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Soul Medicine

Soul Medicine

Author: Sheela Raval
Publication: India Today
Date: August 26, 2002

Introduction: A mix of modern and ancient medicine is the new curative fad in Mumbai hospitals

Senior Income Tax Officer Manjeet Kumar was jogging when he suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed. Instant medicare at Mumbai's Bhakti Vedanta Hospital (BVH) helped revive his sluggish heart, but on regaining consciousness Kumar couldn't shake off the irascibility brought on by a strange chant emanating from near his hospital bed. Two years on, Vedic chant and devotional music have become his life's mantra. "I have become soul conscious instead of just being body conscious," says Kumar.

It's a recuperation born of a shifting trend in healing that links the fitness of body with that of mind and soul, a therapy that combines modern healthcare with ancient healing practices. So even as the western medical establishment veers round to Indian healing systems like yoga and ayurveda, hospitals in India too have come to straddle the curative cusp of oriental and occidental medicinal systems and are offering what is termed as holistic healing.

"Holistic healing is the new mantra for hospitals, with doctors and psychiatrists showing a keen interest in the subject," says Kewal Semlani, whose Universal Health Services provides consultancy to various hospitals in Mumbai and receives nearly 10 queries a month pertaining to the setting up of holistic healing cells. The city has over half a dozen hospitals treating patients through spiritual healing. Take the 130-bed BVH with more than 3,000 patients. An exclusive Spiritual Care Department has 12 specially trained "spiritual" nurses with expertise in medical science and counselling. "Patients are not only a combination of flesh and blood, but also values and emotions," says Dr Ajay Sankhe, head of the department. "Besides physical and emotional attention they also need spiritual care to develop the mind and soul."

Which is why at the BSES MG Hospital, special nurses dressed in white cotton saris subtly inculcate the spiritual approach to health. During the daily medical check-ups, they note down the patients' habits and life patterns-sleeping, eating, working habits, recreational preferences and mannerisms-to detect any irregularities in their lifestyles.

Each of these hospitals has a distinctive manner of rendering holistic treatment. The BVH, for instance, offers religious services (Hindu prayers, readings from Bible or other scriptures) depending on the patient's faith. The BSES MG Hospital encourages the practice of Raj yoga and various meditative techniques along with optional discourses on spirituality and modern lifestyle. The Rs 100 crore Asian Heart Institute and Research Centre set up by the Contemporary Health Care Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, includes yoga, cardiac rehabilitation programme, emotional care and a diet guidance cell.

"The power of prayer is universally acknowledged as important in the healing process," says V.S. Manek, honorary neurosurgeon with Suvarna Hospital and BVH, who routinely performs reiki and pranic healing on his patients before surgery. Take 25-year-old Pardesi. Brought to Manek recently in a semi-comatose state with multiple fractures and water retention in the brain after falling from a height of 30 m, emergency brain surgery was performed on him. Pardesi survived and his brother calls it a miracle. But Manek is convinced the quick recovery was due to the reiki performed on him before the surgery.

"There is an enormous amount of spiritual energy in the world," agrees Dr Ramakant Keni, head of Parapsychology Department, Bombay Hospital, who also practices reiki and pranic healing and has celeb patients like maestros Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit Jasraj, Amjad Ali Khan and Kishori Amonkar.

"The patient's personality and mind play a direct role in curing any illness, particularly cardiac diseases," says cardiologist and AHIRC Managing Director Dr Ramakant Panda. An aggressive and ambitious person will therefore be prone to high blood pressure and cardiac problems, including post-surgery trauma. Says Panda: "Today, we have to deal with broken minds, broken lives and broken societies. There is an acute need to develop comprehensive care concept to bridge the gap between physical and emotional healing."

When this gap is bridged, recovery is faster. Or so suggest various research studies. In an ongoing research initiated in 1998 jointly by the J.W.M. Global Hospital and Research Centre, Mount Abu, and the Defence Institute of Physiology and Applied Sciences, Delhi, 600 patients who have suffered cardiac arrests and angioplasty have been divided into two groups. While the first group is being provided physical and medical care, the second is offered spiritual care and is practising Raj yoga. According to project principal investigator Dr Satish Gupta, early indications reveal that those who have undertaken an integrated healing programme show a remarkably faster and near permanent recovery as compared to those in the body-mind healing group.

The study also suggests that cardiac diseases are mostly psychosomatic and while positive attributes like love, happiness and peace stimulate the immune system, negative attitudes like low self-esteem, envy, aggression, guilt and suppressed anger retard healing. "If holistic healing becomes a regular practice, cardiac illness can be reduced by half in no time," claims an optimistic Gupta.

Though such conviction is rapidly gaining ground, there is some resistance from the medical fraternity as also from patients who are doubtful about using techniques that have not been scientifically tested. The BVH, for instance, has faced the ire of patients' relatives for the recital of Bhagwad Gita or from non-believers during the mantra meditation.

"The Indian medical establishment, for personal and financial reasons, is far more sceptical than the West," says a senior cardiologist from south Mumbai. Going by the rapidly altering perception in the West, holistic healing may yet cure these traces of scepticism.

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