Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bodywork Can Be Good Medicine – An Interview with Dr. Shikha Aggarwal of Healthy Healing Medical Center, Goa

ABA-BLOG: I’ve never before heard of a doctor publicly recommending bodywork quite as enthusiastically.  Why you? What do you see is the benefit?

DR. SHIKHA: If they were to look at bodywork as a kind of free flowing and intuitive physiotherapy that can balance both body and mind, many doctors would recommend it to their clients.  But then, they would need to know something about it – or be acquainted with a quality therapist.  As a matter of fact, in western countries doctors frequently recommend bodywork.  Like yoga or other forms of exercising, bodywork is an integral part of many detoxification and rejuvenation protocols, which is the kind of medicine that I myself mostly practice.  As to the benefits, there are both physical and psychological aspects.  Overall, bodywork refreshes the body and the senses, thereby refreshing the mind.  Of course, the benefits can also be quite specific, depending on the individual case, and ranging from healing sports injuries to help people overcome chronic low-level depression or lack of vitality.  You should know how well bodywork, can actually assist in dealing with medical problems as your boss and director of training programs at Aithein, in the past had quite a successful cooperation going with an orthopedic surgeon, in Pune.  She mentioned it in a previous post.

ABA-BLOG: That is true, but in your case, you were both physician and bodyworker rolled in one, at some point, I believe.  That is one step further beyond cooperating with a physician.  It is said that you have experimented with practicing bodywork yourself.  Is it true?

DR. SHIKHA: Well, I was actually more than experimenting, with it.  I treated people regularly and sometimes even daily with it for about two years.

ABA-BLOG: Was that before, or after you became a doctor?

DR. SHIKHA: After.

ABA-BLOG: As a doctor, did you not consider yourself much too superior to do manual labor, in the form of hands-on treatments?

DR. SHIKHA: I must admit, thoughts and self-criticism of this kind occasionally came up, yes: the status issues.  They are deeply rooted and part of our culture – but in truth only silly, non-issues really.  Come to think of it, it is at the root not very Indian to devalue physical forms of treatment, as the vaidyas of old looked favorably upon therapeutic massages and exercise regimens. These were and still are an integral part of our authentic form of Indian medicine.  May be in this respect, in our habitual denigrating the body and despising working with our hands, we think and act more like the Victorian English, rather than Indian.  The English have left such hang-ups behind, long ago.  People from other European countries even more so.  A good German friend of mine, a naturopathic physician herself who frequently works with MDs, recently opened her own practice in Berlin and teaches and practices naturopathy, and therapeutic massage as well.  She’s successful.  People seek her out.  The MDs who send her clients cherish her expertise.  So, come to think of it, why should I be down on myself for having been a massage therapist or bodyworker as a sideline venture, besides being a doctor?  It makes no sense.  The bodywork episode actually made me a better doctor.

ABA-BLOG: How so?

DR. SHIKHA: Body psychology.

ABA-BLOG: How do you mean?

DR. SHIKHA: In order to do bodywork properly, you have to be aware of the client’s body.  You have to listen to and observe its subtle messages of how it may want to be touched, to be treated.  Otherwise your treatments will remain mechanical and effective only in the most superficial sense.  Likewise, when a client now sits before me in my consultation room, his body gives a lot of unspoken messages, which may or may not become part of the diagnosis.  But apart from the question of diagnosis, these messages tell me how I need to address a client in order to reach him, or how the American text books on doctor/client interaction call it, “Activate the patient.”  How do I start and maintain a meaningful dialogue, a real exchange?  In my medical college days, I had never even heard of ‘doctor/client interaction’, or the communication skills that a doctor needs to have.  However, doing bodywork for two full years, while also practicing medicine, definitely gave me an excellent education in the field, one that I am thankful for even now.  My patients say that I have the ability to reach them.  They can hear me.  Well, they can hear me because to a certain degree I am able to ‘hear’ and ‘read’ them.  All other medically relevant ramifications aside, this makes for much more pleasant doctor/patient relations.  I wrote a post about this whole subject in my own blog, If you care to learn more, look it up:

ABA-BLOG: How did you get into bodywork?  This is not the most natural thing to end up with, for an MBBS graduate?  Did your family not want you to get a post-graduate degree?  I mean, follow the usual career path?

DR. SHIKHA: Initially that was also my own plan.  Then, in the course of a longer-term internship, I started to become disenchanted with the allopathic approach.  I started to see the shortcomings necessarily involved in a form of medicine that only works at suppressing symptoms and is hardly ever interested in going to the root of the problem.  At that time, I even contemplated studying Ayurveda, but during further research found the quality of the college level Ayurvedic training deplorably low, much lower than in medical college.  At that point I received an offer to work as a doctor in an ozone clinic in Bangalore, which interested me.  This led to attending a 300-hour residential course in bodywork and further to accepting a position as a medical advisor for a day-spa, in Goa.  I guess, I was in an exploring mode and trusted that everything would eventually work out perfect, which it did; because only one year later I was able to open Healthy Healing Medical Center.

ABA-BLOG: What happened to your career as a bodyworker?  Are you still active?

DR. SHIKHA: No, there is not enough time left for it.  Besides, I never really wanted to be a bodyworker.  I had always wanted to be a doctor who also understands that aspect of the body – from hands-on experience rather than only from a textbook.

ABA-BLOG: Do your patients get good bodywork?

DR. SHIKHA: If they want it and ask for it, yes.  And to some I recommend it specifically.  Last season, I also offered three detox packages, all of which included up to five bodywork sessions.  Some people really liked these programs.

ABA-BLOG: You have someone working for you then?

DR. SHIKHA: They do not work for me but with me.  They are free lancers, very well trained with years of practical experience and a good college education in their background.  For the level of massages that I want to see delivered I need mature and well-established therapists.  According to my experience, I would have to agree with Dr. Michael Murray who in his best-selling ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE wrote, “That the therapist is more critical to the outcome than the technique.  The technique is only the tool; the result is largely dependent on the person using the tool.”  If the therapist is himself a deeply balanced person, not holding back, not uptight – then bodywork can indeed be good medicine.

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