Parivartana: The Winds of Change in Ayurveda

The month long series of programs on Ayurveda by Center for Soft Power and Indic Academy in association with AVP Coimbatore started off on November 13, on the auspicious occasion of Dhanavantari Jayanti. 

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam was the special guest of the program. A classical dancer and researcher, she described her own interactions with Ayurveda around the world. “Ayurveda is gaining popularity globally” she stated, and encouraged the panelists and organizers to capitalize on this by appropriating Ayurveda in an authentic and contemporary manner. People want to buy everything herbal, even cosmetics. She expressed her desire for Ayurveda’s capacity to grow throughout the world now: “I’m praying that this particular meeting will be something meaningful in taking Ayurveda forward”. Her thoughts also extended into the future, stating the need for “research to be continued by the younger generation”. 

The panelists at this event represented perspectives on Ayurveda from around the world and from a variety of capacities. The discussion was officially headed by Dr. Ramkumar, the founder of the AVP group of institutions in Coimbatore, though Dr. Somit Kumar stood in for the first portion. Both posed a number of questions to the panelists, designed to elicit responses that could shine the light on the path for Ayurveda going forward. They started by asking the panelists to explain their perspectives on “the scope and opportunities of Ayurveda globally”.

Dr. Jeevan: Theoretical knowledge and preparations

Dr. Jeevan, based in Germany, explained that the growing popularity of Ayurveda requires some evidence-based practice. In Germany, several academies have research programs to study the impact of Ayurveda on Parkinson’s disease and other nervous system conditions. Dr. Jeevan also explained that Ayush Ministry was entering into a partnership with Graz University in Graz, Austria, which would require medical students there to take 1 semester of Ayurveda. 

In addition to research, Dr. Jeevan also highlighted a new area of growth for Ayurveda: theories, methodologies, and preparations. He explained that India has a set of plants which are beneficial for various purposes, and the Ayurvedic literature clearly provides such knowledge to practitioners. Germany (and therefore other parts of the world) may have different plants due to topography and climate, but there is no documentation of these within the Ayurvedic literature. Ayurveda can promote the theories and methods used to develop the medicines. Ayurveda can develop technical and theoretical knowledge to the (western) public. GOI and Indian Universities must collaborate with leading universities on these. A course of Ayurveda in every country with connection to Indian university. This will create Tatwa Ayurveda. Indology studies can include Ayurveda as well, which will benefit the students in a practical way, and be financially beneficial to India and Indian research institutes. Further, the new generation of Ayurvedic practitioners, doctors, and researchers must be given more opportunities. 

Finally, Dr. Jeevan expanded, Ayurveda should become a more serious and holistic practice in Germany. This is where a group such as Indic Academy can provide guidance, developing restrictions and protocols. We need Quality Control for Ayurveda around the world. 

Dr. Sandris: Bringing back treatment of patient

Dr. Sandris is an orthopedic specialist from Latvia. He gave his perspective on the place of Ayurveda in medicine: a holistic way of seeing the disease. While allopathic is divided, physicians require more specialization as time goes by, he explained that Ayurveda is logical, even knowledge of the basics of Ayurveda can help transform medical minds into a holistic science. The medical world needs to think about the patient as a whole, as it used to in the past. Ayurveda can bring this teaching to the medical world.

Ms. Margarete Mota: Indigenous knowledge-sharing

Ms. Margarete Mota is a Naturopath based in Brazil. She also spoke of gaps that exist which can be bridged with Ayurveda. Ayurveda has a high importance in Latin America and Brazil, because, she stated, “we have indigenous people and their original system of medicine”, and it makes a good dialogue with Ayurveda. It’s very similar. Yet, Ayurveda has more documentation than these systems, and other systems can also learn from the track record of Ayurveda and pattern their methodologies in a scientific manner, so as to be acknowledged. In Brazil, which has a public system of health, the government approved Ayurveda of alternative and complementary health systems. However, in a country of 250 million, there are only 3000 trained doctors and therapists. People who study it, have an interest in spreading it. As in Austria, the AYUSH ministry is trying to develop MOUs with universities in Brazil, to research on COVID, medicinal plants, and collaborate with local indigenous medicinal and health systems. 

Ms. Margarete cautioned that global Ayurveda leaders and this austere panel, along with the field as a whole, should be “careful about how we move, and be responsible to the veda we practice”. She emphasized that we, as a community, need to learn how to translate Ayurveda to the local needs. Health has to become localized, not a common standard across the globe. 

Professor Erik Schulz: Latin America and the need for Holistic Practice of Ayurveda

Professor Erik Schulz represented his Shala and the Latin American perspective, and why he is so enthusiastic about propagating Ayurveda as a holistic practice. He explained that most Brazilians experience Ayurveda first through simple English-language and westernized books. This is the first step to creating an understanding and building a bridge between Brazil and India. But in order to really go deep into the study of Ayurveda, it cannot be stand-alone. Ayurveda is deeply connected with Jyotish, Pujas, Yoga, spirituality, Yajna, and so forth, and practicing Ayurveda also requires elements of all these in order to be truly holistic. My family way is for deep, traditional knowledge. Of course, we need science also, to show to the world. 

Dr. Ramprasad: Australia’s needs

Dr. Ramprasad from Australia gave a pre-recorded video and explained the state of Ayurveda in the nation. There are government ayurveda courses, in terms of lifestyle and therapy. But, treatment is not covered by medical insurance. Further, there are only 700 practitioner members in the country, and of those, only some are practicing. Most people are only using triphala and sesame oil, because it’s simple and available. 

Another area for growth in Ayurveda is communications and marketing. Most professionals from India are not trained to communicate their work. They can reach more, Ayurveda can be more wide-reaching if we train them properly. Finally, Ayurveda practitioners need to have indemnity insurance, and global medical insurance needs to cover Ayurvedic treatments as well. 

