At the beginning of my medical studies in the USA, I asked our teacher for a brief explanation of pathology, a question concerning what is health and what is disease.
He made an unhappy face, saying: “we went through this already, why don’t you go to the library and find out there?” I was stunned at his answer and felt deceived - I felt that as a student at a medical school I had a right to ask if I did not understand something.
Later, my friend Francis from Kerala found me sitting in the library in a grumpy mood. Francis was a renowned expert in nuclear medicine and biochemistry, and a professor at Stanford University. “You look somewhat down,” he smiled at me. “I am here to study what disease is,” I replied grimly. He burst into laughter. I could not understand why my response amused him so much. But he followed up quickly, “In such case, I have something for you right here,” he said and took a book out of his bag and handed it to me. It was a classical text of Ayurvedic medicine ‘Madhava Nidhana’ (Pathology and Symptomatology of Disease in Ayurveda), in a bilingual, English-Sanskrit version, published in Belgium.
I borrowed the book for three weeks, and then for three more months. It was a fascinating book. It spoke of the nature of disease, and explained in great detail how important good digestion and proper elimination are for maintaining one’s health. The explanation given was transparent, clear and logical. But, the main concept was yet to come; for keeping good health we need the ability to smile as an innocent child. The author wrote about the kind of smile, which springs from the depths of our being, and explained that the loss of such a smile means loss of health. I felt chills while reading and rereading these lines, as if I had just found the clue to a tremendous discovery.
I took the book and rushed to our school to show the chapter to my pathology teacher. “This is from the library. The university library,” I deliberately put emphasis on the word ‘university’, as I handed him the book. He glanced at the open page and murmured dimly; “It is hard to believe.” For a while, he held the book in his hands, uncertain what to do with it. He had nothing further to tell me. Shortly after this incident, I left the university. When a university loses its capacity to learn and teach, it loses everything, because its beauty should always be teaching the truth. It does not matter where thoughts come from - if they reflect wisdom.
After many years in the West, there was a growing urgency inside telling me that the only thing I should teach was what health is all about. If people can understand this, then they will be able to understand everything. Every one of us should find courage to investigate this question thoroughly, for the sake of one’s self and for the sake of one’s children. How else can we get to ever see the light of happiness in our life? I am quite often approached by the students of medicine seeking the explanation of health. When I ask them, what they think health is, they feel embarrassed. It is not their mistake; in the medical schools they have received no explanation.
For keeping good health we need the ability to smile as an innocent child. The author wrote about the kind of smile, which springs from the depths of our being, and explained that the loss of such a smile means loss of health.
Ayurveda explains health in poetry form, because it is thought that anything in that form may be remembered and retained for a longer period of time. The description of health is in fact a poem of balance and a poem of harmony. The main word here is sama which means equilibrium.
Firstly, it speaks of the equilibrium of the three doshas; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These are the three basic neurohumoral principles governing everything in our body. Secondly, it talks about the balance of the bodily fire, agni, which is meant by the metabolic changes at every level: digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as the metabolism of information. Thirdly, the balance of elimination is mentioned. This refers to the three ways of elimination of mala (waste products) from the body. Fourthly, the harmonious functioning of all the seven dhatus (tissues) in the body.
Finally, when everything is physically well balanced, comes what Ayurveda puts so much emphasis on: the expression ‘prasanna’. Prasanna means inner happiness. The happiness that fills the soul. The smile of an innocent child. Our entire mind should vibrate with such happiness, and not only the mind, but also all our five senses. They should resonate with beauty from the feeling of happiness. This is the kind of happiness that engulfs our entire being and permeates even the last cell in our body. The fifth and the most important balance is the harmony of our soul.
Everyone who is interested in health should be reminded that a mere absence of disease is not health. A person can be physically fit, and yet may not be healthy. Only then, if he/she has been living in the state of happiness, which he/she spreads around and gives to others, a true health will come.
I have never come across a more perfect and satisfying definition of health than the one I have explained above. I made a vow at my first public lecture in Prague, that if any of my audience finds a better explanation, I will take off my shoes and walk barefoot all the way to India.
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Titled as “Roving Ambassador of Ayurveda”, belongs to the first generation of Ayurvedic practitioners and teachers who have pioneered the way for Ayurveda's recognition as a mainstream system of medicine.
Born and raised in Paris, she has always been looking at the horizon. The city that nourished her, it was her trampoline for courageous free flight around this planet. It’s inspiring to keep up with her.
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