How to be healed

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The Independent Culture
The current interest in holistic medicines and alternative therapies has unearthed a wide variety of exotic Oriental skills of varying efficacy. But few, if any, of these systems demand of their practitioners the scholarly application and scientific rigour of Tibetan medicine. This weekend Dr Lobsang Wangyal, junior physician to the Dalai Lama, will open a series of lectures and workshops at London's Hale Clinic.

The Tibetans call their medicinal system gSoba-Rigpa, or the "science of healing". The system is more than 2,500 years old, and would-be doctors must train for a minimum of seven years, the first four years of which involve the study and word- perfect memorisation of all 156 chapters of the four main medical tantras, ancient texts and commentaries, which form the basis of all subsequent diagnosis. In the fifth year, students take written and oral exams, and the last two years are dedicated to practical training.

According to Dr Tamdin Sither Bradley, the only Tibetan doctor resident in Britain, this ensures that the final understanding "is passed on directly from guru to student".

The basic theory of Tibetan medicine is to balance the three elemental energies that govern the body-mind. First is the rLung (pronounced "loong"), a subtle flow of energy that facilities growth, movement, mental activity, and respiration. The second is the mKhris-pa (pronounced "yi-pa"), which promotes digestion, bodily heat, and energy (people suffering from repeated colds, says Dr Tamdin Bradley, often lack sufficient mKhris-pa). The third element is Bad-kan (pronounced "pat-ken"), whose main function is to regulate the bodily fluids and keep the joints flexible.

"The rLung category is related to stress, and mainly connected to the psychology of the patient, while the mKhris-pa and Bad-kan have more to do with physical problems and manifest- ations. But the most important thing," says Tamdin Bradley, "is to balance these three. So it is very much a holistic approach."

The traditional form of diagnosis is urine analysis, but this only works if the sample is steaming fresh, and the first flush of the day. Given the logistical problems in getting early morning samples from her clients, Dr Tamdin Bradley usually resorts to pulse diagnosis instead, along with an examination of the patient's tongue. This is followed by an interview about the patient's lifestyle, diet, working conditions, physical constitution and weak points, and consideration of emotional and psychological states.

The first form of treatment is often simple advice on diet and behaviour. If however a prescription is deemed necessary, it will be precisely tailored to the individual from an extensive organic pharmacopoeia, consisting almost entirely of herbs and minerals. These must be fresh and all medicines include an ingredient, specific to the patient. Finally, the medicine is blessed and consecrated according to Tibetan Buddhist ritual, "so it has a spiritual efficacy as well".

Tibetan medicine, says Dr Tamdin Bradley, is particularly effective in the treatment of diabetes, asthma, rheumatism, arthritis and respiratory illnesses, obesity and other weight problems, and ulcers. In northern India, with its extensive Tibetan refugee settlements, gSoba-Rigpa has, in some areas, become even more popular than the indigenous medicinal system, Ayrurveda. However, she concedes this may be partly due to the six vows that doctors of Tibetan medicine must take, including the one that behoves them never to refuse treatment to a genuinely sick person who cannot afford to pay. Tibetan medicine is not just a matter of science, but also of conscience.


Dr Tamdin Sither Bradley has a practice in Walthamstow, London E17 (0181- 521 4681)

Tibetan medicine exhibition is at the Hale Clinic, 229 Great Portland Street, London W1 from 17-20 Nov. Dr Lobsang Wangyal will give an introductory talk from 6.30pm-8.00pm on 17 Nov. pounds 5.

Info: from the Tibet House Trust

Illustration from 'Tibetan Medical Paintings, Volume One, Plates'. Published by Serindia