Ayurveda Comes to Latin America: Local efforts to promote Ayurveda reaching a vast audience

In the 1970s and 1980s, Ayurveda left its homeland with a wave of Indian immigration to the West, and was initially welcomed in countries – mostly English-speaking - with large ethnic Indian populations. Now, as the practice is increasingly familiar and as Ayurvedic educational institutions are being established and locally-born practitioners are being trained in North America, Europe and Australia, Ayurveda stretches out its healing embrace ever-wider and is bringing other countries and regions within its ambit, most notably Latin America.

With a population deeply interested in natural therapeutics as an outgrowth of the region’s rich tradition in folk healing and herbalism, and motivated by the ever-expanding population’s need of affordable medical care, Latin America seems poised on the threshold of welcoming Ayurveda into the mainstream of its healing practices. The knowledge of Ayurveda is now spreading rapidly throughout South and Central America and hardly a country remains untouched by it.

Over the past 20 years the Latin America’s premier Ayurvedic institution, the Fundacion Salud de Ayurved Prema, has spread the knowledge of Ayurveda throughout the continent. The Fundacion is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where it now runs courses in two of Argentina’s most prestigious medical schools - the School of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires, and the National University of Cordoba’s School of Medicine, both in cooperation with India’s Gujarat Ayurveda University. This has led to successful missions to other countries in the region where the Fundacion and its associates have started dialogues with governments, and in several places holds sizeable courses. In April 2010, a new biennial postgraduate course on Ayurvedic medicine exclusively for physicians was begun at the National University of Cordoba (Argentina) and to date, more than 450 students have now taken the course, with students come from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain, among others.

Special courses and workshops have also been taught in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile; for example, in 2002 the Fundacion and its coworkers coordinated and taught a course at the University of the Americas, in Panama which led to a “Diploma in the Ayurveda Nutrition System, Manual Therapies and Body Aesthetics for Healthier Tourism,” was conducted with assistance from the Panama Institute for Tourism. It also conducted training workshops for low-income families on the Ayurvedic use of local medicinal plants and foods, and in 2007, was invited to take charge of Ayurveda training via an Online Course on Complementary Medicine offered by the National University of Chile’s School of Medicine.

Among the Fundacion’s other projects are the translation of Ayurveda’s classics, beginning with the Charaka Samhita, into Spanish and the elaboration of local plant equivalents for Ayurveda’s Indian plant-based materia medica. Additionally, recognizing the work of the Fundacion, the governments of Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, ad El Salvador have invited Dr. Jorge Luis Berra, Director of the Foundation de Salud Ayurveda Prema, to lecture and provide briefings in Ayurveda to government ministers. Four Latin American Countries, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala have legally approved the import of 20-30 Ayurveda medicines, some of which have metallic and mineral contents to be used as medicine.

Paralleling the work of the Fundacion in Argentina and throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America, Brazil’s ABRA - Associação Brasileira de Ayurveda - seeks to deliver Ayurvedic information and training in Ayurveda to the continent’s Portuguese-speaking half. This is done by promoting the translation of Ayurvedic works into Portuguese and by providing courses in all levels of Ayurveda for aspiring practitioners as well as specialized workshops in Ayurvedic topics throughout the country at centers in the states of Sao Paolo, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.

The World Health Organization has urged that interchanges between traditional and modern medicine be promoted. To achieve this goal, members of health teams need tested information sources and methods and some collaborative projects have begun to take form. This joint work will make it possible to distinguish therapies useful for client care from others. In addition, it will require developing special abilities, valuing sources of knowledge focused on ways to maintain and preserve health.

Of all systems of traditional medicine, Ayurveda seems to be best understood by people in Latin America, and thus most up-to-date. Experience confirms that its ancient wisdom is easily accepted and incorporated both by professionals, health workers, and the general public. We find increasing numbers of people and institutions turning to its concepts and resources to care for individuals and families, and to heal disease.

Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, D. Ayur., an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.

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