Embassy of India – SANA’A A RATIONAL APPROACH TO HOLISTIC MEDICINE [Archives:2000/26/Health]

June 26 2000

A Deliberation on an Indian System of Medicine
Nowadays, it is fashionable to talk of ‘holistic’ medicine. But regrettably, few really understand its meaning. Basically, the word ‘holistic’ is not a correct word, because it is confusing. Everybody who is a healer today, whether a practioner of unani, acupressure, or acupuncture, ayurveda, naturopathy, you name it, would call himself or herself as the provider of holistic medicine. Hence the definition of the word ‘holistic’ must be clear. Here one needs to understand the definition of health. The definition given by the WHO (World Health Organization), and accepted everywhere is : “Health is not the mere absence of disease, but a state of physical, menntal, social, spiritual, and environmental well-being”. That is total well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Therefore, we must fulfill five criteria – the physical, mental, social, environmental and spiritual.
Basically, there are two systems of medicine, Eastern and the Western. The Western system is based on scientific evidence, trials and research, which looks after the model of receptor, which looks after the symptoms, and is called allopathic and is essentially a researched medicine. The Eastern system of medicine does not look at the symptoms, but at the patient as a whole. It looks into the microcosm as well as the macrocosm. This system looks into the five basic elements of nature -earth, ether, water, air and fire- and basic elements of the man. This system asks who the patient is, while an allopathic doctor asks what the patient is suffering from. There is thus a difference in approach.
The Eastern systems would include the Indian, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Unani, the Tibetan, Éetc. The question which comes to mind is which of these is holistic? Does holistic mean the Eastern system or the Western system or a combination of both? Now let me define these five criteria set by the WHO. Western medicine basically deals with physical heath, physical structure, surgery, flesh, channels, pipes (they look at coronary as a pipe). They don’t look at the person. They look at the muscle as flesh, the heart as flesh. Theyhave given mental health to psychiatrists. General doctors do not look into mental health. Social health is just one or two hours’ discussion in the whole nine years of medical education.
Spiritual health is not defined. Environmental health is talked about in environmentally related diseases like smoking, pollution, water pollution, etc. Hence, Western science is incomplete, and can not be called holistic. Holistic has two meanings, one from the word holy, and the other ‘whole-istic’, implying to look at things as a whole.
But allopathy is scientific, research based, time-tested, for emergency and for surgical purposes, the best. Yet it is incomplete. To complete it, I must define from where do I get mental, social, environmental, and spiritual health? What is environment? It is basically made up of five elements. When I use them as therapy, the science is called naturopathy. There is no other science which uses the five elements as therapy. So naturopathy has no competitor. The only science which deals with five elements separately is nature cure. You use sun, water, air and five elements as therapy – and you call it naturopathy. When these five elements enter the body, they become the five elements of the man. When these five elements enter the body, they combine into three, vat-wind, pitta-bile, kapha-phlegm. Air and space make the movement function, fire and water make the metabolism, and water and earth make the structure. So, the allopathic equivalents, and this is my own understanding, are metabolism, movement and structure. Allopathy does not talk about the five elements, nor about vat, pitta or kapha, although they talk about metabolism. Allopathy talks about end organs. The three basic elements-vat, pitta and kapha get united to form seven dhatus called rasa (fluid), rakta (blood), masma (flesh), medha (muscle), majja (bone marrow), asthi (bone), and sukra (semen) in a sequence.
These seven dhatus combine to form organs. Organs make the systems. Systems have receptors. Receptors have symptoms. If a medicine is given to suppress the symptom, it is allopathy. If a drug is given to induce the same symptom it is homeopathy. So Ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy, etc., are not contradictory to each other. The holistic approach combines them together without contradiction. This is my definition of holistic medicine. However, this is still incomplete. So, we need to go back.
