By Drew McLachlan
As the NHS shoulders a growing financial burden, the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda is being promoted as a way to take the pressure off doctors while helping people keep good health.
Ayurveda is a prevention-oriented system first developed in India as early as the 4th century, using meditation, diet and alternative medicine to promote wellbeing.
The British Association of Accredited Ayurvedic Practitioners (BAAAP), one of two professional bodies in Britain, estimates that there are currently 300 to 400 Ayurveda practitioners active in the UK.
The International Ayurveda Congress took place in Hammersmith, west London from April 1 to 3, with 300 delegates, including doctors, lawmakers and researchers from Britain, India and beyond.
It followed a report from the British Heart Foundation, that warned that 20 million Britons are leading sedentary lifestyles and costing the NHS £1.2 billion each year.
“Modern medicine has become hugely expensive to support. Rather, we should be focused on prevention.”
Dr Rainer Picha, chairman of the International Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation in the Netherlands, said: “Modern medicine has become hugely expensive to support. Rather, we should be focused on the prevention of disease, which is much cheaper than curing diseases.”
His views were supported by Dr Madan Thangavelu, a genome biologist at the University of Cambridge, who added: “The NHS spends over £22 million per day on the direct costs of treatment for type 2 diabetes. This, as well as obesity, could be resolved by Ayurveda.”
Much of the dialogue at the congress was focused on how the NHS and other health services around the world are struggling to cope financially and how Ayurveda could potentially relieve the demand on these services.
One of the international delegates was Dr Charlotte Bech, an Ayurveda practitioner who runs a private consultation in Copenhagen. She believes transcendental meditation can provide a comprehensive solution to the negative health impact of a sedentary lifestyle.
She said: “People never have relief, we’re all sitting down too much, we’ve become sedentary office workers. Even farmers are spending their time sitting outside and programming machines in the field. It’s too many hours and too much pressure on our physiology.
“Transcendental meditation is more useful for relieving stress than any other meditation. It calms breathing, makes blood pressure more stable and reverses the stress response.”
Congress presidents Dr Picha, Dr Subhash Ranade and Vaidya Devendra Triguna released a resolution that called for 10 steps that could promote the ancient practice.
These included creating an international accreditation board for Ayurveda to ensure a standard of practice can be met, developing and presenting an award at future congresses in order to recognise those spreading Ayurveda and establishing an academic chair at a university in each country to serve as a focal point for research into Ayurveda.
Congress organisers pointed out that progress has already been made in the UK, with an Early Day Motion calling for Ayurveda’s integration into the NHS submitted to parliament last October. The motion was initially signed by 10 MPs.
Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association, told Eastern Eye that although the Department of Health agrees that complementary systems such as Ayurveda have a role to play in the NHS, their integration remains a “long way off” due to current austerity moves.
While the Health Care Professions Council was asked by the Department of Health in 2011 to establish a statutory register for practitioners of herbal medicine, a subsequent independent report by the Herbal Medicines and Practitioners Working Group was not in favour of this regulation and so it did not go forward.
Despite this, practitioners such as Dr Bech are confident that the public demand for Ayurveda will eventually result in it being integrated into health services across Europe.
“(People are becoming) aware that Ayurveda is highly beneficial if administered correctly by trained and experienced doctors,” she said.