Ayurveda & Western Medicine: The Best of Both Worlds

by Marijke van der Linden

Fleur Aukema complemented her knowledge of an ancient lifestyle with that of Western medicine. She studied Ayurveda, Western Medicine Fundamentals and Psychosocial Fundamentals. Her clients now enjoy the benefits of her hard work. “We tackle problems at the source and rely on standard healthcare if necessary.”

Healthy cooking has always been one of Fleur's biggest passions. For years, she ran a delicatessen shop with her family and offered nutritional meals to people at festivals from her own food truck. Even back then, she was incredibly curious about everything you can achieve with a healthy diet.

“How can you maintain your physical and mental balance with the right ingredients and recipes? What food can contribute to your recovery? I wanted to learn everything I could about those things.” During her search, she discovered Ayurveda.

 

Cooking with attention

“According to the Ayurvedic tradition, a healthy diet begins with the attentive and loving preparation of food. You can taste the energy with which a meal was prepared and you actually absorb that energy in your own body. What's great is that, once you start cooking with loving attention, you will begin to experience that in other areas of your life as well,” the chef and therapist explains.  

According to the Ayurvedic philosophy, Fleur is mostly a vata personality: quick, energetic, enthusiastic and idealistic. Under pressure, such people are quick to experience stress and fear and they can feel exhausted at the end of the day. For each type of personality, Ayurveda offers specific lifestyle advice to help them restore their mental and physical balance. A vata personality, for example, benefits from regularity in life, mild forms of exercise such as yoga and plenty of warm meals and nutritious soups.

Fleur: “With my food truck, I would drive from one festival to another, work very hard, party too much and sleep too little. I was exhausting myself. I only realised that once I began exploring Ayurvedic cooking: I had moved too far towards the ‘vata side’ and wanted to restore my natural balance.”


A balanced life with Ayurveda

She gradually began to live her life in accordance with Ayurvedic teachings. She took more time to rest, drank less alcohol and ate meals that helped her restore and maintain her balance in life. She also underwent a thorough Ayurvedic cleansing process that including detox meals, colon cleanses, visits to a sweat lodge and massages.

“It felt like I was cleansing myself from years of unhealthy living. I slowly began to feel happier and calmer. It also stirred a desire within me to share my Ayurvedic knowledge with others.”


Studying

After completing an Ayurveda course, she quickly enrolled in the therapist programme at Delight Academy in The Netherlands. “I wanted to learn how you can coach others with regard to their lifestyle and further professionalise as a therapist. Since the programme has a higher-education accreditation, you can join a trade association when you graduate. That means you get a quality seal, practical support, compensation from health insurance providers and intervision, among other things.” 

Fleur also completed the programmes Western Medicine Fundamentals and Psychosocial Fundamentals. Together with the programme she completed at the Delight Academy, she can soon start calling herself a therapist and her sessions will be partially covered by various supplementary insurance policies. “That gives my clients a nice incentive to come to me for coaching. More importantly, however, is that I will be even better able to help them.”


Eastern and western medicine

Fleur primarily coaches women with regard to menstruation, pregnancy and weight. “Many of these issues are in some way related to a hormonal imbalance. I wanted to learn more about that. 

With my knowledge of the fundamentals of medicine, I now have an intimate understanding of the human body and know how the hormone system works. I can explain this to my clients in a modern and accessible manner.”

Fleur says that Ayurveda has its own language, which can sometimes be hard to grasp. If, for example, a woman suffers from heavy menstrual bleeding, the Ayurvedic philosophy attributes this to an imbalance between her vata, pitta and kapha. For example, a woman's vata and pitta can become too high when she exhausts herself.

Fleur: “When a woman always works to the rhythm of men and does not give in to her menstrual pain, this can result in hormonal symptoms. In western medicine, this phenomenon is explained as a hormonal imbalance between one's oestrogen and progesterone levels. That is much easier to understand. I think understanding how your body functions can speed up the recovery process.”

Referral

Another aspect that the Ayurveda therapist values about the Western Medicine and Psychosocial Fundamentals programmes is that they have taught her to recognise the warning signs of serious physical and mental conditions. “I have already referred a few women, whom I suspected might be suffering from anaemia, to their general practitioner for a blood test.

