I was in the oldest bookstore in Istanbul, when a green book about Ayurvedic medicine with a stale sort of cover and tattered pages captured my attention. Ayurveda is a form of ancient Indian herbalist healing that seeks to maintain a balance between body and soul through healthy living practices. After further study of Ayurveda, I see that a combination of Ayurvedic and western practices has the potential to provide healthcare that best reflects people’s values and beliefs.
After a long search, I managed to get an appointment with a Turkish doctor in Istanbul who practiced Ayurveda. Thrilled by my enthusiasm, he kindly let me observe his clinic and patients for a couple of days. He showed me that what he was doing wasn’t magic, but rather providing people with a healthy lifestyle to prevent any future diseases. He described Ayurveda as “a combination” of herbs and healing methods with a focus on changing personal perspective through yoga and meditation.
My encounter with Ayurveda was not only enlightening, but also prompted me to think more about the world of alternative medicine. I started up a project with my high school social science teachers in Istanbul to test the reliability of some Ayurvedic practices. We were fascinated by herbalism, traditional plant-based medecine, but the modern day application of this concept still remained questionable. While western medicine is rapidly improving, people are nonetheless tending towards alternative medicine that includes herbs, homeopathy, yoga, and acupuncture. But you cannot equate Ayurveda with every current application of alternative medicine: low-cholesterol diets or pills made of dubious herbal substances are a fake representation of these practices.
My experience visiting the Turkish doctor proved some of my concerns right. I was so fascinated by herbalism—but I was deeply disappointed when I saw the doctor take six different pills everyday. “Taking vitamin pills is nonsense, for we always have the option of eating fruits instead,” the doctor told his patients. But when I asked him why he was taking six different pills everyday, he said “you cannot trust herbs these days.”
The doctor’s disloyalty to the principles of Ayurveda made me even more curious. The power of western methods is undeniable, but isn’t it the same technology that helped the study of medicine improve and caused the increase in sicknesses, such as cancer, over the past 30 years? It is for this reason that Ayurvedic practices emphasize a lifestyle that discourages the excessive use of electronic devices, such as smart phones that produce cancer-causing radiation. Maybe the doctor really believed in the positive effects of herbalism, but in an increasingly technological world, perhaps he wasn’t able to find herbs real and natural enough—untainted by GMOS and pesticides—to effectively practice his medicine.
After reading books about Ayurveda, gene modification of foods, and alternative medicine, my dream is to learn more about the chemical background of these medicines. I envision establishing a clinic-institution where people can learn about the different medicinal methods beings used all over the world to treat and cure diseases, observe the experiments being done with these herbs, and find the healthcare that better reflects their values and beliefs. In this institution, people would have the chance to exercise and learn about healthy living. In this way, they would alter their perspective of life—in this metropolitan world, they will have a chance to literally see the results of different methods used for diseases and healthy living, and thus choose the best healthcare practices for themselves.
Muhtar is a member of the class of 2014.