may be helpful in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease.

The exposure of our bodies to UVB light is exactly the way we evolved to manufacture vitamin D3, and when we do, we provide many more sites for vitamin D synthesis and metabolism than a simple oral dose, including the involvement of other tissues such as the prostate, colon, skin and osteoblasts. Besides which, the judicious use of sunbeds provides very clear psychological benefits in Seasonal Affective Disorder, and guess what – it WARMS you up. Since I have been visiting a solarium once a week, from Oct-March, I haven’t had a cold in 10 years. The key issue, however, is NOT TO TAN, as this defeats the purpose by increasing melanin production, which inhibits your ability to absorb UVB light and blunts its benefit in the body. Over the long term, however, it is probably better to rely upon the sun for vitamin D synthesis (e.g. tropical vacation), and find a balance of other options that suits your individual needs.

Preventing ama

In Ayurveda, the underlying pathogenesis for the common cold relates to poor digestion, and the production of a waste product called “ama”, which literally means undigested food. Viewed as a kind of detritus that interferes with digestion, ama can mobilize from the digestive tract into circulation, where it interferes with the proper nourishment of cells and the elimination of cellular and lymphatic wastes. According to Ayurveda, ama is associated with the qualities of heavy, cold, greasy, sticky and slow, and it is easy to see how these qualities could impair both digestion and metabolism.

The primary cause for the accumulation of ama is weakness of digestion, and/or eating foods which increase the qualities of heavy, cold, greasy, sticky and slow in the body. These qualities promote symptoms such as lassitude and inertia, coldness, poor circulation, mucus congestion, poor appetite and indigestion, all of which are prominent symptoms with a cold or flu. Thus the best way to prevent as well as treat the common cold, is to stop the accumulation of ama, which includes avoiding all the foods that promote the qualities of heavy, cold, greasy, sticky and slow. This means avoiding excessively greasy and fatty foods unless your digestion is very strong, as well as congesting foods such as flour products, dairy and sweets.

In particular, watch for minor symptoms of congestion, such as increase in mucus, and take appropriate measures in hand to prevent the accumulation of ama. In Ayurveda, this includes not only avoiding those heavy and congesting foods, but actively eating foods and beverages to warm and stimulate the body, such as ginger tea, Mulligatawny soup and a spicy Kitchari.


Immune function is influenced by the health of our nervous system, and when we’re stressed and tired, our immune system begins to suffer. Energy is energy is energy, and if you are using up all your vital energy rushing from hither to thither, trying to keep up with work load, commitments and family, you shouldn’t be too surprised if you get sick. It is said in Ayurveda that the dakshinayana takes “energy away from the people”, and so we need to respect the fact that we are simply more susceptible to illness and disease in the fall. Partly this relates to the dynamics of doshas in Ayurveda, and the natural increase of vata during the autumn. This period is marked by dissolution and deficiency, and we need to take active measures to protect our vital energy. According to the ancient Indian physician Charaka, the most important way to do this is to avoid stress and worry, which perhaps sounds easier than it is, but it is a recommendation by Charaka to take some time to go within and destress the mind. Options include activities such as yoga, meditation, and tai qi, as well as fun ways to release stored anxiety in a creative way, through activities such as dance, art, singing, poetry, and music. In this way, the dakshinayana is a time to go within, and recharge the emotional batteries.

Herbs for colds and flu

According to Charaka, another way to preserve the vital energy is to take herbs that protect the heart and promote circulation. In Ayurveda, however, this means something a little bit different, as the heart isn’t viewed simply as a mechanical pump, but also as the seat of the mind and emotions. Thus herbs to calm the mind and enhance vitality are definitely indicated during cold/flu season to stay healthy. In my clinic, I often give patients my “Immune formula” to stay healthy, which includes an assortment of herbs used in both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to boost immune function and calm the mind. Some of the herbs in this formula include Reishi mushroom, Astragalus root, Schizandra berry, Siberian Ginseng root, Ashwagandha Myrrh resin, and Licorice root. And while I don’t use this formula to treat colds/flu, some of the herbs may be very helpful. For example, during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, one of the more effective remedies to inhibit the cytokine explosion that was killing otherwise healthy patients was a component of Licorice root.

