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June - July 2005


Health

Ayurveda Offers a New Lease of Life to a Suffering Humanity

by Sudhir Kumar Misra


I have been suffering for some time with osteoarthritis in my right shoulder and being treated at the shoulder clinic of the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital Trust at Stanmore. I have had two cortico-steroid injections to relieve the pain but despite short term improvements the pain still remains. I have been advised that the next stage in my treatment will be a shoulder replacement. Something I wish to delay as long as possible.

I have therefore looked at alternatives and the one therapy that looked most promising was the Ayurvedic treatment. It was the traditional natural healing system of India that has recently caught the attention world over. It is now one of the fastest growing alternative treatments in the west. A lot of people known to me have taken this treatment and benefited from it.

My wife and I were going to visit my mother, who had just turned ninety. We decided to explore and research about Ayurveda so that we could have Ayurvedic treatment and if possible, have a holiday at the same time.

Ayurveda is a very ancient science detailing the practice of medicine and healing in India. Better known as the philosophy of life, it seeks to balance mind, body and spirit through food, yoga, meditation and treatments.

The knowledge of ancient India is found in the Vedas. There are four Vedas, Saam, Yijur, Riga and Athar and in them can be found all the laws of nature at all levels of life. Ayurveda is described in the Athar Veda. The word Ayurveda stands for the knowledge or science of life. Aayu meaning age or life and the Veda meaning knowledge or science Its origin is said to be from the Hindu deity Lord Brahma, who passed this knowledge to Ashwini Deva who in turn passed it to his disciple Prajapati. From there on to the present generations.

The origins of modern Ayurveda goes to the sage physicians and Vedic scholars Charaka, Baghbada and Shushruta who wrote in their Samhitis, the knowledge that had now been revived.
Ayurveda is now regarded as the most accomplished system of alternative medicine and who knows one day it will be recognized as holding the key to future medicines of humanity. Already the western medicine has accepted from Ayurveda the process called metabolic profiling where people fall into three profiles namely

Individuals who need more fat and protein in comparison to carbohydrates;
Individuals who need more carbohydrates
in comparison to fat and proteins;
and Individuals who are mixed.

Ayurveda was born in the Himalayas 5000 years ago and thrived throughout India, but during the last 500 years of foreign domination of India, it was held in ridicule and nearly withered. The credit for reviving and spreading the message is given to Vidyaratan P.S. Varier of Kerala. He was the first man to organize the treatment of patients under the Ayurvedic system on modern lines. In recognition he was awarded in 1933, the honour and title of Vidya Ratan (jewel of knowledge), by the Viceroy and Governor General of British India.

Kerala creates a different image to different people. A land believed to have been raised from the sea and gifted to the Brahamins by Lord Parasuraman, the 6th carnation of Lord Vishnu, the most beautiful part of tropical India with evergreen forests.

The tiny coastal province of Kerala with its calmer and greener atmosphere and less ruffled by the foreign upheavals than the rest of India provided an ideal setting for practicing of life sciences. Its cardamom scented hills and labyrinth of backwater canals contained a botanical flora used in Ayurvedic medicines. With the assurance that modern science can confirm the merits of ancient ayruvedic science, it was to Kerala that I looked for my treatment.

It is said by David Bolland, "the British Raj has gone; the Port, the Dutch and the French are remembered only in history books and ancient buildings. The past 500 years are like an epic pageant peopled by many nations and all because of the bounty of Malabar which throughout the years has produced so much of what the world requires"

The Malabar region of Kerala is renowned for its Ayurvedic hospitals, resorts and salas, and they can be found throughout the province.

The feather to Kerala’s cap would be Cochin. Cochin is the epitome of adventure as Mahatma Gandhi described it – of how a small port of the 15th century developed into the" Queen of the Arabian Sea" Cochin is an asset to South India

I was surprised to discover that the Taj Malabar hotel in Cochin was offering Ayurvedic treatment in their brochure. I had not associated that a five star luxury hotel could give treatment that is Spartan by nature, all holistic but with time and infinite and where a patient is kept on a strict diet of meditation, and gentle yoga. My concept of hotel spas was that they provided anti stress massages, reflexology, manicures, pedicures, saunas and other luxuries.

