Finding Cancer Energy

The elevator doors of Tokyo Imperial Hotel glide open and I walk towards the crisp white door framed by a glowing white entryway. I walk down the clinic’s sterile white hallway, enchanted by the glowing modernity, to meet one of Japan’s best plastic surgeons.

A series of fateful connections bring me here, and I have the fortune to meet Dr. Utsugi, a kind mentor who introduces me to the world of alternative and integrative medicine in Japan.

Navigating the stream of humanity in Tokyo’s business district, we make our way to the clinic of Dr. Karo Maeda, M.D., Ph.D., who is the president of the Association of Cancer Energy Annihilation Therapy (CEAT).

Before Dr. Maeda shares his time with us, he receives two patients, and I observe a practical demonstration of the Bi-Digital O-Ring test (BDORT). Discovered by Dr. Yoshiaki Omura of New York Medical College, this is a non-invasive test for detecting the presence of imbalances in the human system – such as cancer.

Dr. Maeda begins by explaining that cancer develops in stages. In between DNA mutation and prior to the development of a detectable tumor, there exists a latent period during which cancer is undetectable by conventional methods, yet cancer energy is already present.

IMG_20160524_165131

Dr. Maeda uses this graphic to illustrate the trajectory of cancer development. To the left of the y-axis, cancer is not detectable by standard means. To the right, conventional medicine detects what has already developed into tumors.

The underlying principle of BDORT (and all cancer treatment, ostensibly), is that the earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance of eradicating it becomes. Unlike conventional detection methods, BDORT is able to detect cancer earlier. That’s the simple premise of this technique.

300px-BDORT-fig2

Bi-Digital refers to two digits of one hand, forming an ‘o’. With one hand, the patient holds a sample of a particular cancer tissue and with the other hand the patient holds an “o” shape, maintaining consistent pressure.

The clinician tries to move the patient’s fingers apart while passing a sensor (mental or laser) over specific points on the patient’s body.

IMG_20160524_165145

Samples of various cancers, used for BDORT

The principle behind detection is that when the sensor passes over an area of the body which contains the same energy as that in the sample held by the patient, the frequency levels of the respective energies coincide and this causes the muscles of the patient’s hand to weaken briefly despite consistently maintained pressure, which allows the clinician to pull them apart easily and visualize where and what type of cancer is developing.

Interestingly, an experienced clinician (such as Dr. Maeda) can make the detection with the help of an assistant. In this case, the patient stands before the assistant, who holds a sample in the hand that moves the sensor along the patient’s body and the other hand is reached out to the clinician, who attempts to part the closed O-ring.

BDORT clinician

Should the O-Ring test reveal the presence of cancer energy, the treatment that Dr. Maeda prescribes is microwave irradiation therapy.

IMG_20160524_165524

Dr. Utsugi demonstrates how a patient might receive targeted microwave irradiation therapy

The idea behind this therapy is to kill cancer cells with heat, while leaving normal cells intact. One main difference between normal and cancer cells allows for this to happen: normal cells have a high level of vessel vascularization, while cancer cells have little to no vascularization.

When the irradiation hits the targeted group of cells, cancer cells heat up while normal cells retain their temperature of 37°C since they are exposed to the cooling effects of their surrounding blood vessels. Vessels act as a cooling system, and those cells which lack this system (the cancer cells) perish due to rapid heating.

Dr. Maeda points out that the change in energy frequency (and subsequent heating of cells) must occur very rapidly, since a gradual change in frequency will overpower the vessels’ cooling capacity and both types of cells will be harmed.

Since we’re speaking through an interpreter, some things get lost in translation, but I find Dr. Maeda’s explanation clear and very interesting nonetheless. Below: Dr. Maeda with Dr. Utsugi and me in his office.

While hearing about “cancer energy” might render some skeptical, the logic behind the methods seems clear to me. I’m left curious to learn more.

