In my profession and in my search to cure my own hair loss, I have run across literally hundreds of cultural remedies and philosophies.
Alternative medicine has dominated different societies from all over the world for thousands of years. Each is very intriguing and millions of people rely on them to cure their various ailment.
It may surprise you, but most of these systems are alike in the methods and fundamental beliefs they use to achieve physical and mental health.
In fact, anthropologists believe they all come from the same ancient knowledge that spread throughout the world as mankind spread from continent to continent.
The ingredients used vary based on location and the religious implications varied based on the culture, but the end goal was always the same.
While I had heard about Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old Hindu medical system, I was far from being educated enough to answer questions about it and certainly not enough to incorporate it into the Hair Loss Black Book program.
When I was asked specifically about it, I decided it was time to hit the books. I had one question I had to answer: Can Ayurveda help treat hair loss and, if so, how?
I’ll be the first to admit it; I hadn’t given Ayurveda much study. This wasn’t because I had any particular stance against the method. I simply did not run across enough information to write about it.
My favorite place for research, my local library, has quite large alternative medicine and cultural reference sections, but is lacking in the Ayurvedic specifics.
There are lots of articles, studies, papers, and every other kind of resource available on mainline alternative medicine. You can find endless volumes on treatments from the Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and even Homeopathy.
But, when it came to Ayurveda, I had to admit I was stumped. Of course, I’m not the type to give up. So, I did what any of us would do. I went online.
Most of my main go-to resources, especially the one I most expected to help the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, were not very helpful.
Hopkins and Mayo both noted the rising instances of their patients asking how to integrate it into their traditional treatment. They marked the need for further study, but as of yet none had been published from trustworthy sources.
The other sources online were all from Ayurvedic institutes and their founders. While this would seem like the best place for research, these make me skeptical. Typically, these institutes endorse only their own techniques and ideas and it is very difficult to verify their authenticity.
As I expected, they were selling their own line of products, recipes, and guide books. That isn’t to say these are quality items, but there is no independent validation of their effectiveness or safety.
This is when I decided to find an expert I could actually talk to who wasn’t trying to sell me something.
You might find it funny, but I turned to one of the oldest and best American resources for research… the phone book. Naturally, I expected to find what I looked for in a major city like New York or Boston.
Instead, I found what I was looking for in sunny Florida, with the co-founder and Senior Life Consultant of the former ElemenTells Wellness Clinic, Phillip Rangai.
Let me just say, Rangai had A LOT of information to share with me. We had a Q&A session that was sent back and forth for days and I had pages of notes. I learned so much about Ayurveda in general and ayurvedic treatment for hair loss.
If you will bear with me (and I know this may be a longer post than you were ready to read, but worth it if you can make the time) I will try to teach you what I learned.
Part 1: Western Ayurveda 101
Ayurveda In India vs. The United States (And Europe)
Rangai serves as a holistic healing counselor at the clinic. Although he has studied several alternative therapies and has two Biology degrees, he is a fourth generation ayurvedic expert and teacher.
He taught me my first important lesson about Westernized Ayurvedic medicine right away when I referred to him as a vaidhya, the traditional name of an ayurvedic practitioner in India.
“Let me stop you right there. My grandfather, a real vaidhya, would have me kneeling for a day if he heard me refer to myself as a vaidhya!” Rangai went on to explain that a vaidhya is a true doctor in every sense of the word, but only in India.
“My grandfather can make and prescribe medication and perform a full spectrum of medical services, but only after a couple of decades of study under a vaidhya. My great grandfather was even an Ayurvedic surgeon”
In the United States and in most of Europe it is impossible to be a true vaidhya.
Rangai told me even if he were to study for 20 years under a classically trained vaidhya (which are still quite rare outside of India), US and UK laws prevent him from prescribing medicine, drawing blood, performing any surgery, and doing many other activities because his training will not qualify for a medical license.
Fortunately, this doesn’t stop Rangai from using his knowledge to help others.
“Here in the United States, we take a different path. Ayurveda is a complete medical system when practiced correctly, but the limitations here in the States make it a complimentary therapy at best.
People will still need and use modern medicine, so it is my job to make their results better. I have to work harder to balance my patients. I have to master modern science and my family’s legacy of healing.
I cannot use invasive medicine to treat patients which means my passive techniques must be excellent.”