I contacted the Taj Malabar hotel in Cochin and was pleasantly surprised when Doctor Abhilash K.H. replied informing me that he could provide Ayurvedic treatment for my shoulder at their Tamara Spa. Dr. Abhilash was the physician in charge of the Spa at Taj Malabar, working in conjunction with the Ayra Vaidya Pharmacy Coimbatore. Educated at Sree Ram Krishna Mission, Trissure Kerala and at the Jyothy College Belgaum, he had qualified as a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery, participated in world congress of Ayurveda and had conducted various medical camps on Arthritis. I also learnt that today all over India, universities offer a bachelor and a master’s degree course in Ayurveda. The Bachelor degree (BHMS) is a four and a half year course of theory followed by one year of internship

Armed with this knowledge we had no hesitation in booking our holiday and at the same time have treatment at the Taj Malabar hotel in Cochin

Cochin is one of the major ports and an asset to South India. The prosperity of Kerala state is enhanced by Cochin harbor. Cochin as we know has taken the place as the common link between India and the western world and for nearly 500 years provided a contact between Europe and India.

It has a natural deep sheltered harbor. Prior to 1931 a barrier of sand prevented entry to large ships. By dredging and pumping the sand on an area of reclaimed land not only opened a deep sea harbor but gave rise to an island. On 8th December 1933, the Maharaja requested that the reclaimed island be named after Lord Wellington, the then Governor of Madras Presidency in recognition of the contributions made by him as it was his vision and optimism that gave impetus to the proposal of developing it as a port.. With major sea vessels having access to a very sheltered harbor, led to the development of a naval base with the result that the majority of the island property still remains under the control of the Port and Naval Authority.

Taj Malabar hotel is situated on the north west corner of Wellingdon island facing the channel that was dredged to allow entry to large ocean vessels. Initially Malabar hostel was built on this site to accommodate ships passengers. It was one of the conditions of the shipping lines that were interested in bringing passenger vessels to Cochin, that hotel accommodation is provided for disembarking passengers. The hostel was renamed as Malabar hotel. by DC Johar & Co who had taken the ownership from its first lessees Messer’s Spencer’s & Co. In 1984 the Taj Oriental Hotels now the Taj Group of Hotels bought the Malabar hotel and developed it to what is it today..

We arrived in Cochin late afternoon after taking a flight from Mumbai. It took us another hour before we reached the hotel.

We have stayed at Taj group of hotels in Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur, Aurangabad and Lucknow. Each hotel had their own individuality but none of them had prepared me for Taj Malabar in Cochin. It was an eye opener. A picture of complete serenity and tranquility providing an ideal setting for a very relaxed stay.

We settled in our room on the fourth floor in the newly constructed Tower wing. Initially there was only the Heritage wing, that was known for its simplicity, ethnicity and tastefully done with wood flooring. The pressure of occupancy necessitated the requirement of a new block. "The Tower Wing."

The panoramic view from our room was quite breath taking and soon had us chilled after a tiring journey. We just fell in love with the place. Its simplicity, good taste, tranquil ambience and above all the harmony with the environment is worth experiencing. An evening boat ride to the adjacent fishing islands to watch the sun setting in the Arabian Sea, provided an icing on the cake for it seemed as if all the blue lagoons of the seas had come to rest in the wide bosom of mother India in Cochin, for on each side stretched endless vista fading only into the sky itself.

The next day we went to see Doctor Abhilash, a pleasant young physician responsible for the running of Tamara Spa. Tamara, meaning Lotus flower, is the brand name given by Taj Group of Hotels to their spas.

The Tamara Spa Ayurveda, at Taj Malabar includes a charming swimming pool, Ayurvedic treatment rooms, steam room, jacuzzi, a fitness gymnasium, and yoga room. The spa offers sixteen different Ayurvedic treatments to heal various ailments.

Doctor Abhilash informed me that for Ayurvedic treatment to be successful, care must be taken to ensure that the treatment was awarded by competent and credited institutions, as there were many cowboys who were taking advantage of the growing popularity of Ayurveda. The spas at Taj Hotels had collaboration with a reputable institution, "The Ayurvedic Pharmacy and Research Centre of Coimbatore. The pharmacy was responsible for the provision of trained staff and medicine to Tamara Spa.

In India there were many reputable pharmacies and research centers. In order to ensure that authentic treatment and quality controlled medicine were used it was essential that only the products and expertise of these reputable institutions were used. One of the reasons that Ayurveda had not been able to flourish in the past, was the lack of quality controlled production of medicines to the traditional Ayurvedic prescriptions under the supervision of qualified Ayurvedic physicians. Now with the advent of these research centers and quality controlled procedures, it was fast growing in popularity.

Doctor Abhilash prescribed Abhyangam (Abhi-yan-gum) for the first day followed by a localized Podikkizhi for the rest of treatment. Yoga was also recommended that was free to the guests of the hotel.

