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Trip to India: New Awareness, New Appreciation

posted May 7, 2017, 11:32 AM by Susan Bernhardt   [ updated May 7, 2017, 6:02 PM ]
Free Medical Camp in Palghar
Free Medical Camp in PalgharFree Medical Camp in Palghar

My years of studying and practicing Ayurveda and yoga introduced me from afar to India. I anticipated that a three-week trip to India last month with my Ayurveda teacher, Dr. Bharat Vaidya, and his school, Ayurved Sadhana, would make everything feel more tangible and deepen my knowledge. The trip certainly did that. And much, much more. 

The majority of our trip was Ayurveda-focused: 
  • The school and those of us on the trip sponsored six days of free medical clinics that served over 1,200 people. The clinics served dual purposes: people received free Ayurvedic care and medicines, and we vastly expanded our knowledge, experience, and skills. The first clinic took place at the Ayurved Sadhana Clinic in Bombay, an ongoing charitable clinic sponsored by Dr. Vaidya that will continue to provide care to people we saw and others.  

  • We visited an Ayurveda teaching hospital, where we talked with doctors and Ayurveda medical students, observed patients being treated, and stood next to Ayurveda medicinal plants growing in their natural habitats.

  •  We attended a conference of Ayurvedic doctors in the rural district of Palghar, north of Mumbai, where we were honored to give presentations. I spoke on Yoga in America. 

  • We met with an Ayurvedic physician who founded a research foundation and a manufacturing company focused on formulating and proving the effectiveness of Ayurvedic medicines.

  • We paid respect to the history of Ayurveda by visiting the Dr. Prabhuram Jivanram's Maha-Samadhi (place where he left his body). Dr. Jivanram played a critical role in establishing a high-quality educational program for becoming an Ayurvedic physician by founding of the first institute for the study of Ayurveda in Bombay in 1877, first Ayurveda college in 1896, and first Ayurveda university in 1929.  
 I'm still working on sorting through photos as well as thoughts about the trip, but for now I want to share a few observations and takeaways. 

Some Observations

  • The people we saw at the medical clinics came for far different reasons than the people who come to see me for consultations here. Here, stress, anxiousness, and insomnia are common concerns. Of the over 1,200 people we saw, only a handful expressed those concerns. We saw kids who looked like they were 7 but told us they were 10, and adults who looked like they were 55 but said they were 45. Many kids had signs of parasites, distended bellies, and other signs of malnutrition. The local doctors we worked with told us that we could expect nearly all of the women in one village to be anemic. And they were. People had skin rashes and ulcers that wouldn't heal, often from exposure to unclean water -- not just drinking it, but standing in it while working at their jobs. Back and neck pain were common, but instead of coming from long hours at a computer, the pain came from literally backbreaking physical work. 

  • The kinds of advice the doctors gave at the clinics differed from consultations here. Our counseling typically involves individualizing dietary recommendations and daily routines for a particular person, as well as working to resolve underlying causes while relieving symptoms. After all, as the Ayurvedic maxim says, if the diet is proper, the medicine is not needed; if the diet is not proper, the medicine is of no use. At the clinics, we saw people who truly could not afford proper food and whose obligations for home, family, and work made following Ayurvedic lifestyle guidelines unrealistic. Because of these limitations, the focus often became relieving symptoms with medicines, rather than the traditional approach of also addressing the underlying root causes. 

  • We use different types of Ayurvedic remedies. The medicines we provided were mainly pre-formulated tablets and syrups (arishtas and asavs) made by Ayurvedic pharmaceutical companies. Local doctors said that they tend to use these forms in their regular practices as well. At the conference we attended, the doctors seemed surprised that in the US we tend to use powdered herbs (churnas) that we combine into customized formulas, a very traditional approach and one that appears more uncommon where we visited. 

  • Despite the hardships and lack of resources, the people we met were generous, warm, and friendly. Many have next to nothing by our standards, yet they gave us gifts and welcomed us into their homes. We were privileged to attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of Anupama Vaidya's parents. AV, as she often is called, is Dr. Vaidya's wife, an amazing teacher of Ayurvedic and Indian cooking, and the driving force behind the school and our trip. Her family welcomed us as if we were long-lost relatives, from the time we arrived in Mumbai, to the anniversary extravaganza, and finally back to the airport to return home. 

  • Our hosts took time for ritual, thankfulness, and acknowledging people's contributions, rather than rushing into the next activity with barely a pause. When we landed at the airport, AV's family greeted us, at 1:00 in the morning, with beautiful flower garlands and a welcoming ceremony. At each of the clinics, which were organized in India by AV's sister, Dr. Ujjvala Kale, the day began with introductions, thanks, and more flowers given to each of us and the local doctors. The medical conference began with a ceremony, each speaker was thanked before and after speaking, and we were presented with plaques (mine says, somewhat over-generously, "Dr. Susan Bernhardt"). 
Some Takeaways 
  • Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. We have clean water coming from taps in our houses. We can drink it, prepare our food with it, brush our teeth with it, and shower in it. We have regular trash collection, sewer systems, and the ability to clean our surroundings. We can make choices about our lifestyles, even if challenging.

  • There is much value in taking the time to acknowledge others and to create and follow ritual. I, at least, can be more mindful and more generous with acknowledging and giving to others. 

  • We have the resources and opportunity to further Ayurveda as it traditionally was taught and practiced, perhaps even more than those in its homeland. This is an unbelievable gift, and perhaps even an obligation, that we are privileged to have. 
In the spirit of giving more public acknowledgments and expressions of gratitude: thank you to Dr. Bharat Vaidya and Anupama Vaidya for organizing this trip and founding a school based in traditional Ayurvedic teachings; thank you to Dr. Ujjvale Kale for organizing the clinics, being a guide for much of the trip, and for sharing your warmth, fun-loving spirit, and love; thank you to all of the local Ayurvedic doctors and others who visited with us, cared for the people who came to the clinics, and shared their knowledge and experience in order to enrich ours; thank you to those who visited the clinics, sharing your concerns and trusting our advice. Thank you also to other teachers who have shared their wisdom and helped lead me on this beautiful journey in Ayurveda, yoga, and healing, among them Dr. Sarasvati Buhrman, Shar Lee, Derik Eselius, Santosh Powell, and Baba Hari Dass and his senior students. 

Om shanti,

Susan


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