Eastern Promise; Indian Therapies for the Mind, Body and Spirit Are Now Used All over the World

Article excerpt

So-called New Age therapies are often credited as the creators of the holistic ideal - 'mind, body and spirit'. In truth, the concept is an ancient one, and emanates from India.

My first introduction to Indian philosophy was through yoga, which I've done since I was a teenager. Yoga - a Sanskrit word meaning 'union' - is a mind/body discipline first developed in India about 5,000 years ago.

Traditionally, the goal of yoga was a religious one - union with the absolute, or with the true or transcendental self. In the West, the focus is more often on yoga's practical benefits. Even if you don't believe in the spiritual side of life, you can still benefit from this serene form of exercise. If done consistently, it can significantly improve muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina. It can also boost self-esteem, reduce stress, improve circulation and stimulate the immune system.

Massage is another of the oldest forms of health care, practised for thousands of years in India as well as in Egypt, China and Japan, and recorded in many ancient texts. Indian head massage techniques in particular are now used all over the world.

When I was 19, my mother introduced me to two Indian-born health practitioners who were to have a lasting influence on me and my work over the next two decades. One was an Ayurvedic homeopath called Ashvin Barok, the other was the well-known paramedical beautician Bharti Vyas.

'Ayur' means life, 'veda' means science or knowledge, so Ayurvedic is a traditionally spiritual concept meaning the science or knowledge of life and reverberates into every area of life. According to this gentle philosophy, for instance, even cooking has to be done with happiness and as part of a ritual of thanks and medicinal wellbeing.

Instead of the quick-fix, miracle diets and drugs of the Western world, Ayurvedic philosophy holds that everyone has a dominant constitution that determines health and weight, among many other things, and which basically cannot be altered. Known as 'doshas', the three universal constitutional types are vata, pitta and kapha.

If your body type is predominately vata, for example, you are very restless, jumping from one thing to another, and likely to be artistic and highly strung. …