I had never quite mastered the art of remaining silent, but when I entered the room of the clinic, I didn’t say a word. I was trying to test him, stare into dark eyes hidden behind rimmed glasses and see if he really was the fraud that I had predicted he would be.
He motioned toward the chair in front of his desk while I bit my inner cheeks to stop myself from smiling — a nervous habit I had yet to kick. I wished I had an anchor to keep my emotions from rising to the surface.
He took my wrist, three fingers pressing down hard on my pulse. From his lips came a long list of ailments that I had been suffering from: all minor but accurate.
At the very end, he looked over to my mother with a mild expression and asked her if she had any questions.
She had only one: how can we make her taller?
I resisted the urge to tell her that if a 5-foot tall women wanted a tall daughter, perhaps she should not have married a man who was 5-foot 3 inches.
The man looked over at me, the look of boredom never escaping his face.
“Tell her to stop being so angry; she’ll grow taller.”
“How dare he?”, I silently fumed. On the way back home, I rationalized to everyone who would listen that he was just good at reading people, that he was more of a crackpot psychic than a legitimate physician.
But who was I to be questioning a 3000 year old system of medicine?
Ayurveda is one of the oldest medical systems in the world. Hailing from India, it’s very different from the type of medicine that is practiced in the west. It’s based on the belief that health and wellness are based upon the balance of the three energies in the body, made up of the five basic elements: space, earth, fire, water and air. Everyone inherits a different mix of these energies, and when the natural balance is off, sickness occurs. A large part of the ayurvedic practice is pulse reading — determining a person’s ailments based on the flow, speed, tempo and overall “feel” of their blood coursing through their vessels.
As an aspiring scientist, it was easy to dismiss Ayurveda as some ridiculous theory from an age before the advances of modern medicine.
But as an aspiring scientist, I’m also quite curious. How could we prove whether or not these “energies” exist? How has Ayurveda survived as a medical system for so long if its basic theories are so questionable? How did the doctor that treated me know so much about my body and my health?
Questioning a practice need not imply disrespect; skepticism leads to improvement. It drives out the practices that do not work and refines the ones that do. Perhaps there are some practices in ayurvedic medicine that coincide with the proven facts of modern medicine, like two different languages speaking the same truth. For example, in recent years, turmeric has made waves as a new health supplement and “cure-all” in western markets for its antiseptic properties, despite having been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine for ages.
So how does one reconcile the scientific method of the modern world with ancient traditions that are ruled not by quantifiable data but by faith?
It’s simple. The west must give ayurvedic practices a chance to be proven right, but the east must allow itself to be proven wrong. Hopefully in the coming decades, more doctors and scientists will be more open to the sharing of ideas and practices between modern and ancient medicine to provide the best patient care and ultimately improve healthcare for all.
In the meantime, perhaps I should test out whether or not curbing my anger will give me a few more inches.