Dr. Lucia: Thoughts from an Allopathic perspective

Dr. Lucia, a cardiologist from Latin America, spoke through an interpreter. About Ayurveda, she says “I like the holistic view of the human being, and its close association with the origin of the universe.” Echoing similar thought to previous speakers, she showed that “a biological science background  divides the human being, focuses on the disease and not health”. Whereas, Ayurveda looks at a person’s health and happiness as part of the diagnosis, and this allows me to integrate the two. Ayurveda offers something to the world that other modern medicinal practices and teachings do not have. “There are so many diseases that we can’t name them all. We don’t need the name to know the cause. We need the cause to understand how to help the person. That’s what Ayurveda gives.” This is the reason more medical doctors study Ayurveda, and it’s becoming a success. 

However, Dr. Lucia cautioned that doctors can only be the guides for those who come to them. In the end, it’s only what an individual wants to do, it’s their health.

India’s role in the global spread of Ayurveda

Dr. Ramkumar stated that for the initial period of COVID in India, Ayurveda was neglected. When some protocols based on Ayurveda came out, people were upset about it. Ayurveda is certainly becoming more popular globally, there is a scientific community that still demands evidence, yet, now, COVID has no evidence-based results, and there’s still resistance. “There's a conflict happening in India, and I’m sure it’s happening around the world.” 

Now we have to make a decision about what kind of Ayurveda we would like to promote globally. Do we want it to be purely medical, clinical? Do we want it to include the mental and emotional aspects of Ayurveda? Or maybe just the spiritual part? Or should we combine the physical, mental, spiritual, socio-cultural aspects: bring everything into the promotion of Ayurveda globally. Can we come to a consensus with the global Ayurveda community? 

First, it is important to identify the resources and strengths we already have. One, material resources: herbs. Two, knowledge resources: the entire wisdom from the vedas, texts, experts, and creating experts. The last few decades has been about protecting and promoting the material resources of Ayurveda. Dr. Ramkumar states that the discussion on developing knowledge resources has been less./

Integrating Ayurveda and Allopathy

Integrating Ayurveda and other systems has merits and demerits. Right now, the majority of thought lies in bridging two systems together on a superficial plane through Western diagnosis, Ayurvedic treatment. But perhaps we should start a dialogue on the principles of each, at the tatwa level? In Dr. Ramkumar’s belief, this will be more long term and beneficial to Ayurveda. It should include education, research, practice, production of medicines, cultivation of herbs, and all other allied aspects. Ayurveda should become mainstreamed into global health care systems.

Dr. Sandros ponders how to integrate in Orthopedic Surgery. He believes that Ayurveda & Allopathic medical practices can come together to do best for the patients. Ayurveda can help prepare patient for better outcome through building mental and emotional strength through various techniques. Further, it has a lot to offer in the rehabilitation of patients. 

Dr. Lucia also offers her ideas on integration of Ayurveda into allopathic medicine practiced around the world. She believes that integration can be done at every level. To start with, Ayurveda can contribute to change the point of view from disease based to integral based focus. Medical students challenge doctors to see the whole human being, not just the disease, and understand the causes of the symptoms, rather than the symptoms alone.

Another major need is to stop the misconceptions. There has been a mis-appropriation of Ayurveda in the West, changing it to something it’s not. Now, the global Ayurvedic community has to explain what Ayurveda is not. What is India’s role in this? The GOI and Ayush Ministry must re-appropriate Ayurveda back to an authentic state. 

Ayurveda has never stopped developing. In India, it’s been ongoing for millennials. In Brazil, it’s been a few decades. Teaching has to increase throughout the world. Now, medical students take a 443 hour course on Ayurveda. There are many groups that go to AVP, to gurukuls and teachers. There is still a gap, due to time. We must be patient, and have faith that It will happen. People will get the experience eventually.

Ms. Margarete Mota reiterated that Brazil has a lengthy Ayurvedic course offering of 443 hours. Some people go to India also, and it is clear to see a difference between those who have gone to India and those who have not. There is a quantum leap when people study in India. 

Ms. Mota also spoke on her film about Ayurveda, explaining that “There’s no other film on Ayurveda in Latin America.” A film allows the masses to understand what Ayurveda is, and it can help bring respect to indigeneous traditions also. “What our indigenous people do is similar to Ayurveda.” So we must respect both, and we have to learn the knowledge of medicinal plants. We have 300 indigenous nations, each of these has their own knowledge of the plants. Now shamans are saving lives using their knowledge, and this knowledge has to be documented. Ms. Mota firmly stated the need for congresses, symposiums, conferences to share the knowledge. We have a mission for Ayurveda.

Growth Areas:

Twenty-five years ago, Ayurveda in the West was: Prakriti, Doshas, Nadi-pratiksha, Turmeric. Now there is much deeper appreciation of Ayurveda. Western students who have come to India actually apply it much better than the practitioners in India. In the future, we should develop Ayurveda for the world even further. Some main topical areas for growth that came out of the discussion are listed here:

  • Decision-making: on how to further develop Ayurveda globally
  • Marketing and Communications: training for new practitioners
  • Accessibility: across all socio-economic categories
  • Knowledge Sharing: through universities and Ayush Ministry or other research institutions
  • Collaboration: with other medical systems such as Allopathy and Indigenous
  • Integration: into global health care, at a tatwa level
  • Insurance: practitioners need indemnity insurance; medical insurance providers should cover Ayurveda
  • Research and Documentation: of Ayurvedic theories and methodologies, especially in preparation of medicines, and local plants and herbs
  • Protocols and Rules: across the globe and in individual countries