As an emergency medical technician in the Air Force, it was hard to find medicines that do not have a laundry list of side effects. Western medicine tends to treat symptoms by prescribing medications to stop the more obvious issues and often ends up leaving patients with unresolved root causes.
This is one reason why holistic medicine has become one of my interests, especially during my trip to South India this summer. Both Western and Tibetan medicine are available in the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe, in Karnataka, South India where I spent three weeks in May and June, exposing myself to true Tibetan medicine for the first time.
Tibetan medicine has been around for centuries. Found in areas such as Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and, luckily, India, it is comprised of science, philosophy, and healing practices that work together to create a holistic system of treatment.
In India, becoming a Tibetan doctor requires a five year course followed by two years of training. Dr. Pasang Dhondup (C.I.), a Tibetan doctor in Bylakuppe attended Tibetan medical school in the North Indian town of Dharamsala. He now sees about 50 to 60 patients a day in his clinic in Bylakuppe’s main village, known as “First Camp.”
“We use the pulse, we analyze the urine, and we ask (the patient) questions,” Dhondup said.
These techniques help to determine a prognosis, as I learned first-hand when, a week into our trip, abdominal pain began to slow my pace. I fought a fever and felt quite lethargic with bouts of anxiety. The professor recommended that I be seen by a Tibetan doctor. It was an incredible experience. The doctor felt for my pulse and then asked a series of questions before prescribing some herbal medicine, to be taken three times a day for ten days. He assured me that my problem was not as bad as I thought. Three days after I started taking the medication, my symptoms began to resolve. I was beyond impressed, and the best part was there were no other following symptoms or side effects.
Sherub Yonten is the Class Captain of the Padma Mani Translation Committee at Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe. A year ago he suffered from headaches, clogged nasal passages, and a swollen face. The Tibetan doctor checked his pulse and “gently pressed around the cheekbones.” The doctor prescribed three herbs three times a day for six months, and he was advised to avoid meat, alcohol, radishes, and garlic, as they are all “harsh on the sinuses.”
In Sherub’s case, learning which foods cause the problem has proven very helpful. The process was long but well worth it, he said, as he has not experienced any problems since.
“Tibetan medicine is a slow process,” Dhondup confirmed, but there are almost no side effects.
This unique tradition of practice uses herbal remedies, mostly from the Himalayan region, to treat many issues: blood pressure fluctuations, hypertension, gastric indigestion problems, hepatitis B, and the beginning stages of cancer. Unlike Western medicine, Tibetan medicine seeks to understand and treat the root of the problem rather than only treating symptoms with pharmaceutical drugs. Diet and exercise are two vital components used to balance mind and body, and Tibetan doctors seek to look at the body as a whole and help the body heal itself as naturally as possible.
“We tell them what they should eat and to get more exercise,” Dhondup said.
This experience has reminded me that, by understanding the different components of the body and having a general understanding behind the concepts of holistic medical systems such as Tibetan medicine, we can each become our own rehabilitators--with the help of a little natural medicine.