By Suma Varughese
The whys and wherefores of this special issue.
Wake up and smell the herbal tea! Modern living is injurious to health. We’ve got it all wrong. And it’s time now to start afresh.
Our health special focuses on the so-called lifestyle diseases, the direct products of our unhealthy and unnatural lifestyles.
Heart attacks are now preying on the young, while obesity is rising so rapidly even among children, that it is becoming the norm rather than the exception. More and more people in India are suffering from diabetes and depression is not just a national, but a global phenomenon. Thanks to rising pollution, respiratory ailments such as asthma are on the rise, while the twin scourges of cancer and AIDS are devouring more and more victims.
And yet, gloomy though the scenario is, the very extremity of the situation is provoking an awakening. We are waking up from the maya of the materialistic civilisation that we have created.
One of the most positive developments is the growing credibility and popularity of alternative or complementary medicines, the name given to indigenous therapies from all over the world, such as ayurveda, homoeopathy, unani, acupuncture and acupressure. These are being joined by an innumerable number of new therapies ranging from music therapy, magnet therapy to aromatherapy. What all, or most, have in common is that they operate from an entirely new paradigm shift.
Call it holistic, call it spiritual or New Age, they come from an understanding of the intimate link between the body-mind-spirit, between man and society, man and other living things, man and environment and, finally and most importantly, man and God. The core belief of this understanding is that all is one, and all is connected. From this perspective, good health becomes a function of all these aspects. It includes mental and spiritual balance, a way of life that is natural and in tune with the environment, and a direct and active relationship with Divinity, however we experience it. Indeed, one of the most striking differences between the old approach and the new one is that while the old one focused on combating ailments, the new one focuses on fostering health. And it recognises that good health is the function of innumerable causes that include not just the food we eat and the exercise we do, but also of the sunshine we soak in, how intimate our relationships are, how much we give of ourselves to society, how happy we are, how aware we are of ourselves, and how close to nature we are in our lifestyle.
Although this may seem self-evident to those of us who live in the real world and see for ourselves the fretful person who keeps falling sick, or the devoted mother who never falls ill even when an epidemic rages around her, this is a radical shift from the way mainstream medicine assesses health.
In this special issue, writer after writer expounds on the importance of looking at health in this more expanded way. Whether it is psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani examining the role of mind in generating good health, or Dr Uma Ladiwala looking at the gradual acceptance of the body-mind link among the scientific community, Dr Anjali Mukherjee on the link between food and health, or Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev on the importance of keeping your energy body fit, all of them acknowledge the subtle ties between the larger environment and the physical body.
The issue is divided into two sections, one which deals with prevention and the other which deals with healing. For those, and I hope it is the majority, who are still relatively healthy, there are tips galore on how to stay that way and, indeed, how to optimise your health.
For those who have fallen prey to one or more of the lifestyle diseases plaguing us, there are as many solutions for the way out.
Now that we recognise that the cause of illness or wellness is rooted in the depths of our psyche rather than the physical body, the possibility of healing expands dramatically. The physical body can be transformed by transforming our mind. By changing the way we think, speak or act, a moribund body can rediscover its health. Even when all seems lost, let us never discount the power of miracles. Ardent prayer is a potent form of healing, as doctors today are recognising.
We also learn through this approach, that we can push the envelope of wellness. The possibilities that we once only dreamed of such as perfect health, or longevity, are inching closer toward realisation.
Among the other threads running through this special issue is the need for an integration of modern medicine with alternative ones. Both, as one of the persons quoted, says, have their strengths and it would be in the interest of the patients to expose them to as many options as possible. Many enlightened institutions are already merging the two and the day is not far off when a student will pass out of medical college with knowledge of both streams of thought.
Another is the importance of taking responsibility for our own health. The main advantage of allopathic medicine as far as the patient is concerned is that it asks for little out of him. Medicine is prescribed and he must pop the pill. Alternatives, on the other hand, insist on responsible health management. You are required to join hands with the healer in bringing about your own recovery. Whether it is in altering your dietary habits, incorporating a round of exercise, yoga or deep breathing, you have to play an active role. Certain therapies like acupressure and reiki entirely permit you to dispense with the therapist and take on the treatment yourself. Difficult in the beginning, but enormously rewarding in the long run, alternatives help forge a new relationship with the body. One becomes more sensitive to its rhythms and cycles, the signals it puts out. If there is one message resounding through this special, it is, help yourself.
So here’s to your abundant good health.
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