From 1947 to the year 2000, there was only one ayurvedic clinic in Singapore - Malayala Ayurveda Vaidya Sala.
However, according to the vice-president of Ayurvedic Practitioners Association of Singapore, Dr V.C. Ajith Kumar, it was not run by a BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) qualified physician in those days, and the first clinic with such qualifications came only in the year 2000.
"The Gift of Nature at Newton was the oldest clinic in Singapore, run by a qualified BAMS doctor but, unfortunately, it is now closed," he said.
Although it shut down in 2004, many others have sprung up in recent years in Singapore. Currently there are 12 ayurveda clinics here. "There are 15 qualified BAMS doctors practising ayurveda in Singapore," explained Dr Kumar.
His clinic, Ayush Ayurvedic, is among the 12.
Speaking of his beginnings in the field, he said: "I was 15 when I enrolled in the gurukula system of education in India for 71/2 years of rigorous training. Lessons would start at 5am and last till late at night.
"Staying at the gurukula (living with the teacher at his traditional home and learning) meant I wasn't merely acquiring a degree but learning a way of life, beyond what the current colleges and universities can do.
"After completing this course I trained under Guru Vaidyamathom Valiya Narayana Namboodri for four years. It was a life-changing experience to be practising under India's most respected traditional Ashta Vaidyan (master of the eight branches of medicine)."
Dr Kumar then went on to work with the Indian government for 14 years, then moved to Malaysia and came to Singapore in 2008 to set up his clinic.
Like Dr Kumar, Dr E.J. Joshi and his wife, Dr Bindu Ancy Joshi, also started their own clinic here, called Kerala Ayurveda Centre, in 2010.
The number of ayurveda clinics in Singapore has been steadily rising over the last few years, and the latest to open their doors just this year are Herbzalive and JBS Ayurvedic Healthcare Centre.
Encouraged by the success of Herbzalive in south India, its chief medical director, Dr Vijeyapal J. Jonnagaddla, decided to expand his network starting with Singapore. "We saw the potential for ayurvedic treatments and medicines as well as training. Hence, we planned to start our branch in Singapore. We registered as a private limited company in October 2013 but started practice in June this year," he said.
The other new entrant JBS Ayurvedic Healthcare Centre opened its doors in April. However, it has had a presence here since February 2012 near Chander Road in Little India providing consultancy and medication. "With our new outlet at Rangoon Road, we can now provide patients with therapeutic treatments of panchakarma (five actions), which cleanses and rejuvenates the body, mind and consciousness. We also provide free consultation," said Dr Pinky Kamat, owner of the clinic.
While most of the clinics are situated in Little India, there are some which have branches in residential areas like Yishun and Bedok. Twelve ayurveda clinics in a small country like Singapore might sound like the market is saturated. But Dr Kumar thinks otherwise.
According to him, the demand for India's traditional form of medical science which has been around for more than five millennia as an effective alternative medicine, is growing in global recog- nition.
He said: "Of course, there is room for more clinics in Singapore. Anything that is traditional and time-tested cannot lose its sheen and demand. When we serve people with authentic values, there is no reason for it not to be popular."
Dr E.J. Joshi of Kerala Ayurveda Centre, who comes from a family of traditional ayurvedic physicians spanning a few generations, also highlighted this fact: "Ayurveda is becoming more popular by the day, gaining better acceptance all over the world. Patients can now enjoy the benefits of ayurvedic treatments without having to travel all the way to India, because of the availability of such treatment in Singapore.
"And, fortunately, there are good ayurveda centres giving the public confidence that ayurveda can help them in many of their health problems without any negative side effects."