My favourite go-to remedies for cold and flu are all those which are warming, opening and clearing in action. Remember, we are dealing with a COLD, and so most of our remedies need to be spicy and warming. Examples include Bayberry bark, Ginger root, Prickly Ash bark, Cinnamon bark, Black Pepper fruit and Peppermint leaf. These are all good remedies for nascent symptoms, when you just start to feel yourself getting sick. But if it progresses further, then you may need to kick it up a notch, and add in some stronger antiviral remedies such as Lomatium root, St. John’s Wort flower, Canby’s Lovage root (pictured at the top), and Echinacea (angustifolia) root. Usually this will take care of the major symptoms, but if you just can’t beat it and it descends into your chest, causing a cough, then we need to alter our strategy, adding in expectorants and cough remedies such as Mullein leaf, Wild Cherry bark, and Elecampane root, and if the cough gets real bad, herbs such as Cottonwood bud, Gumweed leaf/flowers or Lobelia leaf. For kids up at night with a chronic cough, a little bit of Lobelia, or even Ephedra (Ma Huang, in small doses) mixed with a herb like Licorice can help to ease cough and promote a restful sleep.

In addition to these measures, I am really big on inhalant therapies, using essential oils such as Fir, Pine, Cedar, Spruce Cajeput, and Eucalyptus. These can be used with a hot pot of water and a towel, or, you can use a bed-side warm-mist humidifier that has a medicated well, using about 1/2-1 tsp of the oils per session. Similarly aromatic topical therapies are also helpful, not least the old-fashioned “mustard plaster”, prepared by grinding up mustard seeds and mixing with a little water, and then applying this to the chest and back, over top a piece of wax paper. The powerful essential oils in the mustard seed will pass through the paper and migrate into the lung tissue, where they exert both a strong antimicrobial effect, as well as ease coughing. Remove the plaster after 10-20 minutes, or when the area underneath becomes reddened.

While this is by no means an exhaustive review of the treatment of cold and flu, hopefully you’ve learned some valuable tips to stay healthy this season. For more information, please check out my page on Cold, Flu and Fever.

Vegetarianism and Ayurveda

Vegetarianism and Ayurveda

In my blog last week, I addressed the mistaken belief held by some in the Āyurveda community that sufficient vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant-based foods. Unfortunately, this misperception is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the all-pervading belief both within and without the community of Āyurveda, that it is (primarily) a vegetarian-based system. Considering the decades of knowledge that we have accumulated on the very real issue of vitamin B12 deficiency, the notion that vitamin B12 can be obtained in plant foods is really nothing more than wishful-thinking, typically expressed by those who believe that eating meat is morally wrong. Normally, what someone personally believes isn’t my concern, but when this belief obscures the practice of Āyurveda, denies the basic science, and puts the public health at risk, it is important to speak out.

As painful as it may be for some to hear, the very real truth is that Āyurveda is not, and never was, a vegetarian system. There is nothing in any classical text of Āyurveda, including those of the bṛhat trayī (Caraka, Suśruta, Vāgbhaṭa) or the laghu trayī (Mādhava, Śāraṅgadhara, Bhāvaprakāśa), to suggest otherwise. All of these texts and many others not mentioned fully describe the qualities and properties of a multitude of animal products, including their use in the treatment of disease. With regard to the latter, out of the many diseases and syndromes described by Āyurveda, only for the disease of unmāda (psychosis) is a vegetarian diet sometimes prescribed, but not consistently. Otherwise, for every other disease the practical utility of animal products in the diet is described, such as the frequent recommendation of consuming the meat of desert-dwelling animals, as well as the ubiquitous application of māṃsa rasa (non-fatty meat soup).


Was Vedic culture vegetarian?

Āyurveda is a śāstra, or a teaching within the Vedic tradition, and it is not vegetarian because the ancient Vedic culture itself was not vegetarian. While this may come as a shock to many, in reality, there is so much evidence against the assertion that ancient Vedic culture was vegetarian that to state otherwise borders on the absurd. In his meticulously referenced tome, The Myth of the Holy Cow, Hindu scholar Dr. DN Jha systematically deconstructs the assertion that Vedic civilization was vegetarian. As the title suggests, the author puts forward evidence that ancient Vedic peoples did not elevate the cow in the same way as modern Hindus, making ample reference to their consumption of beef, which was especially valued as a ritual food by the priestly caste (brahmins). This irony was recently brought to light when the state of Maharashtra banned beef consumption, citing the historical importance of vegetarianism in Hindu society. Unfortunately for supporters of this move, it also brought to uncomfortable attention that many traditional brahmin communities continue to eat meat – including beef – as part of an unbroken lineage of practice that extends back thousand of years. As the great Swami Vivekananda said over a hundred years ago, “You will be surprised to know that according to ancient Hindu rites and rituals, a man cannot be a good Hindu who does not eat beef.”