Westernized Ayurveda And The Mind
Despite its limitations here, Rangai said he and fellow practitioners stick to fundamental principles of the Ayurvedic lifestyle.
The first principle being that all life, human life especially, is comprised of 4 parts:
- Sharira – the physical body
- Atma – the soul
- Mana – the mind
- Indriyan – the body’s senses
Human life thrives within an environment comprised of 5 essential elements, earth, air, space, water, and fire.
“While we don’t have as much control over our environmental elements these days, where we most focus what we can alter and heal is the general makeup of the body and life force.”
Rangai’s insists that the life force, what you and I call the mind, must be prioritized because “a life force cannot be torn in different directions and be expected to move the body…a right mind can accomplish more physical change than a mind in distress.”
Rangai explained that the mental state is called the Guna. It is comprised of Sattva-knowledge, Rajas-passion, and Tamas-ignorance.
“Every person has all of these aspects. Typically, one trait will dominate the others… but typically that ratio is 45% to 30 and 25%. In an ideal state of health our minds can call upon each trait when it is needed.”
This means when you’re stressed with a difficult problem at work, you may need more Sattva. When you are striving to meet a goal, then you may call upon your Rajas. When your body needs downtime, you will channel your Tamas.
The danger comes when one trait is so dominate (like 70%) it prevents you from channeling the other traits.
When The Life Force Is Misaligned
For example, Rangai considers the most dangerous trait is Tamas.
“It is easy for someone to get downhearted about their life without even realizing it. They fall into a trap of laziness, depression, self-loathing, and selfishness.
These people are rather disgusting to the others around them which further isolate them, but they cannot get out of the hole they’ve sunk into. It takes a real jolt normally like a debilitating illness or the loss of someone important.
We normally expect failure quite a few times before the changes finally take.”
But, the other traits can be just too potent if not kept in check. “Someone with too much Rajas can be just….too much! They feel too intensely about even the smallest items.
A waiter who doesn’t bring the check in a timely manner will infuriate and consume this person just as much as losing a million dollars would. They are bossy and… frankly, behave like orangutans.”
“When their doctor tells them their blood pressure is dangerous or when they’re on their 3rd divorce, that’s when they come looking for me to teach them some peace.
They are typically stubborn patients, but if I can get through to them they can become extremely passionate about healing. They dive into meditation and diet changes, typically with good results.”
“The Sattvic dominate are the most common to come to my clinic. They’re obsession with knowledge, health, and ‘reaching a higher plain’ has led them to an ultra alternative lifestyle. It can be a good lifestyle of exercise, organics, charity, and wholesome environments.”
“The other shoe drops when their quest for purity hijacks their ability to exist in the ‘real world’ of running errands, fighting traffic, hanging out with friends, and handling the rat race/grind within a social circle or at work.
It is funny when I recommend my treatment to stop ‘chilling out’, I always get the strangest looks.
Initially, almost all reject my ideas of simple alterations like watching the scary movie everyone is talking about just to fit in with friends or letting their child listen to Eminem (a rap star) occasionally instead of always fighting to keep things pure and light in the home.”
Westernized Ayurveda And The Body
Once the mind is open to adjustment, it is easier to reshape the body. In Ayurveda, the body is just as divided as the mind.
There are three energies that make up the constitution of the body: Kapha-water, Pitta-Fire, and Vayu-Wind.
“Of course, those are their spiritual associations used for thousands of years.
Those of us who have incorporated modern science into our tradition have accepted there is a logical correspondence to our body functions.
We recognize Kapha as the fluids, such as mucus, sweat and blood, within the body which is unique to mammals. These fluids cleanse our systems, transport nutrients, soothe irritations, and do a million other tasks.”
“We acknowledge Pitta represents the little processes within our body that we need but so often go awry. My peers call it bile, but it is really all the enzymes… all the hormones, all the acids… and all the by products of every body function.
Even those body functions we don’t like to talk about but are oh-so necessary to life.”
“Vayu is a bit more difficult in definition. We relate it to the oxygen that travels throughout our bodies and sparks tissue growth and healing. But, it is also the energy that can make our cells divide and glues us together.
Vayu is used and simultaneously produced throughout all our body functions.”
Just as in the mind, each of these energies is supposed to be present within the body.
Any one energy should be available to be called upon when needed. I was expecting Rangai to start focusing on my favorite word-balance but this is when he surprised me. “Indeed, many of my peers will focus on equally balancing all three energies.