During my time in Tokyo, Dr. Utsugi also introduces me to Dr. Yoshitane Akiyama. Dr. Akiyama is a physician and lawyer, who has not eaten for the past 9 years. I’m really surprised when Dr. Utsugi explains this for the first time. I have a chance to meet Dr. Akiyama in person, albeit briefly, and learn that he has transitioned to using prana-nourishment (energy nourishment) instead of food.

IMG_20160526_194438

From left: Dr. Utsugi, Dr. Akiyama, and Masuaki Kiyota

This time, it is a stretch for me to wrap my mind around the idea. Dr. Akiyama mentions Jasmuheen, a proponent of prana nourishment, who inspired him to embark on this path.

Writing this, I’m decide to research further and come across a fragment from a documentary called “In The Beginning There Was Light” – which details a scientific study conducted on Yogi Prahlad Jani who has not eaten/drunk water in more than 60 years. Watching this, I became less quick to dismiss the idea of pranic nourishment as impossible.

Lastly, Dr. Utsugi introduces me to a man by the name of Masuaki Kiyota, a psychic who is able to bend metal with his mind.

IMG_20160528_175037

Kiyota-San invites me to his home and shares his practice, demonstrating how it is possible to twist, and “cut” a metal spoon with the mind. Being likewise skeptical about this at the start, my mind is changed when I see the phenomenon occur right before my eyes.

Kiyota-San explains that in order to achieve this, he concentrates on a vision of what the outcome will look like. By focusing on it with extreme concentration, he is able to achieve the unlikely transformation.

It seems too incredible to be true, but there I am, holding a twisted spoon in my hand.

IMG_20160528_204843

This week teaches me some things about having an open mind. By being open, you open your eyes to seeing something that was always there but you would never have been able to see before. Once again, I’m left with a growing curiosity to understand energy-based healing and the vast power of the mind over matter.

Advertisements

Zen: the silent art of tea

“Do you want to wear a kimono?”

“Yes,” I replied, bowing quickly, “arigatou gozaimashita!”

IMG_20160428_210520

Kimono-clad

Tomo’s mother gracefully ushered me into one of the beautiful rooms within their traditional Japanese home, fitted with iconic tatami-clad floors and rice paper sliding doors.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A few days ago, I had taken a bus to a distant neighborhood of Kyoto, navigating my way with lots of stumbles and broken google translate communication. Ever since arriving in Japan I have felt somewhat like a clumsy child, drifting through the sea of this culture, occasionally finding myself hopelessly lost in translation.

Sometimes, I’d be left feeling somewhat lonely and feeling out of place, but I’d find pretty often these moods to be punctuated with gifts like this one. I had met Tomo getting off the bus. I thought I had been doing well so far, finding the correct bus (after 4 tries, but I reasoned that I wasn’t limited by time at the moment, my optimism kicking in) and finding my way to the correct place understanding 0% of the kanji written to guide me.

I guess I must have looked a lot more lost than I actually felt, because Tomo took pity on me and offered to help me find my way. On our way he told me that his mother practiced the art of traditional Japanese tea ceremony and invited me to come to their home.

The ritual Japanese tea ceremony is an elegant performance of preparing and presenting matcha (powdered green tea). Elaborate ceremonies can go on for hours, my new friends explained.

Wagashi (Japanese sweets) are served before the tea to counteract any bitterness. The tea utensils (tea container, tea scoop, and tea bowl) are ceremoniously cleaned and hot water is whisked into the matcha powder. The more froth there is in the tea bowl, I learned, the greater the tea master’s skill.

DSC00405

Wagashi (Japanese sweet) delicately reflecting the beauty of spring

Tomo’s mother, Machiko, explained that the beauty of the ritual comes from its silence and simplicity. Tomo, his sister Akari, and I sat in seiza position (sitting on bent knees), as Machiko served us beautiful wagashi resembling unopened cherry blossoms.

Machiko thoughtfully and gracefully went through a series of choreographed movements as she folded a small red cloth she’d use to clean the tea elements.

