Saturday, December 29, 2007

Indian Health Medical Wisdom and Wellness

As I watch the changes of time affect myself, my friends, and my extended family, I keep thinking of the wisdom of other cultures that has been overlooked in the colonialism of westerners and their science.

India's tradition of yoga is an age old methodology of ways to maintain and improve the function of your physical body. How to take care of it with food and water. How to exercise it. It's like the owner's manual for a car, except yoga has been around alot longer. I am struck the the simple common sense and self care techniques presented in Secrets of Hatha Yoga. He addresses everything from proper hydration and chewing your food well, to how to relax and sleep well. Another book I have been enjoying is The Eight Human Talents: Restore the Balance and Serenity within You with Kundalini Yoga which has simple exercises listed according to chakras and also describes which organs and systems the exercise addresses. In her decades of practice she has seen students reverse conditions such as Hepatitis C and AIDS as well as depression.

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical science has been around since 3000BC. Along with herbal pharmaceuticals, they had techniques for surgery. There was even a kind of mudpack MRI used to diagnose internal disease! There is a wonder movie called Ayurveda: The Art of Being that gives an overview of this ancient medical science. It shows places in which Ayurveda has answers and solutions where Western Medicine does not.

After my Babadham pilgrimage I had a terrible cough that left me winded. I suspected it was exhaustion and nutrition related. A local friend took me to a ayurvedic doctor who gave me some herbs to take for a few days. I was skeptical.... I had envisioned a proper Ayurvedic evaluation determining my "type" and taking my pulse etc. Instead I was asked a few questions and given herbs. I took the herbs and figured I might go to the western doctor if need be. I avoided the western doctor because I feared antibiotics or an asthmatics inhaler, both of which I knew had harmful side effects. In spite of my doubt of the Ayurvedic prescription, within a day I was breathing better and within a week I felt nearly back to normal. Like with any medicine, there is always margin for errors and effectiveness, as well as good and bad practitioners.

In my travels in life, I am constantly amazed at how beneficial being proactive in your own life and health can be. I meet people my age and younger who give in to "old age". I've always sought to improve and strengthen my body. If I get knee pains or muscle pains, I seek to remedy the situation. Often I have found drinking more water alleviates such things. I remember a book by Hulda Crooks (Conquering life's mountains: A collection of writings), a woman who started hiking in her forties and started backpacking and climbing at age 75. She said of her first mountain ascent how she found herself exhausted part way up and started thinking she was perhaps too old. Instead of giving in to the thought, she took a short rest, drank some water, and ate. She was revived! She continued climbing into her 90s and died at the ripe age of 101.

I think of quantum theory and how each thought we make is a prayer, an intention, and a form of self hypnosis. If you are thinking "how weak I are" you will surely find yourself less strong than if you are thinking "how strong I am".

I look at the elders in the Indian mountain tribes and wonder at their physical prowess as they carry large loads from their heads and trek up and down steep mountains with dexterity and balance. I wonder at the ability of older yoga practitioners to sit crosslegged and with more flexibility than I perhaps have ever had. And yet it's not about gymnastics, but rather being able to enjoy your body while you are in it!

I wonder a bit at the colonial attitude of Western Medicine and Science in discounting ancient sciences and traditions that have been around longer than it has. I oft think of the subjectivity of discounting something because you haven't developed the technology or wisdom to measure it. We are all entitled to our experiences whether or not they have been proven. Slowly things are changing and circling around. Years ago, herbs were mainstay. Then science and industrial entrepreneurs came in and extracted isolates from the herbs and discounted the herbs to corner the market. Now herbs are on a comeback as people find the nature has wisdom in keeping herbs complex... in ways that help prevent overdose, toxicity, and side effects that can occur with isolated compounds. Conveniently for capitalists, regulations help ensure their market. Who would buy a product for comforting their stomach if they could step outside their door and pick some mint? And on the flip side, some of the folklore was inappropriate, and the cultural context has dissipated. The witches were burned and the local natural healer in the village have been burned at the stake or lost in the winds of "progress" and movement.

In India those changes are still in their midst. I think it must be similar to the USA's patterns in the early 1900's as industrialization and "progress" disrupted the village communal life.

Perhaps it's time to stretch and take a break from sitting at this computer!!!