West 'plunders' Indian therapy for quick profit
Jo Revill, health editor
Cher, Madonna, Prince Charles and Cherie Blair have eased the pressures of fame by turning to Ayurveda, an ancient Indian therapy which uses holistic healing techniques to reach the parts that Western treatments cannot.
But the booming popularity of Ayurveda, now offered in high street salons, spas and even GP clinics, is worrying genuine Indian practitioners, who believe the West is 'hijacking' it for commercial gain.
Several eminent professors from India will warn a conference in London next Friday that Britain and America are diluting the philosophy of Ayurveda. They claim counsellors, therapists and beauty consultants are making millions from the name without basic training, leaving patients out of pocket for no medical benefits.
Gopi Warrier, chairman of the Ayurvedic Company of Great Britain and the British Ayurvedic Medical Council, said: 'Ayurveda is being plundered. Its beliefs and practices are being hijacked and the public are being conned.
'In India, these remedies are used to cure poor people with genuine ailments. It's a serious practice; you have to train for five-and-a-half years to become fully qualified. But in Britain, we are seeing people with a few hours' training pretending to understand the full complexity of a system which has been built up over many centuries.'
Warrier added: 'Our remedies are being pilfered - there's no other word for it - in order for spas and clinics to jump on a New Age bandwagon and con people out of their money.'
Ayurveda, an intricate system of healing that originated at least 6,000 years ago, is based on the belief that people's constitutions fall into three different types, known as Vata, Pitta or Kapha doshas. Treatments will be tailor-made for their type, but diet and meditation as well as massage will also form part of the therapy. At its heart is the belief that there are energy forces which cause illness if ignored.
In order to find out how much Ayurveda is really understood, The Observer visited a clinic offering the treatments. Aveda, which is owned by Estee Lauder, has clinics across the country.
Behind the impressive glass facade of the clinic, a heady, herbal aroma greets the visitor. In a dimly lit massage room, our reporter was asked to fill an 'Ayurveda questionnaire', to identify the most suitable form of treatment. Three categories of queries on personal details and temperament were rated on a scale of one to five. The total score supposedly indicated which of the three body types the client fitted. For example, if a person scores high on eating slowly or being a good listener, they are categorised as the kapha type - a scoring system which traditional practitioners say ignores the importance of examining the patient and their medical history.
'The kapha personality types are my favourite,' the masseuse said, adding : 'You are supposed to be a warm, friendly person, but if there is a dis-balance in your body you could turn into a greedy, possessive person.'
The reporter then had to close her eyes and herbal aromatic bottles were thrust under her nose. From the kind of scent she preferred, the masseur deduced that she needed a £45 calming back massage.
Further inquiries revealed that there was no specific training in Ayurvedic medicine. 'Oh well, there are no places around here that one can get good Ayurvedic training' the masseuse said.
A spokeswoman for the company said its treatments were based on the principles of Ayurveda but also incorporated other traditions. None of its staff claimed to be qualified Ayurvedic doctors, she added.
Dr Basappa Hadapad of Kasturba Medical College in Mangalore, is using this week's conference to spell out the dangers of the therapy being used incorrectly.
Sunday January 12, 2003
The Observer (UK newspaper)
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