DSC00408

The tea master

Each step had its own meaning and significance. Using a bamboo ladle to scoop the boiled water from the iron teapot submerged in the floor, she would pour only half of the contents into the bowl of tea, carefully emptying the rest back into the pot from a height just enough to make a loud splashing sound.

DSC00427

Traditional Japanese tea wares

My new friends explained many similar intricacies to me, and I was finally given the honor of preparing a cup of tea for the hostess herself (the family reassuring me that if Akari’s 6 year old boy could do it, then so could I). Encouraged, I tried my best to follow Machiko’s graceful example.

DSC00417

I can’t imagine a lovelier sight

There was no question that the atmosphere of the ceremony, its prescribed and orderly steps, and the simple aesthetic appeal of it all elevated this ritual to a form of art. Even when exiting and entering the room, Machiko would first kneel, open the sliding door, get up once more, kneel once again, close the door, and only then proceed.

The family explained that these seemingly superfluous movements created space, creating stillness. They were the antidote to rushing through life, blowing by beauty without noticing it. The minute steps of the ritual and their prescribed order served as a meditation. One could not go through the procedure mindlessly without making many mistakes.

The Japanese tea ceremony captured the essence of a Zen mindset: simplicity, clarity, and purity. Perhaps we could all add a few extra steps to our day and practice tea meditation.

As much as the ceremony itself, I’ll always remember the incredibly selfless kindness this family showed to me by inviting me to their home and sharing a treasured piece of Japanese culture with me. It through moments like this that Japan continues to grow on me, quietly showing me the hidden gems of its beautiful culture.

Thai Healing: Learning Traditional Thai Massage

IMG-20160301-WA0001[1]

Ming demonstrates correct technique for back massage

My journey has now taken me to a new country and a new culture. I’ve come to the land of dragons. Thailand’s culture is deeply rooted in Buddhism, and so far it has proved to be the perfect ground for me to explore mind-body healing.

Living in Chiang Mai and Pai, I’ve seen tourism run rampant. Where there are tourists, tradition often feels commercialized to an outsider’s eye. It is true for city temples and Thai massage centers.

Perhaps it is not a wonder. On average, a one hour full-body massage costs only 200 Baht (3 US dollars). Training courses at big massage schools are also commercialized, so I never thought I’d end up studying Thai massage during my time here.

My line of fate had different ideas in mind for me. While in Pai, a new friend found a one-on-one training course in Chiang Mai, and suddenly I found myself heading back to Chiang Mai to study Traditional Thai Massage with Ming, an excellent and patient teacher.

Over the course of 3 days and 15 hours, I learned the skills of performing a full body Thai massage: legs, feet, arms, hands, back, and head & face. Ming estimated it would take roughly 3 hours to complete the full massage, quite exhausting for the massage therapist!

A Thai massage is not a soothing affair: a good massage puts quite strong pressure on the nerves and muscles. The placement of hands must be precise – if the strong pressure falls on a bone, the pain can be quite strong. Some of my friends have shared stories of sore limbs and bruises after a careless massage.

The philosophy behind the massage is that there are “sen” – energy lines flowing through the body. In addition to the body and mind, there is energy, which envelops the two. Energy lines form a second skin, and disturbances or blockages in energy can cause illness.

Sen lines in Thai massage

Sen lines, taken from informative website on Thai massage

Energy lines can be stimulated through massage, which restores the proper flow of life energy.

On my last day in Pai, I had an amazing ceremony to complete my second level of Reiki training. While my course with Ming primarily emphasized the physical technique of hand placement and pressure, I felt I could combine the two energy-based techniques to achieve a strong healing presence.

In fact, I found that performing the massage required patience and while working, I settled into a pattern that felt meditative as a result of its rhythmic nature.

