Vaidya Dr. G. G. Gangadharan’s book - Ayurveda: The True way to restore your health and Happiness is being released today. The book does not seek to defend Ayurveda, which the publishers say is a sound, scientific framework of healthcare that has saved countless lives over 5000 years and does not need defenders. It needs champions, and to be given wings.
In the book, Dr Gangadharan, who has been researching both the theory and the practice of Ayurveda for the past thirty-five years, explains the main pillars of its scientific logic. He points out that our bodies are intelligent systems designed to keep most diseases at bay, but we must pay more attention to the signals they give us. Listening to our bodies allows for true restoration. It is a promise to restore your body and mind to its initial healthy state. Ayurveda has so much to offer; its simple application can transform one’s daily life. In this book, you will find the secret to greater happiness through balance and long-lasting health.
Dr. Gangadharan, a practicing Ayurvedic physician, is currently the Director of M S Ramaiah Indic Centre for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine based in Bangalore, India. After his seven-and-a-half-year Ayurved Acharya course from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, he acquired a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is the recipient of the prestigious Ashoka Innovators for the Public fellowship. He also has a PhD from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune, in management of rheumatoid arthritis.
In this interview he tells CSP about Ayurveda’s role in creating health and happiness.
How does the book explain the connection between health and happiness in a world where there's a disproportionately large connection between wealth and happiness?
Health can be perceived from different levels. This book explains the connection between health and happiness from a physical, physiological, psychological, and spiritual perspective. It doesn’t deal with socio-economic imbalances that are prevailing in the society, which is nowadays overwhelmingly high. The perception of health is also a mind-set. Ayurveda talks about how to domesticate internal and external enemies to work positively for health. This includes dinacharya, ritucharya, sadvritta and daivavyapashraya chikitsa.
You say our bodies are intelligent and can cure themselves. Why are we unable to intercept these signals anymore?
As long as one lives in tune with nature, which is not intercepted by barriers like tensed mind, anxiety prone environment, work culture, competing professions at psychological level and processed food, polluted air, water and soil and toxic induced cultivation, preserved foods especially fruits and vegetables, also weaken and suppress, which distorts capacity of one’s sensitivity to understand and correct nature's signals of early symptoms of morbidity.
Can Ayurveda bring a shift where we are looking at prevention rather than cure?
Ayurveda as a science is prevention and promotion oriented. The whole science of public health revolves on these two components, which are strengths of Ayurveda. We need to apply principles of Ayurveda in public health and community medicine including primary healthcare.
Primary healthcare in Ayurveda starts at home. This is people oriented knowledge based on indigenous, preventive healthcare. This is what Ayurveda must advocate in the 21st century.
Where does this book meet your other published books? How does one balance writing best sellers and academic publications to reach both the layman and the practitioner?
This book is written with a definite purpose of reaching to people, who are interested in Ayurveda with an open mind. This is not an academic exercise but a public outreach. I have made use of inputs from writers who write this kind of a book. This is a genius mix of layman`s language and technical know-how for scientists. It was not an easy job though.
For example, my recent book Two futures of food, health and humanity co-authored by Dr Vandana Shiva, who heads Navadanya, is an academic and intellectual exercise to debate between modern, mechanical and reductionist perspective of development and life and Indian Sciences especially Ayurveda`s holistic perspective of life and development.
Westerners have published many books on Ayurveda made Simple. Is this necessary for modern readers?
Many books by Westerners have made efforts to make Ayurveda simple, but it has distorted the concept of Ayurveda sometimes in an irreparable manner. For instance, equating Vatha with air, Jala Bhuta with water and dosha as energy etc. These are wrong concepts and will take the reader in the wrong direction and perspective. That’s why I thought of writing this book. But I do admit that there are good writers who have a sound understanding of Ayurveda like Robert Svoboda, David Frawley, Dominik Wujasty and others.
In the last one year what impact have you seen Ayurveda making on dealing with the pandemic?
There are many efforts in different parts of the country to tackle the massive epidemic. Many of them are wonderful experiences of Vaidya, both preventive and curative. Unfortunately, there is no coordinated effort to put together all these efforts to make it evidence-based science. The Ministry of AYUSH is planning to launch a portal – Ayush Clinical Case Repository (ACCR) to document alternative therapy outcomes and the third version of Ayush Sanjivani app. This will provide access to professionals for research and analysis.
Extract from Ayurveda: The True way to restore your health and Happiness (Available on Amazon)
The Whole Plant, the Whole Person
The plant that the West calls Rauwolfia serpentina is known in Ayurveda as ‘sarpagandha’. Ayurveda has been using it for centuries for the treatment of high blood pressure without any side-effects. Modern scientists have researched this plant and identified a master molecule named reserpine. They extracted it from the plant, synthesized it in a laboratory and used it to make medicines that would reduce blood pressure. The medicine achieved this objective, but also caused side-effects that included depression and suicidal tendencies.* After many fatal incidents, the medicine had to be retracted from the market.
