Ayurveda Can Provide Breakthrough in the Dead-Ends of Medicine: Dr Valdis Pirags

The Global Footprints of Ayurveda on Sunday, 22nd November, 2020 saw diverse panelists focused on non-Indic traditions and places, highlighting the need for GOI to invest in research to develop Ayurvedic-based products. While two members of this panel discussion were absent, one was able to provide a pre-recorded video, elucidating her thoughts on the development of Ayurvedic products in her native place, Slovenia. Others were involved in a mature discussion. 

Video: Prasarana: Global Footprints, Ayushman 2020 - Center for Soft Power (softpowermag.com)

Shri Ananda Jyothi: Brazil and India connect on many levels

Shri Ananda Jyothi discussed his global perspective based on his tenure in Brazil, and life in India. Stating that “people in Brazil have a respect for primitive, tribal systems, for the five elements of nature, for herbs and spices” and other Ayurvedic concepts, he found that they are local concepts and traditions as well, stemming from millennials of indigenous traditions. “The words may be different, but it's the same language (of holistic practice)!” he explained calmly. Both India and Brazil boast of a huge geographic area, a huge population, and that too, a huge tribal population. In both nations, and especially in Brazil, tribes live so deep in the forest, and their holistic practices and knowledges may not be written. Even more than in India, tribes of Brazil follow the oral traditions, and there is a continuity. 

Shri Ananda further showed the similarities of the two nations in their respect for water. His film, Uma: the light of the Himalayas” portrays the river Ganga Mata as the heroine. The river is seen as a symbol of knowledge. Ganga is a living being. Parallelly, he enlightened the audience, in Brazil, the Amazon is sacred as well. Generally, both cultures and nations place an importance on the water element. 

People in Brazil are curious to learn about Indian traditions, especially in the last 20+ years. Three, four, five decades ago, it was only yoga and meditation that were known; now the lifestyle of Ayurveda is entering into the mindsets of many people as well. Ayurveda has particularly become a strong movement throughout the country, among all ages groups. Brazilians are committed to the studies and practices, especially the women, who represent about 70% of the Ayurvedic interest.

Shri Ananda explained what Ayurveda is, and what it needs to carry out. First, Ayurveda is about the sickness and beyond, taking out what is not needed, and bringing in what is needed for the person and humanity. “We need a spiritual discipline. It cannot be forced or pressured.” The spiritual maturity invokes a practitioner's intuition and deep wisdom. Shri Ananda explained the importance of intuition in Ayurveda. Intuition, he said, comes from spiritual maturity. A regular practice--yoga, breathing, meditation, mantras--  helps you to have a clear perspective. 

(Perhaps, one can also gain this spiritual maturity through travels deep into the Himalayas, as Shri Ananda has done himself many times: “every time you go there, something mysterious and spiritual happens there. It’s always different.”)

This is when intuition becomes imagination with clarity. That clarity requires sraddha-- the total attention to what is inside you. Listen to the silence, in your heart. 

There is also a large requirement to pair Ayurveda with all its sister spiritualities and practices, such as Yoga, Puja, Yajna, and Astrology. Knowing these allows a therapist or doctor to better understand the root cause of any issues, and provide more than just a diet, medicine, or lifestyle changes. It allows the practitioner to recommend to the client, at a deeper spiritual level.

Dr. Valdis Pirags in Latvia on Evidence-based Ayurveda

In the modern medical perspective, allopathic medicine is opposite to homeopathy. Nevertheless, as an allopathic trained physician, he collaborates with Dr. Somit Kumar and AVP, because, he says “we’ve had a 5 year relationship, starting with Sri Krishnakumar”. More importantly, he believes that the medical community as a whole needs to develop evidence-based Ayurveda. Dr. Valdis believes that Allopathy and Ayurveda are not two separate things, like water and oil, which are thought to be “not mixable”. In fact, though, the two are mixable, as can be seen in the example of milk: made of water and fat, or oil! 

Both Ayurveda and Bio-medicine will bring a lot of benefit one another and to the world. For Ayurveda, it will give a background knowledge which is transferable into modern science language. Ayurveda must modernize itself. It needs new technology and terminology, a system science. Ayurveda can even get involved in genetics. 

