Panchakarma, Shirodhara, Svedana – these are methods of Ayurvedic medicine to relieve pain. An interview: Veronika Bucher (B.A. Communication, freelance author) with Sabine Anliker about palliative therapy, who is a naturopath in Ayurvedic medicine with her own practice.
Sabine Anliker, you have been treating patients with the help of Ayurvedic medicine for many years. What experience have you gained in the context of palliative therapy?
Ayurvedic medicine in particular offers individually adapted treatment options in palliative therapy, which alleviate symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. So I often have patients who decide for Ayurvedic medicine as complementary treatment to conventional medicine.
Do the patients come to your practice or do you work in nursing homes, hospitals or at the patients’ homes?
The patients usually come to my practice. Here they find a benevolent, peaceful atmosphere, a neutral space of being. In the past, I also made home and hospital visits.
How can Ayurveda accompany people in palliative care? Do you have an example?
I was allowed to treat and support a good friend with breast cancer as an alternative to conventional medicine for several years. In her case, Ayurvedic medicine, in combination with anthroposophic mistletoe therapy, was able to help the patient to lead a dignified, active and, under given circumstances, contented life until the end.
What exactly did you do?
We have changed her diet: Individual Ayurvedic diet strengthens the patient with lots of fresh, cooked, organically grown and seasonal vegetables, lovingly prepared, plus whole grain rice, ghee, warm water and Ayurvedic herbal teas. Parallel to the change of diet, she was treated with Ayurvedic remedies as well as full-body oil massages, foot massages, forehead oil castings and also oily intestinal enemas. All this supported her physically and mentally and had a beneficial and soothing effect. Even in the later stages, thanks to Ayurvedic therapy the discomfort and pain could be alleviate.
You mentioned mistletoe therapy. Is it also applied in Ayurveda?
There is no mistletoe therapy in Ayurvedic medicine, as it is used in anthroposophic medicine. However, Ayurvedic medicine has its own very effective remedies that are used for the treatment of cancer and tumors – often as a supplement to the cleansing Panchakarma therapy or to Brimhana, i.e., to the strengthening treatment in combination with a change in diet. In Ayurvedic medicine, there are special combination remedies that are very effective against cancer. For example, Kanchanara Guggulu, which is composed mainly of Indian myrrh and Kanchanara, an orchid tree, Bauhiniavariegata, as well as other Ayurvedic medicinal herbs. However, there are some naturopaths and physicians who use mistletoe therapy combined with Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic medicine can be well combined with other therapies and also with conventional medicine.
So you also treat cancer patients?
Yes, in one specific case, a patient with cervical cancer was relieved of her symptoms – by means of Ayurvedic medicine, i.e. purgation procedures, Panchakarma therapy, Ayurvedic remedies, full-body oil massages, Svedana, which is a full-body steam therapy, and individual Ayurvedic nutrition therapy.
The earlier the treatment starts, the greater will be the chances. In general, it can be said that Ayurvedic medicine enhances the quality of life, relieves pain and other ailments, and reduces psychological stress. Thus Ayurveda is predestined – also – for palliative care.
How does a treatment proceed?
The basis for an Ayurvedic medicine treatment is always determined by a thorough Ayurvedic anamnesis and diagnosis including pulse and tongue examination. Other relevant factors, in addition to the examination of Agni, i.e. metabolism, include dietary behavior and lifestyle.
And then you choose a suitable method?
Yes, based on these diagnostic procedures, an individually adapted therapy plan is worked out in accordance and together with the patient. In Ayurvedic medicine, one primarily treats energies that are out of balance – and not the symptoms. We speak of the doshas – Vata, Pitta, Kapha – which came out of balance. The art of Ayurvedic medicine is to grasp all the symptoms of a patient’s illness, to find out their origin. Often it is a malfunction, and it is to find out which doshas are increased and which tissues, Dushyas, are affected. This detailed analysis forms the basis of the therapy plan.
So you rebalance the energies, the doshas, so to speak?
Yes, that is the goal of therapy, through appropriate individual adjustments in diet, behavior, and with coordinated Ayurvedic remedies and therapies. This leads to an improvement in health and general well-being.
How do you feel to work with seriously ill people; how do you personally deal with such situations?
After 25 years of professional experience as a naturopath, I have learned how to deal with people’s suffering, poor prognoses and difficult situations. I am also helped by the knowledge and experience that everyone has one’s life path, life purpose and destiny. Supervision, daily meditation and reflection are also helpful to stay stable.
