YOGA, MEDITATION AND AYURVEDIC RESEARCH
For thousands of years Vedic seers and sages have observed life processes and relationships between human beings and their environment. From this observation, the art of yoga and the Indian systems of medicine have developed a vocabulary to describe the myriad body patterns, a method of description not available to Western medicine because of its emphasis on disease states. The views of quantum physicists today are aligning with those of the gret spiritual traditions.
The Vedic system of philosophy and healing is a coherent and independent system of thought and practice that has been developed over two millennia. Grounded in enquiry, which has been documented and established through ancient texts, it is a result of a continuous process of critical thinking as well as extensive clinical observation and testing. It represents a thorough formulation and reformulation of material by respected clinicians and theoreticians. It is however, rooted in the philosophy, logic, sensibility and habits of a civilisation entirely foreign to the Western world, and has therefore developed its own perception of health and illness.
The Vedic approach is a more holistic consideration of health and disease and of the delicate interplay between these seemingly opposing forces. The evidence now indicates that Yoga and Meditation can induce analgesia, and that its use is associated with measurable psychological changes. What is also very appealing is its strong emphasis on prevention and its practical success with conditions that Western medicine is not so good with, ranging from inflammatory bowel disease, working with the mind-body to release anxiety, depression and trauma, as well as a range of autoimmune disorders.
From the mid twenthieth century, in the wake of the post-war era and a courageously sanctioned exchange of information between the East and the West, the Vedic world view has enjoyed a surge of popularity as the long awaited panacea from the East. Its movement of healing practices, clinical skills, revered literature, traditional knowledge and distinctive philosophy has been unusually rapid. However, this enthusiasm has consistently been dogged by a backlash within medical and religious extablishments, which, unable to obtain "scientific proof" of claims made by the yoga, meditation and ayurvedic proponents have often been ready to categorise this rational body of knowledge into a religious faith system and thus abandon this unique system of healing and to forbid its practice in the Western world. However, both uncritically undervaluing it, or setting it on a pedestal, are barriers to understanding. These attempts, while still ongoing, have been somewhat unsuccessful however, and investigations of the possible applications of Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda to Western understanding and healing are continuing.
Although Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda have gained some acceptance, the average participant probably cannot summarise its theoretical structure as the current medical and scientific community has never considered seriously the medical tradition and culture from which these practices have sprung… as if a full understanding of Yoga were encompassed by knowing and executing asana! This absurdity is compounded by the fact that isolating a part from its natural environment for investigation is antithetical to the philosophy and culture of a holistic discipline.
The problem does not lie with the medical and scientific establishment, it lies in the difficulty in presenting the cultural healing tradition in toto. A completely unfamiliar approach to health and disease, and the emphasis on energy and its balanced flow throughout the body is a stumbling block for those Westerners who cannot see beyond the limitations of the paradigm of materialistic science. Additionally there are the pitfalls of interpreting a foreigh terminology whose terms have connotations that are quite different to what is ordinarily experienced in English.
Biomedicine is primarily concerned with isolatable disease categories or agents of disease, which it zeroes in on, isolates and tries to change, control or destroy. An ontologically circumscribed entity is the privileged ideal of a system. The Western physician starts with a symptom, then searches for the underlying mechanism - a precise cause for a specific disease. The disease may affect various parts of the body, but it is a relatively well-defined, self-contained phenomenon. Precise diagnosis frames an exact, quantifiable description of a narrow area. The physician's logic is analytic - cutting through the accumulation of bodily phenomena like a surgeon's scalpel to isolate one single entity or cause.
The Vedic physician, in contrast, directs their attention to the complete physiological and psychological individual. All relevant information, including the symptoms as well as the patient's other general characteristics, are gathered and woven together until it forms the pattern of disharmony which describes a situation of imbalance in a patient's body. The diagnostic technique does not turn up a specific disease entity or precise cause, but renders an almost poetic, yet workable description of a whole person. The question of cause and effect is secondary to the overall pattern. One does not ask "Why is X causing Y?" but rather "What is the relatioship between X and Y?" Interested in discerning the relationships in human activities occurring at the same time, Vedic logic attempts to organise symptoms and signs into understandable configurations. The total configurations and the patterns of disharmony, provide the framework for treatment. The therapy then attempts to bring the configuration into balance, to restore harmony to the individual.
To summarise, in Western medicine, understanding an illness means uncovering a distinct entity that is separate from the patient's being. The Vedic healing understanding is based on the idea that no single part can be understood except in its relation to the whole, thus understanding an illness means perceiving the relationships among all the patient's signs and symptoms in the context of their life.
What I have learnt from the Vedic culture of my birth, and contiue to learn and study, I am excited to transmit. I have taught tens of thousands of students, treated many patients, and after five decades of experience, study and reflection, am still able to retain this distinct, traditional orientation. The work is more than the experimentations of a person who has just gotten ashore with the need to share a fantastic story. While continuing to being an introduction to a coherent and radically distinct approach towards healing, our research is grounded in two distinct cultures that embody hope. Patients need treatment. Practitioners need strategies. Healing thus embodies an art with a compelling and ever poetic message.
To our friends, yogis, ayurvedic doctors, medical doctors, therapists, healers and students who attend my lectures and classes and ask many questions that helped to furnish our research; to our teachers of the traditional, classical paths of Yoga and Ayurveda, who gave and continue to give so unselfishly; to my parents and family whose love is always with me through life that has taught me so much. Thank you for assisting me to merge the insight of a Yogic meditator and Ayurvedic practitioner with the scepticism of a modern, inquiring scientist. The testimony of my life has been more than a literally and scholarly tribute. We have found the Sacredy Remedy (Yoga) in sacred breathing, sacred movement, sacred rest, together with the Art of Healthy Living (Ayurveda) and the Art of Simply Being (Meditation).
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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.
Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography
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