Abhyangam is a full body massage using medicated herbal oils specially selected to match your body type. It is followed by a steam bath and a hot shower. This particular treatment improves blood circulation, induces deep relaxation and is very beneficial for vigor and vitality.

Podikkizi is a therapy where luke warm herbal oil is applied over the body. It is followed by applying pressure to the body using small linen bags filled with herbal powder that are dipped in the same mixture of oil. Even pressure is applied to the part of the body under treatment taking care that throughout the treatment the bags remain under uniform temperature. Depending upon the kind of disease, this massage gives relief to sports injuries, arthritis and joint pains.
The Abhyangam massage was the pre-operative procedure. The treatment was normally a therapeutic oil application. The choice of oil and the specific herbal powder used were dependent upon the constitution.

Dr Abhilash stated that the normal time for treatment was 21 days but in some cases it could be reduced to 14 days. Unfortunately it was not possible to give me a full treatment and that he would have to initiate a short program as my itinerary was confirmed limiting my stay to ten days. During treatment I needed to follow a diet program, eating only a vegetarian diet and restrain from spicy, refrigerated food and alcohol. He was confident that the treatment would be beneficial although I should keep my expectation to getting 80% of relief due to time limitation. He stressed that post treatment care was very necessary for it was in this area that people failed and did not get full advantage of the treatment.

I inquired why one person had given me massage, since my understanding was that two people were required. The doctor informed me that Ayurveda states that for a classical treatment five persons were needed for a synchronized massage, two people for the upper body, two for the lower body with one person assisting. In his opinion one person was enough for the massage and could look after the therapeutic oil application to the body for it was very difficult to manage synchronization if the patient was not lying down properly. Then one person could give more pressure than the other or go on the wrong side of the body. However two people were required for treatment unless it was localized, where one could manage.

Since majority of the persons who visit Taj Malabar hotel and use the spa facility were resident for three to four days, I asked what treatment was provided for them and also how the treatment at the Tamara Spa of Taj Malabar hotel compared with treatment given at other treatment centers in Kerala. Doctor Abhilash said that most of the guests were looking for Abhyangam for it helped them to release the stress and rejuvenate their body. Unfortunately they were not looking for long term solutions. Their relief was short term as they do not have the luxury of the necessary post operative care for they have go back to their fast life as soon as they leave. However it helps to recharge their batteries.

The treatment at Tamara Spa was on par with the treatment given by other reputable centers. However, at Taj Malabar, it was suitable for a very dedicated person as the ambience offered at Taj Malabar was different to that offered by other centers. At Taj Malabar a person must be very self disciplined and not give in to the temptation of gourmet and sumptuous food provided by their various restaurants. At a hospital or a treatment centre the regime dictates what a person can do and what it cannot do. At Taj Malabar since he is a guest and not a patient he can only be advised and cannot be dictated. The choice was left to patient and not to the doctor while it is the other way round at the hospital.

I could empathize with this, as the displays by their Pepper restaurant and that at Dolphins Point, with their mouth watering dishes were very tempting. With the result that my wife Lina attended their cookery lessons to learn on how to cook them.

I found that there were many advantages by staying at Taj Malabar. There were always some activities compelling for your attention. Whether it was a cultural program in the evening, a short backwater cruise to the neighboring island of Fort Kochi or to the mainland Eranakulam, a boisterous product launch with fan fare and decorated elephants giving welcome or flag raising ceremony on the Republic Day on their lawns.. One could not feel bored at Taj Malabar.
The hospitality offered was exceptional and all the staff very helpful. Any diet requirements for the treatment although not on their gourmet menu was available. One can say that they always strived towards providing the highest quality services and always ran that extra mile towards providing guest satisfaction by truly understanding their needs and making their trip a memorable one.
I had been advised that I should not take part in any strenuous activity such as a long car ride of over two hours. This restricted us from doing a lot of sight seeing during our stay but despite that, we managed to visit Fort Kochi, Eranakulam and also squeeze in a backwater cruise from Alleppy. Also within the restrictions of diet we still managed to enjoy the ambience of Taj Malabar and sample some of the dishes on display.

The jury is still out on the benefit of the treatment. The pain in my shoulder has gone, Whether or not it is a short term relief or a long term relief only time can tell. At the moment Ayurveda has done what the first cortico-steroid injection did.
Taking all the circumstances a trip to Taj Malabar was worthwhile We would one day like to go back again and recommend to any visitor to Cochin to include a visit to Taj Malabar for it is one of the finest places to recover from the many pressures of life.

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