In India, Ayurveda—the traditional wellness philosophy which combine physical, spiritual, and nature—is now acknowledged globally and has become popular alongside the practice of Yoga. Dr. Shilpa Dhoka, a Jakarta-based Ayurveda specialist spoke to NOW! Jakarta about the traditional holistic medicine following a lecture at Atma Jaya Catholic University Jakarta in commemoration of Diwali and National Ayurveda Day on 5 November.

dr. Shilpa Dhoka, An Ayurveda Naturopathy Specialist. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

In partnership with the Embassy of India in Indonesia, Dr. Dhoka spoke in-depth about the ancient medical science that has been passed down through generations.

Tell us about the cooperation with The Indian Embassy in Indonesia regarding to promote Ayurveda?

Indians have been practicing Ayurveda for many years. Now, we are trying to expand it globally. This is the right time that everybody learns about Ayurveda and spreads knowledge about the holistic medical science. The United States, Germany, and countries around Europe have begun acknowledging it.

Regarding the Embassy, we started conducting classes and courses in many countries. Now, the Embassy wants to open same courses here in Jakarta. They have cooperated with the Indonesian government and an MoU is being signed. There are no Ayurveda specialists in Jakarta. As soon the programme starts, the Embassy will invite doctors from India and South Africa to have a session here.

In the last three years, they have been working to make it more global. Later on, the Embassy hopes to expand awareness and start academic courses at Universities around the country. There will be short and long courses. It's for people who want to become practitioners or learn it for themselves.

For those who are not familiar with Ayurveda, could you describe what it is about?

You are living and you take care of your body. So that is Ayurveda. In Indian tradition, it has been known for more than 5,000 years ago when people did not have medical doctors so they relied on this philosophy. It’s a holistic approach that draws on nature. Ayurveda has become the foundation for people to remain healthy and draw cures from nature. The book “Charak Samhita” tells a lot about Ayurvedic science. It is passed down from generation to generation until now, when it has become a University degree.

One of the keys of Ayurveda is to be mindful of ourselves and our body. Why is it important to understand our body composition in order to help us live healthy lives?

There are three body types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Those are basic elements which are the building blocks of our body. If one of them doesn’t exist, the body cannot be sustained. Vata (air) provides movement, Pitta (water) is emotion and fluidity, while kapha (earth) is a structure. Those elements can be more dominant in people physical make up that creates a certain characteristic. That is why we frequently see our friends losin weight easily but they can gain weight very quickly, or one who has never gained weight or someone who is stressed all the times. When we understand our body, we can balance it. It’s all in Ayurvedic medical science.

Ayurveda dictates how one can live optimally with nature. What the simple practice on this?

For example, here in Indonesia, people don't really follow the seasons. According to Ayurveda, our body reacts in different way in certain seasons. In the summer, we don’t feel very hungry, right? But here, people eat the food in summer and in the cooler months. Nature tells us to balance ourselves so we will not sick during seasonal changes.

During winter, people in India eat more nuts. I am Indian but now I am here, I do not eat a lot of nuts because it’s not dry. I cannot follow what I do in India. I need to follow in the country that I live in right now. It’s more suitable than importing food from India. It’s not fresh. I have to eat food that is locally available.

In India, there are some areas that have very hot weather. So, they should not eat a lot of meat because it’s not good for their body. There are many vegetarians there. Turmeric is applied to their scalp because it’s an antiseptic, it aids healing. This is the crown chakra for meditation.

We don't have to look around for the medicine. So basically, everything is here, locally. In harmony with nature. If there is any imbalance, nature will help to cure it.

Following up on that, tell us about food playing crucial role in Ayurveda.

Lifestyle is very important and food is the most important because it also a part of the lifestyle. Each person is what they eat. If you eat the right food you'll be fine. If you don’t eat the right food, it causes an imbalance in your body.

dr. Shilpa Dhoka checks student's pulse during his lecture session at Atma Jaya Catholic University Jakarta.

Ayurveda is a lifestyle which may help prevent disease. How does it help cure illness?

The first stage that we make sure that we do not fall sick. However, we are human and we all fall sick. Ayurveda has treatments with a holistic approach whose main purpose is to eliminate disease from the core. In Ayurveda, the root cause of every disease is digestion. If your digestion is good, it is nearly impossible to fall sick.

I have cured a number of diseases such as inflammation, hormonal imbalances, stress, depression, and anxiety. I had so many patients who have been cured of allergies, arthritis and bronchitis.

The treatment has a bunch a lot of lifestyle changes. We use a lot of herbs. Ayurveda also helps cure diseases without side effects. We use a lot of herbs.

From the holistic approach, what is the connection to one’s mental and spiritual well-being?

Sometimes our stress levels could impact the digestion in our body. Mental health is directly linked to digestion. If your mood is good, your enzymes are very good. If you are very agitated and anxious, there are too much enzymes in your stomach and a lot of acidity in digestion. Similarly, when you are very sad, there are no enzymes in your stomach. So, mental health is very important to keep healthy.

How does Ayurveda improve mental health?

Meditation is very important to relax the brain. With the fast-moving world, multitasking is something we all engage in and it is not good. We know the depiction of the people holding their sandwich and eating it in one hand while drinking a cup of coffee from the other, and rushing to the office. They will get stressed. We are working our brain constantly. It’s OK, we are ambitions but we do need some relaxation. We should make sure that the brain can relax enough and work again.

We have all known people who are in a good mood one day and a really bad mood the next day. It’s because that they don’t eat good food. They are sensitive, or don’t have enough sleep. Emotionally they are up and down.

How do we start practice meditation to balance physical and mental health?

Meditation is not everybody’s cup of tea. If one is just sitting in the car, one starts using the phone. Nowadays, people can’t handle silence. People have forgotten how to handle silence and looking inward. Mental health is spiritual. Ayurveda tells you to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

For example, if you are listening to music, if the music soothes you, just enjoy the music. If you like exercising, just exercise. The actual meditation is about doing nothing which We just close to the impossible in today’s world.  We can start from one minute, 30 seconds, focus on colour, a dot of color. Our mind should be on one thing. Reading is one of the early attempts at meditation because we need focus.

Yoga is different, yoga is exercise and involves doings a lot of things, and meditation is about not doing anything. Another way is breathing. There is an ancient form of breathing exercise called pranayama. Normally, we do not breathe completely, not 100 per cent. We don't do full breathing and our lungs don't have enough oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide fully. So, if you sit for five minutes and do full breathing, it helps blood circulation in the brain so that we will feel fresher. It’s very good to do it in the morning, before you sleep, and anytime if you are stressed.

For someone who have to work non-traditional hours, such as at night. How can they achieve this balance?

One can consult us and we can examine them with an Ayurveda approach to accommodate the best way to accommodate their work and sleep cycles. If you can't sleep enough then you can do an oil bath where you can apply oil and allow it to penetrate your body before washing it off. If you love fried food, you have to balance it with vegetables. There is a remedy to everything. With this busy lifestyle we can always find a remedy.

Rintang Azhar

Rintang Azhar

Rintang is a previous staff writer for NOW! with experience in hard news and lifestyle journalism. He specialises in art, design, culture, fashion, environmental, and urban issues.