Ayurveda Can Teach Us to Tend to Our Own Health — and the Earth's
Yoga Journal|July - August 2021
It’s winter and a year into a pandemic, and I’m talking from my home in Boston via Skype with a doctor in Secunderabad, India—not for a diagnosis of any one illness, but about the precarious health of both individuals and the world.
By Rachel Slade

And more important, how pairing modern medicine and ancient Ayurvedic thought can help both to heal.

Shankar Prasad Adluri is a unique medical practitioner—he’s fully trained in modern medicine and an internist at a major facility, Sunshine Hospital in Secunderabad. But he also has the degrees necessary to practice the ancient art of Ayurvedic medicine in the Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Thin and spry, Adluri looks younger than his 48 years, with a head of thick salt-and-pepper hair and a ready smile. He always appears in a checked button-down shirt. Over a few Skype conversations, he shared details about his life and his journey to becoming an allopathic doctor who is guided by both modern medicine and the wisdom of the Vedas.

Adluri’s parents were academics, teaching language and political science at government schools, and his brother trained in the United Kingdom to become a cardiac surgeon. His grandfather had been a serious yogi who stayed in a cave for 40 years in search of self-realization. (It’s been said that he only left the cave, which is still a temple to Shiva, to fetch water from a well half a mile away, or to confer with renowned yogis when they passed through the remote village nearby.)

Like many smart, privileged Indians in the late ’80s, Adluri considered only two careers: engineering or medicine. He ultimately followed in his brother’s footsteps. After passing the brutal medical school entrance exam (at the time, only 600 of the state’s 600,000 test-takers earned medical school seats), he was admitted to Gandhi Medical College, one of the top schools in South India. He loved the intellectual challenge of diagnosing patients—it was like a detective novel, he says—but he soon discovered that modern medicine had limitations. For example: If a patient had swelling in his feet, medical practitioners were taught to trace the problem back to the liver, heart, or kidneys. But Adluri wondered: Why did this person fall ill in the first place?

Adluri observed that modern science typically focused on treating pathogens and illness, instead of nurturing the body so that it could have a better chance at healing itself. He knew there were genetic and environmental factors at play in illnesses, but he wanted to learn more about what an individual could do to control for these factors. Were we humans passive victims? Or were there things we could do to enhance our resilience to disease?

One day in 1996, he was studying in a library when he was drawn to a large set of Ayurvedic textbooks. The books, English translations of the ancient verses, had been published in the 1930s, and were sitting on the shelves collecting dust. Poring over the information, Adluri realized that he was finally discovering answers to his questions.

“I began to see that I could remain healthy,” he says, “if I understood the nuances of the sciences of health.”

Adluri resolved to complete his medical training and study Ayurveda at the same time. But finding a teacher for the latter wasn’t easy. His medical school colleagues dismissed the ancient practice and discouraged him from pursuing it. In school, the only thing they were taught about traditional medicines was that they could be toxic, he says. Plus, while the caste system had been outlawed in 1950, those trained in Ayurveda, called vaidyas, tended to pass their knowledge from father to son. (Until recently, female vaidyas were rare.)

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