Dr. Shiva Explains How Indian Medicine Looks at the Body

April 17, 2020

Nobody was going to call him a woo-woo person for traveling to India to study traditional medicine. Not after having earned four degrees at MIT, and not after becoming the guy who literally invented email.

His name? Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, an Indian-American scientist and entrepreneur. He’s originally from Mumbai, and he now lives in Massachusetts.

Dr. Shiva’s fascination with Indian medicine began when he was a boy watching his grandmother, a village guru, heal people. Much later, he applied his engineering background to gain insight into that system of medicine and came away with an epiphany: the ancients weren’t looking at things like genes, proteins, and genetics, separate parts, the way MDs in the Western world do.

The ancients—often dismissed as backward by those in so-called first-world nations—were looking at something different; they were looking at the body as a system, Dr. Shiva realized, the same way a modern-day systems engineer would.

Far from dismissing it, Dr. Shiva decided to examine India’s two main systems of medicine, Siddha and Ayurveda, from a systems engineering viewpoint, and that led to what he calls his big “ah-ha moment.”

A Journey From West to East

Dr. Shiva realized that modern Western medicine is a far cry from what it ought to be when viewed from a systems approach. “It fundamentally comes out of wartime medicine,” Dr. Shiva told The Epoch Times in an interview. He asserted that Western medicine is essentially for “putting a soldier back on the field.”

“Now, I’m not saying it’s bad. Let’s say, you happen to get into some horrible accident, if you happen to get into some crisis situation,” he continued. “But is that how we should be running our lives day to day? I don’t think so.”

Despite his litany of stellar achievements at such a young age, Dr. Shiva never forgot the source of his inspiration: his grandmother. “I saw her empirically heal people. So that led to my journey to want to be like her, want to understand how she could heal people,” he said. “This woman had tattoos all over her arms, but I had great respect for her.”

Having established his credibility as a scientist, he knew he wouldn’t be attacked for doing something different; though he admitted that some of his peers found it strange that he wanted to go to India instead of work for some big pharmaceutical company. On a Fulbright scholarship, Dr. Shiva set out to study what was dear to his heart.

A ‘Different Language’ for Looking at the Body

“There’s around nine terms that were constantly being used in the yoga system and in the Siddha system,” Dr. Shiva said. “And I said, ‘You know what? they must have been looking at the body as a system.’”

But the “ah-ha” moment he had came when he started analyzing Indian medicine through the lens of systems engineering—that’s the study of control systems: such as in airplanes and thermostats that automatically adjust to deviations, or in biological engineering where homeostasis (equilibrium) is maintained.

Indian medicine was, in effect, a system for balancing the body’s health, he discovered.

“There is what’s called ‘general systems theory,’ and they use terms called: transport, conversion, and storage,” he said. “Transport conversion and storage match one-to-one with ‘vata,’ ‘pitta’ and ‘kapha,’” which are terms denoting three different body-type constitutions, or tridosha, in Indian medicine. Each individual person has a different body type, which falls under some combination of these constitutions, vata, pitta, and kapha.

“And based on that categorization, that defined you,” Dr. Shiva said. “And once you were defined, they also figured out how your body was disturbed, in a disturbed, imbalanced state … And the goal was to bring your disturbed state back to you.”

The term denoting the “you” was prakriti, and the “disturbed state” was vikriti, in the Indian system.

There were also other terms such as the senses, indriya; the mind, mana; various disturbances, vikaras; as well as the system’s input and output, karma and karma-phal, respectively—all of which fit perfectly as a biological system’s approach to healing.

Whereas modern Western medicine was for putting a soldier back on the battlefield, Indian medicine dealt with disease at earlier stages in their development. In the two branches of Siddha and Ayurveda, there are six different phases. “The idea was, if you caught it in the early stage, prevention, you could solve it,” Dr. Shiva says.

“Western system of medicine typically catches it in the fifth and sixth stage,” he added, “when it’s erupted to something that’s in a crisis stage … then you’re going in fighting something—chemotherapy, surgery interventions—that’s what we do in wartime medicine. And that is highly expensive.”

He adds, “The eastern systems of medicine were … actually an engineering systems way to look at the body. So, this was a profoundly different way of looking at the body.”

Bridging the Gap Between East and West

After returning to the United States, Dr. Shiva began lecturing on traditional Indian medicine from a systems perspective, and he discovered that many in his profession were interested in what he had to say. As he explained to The Epoch Times, there is a growing movement of MDs in the West who came to the realization that they had “got screwed in their medical education.”

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