The use of integrative therapies is on the rise in the U.S. As people incorporate these practices into their healthcare choices, more healthcare facilities and insurance companies are offering access to services such as massage therapy and acupuncture.
With such a favorable climate for integrative care, proponents of Ayurveda, an ancient mind-body medicine system, have launched an effort to accredit Ayurvedic education programs and license Ayurvedic practitioners nationwide.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, or Ayurvedic medicine, is a medicine system based on the concept of interconnectedness between people’s minds and bodies and the environment they inhabit and interact with. Practitioners prescribe immune-boosting treatments tailored to the individual; these treatments usually include the use of herbs, minerals, massagespecial diets.
One type of Ayurvedic massage is shirodhara, which includes oil poured continuously onto the forehead.
Ayurveda is not widely recognized in the U.S., and the National Institutes of Health says research has been limited and inconclusive on its effectiveness, but this system has been practiced for thousands of years in India, where Ayurveda has its roots and is still the main system of medicine today.
Since its inception in 1998, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) has been taking steps to raise the profile of Ayurveda in the U.S. Members of the organization realized that for it to be considered a legitimate health practice here, it needed to have professional standards in place.
Standards for Ayurvedic Practitioners
No states currently offer licensure to professional Ayurvedic practitioners, although a handful have Health Freedom or Safe Harbor laws that let Ayurvedic practitioners and other practitioners of unlicensed alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, practice without fear of unfair prosecution.
“We recognized early on that standards were important for the profession here,” said Hilary Garivaltis, AP, the executive director of NAMA, which is based in Los Angeles, California.
To that end, over the last five years, the organization has been creating certification exams and a set of practice standards for professional Ayurvedic practitioners and educators. The next, and arguably, the biggest step, is getting the National Ayurvedic Medical Association Accreditation Council, which was created in 2017, on its feet as an independent organization.
NAMA is supporting this accrediting board as it gets established, said Garivaltis, who is a member of the board. The organization is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to give the board a solid foundation so that it will operate with limited or no financial support from NAMA, she said.
“It will be important for the accreditation council to be on its own when we’re ready to apply for Department of Education [DOE] accreditation,” she said, because an established accrediting body helps legitimize, in the eyes of the government, that the profession’s accrediting body is working and functioning within designated standards.
With DOE accreditation, she said, more opportunity opens up for schools offering Ayurveda education and the students attending those schools, and DOE accreditation will make it easier to approach state legislatures about applying for professional licensure.
The National Ayurvedic Medical Association Accreditation Council hopes to begin accepting formal applications from schools by late spring 2019.
Worth the Wait
Garivaltis realizes that getting Ayurveda established as a professional healthcare practice in the U.S. will take time. She looks to the acupuncture profession for inspiration; it took multiple decades for acupuncture professionals to get accredited professional programs and licensure, she noted.
As with acupuncture, Garivaltis hopes Ayurveda professionals will soon be working regularly alongside Western medical doctors in the U.S. “One of the great things that Ayurveda brings to the table that Western medicine hasn’t excelled in is the diet and lifestyle piece,” she said.
“So many modern diseases are diet- and lifestyle-driven diseases, and western medical doctors are not trained in that specifically, so there’s a beautiful opportunity for us to partner and support people and patients,” Garivaltis added.
Ayurveda and Massage Therapy
Working in collaboration with medical physicians and other healthcare practitioners, Ayurvedic professionals can use a variety of healing modalities—for instance, recommending yoga or massage therapy or using herbal interventions—to support healthy diet and lifestyle choices, Garivaltis said.
As part of its work toward accrediting Ayurvedic programs and licensure for Ayurvedic practitioners, NAMA has developed a curriculum that has specialty trainings that may be of particular interest to massage therapists because they focus on bodywork.
“We have great synergy with the massage community here in the United States, and great respect for this as a really important piece of well-being,” she said. Over the years, Garivaltis has taught many massage therapists about Ayurvedic bodywork, she said. “Working with these energies of bodies is very specific,” she noted.
Many of the treatments and protocols in Ayurveda have to do with body treatment, in particular using and applying oils and using touch to work on the energetic body, she said. Learning Ayurvedic bodywork gives massage therapists another tool for exploring and learning about the body.
About the Author
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine; her articles include “Massage Improves Quality of Life for Disabled People” and “New West Virginia Law Requires Alternatives to Opioids.”