By Aysha Maryam Cassim
The first-of-its-kind Ayurveda Symposium, hosted by Siddhalepa in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health, was held on 5 October at the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Resort and Spa in Wadduwa. The conclave brought together practitioners, professionals and scholars from the Ayurveda fraternity to take the wisdom of Ayurvedic living and healing as well as its holistic essence to the world.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena graced the occasion as its Chief Guest. Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga, Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and several other distinguished representatives from the local and global Ayurveda community attended the symposium to engage and elevate understanding and recognition of indigenous medicine while exploring ways to promote Sri Lanka as a wellness destination.
Welcoming the gathering, Hettigoda Group Managing Director Asoka Hettigoda remarked that the symposium would present a great opportunity for the globally expanding Ayurveda community to find ways to unravel the opportunities available for Ayurveda in the future.
Prof. Raj Somadeva from the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology enlightened the audience on the history of the native tradition of medicine in Sri Lanka, outlining the human story of self-medication throughout its evolutionary trajectory.
“The earliest attempts by humans to use natural substances as a remedy date back 50,000 years. Studies by anthropologists reveal the medicinal practices of the 19th Century Veddas - the longest surviving native communities in this island – involved the use of extracts of the bark Terminalia Chebula (Aralu) for its antimicrobial properties in treating oral cavities,” Prof. Somadeva said.
“The findings of charred seeds at the Lunugalge Cave in the intermediate zone of Sri Lanka may suggest that prehistoric hunter-gatherers who occupied the hinterlands had a dynamism of selectively exploiting the surrounding environments. The presence of Embelia Ribes (Valangasal) in the assemblage exemplifies the use of floral substances of phytochemical significance 5,000 years ago. It is common knowledge that Valangasal is still used as a remedy to neutralise the adverse effects of intestinal worms.
“When you look back at the history of Sri Lanka through the unearthed remnants of the magnificent hospital complexes in Medirigiriya, Mihintale and Deegavapiya, it is clear that tremendous concern was paid upon the physical wellbeing of the general public by the rulers. The compilation of the Ayurvedic manuscript Saaraartha Sanghrahaya by King Budhdhasa, who reigned in the 4th Century, is a culmination of the standardisation of medicinal practices in ancient Sri Lanka.”
Moving Ayurveda in troubled waters
Dr. Shatha Godagama, who is best known for his text The Handbook of Ayurveda, is the founder President of the Ayurvedic Medical Association in the United Kingdom. With over four decades of field experience as a renowned expert on Ayurvedic medicine in the western world, Dr. Godagama shared some insight from his wealth of experience.
“Forty years ago I left Sri Lanka to settle in the United Kingdom as a Naturopathic Consultant at a time when Ayurveda was unheard of. Today, England is a leader in the licensing of herbal medicinal products in Europe. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates and controls the market, ensuring the safety of the public and practitioners.
“The tide is turning towards Ayurveda in the occidental world and the recognition of alternative medicine has now become a critical need of our time. We are making progress towards better standards of practice and regulation in the UK, making it accessible and effective for the public in the West. Despite challenges, we are finding ways to break the barriers of science. Unlike conventional medicine, the fundamental principles and the pharmacological effects or efficacy of Ayurveda - Rasa (taste), Guna (effect), Virya (potency), Vipaka (post-digestive action) and Prabhava (potency to act) - cannot be tested under laboratory conditions,” Dr. Godagama explained.
Claudia Harder is a Swiss medical specialist in Rheumatology whose journey in Ayurveda started after meeting Deshabandu Victor Hettigoda in Sri Lanka 20 years ago.
“’Life finds its purpose and fulfilment in the expansion of happiness’. This is a quote by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This is what we do at our centre. We help maximise the effects of everything we do in Ayurveda,” she said.
As one of the first Ayurveda entities created in Europe, the Maharishi Ayurveda Centre in Luzern, Switzerland offers its pilgrims quality-controlled Ayurveda treatments and services ranging from Pancha Karma cures to Vasthu and Sthapatya Veda - the knowledge of structure.
Dr. Claudia believes that Sri Lankan Ayurveda contains elements that remain valuable to the world—but only if it is thoroughly integrated using a multi-tool like a Swiss knife.
“The essence of Ayurveda lies in its complexity of the cycles of nature - everything works together. A medical compendium on Ayurveda will be useful in educating people on the composition of herbal products, safety, usage and the availability of natural resources. We have to work with online stores and get on board with modern media to have a unified forum like a blog or Instagram where patients and local and international practitioners can share and obtain information.
Forty years ago I left Sri Lanka to settle in the United Kingdom as a Naturopathic Consultant at a time when Ayurveda was unheard of. Today, England is a leader in the licensing of herbal medicinal products in Europe. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates and controls the market, ensuring the safety of the public and practitioners - Advisor to the British Government and the British Parliament Committee on Ayurveda, Dr. Shatha Godagama
Marisa Hubner, Doctor in Clinical Research in Naturopathy at the Research Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology and Health Economics in Berlin, spoke about how different perceptions of Ayurveda across the world could complement each other by bringing together all knowledge in a simple language that is understood by all.
“It is my philosophy in life to promote Ayurveda through its broad spectrum of therapies.
The cultural differences in Ayurveda manifest in the lifestyle of people. In the West, meditation is not necessarily practised as a spiritual exercise. In Japan, Forest Bathing is being promoted for its cleansing effects. The sounds of silence and birds, the fragrance of the woods, the feel of the wind and leaves make you more conscious of the present. This is a form of meditation,” she said.
