Ayurvedic care of serious acute conditions requires a steep learning curve for the recipient, as the experience of Ayurvedic care is fundamentally different from the experience of Western medical care, which is likely what most are familiar with. If the recipient is not mentally and emotionally prepared for the differences, they may not have the resolve to follow the Ayurvedic care to its resolution of the condition.
Western Care vs. Ayurvedic Care
Western medical care of serious acute conditions typically involves suppression of symptoms, at the expense of treating the causative factors of the condition. Ayurvedic care of serious acute conditions typically involves directly addressing the causative factors of the condition, while managing the symptoms enough to be tolerable.
Most Westerners, having always participated in the Western medical practice of symptom suppression, do not have experience with the discomfort of being seriously ill. There is a misapprehension of the reality of illness, which is that the person requires total rest and care to recuperate. Instead, through the “miracle” of Western symptom suppression, we believe we should be able to continue our busy lives without pause, requiring at most a day or two off.
Until the last 75 years or so, it was understood that serious acute conditions require an extended period of confinement, with total rest and attention to nutrition. Patients were commonly committed to sanitariums, where they could concentrate on recovery unencumbered by their daily obligations. The treatment of illness and recuperation were given complete attention, whether “inconvenient” or not.
Unfortunately, sanitariums are nowadays almost non-existent in the West – as is our appreciation for their necessity. And the cost of in-patient care is often prohibitive. This leaves home-care as the most practical solution for most of us.
Antibiotics and Steroids
Western medicine treats most serious acute conditions with antibiotics and steroids. Antibiotics kill microorganisms, and steroids decrease inflammation. While this treatment often reduces discomfort in the short-term, it typically does nothing to address the causes of the microorganism overgrowth and inflammation. And by allowing the causes of these conditions to continue unaddressed, this sort of treatment actually enables progression of the disease.
Inconveniently, antibiotic resistance is now becoming the norm, which is negating even the temporary benefits that antibiotics provide. Antibiotic usage also severely alters our natural microbiological ecosystem, adversely affecting digestion and immunity. And steroids, by suppressing the body’s healing response, not only damage our natural immune function, but also redirect the precursors of inflammation (Pitta ama) to other parts of the body. They also cause the adrenal glands to atrophy. Neither antibiotic nor steroid usage is sustainable, as they each beget serious long-term effects.
The Ayurvedic approach to treating serious acute conditions will vary according to the specifics of the condition and the individual, but will typically involve: 1) bolstering the immunity; 2) enabling and accelerating the physiological mechanisms for resolution; 3) providing proper nutrition for the individual and condition; 4) managing adverse symptoms enough that they remain tolerable; 5) resting and recovering. In short, the approach is to allow the body’s natural healing mechanisms to function without obstruction, and to help them along where possible.
It is important, if at all possible, that this process is managed by a competent Ayurvedic practitioner, as there is no “textbook” approach – each condition and individual is unique, and the treatment will change according to the change of condition.
The Experience of the Patient
Upon receiving Western medical care, a patient typically experiences relief from uncomfortable symptoms. Thus, success is measured by how quickly and completely the symptoms subside.
The success of Ayurvedic treatment is predicated upon the reversal of the underlying cause of the condition. This may or may not be accompanied by relief from uncomfortable symptoms – sometimes, symptoms may be exacerbated, if symptom relief does not serve the aims of the treatment.
Unfortunately, because Westerners often associate symptom relief with success, there is a tendency to be discouraged by the trajectory of Ayurvedic treatment of acute serious conditions. It is important for this expectation to be addressed prior to starting treatment, so that the patient’s mind does not undermine or sabotage the treatment’s success.
The patient needs to be aware of, and fully on-board with, the goals of the Ayurvedic treatment, and okay with what they will experience to achieve those goals. Again, every patient and every treatment plan will be unique, and it is important to recognize that no one is capable of knowing the future. Nevertheless, your Ayurvedic practitioner should have a good idea of what will need to occur in order to achieve the goals of the treatment, and sometimes what needs to occur does not feel good.
What to Expect
While undergoing an Ayurvedic healing process of a serious acute condition, one gets to experience some of the many ways that the body heals itself. Many of these mechanisms involve the expelling of toxins in one form or another, or the activation of the immune system. Ways that the body expels toxins can include:
- Loose stool
- Skin rash, often accompanied by itching
- Low appetite
Activation of the immunity can involve, among other things:
- Minor seizures
- Body aches
While it is very important that anyone having these experiences while undergoing an Ayurvedic healing regimen inform their practitioner in real time, it is also important that the person recognize them as likely being good things – ways for the body to heal – rather than as bad things – unpleasant symptoms that indicate something is going wrong. Oftentimes, the attitude with which we undergo an experience can make all the difference in the outcome of that experience, and this goes doubly for the healing journey.
One other significant feature of Ayurvedic treatment is something known as Upashaya – exploratory therapy or therapeutic trial. Oftentimes a particular condition may be addressed by more than one approach, depending on the specifics of the individual and how their condition came to manifest. An experienced practitioner, then, will closely monitor the effects of their treatments/herbs, both positive and negative, gathering information from each, and change approaches as necessary, until the treatment matches up perfectly with the condition. Because this particular sort of information gathering is non-existent in Western medicine, patients new to Ayurvedic care, and more accustomed to the Western approach of one-size-fits-all, may interpret this process as “stabbing in the dark”.
One more thing that deserves mention is the myth of the “magic bullet”. Western medicine has promulgated the belief that serious medical conditions can be solved thru the use of a pharmaceutical or procedure, a “magic bullet”, with a minimum of discomfort or inconvenience. A prime example of a magic bullet would be antibiotics.
Through observation and inference, we have learned that magic bullets do not exist. Virtually every single thing that has been peddled to us as a magic bullet, has been shown to cause problems more far-reaching and profound than the problems they purport to solve. In the case of antibiotics, for example, the immediate quelling of a threatening bacterial overgrowth results in long-term damage to the micro-biome, fungal overgrowth, genetic damage and immune dysfunction, not to mention the mutations into antibiotic resistance that are rendering antibiotics useless and endangering all of humanity. All of this in lieu of simply bolstering the immune system.
Ayurveda rejects the notion of a magic bullet. It understands that most of the conditions we suffer from are caused by long-standing imbalances, which accumulate for years or decades, or generations, before manifesting in their current state. Healing lies in reversing these imbalances, the underlying causes of those conditions that we want relief from. This is done through using the tools of Nature, as we ARE Nature.
Ayurveda possesses the ability to heal all manner of diseases, to reverse serious conditions that Western medicine can only dream of healing. Nevertheless, nothing can be healed if the patient does not allow the healing to take place. We in the West have largely forgotten what healing looks like – it looks like resting as much as possible while allowing the body’s natural healing processes to function, aided and abetted by therapies, herbs, diet and Ayurvedic knowledge. Healing requires patience, perseverance, awareness and compassion. It takes time, and it is often not easy, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally quite difficult. It is an initiation of sorts.
What do we receive from going through this initiation, the healing journey? You mean, besides the return of our health? We receive the experience of agency – that we are not victims, that we ourselves, through our own actions and intelligence, can determine our own fate. For most of us, trained since childhood to embrace victimhood, this is as good, if not better, than being physically healed.
But certainly, being physically healed is wonderful – we recommend that everyone choose healing over mere symptom relief. May we all be healed!