The next step of my journey takes me to the New Life Foundation: a mindfulness-based drug and alcohol addiction recovery center in Chiang Rai (also North Thailand). While here I hope to practice the combination of my newly gained Thai massage and Reiki skills. I am curious to witness the outcome of energy healing firsthand.

Mindfulness, Shattered: my misadventures in an Indian village hospital

Until recently, I had not experienced the terror of facing a serious illness, completely alone, and in a foreign country.

I believe that mindfulness has the power to calm our minds and help us through even the most difficult situations. However, when I fell ill with severe food poisoning and enteric fever in Hampi (South India), the strength of my convictions was thoroughly tested.

Something strange happened: I failed miserably at practicing mindfulness, and yet without it I would have been lost for sure.

When first admitted to a hospital in the tiny town of Hospet (a miserable, miserable jostling 70 km drive from where I was staying in Hampi), I felt a strong sense of panic through a heavy haze of delirium.

Having now lived in India for 3 months, I now know that it takes time to get adjusted to how different some things can be in this country from what we’re used to at home. But adjusting in my present state and setting turned out to be quite a difficult task.

As I shuffled blearily into the doctor’s office, a stone-faced nurse told me to lie down on a decrepit cot concealed behind a glass wall at the rear of the office. As I lay facing towards the barred window, tears slowly running down my face, I remember thinking: what is going to happen to me now?

At that moment, the thought came to me that I was still breathing. No matter how miserable, how terrible I felt, I could count on one thing: my breath. The face of the kind Buddhist sister who had taught us to remember our breath came to my mind, and for a minute this thought gave me great comfort.

But not for long. A man had now entered to take a blood sample from me. Nobody washed their hands, nobody wore gloves. Although my arm was cursorily swabbed with some ethanol-soaked cotton, dirty fingers expedited the drying process by patting the excess alcohol off my arm. I cringed (and understandably overreacting) decided this is how it was going to end for me. In this hospital. If not from my food poisoning, then from septic shock.

I suppose it comes from working in a US hospital for some time, but so many of the medical practices at this village hospital came as a blatant shock to me.

The greatest was that I didn’t see a nurse wash her hands once. Gloves were not worn. Over the course of 3 days under a steady IV drip, I had to keep track of stopping my own drip when the IV bag ran out of fluid (once I stopped it right before a HUGE air bubble made its way down to my vein, which probably would have caused a deadly air embolism…yes, I googled that while my phone still had power).

At one point, a rushed nurse lazily flushed the IV tube for air bubbles (which I was now terrified of) upon my request. Unfortunately, she did this by disconnecting the IV from the permanent port installed into my vein, flushed the excess liquid directly onto the ground (and also my bed), and then WITHOUT STOPPING THE FLUID FLOW, reconnected the tube back to my arm.

My vein closed up. The doctor had to supervise another port to be installed into my other arm.

I’d held on through everything up to that point, accepting things as they came. The myriad of antibiotics, cycled through one by one until a horse-tranquilizer-dose antibiotic was identified as the last thing that would keep my fever down.

The communication was bad: I was just given tablets, not told what they were, or how they would help me.

After my vein shut following the botched IV flushing incident, I couldn’t take it anymore.

At this point, both my US phone and my local phone had run out of battery, leaving me stranded from the world. I couldn’t call my dad. I felt such an intense fear and anger that all liminal efforts at remaining mindful evaporated as quickly as dew under a strong summer sun.

What had I done to this nurse for her to punish me with such carelessness?

After calming down, I remembered to once again alter my focus. The antibiotics were working. I wasn’t going to die, that wasn’t a risk any longer. The infant wailing forcefully for hours on end down the hallway probably had it much worse than me. I tried to stop feeling sorry for myself, and start feeling grateful for being ok, at least in a relative sense of the word.

It was hard.

Depending on how my perspective shifted, I oscillated between periods of feeling intense gratitude for being in a medical facility, getting urgent care (at these moments I wanted to promise to come work for them free of charge upon completing my medical degree), and other times I felt the kind of terror that I’ve rarely felt before in my life. Sharp anger at what I perceived to be injustice undeservingly directed at me.

