In a high-tech and chemically dependent age of laser facials and botox injections it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of synthetic spa experiences. However, since time immemorial, Asian countries have developed an incredible range of ancient healing rituals and in recent years there has been a renewed interest in traditional practices that promote natural healing. From the popular to the obscure, we uncover the medical and mystical beliefs behind the many different traditional healing rituals across the Asia Pacific region.
Considered the mother of all holistic healing practices, Ayurveda is one of the oldest medical systems in the world. It offers an array of treatments including indigenous herbs, a traditional diet based on one’s energy type, yogic exercises, massage, meditation and amulets. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, combining ‘Ayu’ meaning life and ‘Veda’ denoting knowledge. Therapies are customised to individuals based on their ‘doshas’ (biological energies), personalities and astrological charts.
According to Ayurvedic principles, balancing the mind, body and soul is fundamental to wellness and longevity. We are considered as one with nature, and consist of five elements: ‘prithvi’ (earth), ‘apa’ (water), ‘tejas’ (fire), ‘vayu’ (air) and ‘akash’ (space). The body’s functions are controlled by three ‘doshas’ which are energy fields: ‘vata’ (ether and air), ‘pitta’ (fire and water) and ‘kapha’ (water and earth.) Individuals have their own unique combination of doshas, and disease is thought to occur from imbalances between these forces.
Ayurveda originated in India over 5,000 years ago, and is based on the teaching of the ‘Vedas’, an ancient Hindu text. Deeply spiritual, the wisdom it contains was recorded in the form of hymns, mantras, poetry and prayers. Sages passed down what is referred to as ‘the science of life’ by word of mouth from generation to generation. Its curative treatments can address a variety of ailments with a focus on preventative care and longevity. For example, Ayurvedic massage can expel toxins from the body, increase blood circulation as well as releasing negative energy and relaxing the mind.
China: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Evolving over two millennia, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a complex holistic framework that includes local herbs, massage (‘tui na’), exercise (Qigong) and acupuncture as well as foods based on taste and elemental influences. Qi (or ‘chi’), the term used to describe our vital energy force, is at the heart of TCM. It flows through us via a network of 12 main pathways known as ‘meridians’. Qi not only keeps the blood moving which nourishes the body and allows different organs to communicate with each other, but also connects us with nature and the universe. A deficiency or stagnation of Qi and/or the blockage of meridians is said to cause illness.
‘Yin’ and ‘yang’ energies are pivotal to TCM and must be kept in harmony in order to maintain good health. ‘Yin’ represents the female energy, moon and cold. Inversely, ‘Yang’ symbolises the male energy, sun and heat. They are opposites yet interdependent. Also playing an important role in treatments, are the five universal elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each of the body’s organs corresponds with one of these elements. Again, the more balanced the relationships between the elements, the greater one’s state of wellbeing. TCM practitioners set themselves apart by treating the root cause of a sickness not just the symptoms.