Restoring the proper context for vegetarianism

Whether or not I am able to convince you that Vedic culture was not vegetarian doesn’t concern me: like any debate concerning a topic so vast, it is easy to cherry-pick one fact over another. Certainly there is evidence of vegetarian practices in the Vedic literature, but these relate to ascetic practices, and not general dietary advice. As a form a self-denial and purification, vegetarianism has long been a component of ascetic practices in ancient India. These practices ranged from meditation and yoga, to more severe methods such as plucking the hairs of the body or walking on hot coals – all as a practice to uproot worldly desire and uncover the penultimate truth. The ancientness of these practices including vegetarianism are attested to in the Rāmāyaṇam  when Lord Rāma leaves the comforts of his palace to follow the path of the brahmacarya, or worldly renunciate:

“I shall live in a solitary forest like a sage for fourteen years, leaving off meat and living with roots, fruits and honey”.

– Ayōdhyā Kanda 2-20-29

The association between vegetarianism and Hindu asceticism is undeniable, but it is not an exclusive relationship, and nor was this association meant to inform the practices of everyday society. In the sacred Hindu law book, called the Manusmṛti, vegetarianism is only mentioned as a technique appropriate to the religious-minded, and not as a general practice. And even though the Manusmṛti was compiled almost 2000 years after the end of the Vedic period in India, there is nothing in it – even at its comparatively late date – to suggest that vegetarianism was a requirement for the average Hindu.


What about ahimsā?

While vegetarianism serves as a form of self-denial, important for penance or ritual purification (as in the story of Rāma), vegetarian practices are also based on the concept of ahimsā, or non-injury. As a specific form of spiritual practice, ahimsā found its greatest expression in the post-Vedic spiritual traditions of the first millennium BCE, including Jainism and Buddhism. By fully embracing the concept of ahimsā, these new spiritual movements clearly distinguished themselves from the Vedic religion, attracting new followers by critiquing the “decadent” practice of ritual animal slaughter.

Between the two, Jainism took the most radical approach to the problem of ahimsā, which in its highest expression involves the practice of sallekhanā, or starving oneself to death. While most assuredly causing the least amount of harm, sallekhanā as a spiritual goal is typically undertaken by very few people. For the vast majority of Jains, the practice ahimsā as it relates to diet allows for the consumption of dairy (as no apparent harm is caused to the cow by milking), as well as the allowance of the aerial parts of any plant as food – but not the roots (which would kill the plant). In contrast, while the practice of ahimsā is a prerequisite to spiritual advancement, simply eating meat isn’t a violation in Buddhist teachings because meat is not a living thing. Unlike Jainism, which views karma as a subtle material essence that attaches to a permanent soul, Buddhist teachings believe karma to be a function of cause and effect that relates more to intent. Thus, the Buddha would eat meat if it were given to him as part of his alms, but in order to uphold the principle of ahimsā, he would refuse to eat the food if knew beforehand that the animal had been specifically slaughtered on his behalf.

Both Buddhism and Jainism grew during the post-Vedic period, but due to its greater flexibility with regard to diet, as well as the fact that it rejected the caste system maintained by both Hindus and Jains, Buddhism became the dominant religious force in India during the later part of the first millennium. The growing and pervasive influence of Buddhism in India meant that its concepts including that of ahimsā indelibly shaped Indian society and later Hindu beliefs. Inspired by the Buddhist teachings on ahimsā, the Emperor Aśoka established a law of the land in the 3rd century BCE, enshrining the rights of animals, banning animal sacrifice, and promoting environmental stewardship. In this regard Aśoka wasn’t advocating for vegetarianism, but for greater thoughtfulness, care and consideration for all living beings.


Buddhism exerted its influence in India for almost 1000 years, and its emphasis on ahimsā as a practice had a strong influence on the Hindu revivalist movement that emerged with the decline of Buddhism. In the 7th century a Hindu reformer named Ādi Śaṅkara successfully modeled a new version of Hindu teachings that only slightly varied from Buddhism, adding the concept of an eternal god (brahman), but including the same Buddhist emphasis upon ahimsā. Gradually, this revivalist movement became a syncretic religious movement influenced by regional folk traditions, including the bhakti (devotional) movement of South India, to evolve into the dominant form of Hinduism found today in India – called Vaishnavism.

As the Hindu revival emerged during the early medieval period, India began to suffer the first wave of more than a thousand years of foreign invasion, continuing right up until the British left India in 1947. Some scholars have asserted that the ideal of ahimsā was so pervasive in early medieval Indian society that it left the country vulnerable to invasion. Certainly there was a marked difference between the character of the invading forces, whose God justified all-manner of violence and brutality, to the spiritual principles of Indian society, which valued peace, contemplation, and insight.