Ultimately, however awful this experience might have been, it taught me a lot. It reaffirmed for me how much perspective can influence how we react to our circumstances.

It also made me better understand what it means to ask a very ill person to practice mindfulness. In chronic cases, it is a shining beacon of hope. At stable stages of my hospital stay, I practiced Reiki chakra alignment, worked on becoming aware of my breath, and felt that these really helped.

However, following incidents that brought me great distress, mindfulness flew out the window. All that was left was my own ego. Empathy, noticing, everything else was gone.

Even though I knew I’d make it out of this place alive after the first day, I still felt these moments of hopelessness so frequently. I remember lying and thinking what it must have been like for my mom, when she knew the cancer would not recede.

If my own situation, so trivial in comparison, was still so difficult for me to cope with, what was it like for her? How can we ask someone with a terminal illness to “be mindful of your breath, change your perspective, appreciate what you have…”?

Yes, it might be possible in theory, but more than ever before I now realize how nearly impossible this can be.

Telling a terminally ill patient to “practice mindfulness” by a healthy, energetic doctor might seem like the equivalent of a pat on the back and a condescending “there, there.”

While I’ve recovered now from this whole ordeal, these thoughts that my experience has planted in my mind will remain with me. It is something I will need to revisit again and again on my path of becoming a healer.

Empathy in medicine, after all, is supreme.

Yogic

IMG_20151213_143057

A still river spirit

“Do you know what the word “yoga” means?” my teacher asks me, sitting directly across from me in the Yogashala hall, in the lively crowded part of Mysore. Old Mysore, close to the famous palace.

There are no trendy-yoga-pants-wearing, starbucks-in-hand, gucci-handbag-toting ladies here. For our evening session, 6-8 women come after work, wearing their saris. Donning our sweatpants and t-shirts, we begin the evening practice.

On Saturdays, the ladies don’t come. It’s a coveted time of spending time with their children, resting from work. But Kanchen, my teacher, kindly meets with me one-on-one. I’m glad she does, because this whole Ashtanga yoga thing is very new to me.

The first day when I try to follow along with the other women, I make a lot of mistakes. Something crunches in my tailbone area, the sharp jolt of pain reminding me that I can harm myself trying to keep up with everyone else.

I’ll need to ease into this new practice, my 22-year old body an old soul, more akin to that of a 50-year old human.

To answer Kanchen’s question, I spout out something I’ve heard before: “yoga is a practice that unites the body, mind, and spirit.”

“And…?” she questions. I’m drawing a blank. “And a higher power? The universe?” No, she laughs. I like this teaching method. It feels like I’m being shown up by a wise guru who easily dispatches of me in a martial-arts battle of words. Not in a hurtful way, but in a way that teaches me humility, and more importantly, curiosity.

What is the point of asanas (yoga postures) anyway? What is the point of yoga? First thing that came to my mind was physical health, but our discussion quickly leads me to see that this is just a by-product of yoga practice. It’s not the point.

Yoga, Kanchen explained, means “link.” It links four things: breathing, posture, gaze, and stamina (being able to hold position with comfortable stability). In sitting meditation, we focus on our breathing. Yoga is a form of meditation in which you pay attention to these four elements together. Definitely not an easy task!

So the purpose? The same as meditation. Kanchen referred to it as learning to recognize the “super soul” present within each of us. The higher power isn’t outside of us, it is simply within. We are already enlightened, we just have to realize this, a Zen Buddhist might say.

Yoga, with all of its various branches, is but a means to an end. The ultimate end, then, is for us to connect with our “super soul,” our inner Buddha, the God of Love within us. Humans have many words and guises for this phenomenon, but in the end, it is all the same experience, I believe. The mystic experience can’t be divided by the boundaries of religions.