From the Ayurvedic point of view: What are the goals of palliative therapy?
The highest goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to achieve i.e. regain happiness and contentment and to alleviate suffering, to establish the best possible life quality and to live a dignified life until death.
When does it make sense to use alternative medicine in palliative care respectively for which pains is Ayurveda a good choice?
In general, it is good to start with Ayurvedic medicine as early as possible. In the early stages, the disease process can be slowed down or even stopped. Of course, also whenever patients feel the desire to use alternative medicine in a palliative way. There are patients who deliberately choose alternative medicine as the only way and want to avoid conventional medicine as much as possible.
Is this also the case in your practice?
No, the more frequently chosen method is the joint one with conventional medicine. Mild to moderate pain can well to very well be treated with Ayurvedic medicine. In case of very severe pain, Ayurvedic medicine is usually not effective enough. Frequently conventional painkillers have to be used, thanks to Ayurvedic medicine often in a reduced dosage.
What is the treatment on psycho-mental level?
There are many ways in Ayurvedic medicine to act on the psycho-mental level.
- Ayurvedic remedies, i.e. herbs, such as Brahmi, Mandukaparni, Shankhapushpi etc. have an excellent effect on the psyche.
- Nasal therapy is a cleansing treatment with a purifying and harmonizing effect.
- Shirodhara, forehead oil castings, are successfully used for psychological, depressive moods or mental restlessness.
- Full-body oil massage Abhyanga and also foot massages with selected medicated oils have a relaxing, blood circulation-promoting and pain-relieving effect.
- And of course, in particular meditation, pranayama exercises and yoga are powerful tools for working on a psycho-mental level.
Are family members involved in the therapy? If so, how?
Yes, it is very important that family members are involved in the therapy. In my practice, they usually participate in the therapy planning. Here we also talk about diet and possible dietary changes, exercise, lifestyle and much more. It is important that patients are supported by their family during the cause of the treatment. Very often family members also have difficulties, fears and uncertainties, which we then discuss together in an open way.
You have been running your own practice for many years and you are also an academic lecturer in Ayurvedic medicine. How important is palliative therapy in your training?
Particularly in the training for naturopaths with a federal diploma, palliative therapy is of great importance. There is an entire module dedicated to this topic and it is repeated in various topics during the training.
Thank you for the interview, Sabine Anliker.
Holistic and individual
The Indian medicine Ayurveda – “knowledge of life” – is the oldest medical system in the world. Ayurveda considers the human being holistically; depending on the constitution and resources of a patient, naturopaths work out an individual therapy concept with appropriate purgatory procedures, nutritional therapy and full-body oil massages. There is a large variety of Ayurveda cures with wellness character. For persons, who look for real relief and recovery, there are professional Ayurveda physicians, who often also co-operate with Ayurveda hospitals in India. Training courses for naturopaths in Ayurvedic medicine are available in India. And in Switzerland; there is even a federal diploma on this Indian medicine: for example the Heilpraktikerschule Luzern (School for Naturopaths, Lucerne) and the Rosenberg European Academy for Ayurveda in Zurich. Read more on the websites of the OdA AM (the organization of the working world of alternative medicine) and the Ayurveda-Medizin Verband Schweiz AMVS (Ayurvedic Medicine Association Switzerland) www.oda-am.ch and www.amvs.ch. There is also a therapist search included.
Naturopath with federal diploma in Ayurveda Medicine
MSc in Ayurveda Medicine
6015 Lucerne/ Switzerland
“Shirodhara, i.e., the forehead oil castings, are also used in palliative care:in psychological, depressive moods or mental restlessness,” says Sabine Anliker. For more than twenty minutes warm oil is poured continuously and gently over the patient’s forehead. The oil, often based on sesame oil, is enriched and warmed with herbs and warmed.
Photo: Rosenberg Ayurveda
Pain-relieving: “The full-body oil massage Abhyanga with selected medicated oils has a relaxing, blood circulation-promoting and also pain-relieving effect,” says Sabine Anliker.
Photo: Rosenberg Ayurveda
In order to support palliative patients on a psycho-mental level, Sabine Anliker uses Ayurvedic remedies. These are herbs like Brahmi, Shankhapushpi or Mandukaparni; the latter is seen on the picture.
Photo: Rosenberg Ayurveda