Dr. Akhilesh Sharma:
"It’s time we gave Ayurveda the respect it deserves."

Dr. Akhilesh Sharma greeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama

By Kavita Chhibber

His father was a diplomat, his mother a PhD in the times when women didn’t study much in India, and his grandfather a great spiritual master, yet it was his paternal grandmother who was the deepest influence in Dr. Akhilesh Sharma’s life and the reason why he opted for a career that didn’t quite jell with the vision of his parents.

"My father wanted me to follow in his steps, since I was the eldest and only son-I have two younger sisters. My mother wanted me to be a doctor and enjoy the prestige, glamour and wealth that comes with a medical career. Being a pretty good student, I did get admission into medical school, but suddenly things changed."

Dr. Sharma's younger sister fell very ill with a fever that wouldn’t go away and which the doctors failed to diagnose, a few months before Akhilesh had to join medical school. "My grandmother used to make these herbal concoctions that were partly taught to her by my grandfather, and people would get better. One night I lay next to her crying and asked her why she didn’t help, now that the doctors had given up. The next day she stopped talking to every one and started preparing some herbs and giving them to my sister. A few weeks later my sister recovered fully and that was a turning point for me. I was in a dilemma as to which branch of medicine I should pursue-allopathic medicine or Ayurveda which my grandmother practiced and which had worked when everything else known to modern medicine had apparently failed. My grand mother said –if you want my advice, then study Ayurveda-its is the only true medical practice."

When Akhilesh decided to follow his grand mother’s advice all hell broke loose in the house. "My mother was aghast at the thought of her brilliant son, leaving a possible lucrative future in favor of a lost science taught completely in Sanskrit. But I persisted." Dr. Sharma joined the 6 plus years Ayurveda medical program and soon after joining, went into depression. "It was all so weird... everything was in Sanskrit and I began to question what I was doing there. I couldn’t understand what was being taught and began wondering if it was truly medicine, but as time elapsed things got easier. Ayurveda, which literally means "the science of life", is the natural healing system used throughout India. It was known to have been first developed and established by the great sages who developed India's original systems of meditation and Yoga. The study of Ayurveda includes herbal medicine, dietetics, body work, surgery, psychology and spirituality. It not only deals with medical science, but also with the social, ethical, intellectual, and spiritual life of man. Ayurveda amalgamates the accuracy of science and the sublimity of philosophy, poetry, and art. According to Ayurveda, a living creature is composed of soul, mind and body. It is the compound of these three elements that constitutes the science of life."

After graduating, Dr. Sharma and two other friends of his decided to work in a small Ayurveda hospital in the remotest part of the state of Haryana. When they reached the hospital, they saw a huge lock on the gate. On calling the doctor in charge they were rudely yelled at and asked who sent them there. "Evidently because this place was so far away and there was no bus service, very few patients even bothered to come there. Occasionally some one would show up to clean the place but the doctor handling the hospital was leading a cushy life, not doing any work and being paid. They kept the hospital locked to deter even the paltry few who might have wandered there by accident. When we said we weren’t leaving the guy spread rumors about us being immoral college boys from the big cities, who may have our eyes on the village girls. The villagers were told not to rent us a room to stay there. We noticed no one talked to us."

Undeterred, Dr. Sharma went to Chandigarh, to meet the Secretary of Health. Once the three friends got in after bribing the clerk, Dr. Sharma told him what had happened. "I told him I come from a family of academicians and chose this profession after fighting with my folks but today I feel that it was a waste of 6 and a half years. This science belonged to India and this was no way to honor it. I had started crying by then and told the officer that he should feel free to rip our degrees." The secretary was very moved - he called the doctor in charge, suspended him, recruited someone else in his place and sent the trio back. "Things were very different - we were given the red carpet treatment this time." The three interns then started going to the over flowing state run hospital, and began bribing patients with promises of good food and that there would be only one patient on each bed and treating them. "Many were almost dying because of lack of the medical care needed to treat them and we were able to cure them and send them home. The human body is composed of the three fundamental elements called doshas, dhatus and malas. The doshas govern the physio-chemical and physiological activities of the body, while the dhatus enter into the formation of a basic structure of a body cell, thereby performing some specific actions. The malas are impurities partly excreted in a modified form after serving their physiological functions. These three elements are said to be in a dynamic equilibrium with each other for the maintenance of health. Any imbalance of their relative importance in the body results in disease and illness, and we were able to work on all the areas through diet and treatment."

Dr. Sharma graduated with honors in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery from Kurukshetra University, India. He also earned a diploma in Naturopathy in 1988 from the all India Nature Care Federation, New Delhi, and a Ph.D. in Herbal Medicine in 1992 from Varaneseya Sanskrit University, Uttar Pradesh, India. Dr. Sharma recently earned a diploma in Swedish massage and Shiatsu, familiarizing himself with other modalities of healing popular in the western world.