***

It’s now been almost two weeks since I’ve moved to Mysore. Serendipitously, a friend I made at the Dr. Alan Wallace conference in Bangalore had introduced me to one of her dear friends in Mysore. This kind and loving family has taken me in, and I’ve been staying with them ever since leaving Cochin.

Each morning, Dolly and I get off to an early start at 5:30 am. We take an early morning moped ride to Audrey’s home (Dolly’s sister), moving quickly through the still-dark and crisp morning air.

Though the building’s stairwell is dark, an inviting warm light emanating from under Audrey’s door greets us. Inside, Audrey and Paul (a kind and wise yoga teacher friend from Ireland) have already taken their places on yoga mats. Sneaking in a few minutes late, we sheepishly sit down and Paul begins to lead our 6 am yoga class.

IMG_20151213_151625

The early morning Yoga team: Paul, Audrey, little Ava, me (+Dolly)

IMG_20151213_151753

Tiny yogi

After a restorative cup of green tea, Paul and I leave to travel to the Yogashala, yoga mats and multiple bags somehow tucked onto a moped already carrying two people.

I love the early morning hours marking the beginning of a new day in India. Lots of people commute to work on their mopeds and motorcycles, children dressed in school uniforms laugh together in small groups, street vendors prepare their vegetable and fruit carts, cows nonchalantly walk on the roads, grazing on grass and (unfortunately) some piles of garbage. Once, I saw a small group of monkeys making their way along the street.

IMG_20151221_122510

A small street in the old Mysore neighborhood near my Yogashala

IMG_20151221_102832

The Yogashala’s garden

I’ve convinced Kanchen, my yoga teacher, to meet with me one-on-one in the mornings, as the evening session turned out to be too advanced for a beginner like me. Kanchen is very knowledgeable and shares insights into yoga philosophy with me in addition to introducing me to the asanas.

Later, at 11, I join the students enrolled in the teacher training course at the Yogashala for Pranayama lessons. Pranayama is a practice of controlling the breath. Deep, controlled, very slow breathing stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells – Kanchen’s scientific explanation for the practice. More blood cells means more oxygen delivered to all of the body’s tissues, which results in increased strength and health.

Chant studies with Jayashree and Narasimhan DEC2015

Chant studies with Jayashree and Narasimhan (last row, middle). My yoga teachers, Kanchen and Paul (front row, woman wearing purple sari, man wearing white).

The course in Pranayama is taught by Guruji BNS Iyengar, a revered teacher.

Once the Pranayama course ends, I catch an auto rickshaw to ‘I Can’ – a wonderful and ambitious Montessori school founded by Audrey and Dolly. In addition to yoga, I’m also volunteering as a teacher. I’ve started working with the 40 lively young souls in I Can’s kindergarten class – an exhilarating, rewarding, and exhausting experience.

This deserves a post all to itself, and I hope to share with you how my efforts at integrating mindfulness games into the classroom go! For now, I’ve shared what a typical day in Mysore is like for me. Not to say there is anything like a typical day here, but just to share a glimpse. 🙂

IMG_20151211_123823

“I Can” kindergarten learns about Rome, dresses as the most adorable army of Roman soldiers you’ve ever seen

Ayurveda Adventures: exploring an ancient art of healing in South India

Lotus

Lotus

I’ve recently returned from my journey to the city of Kottakkal, where I spent several days observing the work of the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala – one of Kerala’s famous Ayurveda clinics.

Coming to this Ayurvedic Hospital and Research Center, my aim was to understand how Ayurveda philosophy approaches mind-body healing: how does psychology impact physiology, and vice versa?

I spoke to several interesting physicians and researchers during my time in Kottakkal, and I’ll share here about my experiences and insights.

The Arya Vaidya Sala is a very large complex: there is a factory which produces Ayurvedic herbal medicines, a hospital with inpatient and outpatient departments, a charitable hospital which provides both allopathic and Ayurvedic services to patients free of charge, a botanical teaching garden and research institute, and a teaching college.

