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Friday, Oct 15, 2004

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Energising alternatives

S. Ramachander

In today's world where a great deal of time is devoted to multi-faceted, work-related health problems, one-dimensional solutions are unlikely to be useful. Not surprising then that the faith in alternative healing therapies is catching on rapidly.

This is a true story. A strapping young man, tall, fair and handsome, returned from California for a holiday with his parents, nursing a bad cold, which quickly turned into fever. Within days he was critically ill in hospital, on life-support systems, because the doctors suspected a rare infection. After various possibilities, including SARS, were systematically eliminated, the medical fraternity, including the father himself who was a retired doctor, was stymied. The condition worsened, both fungal and bacterial infections were suspected, conferences held with physicians in the US, and yet nothing much happened, until one dark afternoon, the doctors gave up. But not the relatives, who were ardent devotees of a guru — Baba Sivananda of the Swami Nityananda tradition. They appealed to the Baba himself to join them in distant healing, whose basic principle is the energy of creation and unconditional love.

The gentle, approachable and urbane Baba, who took sanyas only when he turned 40 and is well versed in the ways of the world, readily agreed. A young follower, IIT-educated and now full time into alternative healing officially for a group of hospitals, actively initiated this effort and gave it his full energies. In a few hours, a reversal was visible and gradually the patient trod the slow road to recovery. In a few weeks, he was well enough to walk with support, and in a couple of months fit for travel. It is a traumatic experience he and his family can never forget.

The attending doctors honestly admitted their wonderment and to their credit, instead of dismissing it as unscientific evidence, asked if they too could learn the alternative arts of healing. In another case, a lung specialist says he uses the CT scans of one his patients, said to have a progressive disorder, and feels "every time I look at it, I know there is God". Everything we see and hear these days, especially about rare and emerging diseases (do they correlate with emerging global economies, I wonder), suggests to us how very little we know of how exactly our bodies work, although we ought to be able to write an owner's manual for it! The search for parallel ways of dealing with the many ills that the flesh is heir to is a rapidly growing phenomenon. The highly educated, affluent classes are often at the forefront of those willing to try anything, once, at least.

Whenever new diseases strike perfectly healthy people like a bolt from the blue, one looks around desperately, ready to clutch at straws, and can become indiscriminately attached to something as a panacea or the last resort. Yet, within the general buzz about various types of therapy, some clear trends are indeed discernible. There is, of course, a serious risk attached to this. One can easily become frightened, defeatist or paralysed into inaction by the overwhelming uncertainties of modern life. It is indeed a great sadness of life that life itself must seem so unfair, pointless and almost irrational to the near ones of those unfortunate victims of strange and sudden ailments.

It is a sign of the times that the highest levels of science admit unambiguously these days that the human body is a delicate and marvellous creation, which defies easy classification and analysis. We are but a mass of moving muscle, bone and sinew but underneath it all is energy, which is part of universal energy (and hence the importance of prana and pranic healing). This is an undeniable, scientifically-proven fact.

The consequences of this new world of cellular and sub-atomic levels are still inadequately grasped, indeed better sensed than understood. The best of doctors freely admit that they merely treat patients, while it is really the body that heals itself — often with the active collaboration of the mind. Others ascribe to Nature or what is much the same, a Divine Power. I often remind myself that the distinction between the body and the mind is in the mind — not in the body. It is one contiguous entity, broken up for purposes of study and specialisation, as liver, heart, lung and so on. Thus, highly evolved people who are brilliantly successful physicians always recommend holistic treatment — and include positive thinking, prayer and the company of others like-minded, as part of therapy. They even suggest helpful reading material from the great sages. On seeing any distinct improvement, they do not hesitate to ascribe it as much to grace as any medication.

It also helps that the American media too are now increasingly documenting and highlighting, as only they can, the case histories of `miracle healing' of supposedly terminally-ill patients, after all had been given up for lost. And yet, just one generation ago, in the first flush of scientific and technological progress of the post-War years, it was fashionable to look down upon anything other than what the Western-style medicine approved of. Even the poorer classes and the illiterate felt they had arrived only when they got an injection or a prescription from an "English medicine" doctor.

Today the situation is happily more balanced and attitudes more moderate. Meditation, for instance, is now researched into so thoroughly that it is fairly clear that it has an effect on the body's ability to heal itself because of the calming influence on the nervous system and the brain waves. It does turn out to be, however, a rather awkward discussion when all that is `alternative' is clubbed together, including superstition and some grandma's remedies. Yet it is unwise to dismiss the ancient and well-known methods of treatment as old wives' tales. A combination of many approaches would, of course, be ideal, as, for example, the discipline of diet, exercise and rest on which ayurveda rests. It is indeed a science of alternative lifestyle rather than medicine. As Dr Viswanatha Sarma, the doyen of the science and former Principal of the Ayurveda College in Chennai, says, much of the medicines prescribed ought to be considered `food' and not the equivalent of the bitter pill one is used to swallow to get rid of a condition.

As executives and professionals are the most visible and dynamic members of our society, and the world of organisations, the media devotes a great deal of time and space to their problems: stress, work-life balance, body maintenance, handling the ill effects of poor eating and work habits, and the deeper and longer chronic ailments that flow from these. In dealing with anything multi-faceted, it stands to reason that simple or one-dimensional solutions are unlikely to be useful. It is not surprising, therefore, that faith in various forms and approaches — including homeopathy, acupuncture, pranic healing, Reiki, meditation, prayer, chanting, retreats and naturopathy — is catching on rapidly.

We had earlier referred in this column to the power of astrology over the minds of many influential thinkers, both here and in the West. An even greater force for good is that of faith in alternative methods of healing, indeed their very foundation, faith itself. As we hurtle forward on an accelerating roller-coaster ride, driven by technology and industrial prosperity, this trend — if one considers it deeply — is not surprising. The philosophical or conceptual underpinning is simple. As science throws more light on reality, the crucial need to see further and deeper into the nature of every cell and atom becomes apparent. And as reality becomes more illumined, the shadows too become equally marked. What we do not know is thus only glaringly obvious. And no wonder, it strikes thinking people as of greater survival value. Life then reveals itself not as a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be admired.

Picture courtesy: Ananda in the Himalayas

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