While there were many Hindus, including the Marathi warrior Śivaji, that attempted to fend off the invaders, the cultural traditions of India were systemically damaged during this period. Now already in decline, foreign invasion meant for Buddhism its complete eradication from India, as the hoards of Turkish and Arab warriors found little resistance from its monasteries and universities. For Hindus, it meant the destruction of a great deal of their cultural heritage, including religious monuments such as the temple at Ayōdhyā, which marked the traditional birthplace of the Hindu god Rāma.

As a response to foreign invasion, the medieval period understandably marks a period of consolidation within Indian culture, and the crystallization of a Hindu orthodoxy and its beliefs. To maintain its religious distinctiveness, and as a way to distinguish Hindus from the non-vegetarian invaders, vegetarianism was elevated as part of the Hindu cultural identity. This crystallization of Hindu teachings, however, had a dramatic impact upon the understanding and sophistication of Āyurveda. In much the same way that the sophisticated medical knowledge inherited from the Greeks and Romans by the Church underwent decline during the Dark Ages in Europe, the preservation of Āyurveda by the Hindu orthodoxy during the medieval period meant that much of the knowledge became theoretical and academic. Rational practices such as surgery almost completely disappeared from Āyurveda during this time, replaced by superstition, and a greater emphasis upon magic-religious techniques to resolve disease. In this way, the vegetarian diet as a hallmark of Hindu culture was not only associated with morality, but served as a kind of talisman against disease.


On the subject of sattva, rajas, and tamas

One frequent way used to explain the difference between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism, as well as the practices that comprise the Hindu orthodoxy from those of the non-Hindu, is to reference the concept of triguṇa.  Individually called sattva, rajas, and tamas, the triguṇa represent three distinct, yet interdependent qualitative states, each representing a difference sphere of experience. The origin of this concept is found in Sāṁkhya, a teaching considered by some scholars to be the most ancient of the Vedas. Although the original teachings of Sāṁkhya have been lost to time, it exists in redacted form as a text called the Sāṁkhya-kārikā (3-5th cent. CE), supplemented with a few references to its teachings in the Bhagavad-gītāSāṁkhya is particularly important to the epistemology of Āyurveda, however, and it is in classical texts such as the Caraka saṃhitā that we find the oldest surviving exposition of its teachings.

According to Sāṁkhya, sattva, rajas and tamas relate to three qualities manifest within an individuated being (called ahaṃkāra). Within this temporal state, sattva, rajas and tamas represent different aspects of individuated experience. According to the Sāṁkhya-kārikāsattva is described as “illuminating”, giving rise to pleasure; rajas is “activating”, giving rise to pain; and tamas is “restraining”, which gives rise to delusion. Collectively, these three qualities represent the entire spectrum of experience.

Derived from the root words sat (eternal truth) and tva (thyself), sattva represents the subjective consciousness, which is only experienced in fullness through deep meditation, when the mind is turned inward and away from the compulsions of rāga (desire) and dviṣ (aversion). This is why sattva is said to give pleasure – not the temporal pleasure that fulfills desire – but rather, the bliss that comes from deep spiritual insight (saccidānanda). In contrast, tamas represents the objective, physical world, which includes our bodies, the food we eat, the earth itself, and all the stars in the universe. In Āyurveda  this includes the five elements, and the three doṣa(s) that emanate from them. Between them lies rajas as the “activator”, the quality that binds sattva to tamas, drawing the illuminated consciousness outwards into the inertia of physical reality.

When the teaching of Sāṁkhya became crystalized within the Hindu orthodoxy, the concept of triguṇa became much more literal. Rather than representing the esoteric concept of the illuminated consciousness, sattva became synonymous with “goodness” and “purity”, representing the religious and spiritual values of orthodox Hinduism. Likewise, rajas became associated with “conflict” and “disturbance”, and tamas with “evil” and “contamination”. In this way, when applied to food, that which is vegetarian is automatically considered to be sattvic, whereas non-vegetarian foods are tamasic, and rajasic foods are those which stimulate the desire for tamasic foods. For example, milk and rice – two staples of Indian vegetarian cuisine – are considered “sattvic”, whereas foods like meat, fish and alcohol are considered “tamasic”. Supposed “rajasic” foods include onion, garlic and chili, which all stimulate the appetite for heavier (i.e. tamasic) foods. While this definition may seem to make sense on the basis of its own internal logic, it only does so if one ignores the original teaching of Sāṁkhya and Āyurveda. According to Caraka, the word “sattva” is synonymous with the mind, and if we accept this definition, it cannot be possible for food also to be a product of sattva.