Main hospital building

Main hospital building

I met with two doctors at the teaching college – Dr. Kirathamoorthy and his student, Dr. Vipina. I spoke with Dr. Kirathamoorthy about the idea of patient agency and mindset. A lot of agitation can come from feeling overwhelmed and at the mercy of your illness. Mindset is important: “it’s ok, I’m ok” is somewhat of a mantra we can repeat to ourselves in order to reset the fatalistic direction of thought we might drift to when faced with pain and illness.

Dr. Vipina was a post-graduate student who had completed the standard 5-year program at the college, and had become a certified Ayurveda physican. She was overseeing a yoga course for an “obesity camp” program run through the Arya Vaidya Sala. The women who attended (I didn’t see any male patients participating) were brought together for this course which ran for a period of a few weeks.

Dr. Vipina explained that the group support was the most important part of the program – yes, the women came together to learn and practice gentle yoga techniques, but it was the solidarity they found in one another that gave them encouragement and motivation to keep practicing and striving to achieve a better state of health.

This approach to health was amazing in several ways, I found: 1) there was a focus on prevention, rather than treatment. Prevent diseases associated with excess weight rather than treat them later. 2) The prevention didn’t focus exclusively on exercise. In fact, the yoga practice focused on breathing techniques rather than physical movement and exercise. The sequence was gentle and focused on reducing stress rather than achieving direct fitness, emphasizing the importance of psychological well-being in addition to physical well-being. 3) The practice emphasized the healing potential that group support and community can have. These women found support and encouragement in one another, which helped them reclaim lost agency as they worked to improve their general health and well-being.

Like the general hospital itself, the psychiatric hospital also treated its patients exclusively with Ayurveda medications. Of course, there were certain cases in which allopathic medicines had to be continued on with, but the Ayurveda program complemented these medicines, the two coming together to create a truly integrative approach.

Observing at the psychiatric ward, I spoke to Dr. Brinu, the hospital’s director. In our conversation, Dr. Brinu explained that Ayurveda views the body and mind as one dynamic system: what affects the mind, affects the body. The opposite is likewise true.

He explained that in Ayurveda psychiatry, three elements are essential:

  • Training of the mind. People fall naturally into three general categories: low, medium, and high capacity. Those with high capacity will have very low susceptibility to anxiety/stress and will be less likely to become mentally ill. Those at low ranges of capacity will be highly prone to being shaken enough by life events to develop problems with their mental health. The mind can be trained to transition to higher stages, however, and thus mental training is one element of Ayurveda’s approach to psychiatry.
  • Belief. Not necessarily a belief in any particular faith, but rather some sort of grounding belief. I took his explanation to be referring to spirituality. According to Dr. Brinu (and I agree), the faith is but a means of achieving something greater, something that’s difficult to explain in simple words. For a person walking across a narrow bridge, the faith is acting as but a guiding rope. The person themselves is actually walking across the bridge (reassured by the presence of said rope).
  • A set example for how to cope with difficult situations/anxiety/etc. This one made me think of mindfulness training and how it can teach us to shift our perspective, first in our meditation practice, and ultimately in application to daily life situations.

While mental training would be a great way to prevent mental health issues from cropping up in the first place, understandably this can’t always be applied to those who are deep in the midst of mental distress. This is where Ayurveda shifts its focus to herbal remedies and massage.

As another physician at the clinic – Dr. Manzoor – explained, “treating the body, we treat the mind.” To treat only the body or the mind would be ineffective, as both are inextricably woven together. To illustrate this, he shared a patient’s story with me.

A woman came to the clinic with her husband complaining of anxiety, heart palpitations, hypertension, poor sleep, and generally not feeling well. She explained that her husband shared little of his attention with her. She felt jealous, because he spoke with other women, but not with her.