So just what is ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, ayu meaning life and veda meaning science or wisdom; hence ayurveda is the science of life. According to ayurveda, everything in the universe is made up of the five basic elements called Pancha Mahabhootha, which are earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Ayurveda uses herbs, natural oils and herbal decoctions as medicine or supplements to balance these elements in the body, thus removing stress, fatigue and toxins accumulated in the body over its lifetime. "What makes ayurvedic treatment different from other medicines is that it isn't only another medical science, but a way of life. It talks more about how to prevent diseases and live a long, healthy life by following the beautiful intricate details of a moral code of conduct, how to have a healthy mind, dietetics in detail and so much more. So you see, it isn't just about treating a disease. Ayurveda has its unique benefits," explained Dr Kumar.
Adding to that, Dr Joshi explained: "Ayurvedic treatment aims to correct the root cause and not just treat the symptoms. It has a holistic approach and when a person is under ayurvedic treatment, there will be improvement in all the systems in the body, which is a unique benefit when compared with other medical systems. Another speciality is the oil treatment, which gives relief to the whole body."
Ayurveda practitioners have to determine 10 pointers to understand a patient before giving a prescription.
"They are dushyam, the factors that are affected in the body; desham, the habitat the person comes from; balam, the strength of the patient as well as the disease; kalam, the duration of the disease; analam, the metabolism; prakriti, the patient's nature; vayah, age; satwam, patient's mental strength; satmyam, factors that suit the patient or what one has adapted to; and aharam, the patient's food habits," explained Dr Kumar.
The physicians tap modern diagnostic methods to better understand a patient's problem, said Dr Joshi. Once the doctors identify the problems, they can prescribe solutions unique to each patient.
"There is an underlying statement that traditional Indian medicine treats 4,448 diseases. Many diseases, from common colds to non-healing ulcers, get a fast and permanent solution," said Dr Jonnagaddla.
Singapore, being a cosmopolitan city, is home to more than one ethnic group and, with ayurveda's growing global reputation, the doctors say they get many non-Indian customers as well.
Said Dr Joshi: "We get local Indians, Malays and Chinese as well as foreigners residing here and tourists from countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the US, Japan, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Australia and Hong Kong."
"I have seen everything from dermatological conditions to musculo-skeletal diseases, from neurological to gastro-intestinal problems and from stress to any mental disorder. The most unusual case I handled was a patient who suffered from Hidradenitis Suppurativa, where the body is full of abscesses. It was treated by using traditional medicines," he said.
At JBS Ayurvedic Healthcare Centre, they even have a female Chinese therapist. "She is an experienced therapist who was interested to learn about ayurvedic massage techniques. I have been training her, teaching her the different massage methods, and so far she is doing great," said Dr Kamat.
While they say they are unable to provide the same level of treatment here as in India due to practical constraints, they do offer speciality treatments.
At Ayush Ayurvedic, for example, they help with multiple women-specific illnesses. Said Dr Kumar: "There is Garbhini Paricharya - details about how a pregnant woman should have post-partum treatments. Then there are treatments for issues that arise from menarche to menopause. There are supportive treatments for infertility to psychological disorders. And on a lighter note, there are solutions for beauty, fitness and weight management."
Kerala Ayurveda Centre focuses on consultation, patient-care ayurveda treatments and therapeutic procedures, said Dr Joshi and Dr Bindu.
"For physical and mental relaxation, we prescribe the abhyangam (full body oil massage) and sirodhara (oil dripping on head). For heaty body and stress, we prescribe thakradhara (for head) and podikizi for body aches and pains," said the couple.
JBS Ayurvedic Healthcare Centre provides free consultation and ayurvedic treatments using herbs imported from Kerala.
Dr Jonnagaddla's Herbzalive has two unique aspects. He claimed: "First, the background of our effective medicines dates back 86 years. Secondly, our pulse diagnosis and treatment modalities are different, result-oriented and faster compared to others."
He added that Herbzalive's chief physician has 25 years' experience in hospital and clinical practice. "He is one of the 100 doctors in India nominated by the government of India as gurus to train ayurvedic graduates in Panchakarma."
Malayala Ayurveda Vaidya Sala, which brought ayurveda to the shores of Singapore is still around, and the physicians have since attained their BAMS qualification.
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