By Nandini Murali March 2010 Use of holistic principles is becoming a part of modern medicine to not only cure the ill, but also keep them well “Cure people’s ills, and you can make them happy for a day. Teach them to stay well, and you can make them healthy for a lifetime.” – Merlene T Sherman, Wellness in the Workplace Dr: I am going to write some tablets and you are going to swallow them. But just HOW do they work? What force digests them, absorbs them, circulates them to the right places and heals? Suppose a patient is brought in, built like Mr Universe; but if it’s a dead body is there any use? Patient: No! Dr: That’s the point! So it’s the atma (soul) within you that digests food and medicine, absorbs it, circulates it, and ultimately heals you. And what is the atma? It is part of paramathma or God! So you do have the power within you to heal yourself! Is this doctor patient interactive snippet medical fantasy? Hardly. The therapeutic use of concepts such as karma, atma, and prayer are integral part of the art and science of healing practised by two new age Chennai-based holistic physicians, Dr Hiramalini Seshadri and Dr Seshadri Harihar. Although deeply rooted in modern scientific medicine, the couple passionately advocate the role of spirituality in health care. Dr Hiramalini Seshadri, 50, is senior consultant, medicine, and rheumatology, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. Dr Seshadri Harihar, 55, is senior consultant psychiatrist in the same hospital. “Holistic medicine is modern medicine which treats the patient as a person – as one with a body, mind, and soul (atma) and not just as a ‘liver case’ or ‘asthma case’,” explain Dr Hiramalini Seshadri and Dr Seshadri Harihar. Dr Larry Dossey, pioneer in holistic medicine and bestselling author of several books on spirituality and health care said, “Modern medicine is one of the most spiritually malnourished professions.” According to him, the need to spiritualise and humanise modern medicine is radical, and demands a reinventing of medicine. And it is an idea whose time has come. The goal in holistic medicine is a wellness, which includes the whole person, and not merely the absence of pain or disease. As a practising holistic physician, Dr Hiramalini Seshadri integrates the ‘Sapthapathi’ or the seven steps of holistic medicine in her approach to patient care – diet, supplements, exercise, positive mental attitude, healthy sleep routine, absence of addictions, and the right weight. “The average Indian intuitively has a holistic mindset, and is so relieved and happy when treated holistically,” says Dr Hiramalini Seshadri. The doctors use a range of psycho-spiritual strategies to complement conventional modern medical therapy. “These are excellent, effective low-cost methods free of side-effects, which can complement conventional pharmacological therapy,” they say. Wellness is a social responsibility of humanity These include cognitive therapy (through conversations and parables), prayer, group singing (bhajans, recitation of surahs, singing in the church choir), seva therapy (volunteerism), mental housekeeping (an inner technique of daily analysis or looking within oneself and clearing the system of negative toxic emotions such as anger), energising (a self-healing visualisation technique that uses focused intention to remove blocks that obstruct the free flow of positive, pro-healing thoughts that power life), and SoHUMming (a breathing technique based on the SoHUM mantra that requires the person to inhale, while mentally repeating SO and exhaling with HUM, while visualising the Self in the region of the heart). I first discovered the word wellness more than a decade ago, when I stumbled on Interleaves: Ruminations on Illness and Spiritual Life, by historian, poet, and cultural critic, Lata Mani. Interleaves is based on the author’s personal experience of an internal brain injury that destroyed all semblances of predictability in her life. At that time, I too was negotiating multiple spine surgeries. The novelty of the wellness concept, and my daily struggles with illness both intrigued and bewildered me. Yet I felt isolated, as mainstream or establishment medicine had almost nothing to offer me, while I struggled to piece together the fragmented parts of body, mind, and spirit. My illness was a wake-up call – my gateway to wellness and I began to intuit the hidden messages it had for me. In her book, The Anatomy of the Spirit, Carolyn Myss, an intuitive healer and practitioner of energy medicine, talks about the role of lifestyle factors, such as habitual patterns of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and unresolved issues, which block the energy system in the body, and thereby create disease. “The more I studied the human energy system, the more I realised that very little is ‘created randomly’ in our lives. Your biography becomes your biology,” writes Myss. For healer and acupressure therapist Ketan Shah a botched appendectomy was his awakening to wellness. A friend suggested acupressure, which helped to effectively address the postoperative complications. “This is where my life changed. I learnt acupressure and started my mission of creating wellness by trying to help people with various ailments. The results were so amazing that I travelled to Malaysia, Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan, to learn different techniques. I amalgamated the learning to create a combination of new acupressure treatment, which has shown amazing results. Unfortunately this powerful alternative therapy is taken by the patients as an alternative treatment, as a last resort in many cases. We need to create awareness amongst the people that acupressure can be an effective treatment at primary stage for faster cure with less financial burden,” says Ketan Shah. Wellness, of course, is no New Age concept. The notion that health care providers should care for the whole person and not just treat symptoms is the cornerstone of all systems of healing, including modern medicine as it was originally practised. The Greek and Oriental systems of medicine stressed holism or properties of the whole and interdependence of parts. Plato said, “As you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul. The part can never be well until the whole is well.” The wellness concept is based on the premise that the human body is made to last as long as possible The Indian tradition of ayurveda is based on the notion of wellness in which the role of personal responsibility is paramount. Deepak Chopra, modern medical practitioner, wellness guru, and ayurvedic physician, says, “Ayurveda teaches that no one knows more about your health than yourself, provided you have learned to hear and understand the messages your body provides. Ayurveda’s purpose is the creation of balance among body, mind and spirit – to reveal subtle but powerful connections between your physical self, your emotions, and even the routine activities you perform every day. This is simply not a philosophical exercise. Understanding these connections, we can then take practical steps to keep healthy if your physiology is in balance, or to restore you to health as quickly as possible if a disease process has begun.” The term wellness was first coined in the early 1960s by American physician Halbert Dunn. He was concerned by the excessive focus of health care in his time on ‘disease and death’ rather than on ‘the condition of good health.’ Dunn’s concept of a ‘multi-level philosophy of wellness’ centred on a lifestyle approach that includes personal responsibility, awareness of the environment, and physical and psychological well-being as the route to sustained wellness. Wellness pioneer Donald B Ardell, author of High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease, however, avers that over the years, the term wellness has become confused with holistic health, disease prevention, health education and promotion. “Somehow wellness got stuck in the health field which has more of a disease/treatment framework. But wellness could well be founded in psychology, sociology, or even public policy. I think it is often easier for people to think of wellness in terms of quality existence rather than health,” writes Ardell. Ardell therefore denies wellness to be a conscious choice, to assume personal responsibility for one’s life. According to him, the wellness gamut includes self-responsibility, exercise and fitness, nutrition, stress management, critical thinking, spirituality, emotional intelligence, humour, play, and effective relationships. In this connection I am reminded of the legendary diabetologist, the late Dr M Viswanathan, who pithily summed up the role of lifestyle factors in precipitating a genetically transmitted condition such as diabetes, “The gun may be loaded, but environment pulls the trigger.” The developments in modern science such as discoveries in classical physics (Newton’s laws of planetary movement and gravity) in the 17th century began to have repercussions in the art and practice of modern medicine. From a holistic integrated view of health, emerged a materialistic paradigm in modern medicine in which the human body was viewed as a complex machine. “When disease or injury occurred, western medicine diagnosed and treated the problem in much the same way as a good mechanic would. Even today this is how most people understand their physical selves,” writes Deepak Chopra in Healing the Heart. However, the advent
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