To me this appears the ideal demonstration of how mind and body are connected. Due to her anxiety and depression, the woman was experiencing a host of physical symptoms. Cynical of me to say, but had she come to a GP in the US, she would have been sent home with some antidepressants and some medication for the heart palpitations. Unfortunately, the root of the problem wouldn’t have been cured – creating dependence for medication won’t solve her psychological OR physical problems.

Dr. Manzoor explained the solution: the woman had to change her perspective. Instead of constantly ruminating on her husband’s actions and attitude, she should stop taking things closely to heart and learn to distance herself from these stress-inducing thoughts. As a friend once told me, there are three options for how to deal with difficult situations: love it, leave it, or change it. Changing another person is difficult, if not impossible without their own intention, so in her case, she would have two options: love it or leave it. That’s where mental training comes in.

The response I’ve just described above falls neatly into the category of mindfulness stress reduction training. However, Ayurveda goes beyond this to complement the mental training with physical treatments – the woman would take herbal medicines and receive massage treatments with medicated ghee. I think this approach of treating both body and mind is one of Ayurveda’s great strengths in terms of holistic treatment.

Apart from speaking to these physicians, it was also fascinating to follow a post-graduate medical student on her psychiatric ward rounds. Here, the facilities were very different from the comfortable apartment-like rooms in the inpatient wing of the main hospital. Cold metal bar-frame beds became each patient’s home for a period of 1-1.5 months, as each separate Ayurvedic treatment would take up to a week.

Separated by sex, each ward was a single room containing around 12 beds. Usually, there would be a family member with the ill patient, though not in all cases. The diagnoses were familiar: OCD, suicidal ideation, bipolar disorder, delusions of grandeur, etc. Another constant was the importance of empathy: I was a bit struck by how the student led me from one patient to the next, reading off their chart to me, sometimes without so much as acknowledging the patient themselves. Across all cultures, some things remain the same.

Prior to leaving the Arya Vaidya Sala, I also visited the research department. This gave me a great perspective into how complete the whole Ayurvedic complex was – from research to manufacturing to treatment to teaching – really, a fully self-sustainable system!

At the research center, I spoke to several people who explained the nature of their work to me. Their center’s first priority was to identify contamination of the raw herbal materials the factory complex was receiving from across all of India. This was done via DNA barcoding, and utilizing several chemical/biochemical assays to test for purity and identity of a specific plant or prepared powder.

A second effort was aimed at curtailing the shortage of certain medicinal plants. Dr. Indra Ramachandran explained a very interesting initiative to me: the Arya Vaidya Sala wanted to provide free seeds of certain medicinal plants to farmers, who would then grow them. Once ready for harvest, the factory would purchase the crops from each farmer. This way, the shortage would be offset and income generated for farmers. Other efforts also included cell culture – propagating rare plants in ideal growing conditions within a petri dish.

Lastly, a Ph.D. student shared the topic of her dissertation with me: she sought to identify new medicinal herbs not yet in use by mainstream Ayurvedic treatments by speaking to tribal healers from different parts of India. She was able to identify more than 10 plants through her efforts, which goes to show how much we have to learn from old pre-modern wisdom.

As I wasn’t allowed to observe the Ayurveda massage treatments for privacy reasons, I considered staying for longer as a patient myself. However, I ultimately decided against it since the minimum stay for patients is 14 days. A friend I met had already been coming for 10 years (from Germany) and stayed 28 days each time. Ayurveda treatment takes time, it is certainly very different from allopathic symptom-concealing “magic bullet” treatments (and better too, I think, since Ayurveda seeks to treat the root of the problem, not merely symptoms).

I’ve learned that Ayurveda is a paradigm for true mind-body healing and integrative approaches to health. Its mission is to strengthen the body so that it can heal itself, which makes it very compatible with other treatments (such as allopathic medicine). In the future, I hope that Western medicine realizes this more and more and comes to learn from the wisdom of Ayurveda.

Venturing into the world of Indian train travel

Venturing into the world of Indian train travel

Kerala countryside

Kerala countryside

DSC05067