For many people in the western world, an Ayurvedic treatment is something you would expect to find on the spa menu. Warm oils swept over the body... the heady aroma of Asian spices and the hint of delicate exotic flowers…. I’m relaxed just thinking about it.
Ask someone in Asia what Ayurveda means and the response would be very different:
“Ayurveda has two main aims: It treats the symptoms of a disease and it helps individuals to strengthen their immune system. Ayurveda treats the body, mind and spirit of a person as a whole entity, and works on the basis that the mind and body affect each other, and together can overcome disease”.
In fact the whole treatment philosophy is so grounded into Sri Lanka’s belief system, many choose to use it instead of modern medicine. Developed over many thousands of years, and with a deep connection to the Buddhist and Hindu faith, the idea of messing with nature and only working on the physical symptoms is considered by many to be the weaker of the two available options. It may seem ludicrous to us, but it is not uncommon in Sri Lanka to meet patients who would never visit a modern hospital even if they were at deaths door.
With so many people championing the approach, are we too quick in this country to discount the power of Ayurveda? A little bit of research would probably alert us to our first shock of the day - in Sri Lanka you have to be university trained before you can practice. Each medicine that is used is subjected to lab tests and certification – just like modern medicine drugs - and the country adheres to World Health Organisation policies that herbal products, hospital services as well as research and professional councils of the practitioners are regulated. It is serious business in Asia! Compare that to a 5 day course in the UK accredited by the Complementary Medical Association (C.M.A), and it is no wonder why India, the home of the principle, has long fought against the misuse of the term Ayurveda across the world!
Behind the scenes there is evidence to suggest Ayurveda is beginning to be taken more seriously in the UK. NCAM, the National Centre for Complementary Medicine, and EFCAM, the European Federation for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, believe that over 100 million EU citizens now use alternative medicine alongside modern health services. They campaign to develop a more holistic and integrated approach to healthcare in Europe. 3 year university courses are available at Thames College, London and there are many clinics run by people who have trained overseas. It is only a matter of time before the myths of Ayurveda are expelled and the oil massage at the spa will be just that. An Ayurvedic treatment will be offered as in Sri Lanka, where a proper patient assessment lasts up to 90 minutes and a thorough assessment of the tongue, lips, skin, nails and eyes is made before the practitioner embarks on a treatment plan to correct imbalances.
There are many forums and reports on the successes of the practice - from Ayurveda drug companies documenting the case of a women with uterine prolapse that was told she needed a hysterectomy, only to be pain free after fifteen days of treatment, to a UK practice that offers case studies on infertile couples who conceived, eczema and psoriasis that was eradicated and arthritic pain that went from all consuming to barely mentionable. Even though there are as many cases where it has not worked, or there were side effects from the toxic herbs, there is no doubt that for some people it does the job. If we think about how little we know about the uses of plants or the complexities of the human body, perhaps that isn't so surprising.
It seems to me that if we continue to believe it does nothing, we are just as misinformed as the Asians who flatly refuse to gain medical help when they clearly need it. Ayurveda may not be a complete alternative to modern medicine, but it certainly is a complementary therapy that can be used alongside modern medicine both here and in Sri Lanka.
Work the World offer a one week Ayurvedic Medicine Experience as an option to our Sri Lanka students. The week is designed to give you insight into the approach and to introduce you to the theory, treatment and practices within an Ayurvedic hospital. It gives healthcare students an amazing opportunity to understand more about Sri Lankan healthcare.