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MD Babu
Ayurveda specialist at the ADLER Spa Resort Thermae

Ayurvedic medicine in the Western world

Nowadays, it’s hardly a novelty any more. Ayurveda has long since reached the West, establishing itself in the cracks left between conventional medicine and personal wellness practices.
Yet, my work as an Ayurveda doctor still arouses curiosity here in Italy. People often ask: “What’s Ayurvedic medicine, and what do Ayurveda doctors do, exactly?” Perhaps the best way for me to introduce the topic is to tell you my story and share the answers that many years of experience have afforded me.

I was born in India. I was still a boy when my father suffered a heart attack. Despite being admitted to intensive care, he suffered a second attack a few days later. The doctors said that his body wasn’t responding well to Western medicine. Then my father consulted with an Ayurveda doctor, who prescribed a different treatment. Finally, his condition improved. This experience was to become decisive a few years later, when my time came to choose my university studies. I was struggling to choose between medicine and engineering. It was my father who gave me the final push, directing me to the faculty of Ayurvedic medicine, where I graduated six years later.

After I got my degree, I first went to Kerala to further specialise under the guidance of a master, then I started travelling all over India looking to deepen my knowledge. Following a long period of further development, I found employment as head of the Ayurvedic Medicine department at the Indian Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine and Research, in Bangalore. I spent five years there before being called to work at an ashram, an international centre where people from all over the world retreat to practise yoga and meditation in contact with nature, under the guidance of a spiritual master. My job was to administer Ayurvedic, marma and meru therapies.

It was at this time that my horizons expanded and I felt encouraged to continue my personal and professional journey beyond the Indian borders. One day, I met an Italian patient. He had travelled all the way to India looking for an Ayurvedic doctor for his practice in Milan, and someone had suggested that he came to me. It wasn’t long before I joined his practice in Italy. We worked together for one year, after which I returned to India. But in the meantime I had fallen in love with Italy. So I decided to look for more opportunities to work in the Bel Paese. That’s how I made contact with ADLER Spa Resort THERMAE and joined their medical team. I have been living in Tuscany for 15 years now, and I feel privileged to be able to assist my Italian and international patients in such a stunning natural setting.

Since most ADLER guests visit us to spend a regenerating break, it is only natural that our most popular Ayurvedic treatments are those tailored to suit their need for relaxation. However, we also have guests who are already familiar with Ayurvedic practice. Some of them have visited India and come to us looking for treatment for their ailments. In these cases, I professionally recommend a more complete course of treatment, one that combines specific Ayurvedic therapies (such as panchakarma) with the use of natural supplements that I know to be effective.

Many are the guests who have benefited from our treatments. I could give the example of a woman with liver problems who came to ADLER Thermae hoping to find a cure. Her blood tests were not encouraging, showing high transaminase values. She had already tried several therapies prescribed by conventional doctors, but unfortunately to no avail. Her condition kept getting worse. We started out with a detoxifying panchakarma therapy straight away, and combined the treatment with specific supplements. A couple of weeks after her departure, she called me. For the first time she was feeling better, and her blood tests were back to normal. In her case, the Ayurvedic approach had evidently proved successful.

People often ask me about the difference between conventional and Ayurvedic medicine, and whether the latter does actually “work”. My answer is that the main difference between conventional Western medicine and Ayurvedic medicine lies in the very concept of “health” and in the approach to therapy.

According to Ayurveda, health is not just the absence of disease. When the sacred fire Agni (which is involved in metabolic processes) is well balanced, so are the body’s dosha (Vata, Pitta and Kapha, i.e. the person’s psychic and physical functions). As a result, waste substances (bodily excretions) are successfully eliminated, intestinal function is adequate and the person has a healthy appetite. The senses and the mind are in a state of well-being and there’s a harmonious unity of body, mind and consciousness. Now, this is our concept of HEALTH.

For example, if a person is stressed (as is often the case with today’s hectic lifestyle), according to Ayurveda that person is not in good health, even if there are no signs or symptoms of disease. Our concept of health necessarily includes the well-being of the mind as well as that of the body. Also, Ayurvedic medicine regards correct digestive function as crucial to health. It is no coincidence that my general health recommendations include advice to drink hot water every morning as well as more specific dietary guidance.

Our therapeutic approach is also completely different from the conventional approach. Western medicine focuses on treating the disorder, while Ayurvedic medicine focuses on treating the person. This difference inevitably reflects on practice. Allow me to exemplify this. Let’s say that both you and I have a fever. In Western medicine, fever is treated with antipyretics (e.g. aspirin). Therefore, both you and I will be prescribed aspirin. In Ayurvedic medicine, however, fever is treated with… well, that depends. It is entirely possible that black pepper is the best remedy in my case, while in your case ginger would be the treatment of choice. In other words, Western medicine tends to choose the treatment based on the disease, while Ayurvedic medicine tailors the treatment to the patient’s unique features and circumstances. Therefore, every Ayurvedic treatment can only be a personalised one.

Being patient-oriented, Ayurvedic medicine also relies heavily on strengthening the immune system. This is done by using select herbs, adhering to specific dietary regimes, and adopting a lifestyle that changes with the seasons, all of which needs to be observed consistently over time. Ayurveda is an ancient form of healing that enjoys official recognition by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It can easily be integrated into Western lifestyle and practice, thereby offering a more comprehensive approach to health and psychophysical well-being.