The word alternative when used with Medicine is often taken as something inferior, only to be undertaken if one is game for experimentation etc. Most of this stems from an incomplete understanding of these systems of Medicine and a lack of practitioners who truly practice across these domains. Dr Shirdi Prasad Tekur, a paediatrician and integrative health practitioner has been doing so for decades. In his inimitable style, he helps us look at alternative systems with a fresh eye.
Let’s get down to the basics – the “funda/s” in current parlance. The alternatives differ from modern medicine in many ways and in a relook, it is wiser to pursue that which could be crucial for health care and therefore for the system currently in practice.
The concept of PRANA is one such enigmatic viewpoint that pervades all systems and given the importance due in applications of the system.
PRANA is an easy enough concept to understand for Indians, being an integral part of their understanding of life. It is called the VITAL FORCE or DYNAMIS by Homoeopaths, QI or TCHI by the Chinese, PNEUMA by the Greeks (ANIMA in Latin), TABIAT or TIBB by the Unani/Persian (Colloquially – MIZAAZ) and so on.
The essence of all these is that it is a force – a priori – to life itself, and not what is generally believed to be a product that emerges out of life (the signs of life, that is, like breath, movement, reaction to stimuli, repair and reproduction, etc). This energy is part of Universal energy that creates life as we see it. Thus, the modern system’s definition of BIO-ENERGY as a measurable product of biological activity is considered a secondary manifestation, variously labeled as Tejas, Ojas and so on to differentiate it from Prana.
Remember the first para of the first chapter in Physio on the cell? (Sammy Wright if I remember right!!). The components of the cell and the elements that make it up are reviewed. Then, we are enlightened with an idea called “Vital Energy” that makes the cell “alive” and working – the absence of which makes the cell dead and non-functional. There is no mention of this “Vital Energy” anytime later, and in fact in the whole course – we graduate without knowing what it is. In addition, no self respecting “modern” medico pays any further attention to this or related concepts. That’s right – something we don’t bother about, does not exist! It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
The catch is that all alternatives work primarily thru’ this force in understanding life, health, disease and rectifying/manipulating deviations. Any dysfunction in the body is rarely tackled directly. It is taken as an indication that “Prana” is not able to function well in that organ or system. To cut a long story short, therapy is to the Prana, which in turn rectifies the problem.
You got it? All living systems are ‘SELF-REGULATING’. Activate this process and allow it to work itself out. It’s like the computer system that was too big to get into the lift. The CEO ordered – “ Plug it in and let it work out how to get itself to the 25th floor!”
In this approach, you just ‘reset’ the regulatory mechanism (i.e. Prana) which takes care of the nuts and bolts of the problem in any system, and its further ramifications in other systems of the body. A truly holistic approach indeed! It allows compensatory and such mechanisms to operate on the way to recovery and healing – of course, under close observation and monitoring. This is possible, since all stages of illness and processes of recovery are well understood – in the language and philosophy of that system – and may not correspond to viewpoints and equivalents of the modern system.
So, the true ‘Alternative ‘ medic is focusing on your Prana, Qi, Dynamis, or whatever and studies its status in the human organism of that age, sex, etc, etc, and requires an elaborate history of your life, habits, diet, exercise, beliefs and so on, even extending into your lineage and their states of health. S/he is on a complex quest and an elaborate therapeutic plan that takes time, patience and lifestyle changes.
The modern human rarely has what it takes to follow such prescriptions, especially when pizzas and spices that s/he loves are banned. If the tendency for the blood is to clot, Aspirin is on hand and of course an antacid (or the later avatars of proton-pump and such inhibitors) takes care of the gastritis and counters the effects of spices too! Howzzat! – “Buy one and get two!”
Do LIFESTYLE disorders require lifestyle changes, or….ponder on that.
The concept of Prana has been used by newer systems like Pranic Healing and Reiki in directly tackling its stagnation, flow, accumulation or deficiency. The Indian concept of CHAKRAs or vortices which are centers from which prana is distributed is used by them. Their practices do not extend into the NADIs described in Ayurveda and Siddha (72,000 of them – yes, the no. of zeroes has been checked and found correct) or the 12 paired and 8 unpaired (plus some extra-ordinary) meridians of Acupuncture and over 3000 points on them.
The problem here is that they do not correspond any of the nerves, arteries, veins or lymph channels that are visible in the body. They are just “Energy” channels, that have only recently been rendered ‘measurable’ with instruments that record millivolts/milliamps and such refined measures. That such knowledge dates back to beyond three thousand years is indeed remarkable.
The other facet of the problem is that diagnostic criteria and methods are qualitative, subjective and defy standardization. The basis is also philosophical and can be explained only in its own terms. The W.H.O. has brought about standardization in naming and numbering of Acupuncture points and meridians. Ayurveda and Siddha have their own nomenclature and usage of those points. It is again remarkable, that unusual correspondence in location and effects of stimulating/sedating these points is observable– a rose by any other name sort of scenario.
Just because PRANA and its so called channels of flow and control points are not “tangible” in terms of modern scientific instrumentation (and therefore thinking?), are we ignoring a very crucial aspect of health/medicare? In fact, will the top-down view it entails, re-align the bottom-up view of current scientific medicine, to tackle the glitches we face in understanding LIFE itself?
Yeah….just once more…do ponder!