On the modern science side, it will give a breakthrough from the dead-ends of medicine. It opens up a new perspective. Medicine has become too much a business, an industry. It’s not affordable. Ayurveda, through its lifestyle and principles, will help get allopathy out of the narrow, business-oriented medicine. 

One area to focus on is to develop local systems based on Ayurvedic principles. Particularly using local herbs as the basis for medicines will decrease the burden of responsibility on the Indian Ayurvedic Pharmaceutical Industry, and reduce the legal hassles to import such products. Dr. Valdis discussed his current research in creating a database of European herbs in the Baltics and Northern European nations, especially the medicinal herbs. What is required is to recognize the healing properties of each, based on the Ayurvedic principles (such as Tridoshas, Trigunas, and balancing based on taste, etc.). He emphasized the need to recognize the healing properties of unknown, undocumented herbs. While some traditional practitioners from India may feel this is not staying true to Ayurveda, in fact, Dr. Valdis showed, it is the way of Ayurveda. Dr. Valdis used the history of Ayurveda, shifting from Himalyas to plains through Vaidyas moving. They faced different environments, including new herbs, and traditional formulas were replaced by local available herbs. In the same way, now the Ayurvedic doctors and therapists must use those principles, analyze the taste qualities of 100s of herbs of Northern Europe, and understand their healing properties.

 Dr. Valdis also spoke of the original Ayurvedic herbs being present throughout the world, in poly-artic regions. While Tibet, Himalayas, Kashmir, Afghanistan were the original regions, Northern Europe to Siberia has similar climatic and topographic conditions and may have similar herbs. But not a lot is known about the healing properties. This is what we need to uncover, or rediscover, and document. 

We have to develop evidence-based research in Ayurveda, and ensure that it doesn’t become a “one-size fit all” pharmaceutical industry, as has been done in the past. For example, Aspirin was found as a bark of a tree and found the anti-inflammatory nature of it, and the pharmaceutical industry now extracts that. The pharma industry is always looking for a magic molecule, but that’s not how Ayurveda works. In Ayurveda, the herb is seen as a composition of hundreds of molecules, which act on different receptors in different bodies, based on their prakritis and gunas. 

Dr. Beatrice Deschamps discusses the similarities to French systems

After completing a BAMS in India, Dr. Beatriz returned to France. She realized quickly that she should not blindly apply what I learned in India. In France, culture and habits are different. The plants are different. The religious traditions are different. 

But actually, there are similarities. For example, practice 40 days of fasting, usually at the end of winter/ start of Spring, during Lent, just before Easter. At that time, most of France stops eating sweets, meat, anything hard to digest. After learning Ayurveda, Dr. Beatriz understood the meaning, and recognized that this practice also follows the principles of Ayurveda: a cleansing during the seasonal weather change. “Spring is a kapha heavy time, and we need to cleanse our bodies and minds, and that’s why we have this fasting.” Dr. Beatriz explains that it was not as a religious activity originally, but now it has been appropriated by Christianity in many nations and churches.

Another similarity she found was that in France, a child’s first food is given in a silver glass, fork and spoon. The child keeps that glass for childhood. Just like in India. Why? Our ancestors understood that this enhances the immune system of a child. Throughout France, we have similar traditions to Indian systems; it’s just that some cultures have lost the meaning of why this happens, and no longer understand the correlations.

Furthermore, while the specifics may be different, France also uses a lot of herbs. Thyme, rosemary, etc., have notable properties that are different based on the region of growth. It is understood that these help with digestion or increasing appetite, or other specific purposes. We also use mustard seed-linseed poultice for coughing issues with phlegm. Different herbs are good for the nervous system, etc. We have some tea decoctions, understanding the plants and their systems. We make wines, lots of black grapes. When it’s ripe, that’s when there is Pitta Prakriti (September). We used to consume wine for aperitif purposes. 

But most of us are no longer aware of why we do what we do. There’s a clear connection with Ayurvedic principles, but it’s been forgotten.

