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Alternative Medicine: Return of Ayurveda

As in other fields of applied sciences, modern medical science also has failed to resist the onslaught of corruption, consumerism, and utilitarian motives. The deterioration in medical ethics, coupled with the limitations of modern scientific medicine in curing many diseases, has prompted many westerners to find alternative in the Eastern traditional methods of therapeutics. While globalization of economy, easy exchange of scientific knowledge, and a big leap in information technology have helped the spread of scientific medicine, it is equally true that eastern ideas and culture have also made their impact on certain section of western community. Thus, alternative medicine, chiefly various Ayurvedic therapies and Chinese techniques are becoming increasingly popular both in the land of their origin and the Western societies.

Ayurveda is one such cultural exchange, which the Westerners feel might provide them with a holistic approach to their health problems. Ayurveda appears to profess a more humane approach towards the illness, which the modern medical practitioner appears to lack. Many a patient feels that modern medical science has become too commercial, almost to the point of being labeled as unethical. The opinion is now afloat that, in addition to the sophisticated gadgetry the patients need tender loving care as well. Ayurveda practitioners may not have remedy for every illness or malady, but their approach towards the patient appears more kind and natural. The treatments prescribed also bring the patients in touch with the nature by way of herbal and plant medicines, seasonal do's and don'ts, diet and exercises and desirable emphasis on life style modification. Aromatherapy, massage, and similar simple, albeit sometimes costly and time consuming, techniques bring confidence in the heart of the patients. In addition, recent surge in the interest in science of spirituality -Vedanta and Yoga- has also contributed to the revival of Ayurveda in East and the West.

Moreover, as traditional Chinese and Indian systems of medicine overcome restrictions of their respective national boundaries, we are witnessing a tremendous spurt in publication of very good books on 'Alternative modes of therapy'. These books contain valuable insights in basic theories and practices of Eastern traditional medicine. Many of the books compare and elaborate 'origins and development' of these systems giving us interesting insights into the basic philosophical foundation of the two great civilizations. A few books are:
  • 1) "Stress-free Work with Yoga and Ayurveda": By Dr. Vinod Verma
  • 2) "Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda": Robert Svoboda and Arnie Lade;
  • 3) "Ayurveda Revolutionized": Edward F. Tarabilda;
  • 4) "Ayurveda and Aromatherapy": Dr. Light Miller & Dr. Bryan Miller;
  • 5) "Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing": By Maya Tiwari;
  • 6) "The Healing Power of Essential Oils": By Rodolphe Balz;
  • 7) "Awakening Nature's Healing Intelligence": By Hari Sharma, MD.

    The Ayurveda

    The Ayurvedic system of medicine is based on the ancient knowledge contained in Atharvaveda. It deals with the totality of individual and social health including preventive and curative aspects. In fact Ayurveda is a way of life based on certain emphasis on diet, life-style, and Yoga practices suitable for an individual according to his/her constitution. The constitution, in turn, is determined on the basis of the predominance of or loss of equilibrium in one or more of the humor, viz. Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Based on the symptoms produced due to excess or deficiency of particular humor or Dosha, the vaidya (Ayurvedic practitioner) chooses remedial measures in the form of herbs, plant medicine, salts of metals, etc. These therapeutics have evolved into many branches for the benefit of the patients: Treatments with the salts of heavy metals, dried extracts of medicinal herbs and plants, Panch-Karma (five way) therapies for cleansing, etc.

    Panch Karma (lit. Five acts) is a special techniques related to rejuvenation, cleansing, and healing practices. These five actions or procedures are 1) Shodhana -Principle practice, 2) Vamana -Emesis therapy, 3) Virechana -Purgation therapy, 4) Vasti -Enema therapy, and 5) Uttara Vasti -Douching. These procedures are advocated to the person depending upon his/her body constitution, chronicity of illness and other factors. The idea is to cleanse the body of excess of specific bodily humor: dosha and malas -toxic wastes of metabolism. Through these 'Pancha Karma' therapies the person attains the balance of the three doshas thereby regaining health.

    Added to this are many other novel ways of treating the patients; for instance, treating the patients with 'essential oils' which are the fragrant essences distilled from the various parts of the plants, viz. root, stem, leaves, flowers, fruits, bark, or the whole plant. This is also called as aromatherapy.

    However, many 'scientifically oriented persons' look at Ayurveda with skepticism. But it is futile to compare Ayurveda and Modern medicine. As regards Ayurveda today, any attempt to seek scientific rational explanation based on the statistical data, laboratory investigations and study of the cases on double blind trial etc. will be of no avail. This science will take longer time to come with scientific explanations for its effectiveness. But one thing is common to both: Both modern medicine and Ayurveda attempt to give relief to the suffering patients.

    Medical Science and spirituality

    Despite all such modern and ancient modes of therapies, it is all too natural to find human body falling ill from time to time and old age crippling the body-frame. This is true for whole humanity. Pain and fever are common symptoms, almost universal. Control of infectious diseases and prolonging life through modern interventionist mode of therapy has lead to improvement in life expectancy. But with it have come many age related degenerative and neoplastic diseases. Thus, heart disease, stroke, and cancer have become the leading causes of mortality. Moreover, chronic diseases of kidneys, lung, brain, liver, joints, etc., and stress related psychosomatic illnesses cause significant morbidity in general public.

    Some spiritually oriented researchers, for example the group led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, lead us towards clearer understanding of physiological, psychological, socio-economic, and spiritual factors in the development of these diseases and restoration of health. They emphasize the point that, in the last analysis, ill health is caused due to our forgetfulness --Pragya Aparadh-- of our true nature; our estrangement from the source: the universal consciousness.

    These authors come out nicely with the meaning and importance of health based on the interpretation and teachings of the Vedic Literature. They provide guidelines for maintaining a balanced psychophysiology and life-style. But most of all, it is about inner discovery, about realizing that as health unfolds, so does vitality, happiness, and many other positive attributes we all seek. Growth of supreme health and growth of higher state of consciousness go hand in hand, and this together leads to growth of complete psycho-physiologic integration.

    The key to positive health is to develop such physiological state that would be able to sustain and express higher state of consciousness. This can be achieved by practicing meditation, leading life according to the principles of Ayurveda, and giving due consideration to vastu-sastra, jyotish, etc. Due to this changed vision and approach, our excessive concern for physical health shifts to spiritual health. This shift of focus towards supreme health 'becomes a delightful journey of discovering the infinite possibilities of our inner nature.'
    In last few years many books related to Ayurveda and Alternate systems of Medicine are being published. I have reviewed a few of them. This article is a synopsis of these reviews, and points to the changing trends in the approach to health in the West.
    dr. c s shah
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