Medicine - Where East Meets West

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison

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Thanks to Angus W. Gravestock for the following:-

This excellent article on Maharishi Ayurveda appeared at the end of January 2004 in "Swiss News"

Medicine - Where East Meets West

By Bob Zanotti

Ayurveda in Seelisberg - Swiss News finds out all about ancient Indian medicine in the birthplace of the Swiss Confederation

On August 1, 1291, The Pact of Everlasting Alliance was sworn to on the Rütli Meadow below the village of Seelisberg on the shores of Lake Lucerne, in what is now Canton Uri. This was the solemn pledge that laid the cornerstone of the Swiss Confederation. As a matter of fact, the painting in the Swiss House of Representatives in Bern depicts that part of Lake Lucerne, as seen from Seelisberg.

Nearly 700 years later, in the mid-1970s, the legendary Maharishi Mahesh Yogi moved to Seelisberg from India to promote Transcendental Meditation (TM) and other ancient Vedic sciences.

Since 1987, Seelisberg has been the home of the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Centre  - the first and oldest public Ayurvedic health establishment in Switzerland. The Maharishi is credited with having brought together the leading traditional medical experts of India, in order to revive and promote the ancient Indian medical  practice of Ayurveda worldwide.

The Seelisberg facility is devoted 100 per cent to Ayurveda, and is licensed by the Uri cantonal medical authorities. It is open to everyone, and provides therapies to nearly 500 patients each year.

The Centre is directed by Dr. Sophie Beall MD, a specialist in Ayurveda, recognised by a number of leading Swiss medical insurance companies. Working languages are German, French and English.

The World's Oldest Medicine Translated from the Sanskrit word 'Ayurveda', it literally means 'the science of living'. It's the oldest and most extensive holistic system for promoting and maintaining health, officially recognised by the World Health Organization. Ayurveda goes back a long way: at least 3,500 years - some experts say as far as 6,000 - making it the oldest documented form of medical practice. It was the inspiration for Chinese medicine and is also said to have greatly influenced early Greek medical philosophy.

Ayurveda teaches the uniqueness of every body, which is why a consultation with an Ayurvedic physician takes time (usually about three-quarters of an hour, and sometimes longer). Many questions are asked, and there is a careful examination of the skin, nails, hair, eyes and tongue - all barometers of one's constitution and state of health. As a rule, there are no blood or other body-fluid samples taken, and there is no laboratory testing, as is typical of Western medicine.

The centrepiece of a classic Ayurveda examination is the pulse diagnosis. Through a prolonged observation of the pulse (right wrist for men, left wrist for women), the condition of the vital organs as well as the general health of the patient can be determined with great accuracy. Even specific conditions and ailments can be detected. Pulse diagnosis also uncovers any deep stress - a key factor in psychosomatic illness, which according to the WHO, accounts for at least 80 percent of all illness in the West. But at the heart of this lengthy diagnostic process is the determination of one's 'doshas'.

'Doshas': Our Physical Personality Ayurveda identifies three distinct elements/ humours or 'doshas' that are present in each and every body: 'Vata', 'Pitta' and 'Kapha' (pronounced kaffa). Each 'dosha' controls particular organs or bodily functions. Most of us have all three in our system, but in varying proportions. When our personal 'dosha balance' is correct, we enjoy good health, both physical and mental. But through stress, improper diet or other lifestyle factors, the 'doshas' sometimes fall out of balance. When that happens, we are open to illness and disease, including emotional and behavioural disturbances - also accelerated ageing.

Prevention: Better than Cure The essence of Ayurveda is prevention, and there is an extensive catalogue of recommendations, procedures and techniques to protect one's health.

In the course of normal, everyday life, the body accumulates toxins. This may be due to stress, improper diet, chemicals in the foods we eat or drink, or other lifestyle-related factors. It is these toxins that cause ill health and ageing. Conversely, avoiding toxins, or more realistically, ridding the body of them, is the key factor in maintaining health and longevity. In Ayurveda, these toxins are referred to as 'ama'.