Stating the importance of evidence-based interdisciplinary research in implementing Ayurveda into the healthcare system, Marisa mentioned the ways we could improvise to develop Ayurveda to face challenging global healthcare demands around the world.
“We have to be more realistic, pragmatic and open-minded in accepting Ayurveda as it is in different regions of the world. A compromise will have to be made. By maintaining high-quality standards, reinforcing partnerships and most importantly procuring funds for extensive research, the effects of Ayurveda can be communicated to the world in one powerful voice,” Marisa said.
Dr. Franz Linser, the CEO of an international consultancy firm based in Austria specialising in health and wellness industries, brought tourism and the economy into the forum’s dialogue through an interactive presentation.
“It is essential that we have sound research on Ayurveda in the industrial point of the world. But without professional marketing, it is impossible to communicate the message. Ayurveda is not about promising benefits. It is about instilling trust in people and treating them holistically while catering to their emotional desires,” said Dr. Linser, while encouraging marketers to confidently endorse the virtues of Ayurveda in the world.
“We have arrived in time to make Ayurveda a concept that is holistic, sustainable and a successful business. Wellness tourism is thriving on the needs of a group between the healthy and sick - the unwell people who are seeking to increase their health expectancy through life-enhancing experiences. Vacations have evolved over the last few years and the paradigm changes in the industry have created an international wellness clientele which go on a retreat with a purpose,” Dr. Linser said.
Contributions of King Ravana to Ayurveda
The recent writings by Dr. Suriya Gunasekera point out that indigenous medicine or Hela Osu and Deshiya Chikithsa in Sri Lanka is even older than Ayurveda medicine in India.
“Nagarjuna, the great Ayurvedic teacher who lived in 8th Century BC, speaks about Ravana as a Rishi (sage) from the city-state of Lankapura. According to traditional folk stories and historical inscriptions, Ravana descended from a Rishi family which was capable of using power from the Solar System. He analysed the concept of air (Wa), heat (Pith) and liquidity (Sem) in nature as an element in the human body. Ravana’s findings were compiled into a medical book under the title of ‘Nadi Shastra - The Art of Understanding the Balance of Three Elements in One’s Body by Feeling the Pulse’ as the first step of diagnosing a sickness,” Gunasekera revealed.
Gunasekara touched upon the insightful descriptions of Lord Ravana’s compositions in the aspects of health and medicinal treatments such as ‘Rasa Shastra’ - a treatment based on ‘Rasa’ (Mercury), Kumara Thanthra - analysis, diagnosis and preventive methods of sickness in children and infants and ‘Uddisa Thanthra’ - fighting the enemy by controlling the subconscious mind through hypnotism.
Active role of Ayurveda in contemporary medicine
According to Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Nozomi Narikawa, Prana Yama (yogic breathing techniques), dietary and lifestyle changes prescribed in Ayurveda have proven to be successful in enhancing the immunity of her patients with irregular bowel movements, menstrual pains and sleeping issues.
“Following a Dincharya (Ayurvedic daily regimen) is the best way to know oneself. It helps maintain balance and harmony of the natural elements by regulating Vata Dosha (flow and motion in the body). I also recommend Achara Rasayana, a behavioural therapy which promotes health and happiness in life. Ayurveda is not very common in Japan but we will keep making efforts to spread wisdom among our people,” she asserted.
The future of Ayurveda - Challenges and opportunities
Presenting an overview of the recent trends in the first and second health market in Germany, Micheal Altewicher from Germany, who is the Managing Partner of Wellness Hotels and Resorts, stated that there were ample possibilities for Ayurveda in Sri Lanka to meet the interests of distant Europe.
“The use of natural healing methods is getting popular among Europeans, and Germans in particular are willing to spend more private money on private healthcare. Deals are being made more attractive for wellness vacationers to guarantee a satisfying stay which embraces the holistic idea of Ayurveda which connects mind, body and spirit with the surroundings,” Altewicher opined.
“The challenges in the German Ayurveda Market are manifold. The practice of Ayurveda is subject to stringent requirements that look into quality management, hygiene and many laws and standards. Along with a growing number of health-conscious people, demographic changes and technological progress, the secondary healthcare market in Germany has generated an additional demand in its services. While the healthcare industry grows with innovation in the future, investments will pour into the wellness market to offer more profit opportunities for hoteliers.”
The scientific approach and standards of Sri Lankan Ayurveda
Senior Scientist at the Ayurveda Research Institute Dr. Vajira Seneviratne began his discussion by greeting the international guests with the traditional Sri Lankan welcome of Ayu-Bo-Wan (long life) and elaborating on its meaning. He went on to explain the scientific rationale behind Ayurveda in Sri Lanka through an array of examples of plant-based medicine that are still in use today.
Dr T. Weerarathna from the Health Ministry offered a detailed account of the steps taken to maintain the standards of Hela Ayurveda in treatment.
“Ayurveda is known for not producing adverse effects. In South Asia, Ayurveda is commonly used to treat knee Osteoarthritis (OA). According to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), it has been proven to be beneficial in reducing knee OA symptoms. Up to 40% of modern medicine is made from plant-based extracts. Digitalis has been used to treat heart conditions for centuries. There are plants that can regenerate the plasticity that restructures your brain matter, bringing down your biological age.”
Today, Ayurveda has become a billion-dollar business involving multiple disciplines. The Siddhalepa Ayurveda Symposium brought together representatives from international and local spheres. It served as an inspiring day where challenges were discussed and new ideas explored to take the goodness of Ayurveda to the world, with a commitment to treasuring the spirit of the collective wisdom that has been passed on for generations in the East.