In my opinion, that doesn’t get the job done because the five elements of this world are not in every person’s home… also we all have life force energies in different proportions.
My father and my grandfather taught me to never ignore those facts or I would fail to heal my patient. Everything I learned in Biology and Chemistry class tells me they are right.”
“I learned that we all need a certain ratio of the three, but it cannot be 33/33/33%. You most likely eat different foods than I do. I live in an apartment downtown and walk 3 blocks to work and you most likely live in a home and drive to your work.
I don’t mind bragging that I have a rather peaceful work environment, but the average person isn’t always thrilled with their career.”
“We each travel on different paths and need a different balance of energies.” He explained that we always need a small portion of Vayu, Pitta, and Kapha but there is one that will always be dominate in us.
“Think of how you listen to music. You may like more bass and I may like more treble. My ears hear differently than your ears and my mind responds to music differently than you.
Either is fine until you turn up the volume too loud, one ruptures the ear drums and one scars them but the result is the same.”
It makes sense. I know we are all unique and it is only logical that I might need more Pitta than you will ever need. That’s alright, Rangai says, as long as your life expends all of the Pitta, or Vayu, or Kapha energy you produce.
If you start making more energy than you use, it builds up in your body leading immediately to disease. If your life force is also misbalanced, then the disease can get really bad, really quick.
Someone who is over-Pitta is often angry and easily provoked. Their digestive system is failing from too much acid, so they are “probably popping antacids.”
They are sweaty, acne prone, and pale because their “Kapha is being burnt to a crisp by the acid of their Pitta.” The over-Kapha are easy to spot because they gain weight easily and can’t keep it off. Their Pitta does not work, so calories stick to them a lot more.
They “go with the flow”, says Ranai but they frustrate others because they don’t seem to care passionately about anything and are unwilling to explore.
Because their Vayu is being overridden, they often have a lower temperature, breathing issues while sleeping, and similar problems.
Finally, the Vayu abundant are too restless and too energetic. This makes them physically thin and weak. Their Vayu is pushing their Pitta too fast, so they cannot properly absorb nutrients.
Stress is especially hard on them and often makes them physically sick.
The overactive Vayu makes it hard for them to concentrate and retain information, although they are often intelligent. They cannot fight off communicable diseases and frequently have severe colds and flu.
Every type of energy moving in every direction would seem impossible to control. However, that is what Rangai and 3 generations of men before him have dedicated their lives to doing.
Although Rangai is practicing Westernized Ayurveda, an admittedly limited form, he still has a whole arsenal of tools to help get your energy where it is supposed to be.
Diet is his number one tool to realign your bodily energy. “People flock to foods that represent their dominant energy. Pitta prone love spices, the Kapha love fresh vegetables, and the Vayu want sweet fruits and ‘feel-good’ flavors.”
“All things in moderation are great, but when the energy is wrong the diet is the first to go wrong.” Either one becomes too attracted to their energy’s food groups.
They get overwhelmed and do not get the nutrients they need for their other energies. Or, their dominant energy weakens and they become attracted to foods from other energies which further zap their dominant force.
2) Treat The Symptoms
This was a change of pace for me, because I believe in treating the root cause and not chasing symptoms. However, Rangai made a good point. “When a patient is overwhelmed by a symptom, they cannot see beyond it.
I have to make life easier to get them to see past a symptom to the poor flow of energy.”
Although he cannot perform surgery or prescribe medicines, Rangai believes he effectively treats symptoms. He uses homemade homeopathic remedies and recommends recipes which alleviate symptoms like muscle aches and flues.
He recommends exercise to help with symptoms that require increased blood flow, lost weight, and fresh air.
3) Eliminating Toxins
This is a rather large category. Essentially, toxins within and without the body which unnaturally affect energy have to be eliminated.
This is done several ways. Enemas and cleanses help flush the system.
Massages help release toxins held within muscles and other body tissues.
Body scrubs and saunas clean out the pores and the sweat glands, flushing away toxins from the body’s largest organ.
4) Increasing Harmony
Not eliminating stress, increasing harmony. Rangai says our lives and commitments make it impossible to escape stress, what we can do is reduce the amount of time we spend worrying about stress.
Meditation is his primary tool, but he also encourages taking on new hobbies, getting outside whenever possible, and relying on loved ones for help. (So do I!)