In Ayurveda, diet is very important, and is regarded as the foundation of good health. Or as Ayurvedists often say: food is medicine and medicine is food. According to our individual 'dosha' balance, the Ayurvedic physician will recommend foods to eat and those to avoid, and also how and when to eat. The old slogan: "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" may be good advice for some, but very bad advice for others. Likewise, "dinner at nine" may sound romantic, but could be equally unwise  - at least from the Ayurvedic point of view.

But take heart: despite the seemingly austere and killjoy implications of all of this, Ayurveda advocates a fun-filled life, and takes into account modern realities, as well as the importance of enjoying what you eat - whatever it is. Guidelines are just that, and are not to be taken as inflexible dictums.

In helping us maintain our health, Ayurveda makes use of a wide variety of herbal and other natural substances to keep the 'doshas' in balance. These are non-toxic and cause no harmful side effects. But again, these preparations must be matched to the individual, according to the findings and recommendations of the Ayurvedic physician. There is no such thing as the Ayurvedic product or preparation. The Maharishi Ayurveda Heath Centre in Seelisberg makes a strong point of dispensing only standardised, quality-controlled preparations.

Panchakarma Even the most careful of people will pick up 'ama' in the course of time. But for most of us, who can't always follow Ayurvedic guidelines, the accumulation of 'ama' is more rapid. In practice, the 'ama' cycle is yearly, or sometimes even more frequent in the case of heavy accumulation.

In general, the "ama burden" is most pronounced during seasonal changes, especially in the autumn-winter and winter-spring periods, often manifesting in common ailments like lumbago and other back, muscle and joint problems. But 'ama' can also manifest in more serious ways, like liver, kidney, lung and heart disturbances.

Although beneficial at any time, changing seasons are the classic time for a 'panchakarma' or the complete cleaning out of the body. In classic Ayurveda, 'panchakarma' is an annual ritual, and indispensable in maintaining health - something to look forward to! In India, the home of Ayurveda, a 'panchakarma' can last for weeks - even months, depending on the severity of the case.

A number of procedures can be used for this 'panchakarma'. Lengthy, synchronous warm oil massages with two therapists (abhyanga), warm oil drips on the forehead (shirodhara), herbal steam baths (svedana), eye cleansing (netra tarpana), nasal / sinus purging (nasya), and herbal / oil enemas (basti) are some of them.

During panchakarma, a strict diet must be followed. In Seelisberg, food is cooked just prior to eating, and according to the specific needs of the patient. Highly trained therapists, under the supervision of Dr. Beall, perform all treatment procedures. Therapists of the same sex perform gender-sensitive procedures, such as massage and enema.

Wellness Indian style One of the spin-offs of the 'panchakarma' is total relaxation and stress reduction, which is beneficial in itself. It is common and even expected that 'panchakarma' leaves the individual initially very tired, sleepy and weak - it's common to fall asleep early in the evening. This is proof that 'ama' is being purged from the system. Gradually, though, one feels a regeneration and rejuvenation as the therapy progresses. At the end of the treatment, you feel light, bright, and full of energy.

The shortest 'panchakarma' treatment worthy of the name lasts at least 10 days, part of which can be performed at home. But it is possible to reduce 'ama' to a worthwhile degree and improve one's general feeling of wellness in less time. Short treatments, which include medical consultation and pulse diagnosis, can last as little as one day, or can be extended to a weekend stay, according to individual wishes.

+The Limitations of Ayurveda Many claims are sometimes made for Ayurveda in treating a wide range of illnesses and conditions. But Dr. Beall, is cautious. Being trained in both Western and Ayurvedic medicine, she is at pains to emphasise that Ayurveda's strength and benefit is primarily in preventive medicine and as an effective treatment for many chronic illnesses. However, says Dr. Beall, traumatic and acute conditions are best handled by orthodox medicine.

BOX: Getting to the Ayurveda Centre Seelisberg can easily be reached by public and private transport. There are multiple daily train / postal bus connections, as well as lake steamer service via Treib. There is also adequate, on-premises parking for private vehicles. The Centre offers single and double room accommodations, but ambulatory arrangements are also possible.

More information at
www.mav-seelisberg.ch

 


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