I encountered naturopathy early in my childhood, so I took it for granted that people around me know what it is as well. But in my recent explorations, both of learning naturopathy formally and engaging with people on it, I am realising how little it’s known.
One of the reason it’s dismissed by even those who have heard of it is the belief that it’s an ancient system, right for some ancient way of life (a friend told me multiple times that perhaps it’s not right for our times, but I will come back to this point in another post). Another is the hierarchy that invades even traditional practices. Ayurveda is positioned as top of the ladder and hence receives a stronger push even from the government. Plus, it has a larger commercial value.
But to me one of the most significant reasons why people don’t understand naturopathy or have never heard about it, is because of the fad of ‘integration’.
A lot of facilities today offer combined treatments in Ayurveda and Naturopathy: Kayakalp in Palampur, Balaji Nirodham in Sonepat, and several more across the country. What do you think you are likely to remember more: the treatments that cost you more, needed more preparation and execution or the simpler & cheaper ones, which you can even do at home?
Integration doesn’t appeal to me. I believe it takes years of continuous learning and practice to fully comprehend the nuances and see the results of one healing system on a human being. Any attempt to mix another healing system, when the previous one has not been practiced enough produces mixed results. Integration to me is a tool reserved only for the very experienced. Thankfully, Jindal Nature cure in Bangalore and Nisargopchar in Urli Kanchan near Pune have maintained their purist zeal and are fully residential naturopathy facilities.
Back to Naturopathy and its four fundamentals
1. The 5 elements
Naturopathy or nature cure or the science of hygiene (as it is sometimes called), is a drugless system of health based on the 5 element theory. Every living thing in nature (human beings, plants, animals) is formed through a combination of five elements: Space (also called ether), Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Naturopathy believe that since our body is made of these 5 elements, a dis-balance of these is what causes disease. To prevent or cure disease, we must restore balance and that can be done by using these very elements as treatment modalities.
Ether or space
Within the human body it is represented by all the empty space between cells, bodily organs, etc. It has one core property: sound. Ever noticed how musical instruments invariably have a hollowness that helps produces the sound? You need space to create a melody, for any kind of movement to take place. To increase space inside one’s body, fasting and sleeping under the open sky help, something that was common until my grandfather’s time. And no, it wasn’t because they were poor.
Most visibly seen in our breathing, there are actually 5 different types of air in our body. A dis-balance of this element is what lies behind all kinds of pain, especially the ones we encounter in our joints. Air’s essential quality is sensation or touch, which is why certain forms of massages are so soothing. An old system of Chinese breathing actually makes ‘the breath massage internal organs’. Early morning walks, pranayama, ventilation are the easiest way of increasing this element in your body.
‘Fire in your belly’ in not just a metaphor; it actually refers to the fire element in our body, which is most concentrated in the belly area. It is what makes all the chemical reaction possible: digestion, oxidation, and allows conversion of one form into another. Its essential property is form. Solid foods change into liquids and then gases because of this element. Basking in the morning sun and eating loads of fruits is the simplest way of increasing fire.
It’s present in all the fluids in your body: lymph, blood, saliva. Its essential property is fluidity. Hence you need it for maintaining the flow of everything and also for flushing things out. Drinking ‘enough’ water and raw juices is the simplest way of maintaining this element.
Most represented in the skeletal system of our body, including hair and nails. Its essential property is smell. In meditative eating you are asked to smell your food, it will tell you whether the food will be favourable to the soil (gut) inside you. Most animals do this. The food we eat determines the quality of this element in our body. All grains are full of this element.
Naturopathy rests on the belief that since our body is made of these 5 elements, the same 5 elements can be used for treatment. Sounds too simple? Yes and that’s the beauty of it! Haven’t we all realised by now that all the real or big things in life, really are simple. It’s our desire to follow the complicated that often lands us in trouble!
2. Toxic matter
Our bodies are constantly ingesting, digesting, absorbing and eliminating. The process of digestion and absorption produces by-products that the human body does not absorb and needs to eliminate: think urea, carbon dioxide. Hence it turns to its 4 elimination organs: colon, kidneys, skin and lungs, to do the needful. In a healthy body, these by-products are routinely eliminated. Diseases, according to naturopathy, start arising when these by-products or toxic matter, i.e. the stuff that the body cannot utilise, starts collecting. The can happen because of so many reasons: overeating or eating without hunger, lowered functioning of organs of digestion (stomach), absorption (small intestines) or elimination (the 4 named above).
3. Unity of disease
In naturopathy, there is very little focus on diagnosis or disease. That is because it believes that all disease arises from the accumulation of toxic matter in the body. First come the acute disease: runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, which is nothing but body’s attempt at throwing out the accumulated toxins. Unfortunately, we have all been taught to quickly suppress such diseases, so we take pills to do just that. Continuous suppression results in a hardening of this accumulation, which then settles on certain organs or close to them. It then starts affecting the functioning of that organ or it turns destructive where it starts eating or destroying parts of the body. This is what to us gets diagnosed and called out as disease: diabetes, cancer, hypo or hyper-thyroidism. But to a naturopath, it doesn’t matter what disease or symptom you show up with, S/he needs to get your body cleaned of toxic matter first.
3. Vital Energy
What the Chinese call chi, the naturopaths call vital energy. It’s the body’s innate energy or life force that is constantly at work, making all normal bodily functions possible. An allopath’s view of bodily energy is like a ‘coal engine’: you keep adding coal (food) and you will get heat and energy. The naturopath views the body more like an electric vehicle. The current or power that enables bodily functions flows along the nerves, and is a kind of electricity. The more blocks this electricity will encounter in its path (toxic matter) the lower its output or lower the vitality. This vitality is what naturopathy depends on to treat any disease.
If you are hearing all this for the first time, then maybe it’s a lot to absorb, but do let it sink in. Given my own journey to learn and self- experiment with naturopathy, you are sure to hear more about it in other posts.
For now, if someone tells you about a detox they went for where their routine comprised of fasting, mud packs (abdominal ones are the most common), enema or colon cleaning, different kind of hot and cold baths, be sure they have encountered naturopathy.
Just so that you know, in India, its takes 5.5 years to get a bachelor’s degree in allopathy, 5.5 years to get a bachelor’s degree in Ayurveda and 5.5 years to get a bachelor’s degree in Naturopathy!