Yoga and Ayurveda are not just the cornerstones of the global well-being revolution but also seen as credible and cool, explains India Inc. Yoga expert.
The Indian High Commission in London, on behalf of India's Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Dr Michael Dixon of the College of Medicine in April to create AYUSH centres around the UK. The Indian government set up the Ministry of AYUSH to promote professional standards, public safety and the proper development of these natural systems of medicine from India.
This landmark MoU will introduce AYUSH Centres of Excellence (ACE) to the UK for the first time. This initiative will cross-pollinate clinical excellence and evidence-backed research, which will highlight the diagnostic prowess of this ancient Indian medical system which was once the cornerstone and inspiration of ancient Greece.
Modern Western medicine can find many of its roots in Ayurvedic philosophy, specifically from scriptures such as the 'Upanishads' dating back to the mid-300s BC. Somewhere along the line, however, western medicine has become increasingly reductionist, enabling them to hone in on disease studying and analysing it at the micro level. This certainly has its value, because it has given doctors the ability to answer questions like, the cause of a heart attack. Doctors know the pathophysiology and reasoning at the cellular level, however at a broader and more social level, they don't have the answers as to why
To answer these questions, doctors need to take a broader and more holistic view of the patient and his or her environment, also note their individuality and understand the way in which they operate on a physical, emotional and deeper conscious level. Ayurveda considers such nuances through its pulse diagnosis and the categorising of patients, energy and environment. This new UK-India association has great potential for cultural, social and economic exchange. At the heart of every ACE is patient wellbeing and a patient-centric approach to disease management.
So why are these ancient Indian practices resonating globally and transcending social, economic, geographical and even religious boundaries
Let's start with the obvious. Celebrities are doing it, not just endorsing it. Looking healthy, youthful and maintaining your charisma is a full-time job. In 2003, then 45-year-old pop sensation Madonna sang about doing yoga and Pilates in her hit song video 'American Life'. It was as though Yoga and Ayurveda had arrived in the West on a G6 touching down on a Santa Monica airport red carpet and the so-called “new age” suddenly went mainstream. These days it is hard to find a copy of a lifestyle magazine where a celeb isn't photographed with a yoga mat under his/her arm. I'm not saying that Madonna was the first, let's not forget Sting and his openness about his passion for Ashtanga Yoga and his insights into the 'Karma Sutra' in the late 1980s. He was a little ahead of his time and let's face it, we were only just realising that smoking was actually bad for you, suffice to say, we still had a lot to learn.
In the 1990s, Ayurveda and Yoga were referred to as “New Age” - compartmentalising them with the rest of the occult. They were not appreciated as sciences and disciplines that were comprehensive, tried and tested. But the failings of Western approaches to health and the need for the Western world to look and feel good, broke the barriers of acceptance and the West embraced these sciences based on what they saw and felt with their own eyes, not randomised controls and evidence-based studies which are inherently flawed due to the level of control imposed on them.
The last time I checked, I was physiologically a different person to my sibling, cousins and friends, meaning what works for me doesn't necessarily work for others and vice versa. Diagnosis needs to be less about putting people into compartments or disease check boxes and more about discovering a multi-faceted understanding of how individuals function. Or, better still, train doctors in the principles of Ayurvedic diagnosis.
Hollywood has been a great PR machine for Yoga and Ayurveda, providing exposure and inspiring people to seek it out and make changes in their lives. But, the fact that these disciplines actually benefit you quickly, effectively and relatively inexpensively have helped spread the word. The spark has been created by India's ashrams, particularly in the south of India where such traditions have been upheld and maintained with dignity and sanctity by its propagators - be it Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the
, or Baba Ramdev of Patanjali. It has meant that accessing treatments and medicines have been made easier.
I have only been in clinical practice for 11 years, but what I have seen is the need of people to have a tool, a technique, a proverbial hand-rail to help them walk the path to better health. If you have had to manage illness and disease on any scale, you will know how it feels to just want something that you can apply yourself to so that you never find yourself in such a predicament again.
Drugs and surgery may save lives, but they are not curing people. Only people can cure themselves, and a good physician can help facilitate and support this process. The use of turmeric was once ridiculed as being pointless and unfounded in its relevance as an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, perhaps as it was not produced by a pharmaceutical company, but now it is widely accepted. I had the opportunity to meet with London-based cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra whose views on high-fat diets and strong voice within the anti-sugar lobby have been influencing the UK government to rethink its public communication on cholesterol. He is against linking heart disease with it, without fully informing the masses on the science behind inflamed cardiac blood vessels which are the true cause of blockages.
He is pushing the science behind carbohydrates and their role in Type II diabetes and dementia, which he believes are the current health epidemic costing the UK government billions in the National Health Service (NHS). His lone voice is being heard by millions of Britons who are becoming increasing mindful and conscious of what they eat and how they live, despite the constant messaging and product placement of sugar brands in our lives.
Dr B.M. Hegde from Mangalore in India is also a true bastion of natural and holistic healthcare and will wax lyrical on the effects of commercialising healthcare and how pharma companies have imposed their own commercial agenda on doctors. All of this has reached a boiling point in society.
People have witnessed financial institutions collapse and loose public trust because of the greed and commercial agenda of banks, which serve the few and take advantage of the many. The public are now mindful and more confident in their own appraisal and a proven track record, non-fad, tried and tested technique is what they are getting behind.
Independent thought and clear plans are being sought after. Whether there is a study that outlines its rationale or appraises the science, the public knows there is no harm in herbs, there are no adverse side effects when administered by a trained professional. This system of medicine is deeply effective.
But one has to acknowledge and recognise the strength and confidence of the Indian people. Wherever they are around the world, you see Indians flying the flag for what is rightfully theirs to share with the rest of the world. This commitment is supported by events such as International Yoga Day, and the recent initiative and collaboration of AYUSH and the UK College of Medicine will lend further credibility to Ayurveda internationally.
In my opinion, it is hope and curiosity that has captured the imagination of people around the world - hope that there are effective and long-term solutions to their health concerns and curiosity in the sheer depth of wisdom that lies within Ayurveda.