In fact, Dr. Beatriz believes, Ayurvedic principles can be found in any traditional culture of the world. Indians have written and structured it, in contrast to other places. Elsewhere, the knowledge is fragmented and lost. We have to reanimate that knowledge and apply it to the western lifestyle. There’s an increasing need to use folks medicine properly. Confirming the value of Dr. Valdis’ research, she affirms the need to build a European-Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia with the principles of Ayurveda. It’s a new beginning, and we have to help it grow globally.

Ms. Monika Mulej, a Herbalist in Slovenia

A short video from Ms. Monika, who runs a herbal, organic farm in Slovenia, echoes the same sentiments: going Glocal is pertinent. Her production of herbal supplements and medicines sticks to herbs grown around the region of Slovenia, which has a diverse topography and thus provides a range of herbs to collect and utilize. In the wild, she finds: nettle, yaro, wild rose, wild oregano, agrimony, wild thyme, st. john’s wort, comfrey, among others. “We only buy a little from other countries and climates,” she postures. After learning about Ayurveda, she also ensures the proper season for harvesting: May- July, start with herbs, and maybe still in September. Roots are most useful in winter. 

After hearing from all the panelists, the program continued with audience questions and lively interaction between the speakers.

Question: What is the purpose of recognizing the healing values of herbs in different parts of the world? Does it need to be written and documented? Or can it continue to be oral tradition? 

Answer: There’s a strong opposition by traditional vaidyas to modernization of Ayurveda. It should remain as it is. But this conservatism is not a tradition of Ayurveda. Ayurveda was changing all the time, always absorbing new knowledge. There are specific methods of recognizing new herbs. Skepticism against research in Ayurveda is controversial.

Question: Can surgery be reintroduced into Ayurveda? 

Answer: Even politically, the integration of Ayurveda and Allopathy is becoming very stressful and competitive. The future has to become fusion. 

Question: We have a craze for herbal supplements. Ayurveda is not a supplement. How do we brand and market Ayurveda to fit into this space? 

Answer: We need more communication.  Most of them are being used as food supplements, because it’s a legal way. You don’t have someone to advise you on how to take them properly. So this is scary. Each country has its own methods and legalities. Shelf life has to be written. Further, people have no awareness. They keep the same spice for years. They don’t know that it loses its potency. Plants, herbs, etc., have to be collected every year during different seasons. In conclusion, communication and awareness. 

Question: How should we collaborate with individuals and influence the country? I’m trying to blog, and need help. 

Answer: Collaboration is a must. We are each small drops, and we need to work together, towards the same aim, becoming the ocean. Ayurveda has to adjust to the culture and country. 

Research projects are the best tools to collaborate. But we have to overcome the skepticism of funding agencies. Even if you mention Ayurveda in scientific articles, the journal thinks it’s not high level science. People think Ayurveda and Yoga are Indian sciences and bring the Gurukula traditions, and that doesn’t lead to cooperation. Gurus create their own circles and compete with each other. 

Question: What else do we need to globalize Ayurveda? 

Answer: Now, GOI is trying to use Yoga and Ayurveda as a soft power around the world. But we need much more support from Indian Universities and Ministries, especially with regards to funding. It’s not just people in the west that need to invest. In the field of Ayurveda, we need money from India. Right now, there is not as much funding going into Ayurveda Research, evidence-based science. We have to revert to the standards set by modern science. It should not be a competition. Evidence-based is not against folks medicine. It is also the way. 

India needs to take a much larger and leading role in the spread of Ayurveda, in globalizing it to meet the needs of various legal and cultural requirements. We should not expect a huge transformation immediately. Unite the knowledges of Allopathy and Ayurveda, and other AYUSH systems. In China, medical students learn TCM and allopathy. India has to do that with AYUSH systems first, implement it as a requirement in medical training. Only then AYUSH systems can go to other parts of the world. 

Question: Do we need uniformity in practice and training? 

Answer: You need a long enough time to get training. Only then you are really ready. GOI has to develop uniformity, and figure out what it should be. 

Question: Can you talk about Ayurvedic Lifestyle practices around the world?

Answer: In Brazil, we have to make the lifestyle principles fit with the local traditions and daily needs. You can’t just switch completely to waking up early, if you have to also stay up late as part of the tradition. It will begin with the individual. It has to be communicated clearly and inspire others.