We had earlier talked about five elements. We also talked about vat, pitta and kapha. But ayurveda also talks about space or manas. Manas is empty space which is an internet of energized information. This is energized information divided into many segments, called the subtle body-man, buddi, ahankar (mind, intellect, and ego), the causal body called consciousness, and the autonomous nervous system called chakras. The man, buddi, and ahankar is called the disturbed sate of consciousness, and then you have a silent state of consciousness without vibrations called consciousness or soul, and then there are empty spaces where nadis which are different from arteries, veins and nerves called chakras, seven in number, communicate the outer consciousness to the inner consciousness. There are thus 108 gates and 7 main gates. Each gate controls an emotion. The forehead or the seat of the third-eye (where the sound of OUM predominates) is the area of intelligence. The throat (thyroid/pituitary gland) is the area of truthfulness (the sound of HUM). The heart vibrates YAM, the seat of love. The naval vibrates RUM, the area of doubt. The abdomen vibrates VUM, the seat of attachment. The base chakra at the anus vibrates LAM. Each sound is related to an emotion, intelligence, truthfulness, love, doubt, attachment and fear. Holistic approach would mean understanding all sciences and merging them together.
Consequently, the holistic approach would mean the treatment of physical, mental, social, environmental, and spiritual requirments of individuals, together and not in isolation. On mental health, we have to talk about kama (sexual desire), krodh (anger), lobha (avarice), moha (love/attachment), and ahankar (ego) and how to remove them. Negativity can be removed by cultivating positive habits by exercises and by yoga as enunciated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Positive thinking comes from instructions of Deepak Chopra’s 7 Spiritual Steps to Success. For social health we have to understand socialisation. That means one should do good karma (action), do good karmas for the community. For spiritual health we talk about mediation, the understanding of all forms of consciousness, going from a disturbed state of consciousness to an undisturbed state of consciousness by observing silence, observing the later limbs of yoga – attention, concentration, contemplation, meditation and samadhi. All these using the technique of Pranayam (breathing exercise), Asanas (sitting posture) and Pratyahar (controlling the senses). What we call the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ are the yams and niyams. In environmental health, we talk of five basic elements – the five sensory and five motory senses. Here we talk about listening, hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing and touching. Water, mud, sun, aroma therapies, exercise, or pranhayama- they all come in environmental health.
Holistic treatment also involves holistic prevention. This treatment includes physical, pranic, mental, social, spiritual and environmental bathing. This detoxifies the physical, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental body. Treatment is to correct the imbalance. Allopathy deals with the current disease and its treatment, not the root cause of the disease, it doesn’t talk of the five well-beings. Ayurveda lacks in surgical advances, it doesn’t have research, it doesn’t have investigations. Nearest to the holistic treatment is Ayurveda but minus emergencies, surgical advances and technologies. So Ayurveda and Allopathy need to be combined. Every other treatment is the offshoot of Ayurveda. Even in Allopathy, 80 percent of the medicines come from plants. In a way, Allopathy can be called synthetic Ayurveda, for they modify the structure of molecules obtained from plants.
Ayurveda was suppressed for over 200 years by the British. It is still suppressed. There is no money in Ayurveda, for its treatment is individualistic. So mass marketing or research is not possible. This in-built weakness of Ayurveda has been taken advantage of by the West. The western countries are now finding that allopathy is not providing answers to the five needs of human beings, and are entering into Ayurveda. They will do research, patent it and sell it. There are more western approved-Ayurveda physicians in America than in India. Holistic teaching should commence at school level. In my 15 years of medical learning, there has not been a single lecture on Ayuveda. I am convinced that Ayurveda has a lot to teach. It is essential that Ayurveda and allopathy be combined to give a holistic approach.
* Dr. K. K. Aggarwal, a Cardiologist, is Vice Chairman of Health Care, Foundation of India, senior Consultant, Medicine & Cardiolgy, Moolchand Hospital and Apollo Hospital, and Editor-in-Chief of IJCP.
* Courtesy: “Diplomat” Magazine -January – February 2000