One woman turned out to have an autoimmune disease, which means her body was attacking and breaking down its own red blood cells. She really needed standard medical care. Without my basic medical knowledge, we might never have discovered what was wrong with her.”

From time to time, Fleur also refers clients to a psychologist. “Women regularly come to me with psychological issues. That makes sense, because they are often the cause of their physical ailments. We can work on these issues together, for example by doing breathing exercises.

However, if I suspect that a client is struggling with an unresolved trauma, for example, I will refer her. She can then get the help she needs. However, a psychologist's treatment can coincide with my own methods. The two can actually reinforce each other.”

Working together with a General Practitioner

The reverse also happens: providers of standard medical care sometimes refer their clients to Fleur. She is currently in talks with a local general practitioner to discuss the possibility of forming some sort of cooperative alliance. The General Practitioner is interested in offering clients a consultation hour with an Ayurvedic coach in her practice to complement her own standard medical care.

“With my knowledge of Western Medicine and Psychosocial Fundamentals, I certainly feel confident about such a partnership. I am familiar with the medical terminology and can work with a General Practitioner as equals,” Fleur says.

She believes it is very valuable for general practitioners to refer their patients to complementary therapists. “Whereas physicians may be quick to suggest that a woman starts taking birth control to treat her hormonal issues, the Ayurvedic approach centres around her diet and lifestyle.

We view pain as a sign of an underlying problem. This approach ensures chronic symptoms are tackled at their root. If you fail to do so, it can actually lead to more problems down the line, such as infertility or an extreme menopause.”

 

Preventing illnesses

Fleur talks about a client who had been suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding for a long time and never did anything about it. That ultimately led to severe endometriosis and the woman had to undergo surgery. “We use Ayurveda to look for ways to help her maintain her balance in life and ensure the problems do not recur. It would be wonderful if we can keep chronic issues from turning into serious illnesses. By offering a consultation hour in a GP's practice, a larger audience will be familiarised with amazing, ancient philosophies such as Ayurveda.

I believe there are always general practitioners who are open to such partnerships and that society can benefit from looking at the concept of 'health’ from a more fundamental perspective. We are currently in the middle of a health crisis, yet it seems no one is talking about health. I believe there is a better way.”

Maturity leave in accordance with the Ayurvedic tradition

Although she still has the occasional consultation with a client, Fleur spends most of her time enjoying a very relaxing maternity leave, in part due to her knowledge of Ayurveda. She gave birth to her third child three months ago. “My body pushed itself to the limit during the birth and I need all the energy I have left to care for myself and my baby.”

The Ayurvedic tradition advises women to spend as much time as possible in bed with their baby and have others care for them for six weeks. “In the western world, hardly anyone does that. Many women try to go back to their lives as quickly as possible. If you take the time to rest, however, you will have a much smoother recovery process.”

Fleur does not make any plans if she can help it and has asked friends and family members to prepare Ayurvedic meals for her family. “A friend of mine wanted to learn more about Ayurvedic cooking. While I was still pregnant, I gave her some cooking lessons and she is now preparing fresh meals for me. My mother and mother-in-law also do their part.”

A faster recovery

The Ayurvedic tradition teaches us that fresh food is important, especially after giving birth. “Of course, you could prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them. However, fresh vegetables (preferably harvested directly from your own vegetable garden) still contain a lot of life and will therefore give your body more energy.”

According to Ayurvedic teachings, a woman's vata is out of balance after giving birth. That is because she loses a lot of fluids, runs a greater risk of becoming dehydrated and may suffer from constipation. You can compensate for this by eating warm, liquid and nutritious meals made from e.g. sweet potatoes, carrots and rice, stews and hot porridge. You can use broth or almond milk to make your meals “soupier.” Fleur: “In my case, that helped me go to the bathroom without any trouble on the second day after the birth. For most women, that is a real problem when they have just gone through labour. I also find that I am far more relaxed now than I was after giving birth to my first or second child, because I am really taking the time I need to fully recover. I am very grateful to be able to apply everything I learned in my studies to my own situation and that I can share my knowledge with others. This philosophy is thousands of years old, yet it still has so much wisdom to offer us today.”