Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine that traces its millennia-long history to a physician who served the Hindu gods, has made inroads in the United States. The discipline is shaping wholesome lifestyles ranging from skincare to nutrition and exercise. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda translates to knowledge of life.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the trend in the United States, making ayurvedic medicine more mainstream than ever before: Yoga practitioners, chefs and spa owners who are Hindus or those who believe in the traditional healthcare system are introducing its age-old methods and practices to an array of clients and businesses.
New York City is ground central for ayurveda practices, which have both preventive and healing components, based as they are on a combination of herbal preparations, exercise and diet.
The Big Apple is where “the creative forces behind new ayurvedic restaurants, spas, health clinics and yoga studios are collaborating, working out how to apply the philosophy to their disciplines authentically to avoid turning the trend into a simple marketing gimmick,” according to a recent Religion News Service article.
Titled “Ayurveda’s Spiritual Science Makes Inroads Among Foodies and Healers,” the article notes that as a health regimen, Ayurveda “offers herbal remedies for internal ailments, based on the idea that the mind, body and soul are connected to the elements and that health problems arise when these elements are out of balance.”
Ayurveda is attributed to Dhanvantari, the physician to the Hindu gods. Dating to the 2nd millennium B.C., the discipline’s earliest concepts are outlined in the Atharvaveda, one of the four Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures.
Although its roots lie in Hinduism, Ayurveda demands no adherence to the faith. It has captured the media spotlight in India lately because the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted mass demand for Ayurvedic products and services that expand respiratory capacity and enhance immunity.
Patients who have long suffered from autoimmune disorders or chronic digestive illnesses are also said to have benefitted. That is the case for Divya Alter, a Bulgarian citizen who spent five years in the Hindu holy city Vrindaban studying Ayurveda, Hindu philosophy and Sanskrit.
“My sick body became my biggest obstacle in my spiritual life,” Alter said. “I realized that the body is a gift from God, and I’m meant to take care of it so I can evolve on my spiritual path.”
Alter felt Ayurveda did such wonders for her that after she relocated to New York City in 2009, where she and her husband Prentiss launched Bhagwat Life, a nonprofit culinary school that teaches Ayurvedic principles based on food that is local, fresh and seasonal.
In 2015, Bhagwat Life established the country’s first Ayurvedic culinary certification. Two years later, the Alters co-wrote What To Eat For How You Feel, a book devoted to the basics of Ayurvedic foods, cooking and recipes.
The following year, the couple launched Divya’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—a restaurant that serves “modern cuisine based on ancient principles.” On the menu are an array of curries and South Asian-influenced dishes as well as a lasagna featuring a bechamel sauce derived from the milk of cashews or sunflowers.
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