Dr. Sharma has operated a clinic in New Delhi for many years, together with his wife Dr. Minakshi Sharma. He has also served as the chief physician and Director of Research and Development for a leading Indian Ayurvedic pharmaceutical company. For over half a century, the company has manufactured a line of more than 400 Ayurvedic medicines. Dr. Sharma is widely recognized for his outstanding contributions in the field of Ayurvedic Medicine. In 1992, the former President of India honored Dr. Sharma with the Dhanvantrari Award, the most prestigious recognition in the field. He was awarded the Chikitsa Shiromani Award for outstanding contribution to Ayurveda in 1995. In 1994, he co-authored the Pancha Karma Vigyaniayam, recognized as a major text in the field. Dr. Sharma is often invited as a visiting professor for the college of Ayurveda in United States.

Dr. Sharma served as an Ayurvedic Consultant/Research scholar in the Moolchand Hospital, an Ayurvedic Research Establishment that is recognized by the Central council of Indian Medicine, Ministry of Health, and Govt. of India. Dr. Sharma also serves as Advisor to the Ministry of Health Govt. of Delhi and Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the All - Indian Medicine Graduates It was at Moolchand Hospital that Dr. Sharma I met Dr. Deepak Chopra’s father, the eminent cardiologist Dr. Krishan Chopra who became one of his mentors. "He was a big believer in Ayurveda and we had a fair amount of cross references. Mool Chand also had its own pharmacy, so we often went there to oversee and even be part of creating the medicines. I think I’m among a handful of Ayurveda physicians in the country that can put a pill in their mouth and just by the taste tell whether the pill has been made correctly."

Dr. Sharma says what he does not like is the fact that unlike the Chinese model which gives both allopathic and alternative medicine equal status combining the best of both, India has segregated the two schools of medicine.

Recently there was a lot of hype about contamination in Ayurvedic medicines. Dr. Sharma says there are several factors that go into the making of the medicine and if the procedures are not followed correctly the medicine created may not have the expected effect. ‘There was a lot of criticism about gugglu for instance which cures arthritis and also helps in lowering cholesterol. The company that made it here did not purify the gugglu, nor was it prepared the correct way and obviously didn’t have the same effect. Also the soil and vibrations in certain mountains of India where some of these herbs are found cannot be replicated here. Therefore herbs grown here will not have the same potency or benefits as the ones we grow there. Federal regulations also vary- In India what may be acceptable within certain parameters may be considered unacceptable here.

In spite of all the criticism and skepticism that crops up from time to time, from some sections of the medical community, Dr. Sharma says that thanks to people like Deepak Chopra, the popularity of Ayurveda has sky rocketed. Dr. Sharma himself has done a lot to show through workshops, seminars and personal consultations how well Ayurveda works. He has become a very popular and sought after speaker and spends half his time traveling all over the world introducing Ayurveda to a global audience.

"It was interesting when I met Prince Charles after a presentation on Ayurveda, and after checking his pulse told him what ailments he had. He couldn’t believe I could tell him all that just by checking his pulse and joked that someone from his staff must have told me! But he was very open minded and asked me why Ayurveda had not received the respect it deserved and I told him candidly it was because the British did not let it thrive. He was gracious enough to acknowledge that what I had said made sense."
Dr. Sharma says he finds a lot of stress among people these days. The women especially since they are multi tasking. He also feels that India will lose Ayurveda to the West if it doesn’t actively seek to protect its intellectual property ‘ The Us government and other private individuals are likely to invest what we haven’t in the past 60 years in research and development, and promotion of Ayurveda in the next five years. “

Dr. Sharma says that Ayurveda works because it is the oldest documented health care system on earth, while the history of modern medicine is only 300 years old.

"Ayurveda is also based on clinical observation and interaction between the human body and nature in micro and macro cosmos and yet we have sidelined this complete knowledge of life.. Today the book of contraindications is more than double of that of indications in modern medicine, and every medical doctor worth his salt knows the limitations modern medicine has.

That is why people like Dr. Deepak Chopra, who understood this way back, have tried to go beyond those limitations and embrace Ayurveda, in spite of being trained in modern medicine.”

Dr. Sharma adds that while only 7 and a half percent of the Indian budget is geared towards Ayurveda, yoga and yunani medicine, he is seeing a positive change in the attitude towards Ayurveda in India. His seminars and work shops have been also been a phenomenal success in America and Europe.

"Today, an estimated 300,000 Ayurvedic physicians practice in India, often in close conjunction with doctors trained in Western, conventional medicine or in homeopathy. Ayurvedic practitioners teach patients to understand their unique bodily constitutions and show them how to use diet, massage, herbs, and lifestyle adjustments to harmonize body, mind, and spirit. In recent years Ayurveda has begun to flourish alongside other holistic, patient-oriented, natural, non-invasive medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine in other countries and I’m really happy about that."

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