Each of us must consume food to nourish our bodies, and thus both food and the body relates to the quality of tamas. It is impossible to say that one food is “sattvic” and another is “tamasic”, when in truth, all foods are tamasic, and are eaten precisely for these tamasic qualities, i.e. to nourish and sustain our tamasic bodies. When a tamasic object such as food is elevated to the quality of sattva, we are practicing a subtle form of spiritual materialism, in which object become confused for subject. Since the medieval period in India, Hindu beliefs and practices have frequently reflected this misapprehension, devolving from the symbolic, sacred meaning of objects and the impression this is meant to convey to the mind, to the elevation of these objects as the embodiment of the spiritual experience itself.

When I have raised these issues before, one frequent argument I am met with is that I must be saying that food has no impact upon consciousness. This conclusion, however, similarly reflects the ignorance of someone that doesn’t fully comprehend the interdependent nature of triguṇa. Just because food and mind are not the same thing, it doesn’t mean that food cannot impact the consciousness – obviously it does –  just as anyone who has perhaps eaten too much chili pepper or horseradish can attest to. But this effect is not a unique property of food, as anything within the realm of tamas can impact the mind. How do you feel on a rainy day – a little depressed and sad perhaps? What if you had an argument with someone – do you feel angry? Or what if you won the lottery? Would it change how you feel? There is no denying that tamasic experiences can and do impact the equilibrium of the mind (sattva), but they do so most powerfully when we confuse subject (i.e. the mind) for object (i.e. physical reality). For example, if someone does something we don’t like, and we get angry, is that person the cause of our anger, and thus responsible for it, or is our anger purely an emanation of our consciousness?

Confusing vegetarianism with spirituality

During the Buddha’s lifetime, he had a follower named Devadatta who wanted to change some of the teachings. Specifically, Devadatta believed that the vegetarianism practiced by other religious sects, such as the Jains, should be incorporated into the Buddhist monastic code. While upholding the principle of ahimsā, the Buddha rejected Devadatta’s request, which eventually resulted in his expulsion from the saṃgha.  The reason the Buddha rejected him is because Devdatta was fundamentally confused, wanting to turn the teaching into a cult of materialism that elevated vegetarianism as a spiritual goal, once again, confusing subject for object. Likewise, throughout the spiritual history of India, the great adepts have rejected spiritual distinctions with regard to diet, including Shirdi Sai Baba, who sought to overcome communal politics by embracing a practical and egalitarian approach to food. Consider as well, what the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib, says on the matter:

“The fools argue about flesh and meat, but they know nothing about meditation and spiritual wisdom. What is called meat, and what is called green vegetables? What leads to sin? It was the habit of the gods to kill the rhinoceros, and make a feast of the burnt offering. Those who renounce meat, and hold their noses when sitting near it, devour men at night. They practice hypocrisy, and make a show before other people, but they do not understand anything about meditation or spiritual wisdom. O Nanak, what can be said to the blind people? They cannot answer, or even understand what is said.”

My intent in writing this post has not been to hurt anyone’s feelings. Vegetarianism is an ethical and moral choice, and despite what conclusions might be drawn from my writing, I have a great deal of respect for this choice. I applaud the efforts of animal rights activists, and am fully behind the effort to deconstruct the industrial food model that treats living creatures as nothing more than commodities. But the choice of vegetarianism is just that – a choice – not an imperative. There is nothing in Hinduism or Āyurveda that mandates vegetarianism, despite the fact that almost all college-trained physicians of Āyurveda recommend a vegetarian diet. To this day, physicians will directly contradict or modify the practices of Āyurveda to promulgate the mistaken belief that a vegetarian diet is “healthier”, or is somehow intrinsically better to achieve mental balance. As we can see with the issue I raised with regard to the problem of vitamin B12 deficiency in vegetarian communities, the all-pervasive belief that vegetarianism is superior diet is a kind hubris imposed onto Āyurveda, limiting its practical utility, and causing irrevocable damage to its integrity.

The issue of vegetarianism in Āyurveda is a metaphorical sacred cow that obfuscates its authentic history and practice, and forces it to become nothing more than a pale replica of itself. The reality is that Āyurveda is for everybody, regardless of diet, faith, gender, age, culture, geography, or climate. According to tradition, the knowledge of Āyurveda is built into the very fabric of matter itself, and in this way, is a part of us all – even if we don’t know it. Āyurveda is a system of knowledge that allows you live in concert with dharma, or the natural rhythm of life, no matter where you live: whether its the lush tropics of south India where being a vegetarian is very easy, or the frigid steppes of Tibet, where being a vegetarian isn’t even a possibility. My hope in addressing this issue is to reopen the dialogue around diet, restoring Āyurveda to its proper state: resplendent in its grounded, earthy wisdom.