There’s a larger story behind this phenomenon—what I call the ‘Sarpagandha Syndrome’. To understand this story, we need to know how nature works and how Ayurveda has moulded itself to fit into nature’s contours.
* Douglas Lobay, ‘Rauwolfia in the Treatment of Hypertension’, Integrative Medicine, June 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC4566472/
Nature, Wholeness and the Dynamic Equilibrium
We know that nature abhors a vacuum. Let’s also acknowledge that nature abhors the lack of wholeness. At every point in time since the formation of our planet, every life form and substance found in nature has remained in a state of dynamic equilibrium— within itself and also with respect to its environment. If there is a momentary imbalance in that—for instance, if an unstable isotope is created—nature quickly restores the substance to its whole and natural state.
Meanwhile, nature uses chemistry to change biology over vast periods of time, so that every life form continuously evolves to a higher level of resilience.
Since nature sets such exacting standards for itself, is there any wonder that Ayurveda trusts it implicitly? By extension, Ayurveda trusts every plant and human body to be whole and complete. In the human body, this dynamic equilibrium is maintained by, among other phenomena, homeostasis; Claude Bernard, the father of experimental physiology, called this self-regulating ability the milieu interior. Since the human body and other natural life forms are designed this way, any imbalance in the human body—that manifests as a disease—can be addressed by using the restorative power of nature.
When we take a step back and look at the entire universe, we realize that nature is awe-inspiring. We realize that every life form is a microcosm of the entire universe. Since humans tend to be self-obsessed, let us rewrite that sentence as follows: The human body is a microcosm of the entire universe. The matter of the universe is in the human body and what is in the human body is in the universe. After all, astronomy tells us that the atoms that make up our body were produced inside a star. We share chemistry with the universe and, therefore, everything we find in it is potentially therapeutic for us.
So for the vaidya—the practitioner of Ayurveda—our planet is a boundless pharmacy. This makes the vaidya a bridge connecting the whole nature with the whole human being.
We will now look at how Ayurveda embraces the wholeness of the plant while also treating the human being in its entirety. In simpler terms, Ayurveda does not reduce a plant to its constituent bio-molecules. Nor does it reduce the human being to a set of ailing organs. Life is undoubtedly enabled by molecules and organs, but life is experienced in its entirety.
Therefore, the processes that nurture and preserve life must be wholesome.
The first sign that Ayurveda is wholesome is the fact that its medicines do not cause side-effects if used appropriately.
Yes, Ayurvedic medicines cause no side-effects. The brazenness of this claim is made apparent by the fact that many allopathic medicines have a list of side-effects that’s longer than the list of chemicals used to make them. Despite painstaking research that can last years—including clinical trials on various life forms and multiple iterations of development—allopathic medicines have been unable to shrug off the bane of unwanted externalities.
Take antibiotics, for example—every generation of antibiotics is made stronger so as to vanquish newer generations of more resilient superbugs. This also means that every new generation of antibiotics takes a stronger toll on the human body, with the side effects becoming starker. In such a dynamic domain, Ayurveda continues to use medicines free of side-effects, conceptualized and created many centuries ago. How has Ayurveda achieved this?
Well, Ayurveda studies plants in their entirety. Roots, stems, bark, flowers, fruits and leaves are understood—as constituent yet interconnected parts of the plant—and the therapeutic value of each part is understood. That done, Ayurveda identifies the best way to extract the plant’s essence for human use.
Any part of any plant has hundreds of types of bio-molecules, such as alkaloids and saponins. In many cases, only one bio-molecule among these is capable of acting as the master molecule that combats the ailment. While allopathy will isolate, extract and synthesize this bio-molecule, Ayurveda will extract the entire part because it believes that the other bio-molecules in the plant negate the side-effects caused by just one of them.
This throws new light on the Sarpagandha Syndrome mentioned earlier. The plant sarpagandha behaves like a team, whereas reserpine behaves like the star player of that team, who is completely lost without his teammates.
The long and short of it is that Ayurveda trusts nature’s design to be more holistic than its counterpart, the human design, and by embracing nature’s holism, it manages to do away with potential side-effects.
Having said that, let’s make another statement that, which at first glance, may appear contradictory: We don’t take all parts of the plant or even everything within a single part of the plant.
All we are saying is that molecular-level selection of matter leads to problems. So, in Ayurveda, the Vaidya removes those parts of the plant that are neither necessary for treatment, nor easily ingested by the human body. Through well-considered extraction methodologies, the physician makes the therapeutic qualities of the plant accessible to humans.