This time last week I was in Tallinn, Estonia at the 4th International Congress on Sowa Rigpa or Traditional Tibetan Medicine. This conference was very ably organised by the Estonian branch of the International Academy of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, a worldwide academy of Traditional Tibetan Medicine headed up by the bubbly and enthusiastic Dr Nida Chenagstang. I had had the good fortune to meet Dr Nida for the first time last October when he was in London for a week of teaching commitments. It was at this meeting that Dr Nida extended a warm invitation for me to join the upcoming Congress in Estonia.
It was such a joy to spend time with other Tibetan Medicine practitioners and to spend three days immersed in the study of this profoundly spiritual and yet eminently practical system of healing. I love the fact that Tibetan Medicine enables the healing of body, mind and spirit. The development of illness is a complex process which involves ingrained thought patterns, conditioning and emotional blocks just as much as the ingestion of unhealthy foods or a habitually unfavourable lifestyle. To only focus on physical manifestations of illness is to ignore the underlying root cause. Yet western allopathic medicine remains stubbornly uncomfortable about the mind and spirit aspects of healing. But I digress….
Congress participants were warmly welcomed by Dr Nida Chenagstang. Dr Nida’s enthusiasm and determination has helped bring the healing knowledge of Tibetan Medicine to students in many countries of the world. Dr Nida has also been responsible for preserving and teaching knowledge of various external therapies such as:- KuNye Massage, Moxibustion and YukCho Stick Therapy (this latter is not included in the Gyuzhi and had been preserved only as an oral tradition until Dr Nida’s initiative to teach it more widely).
What did I learn at the Congress? I learnt that there is a wide and dedicated network of Tibetan Medicine practitioners who are actively engaged in research and development projects all over the world. I was especially thrilled to discover that there is an initiative to share knowledge about the growing of Tibetan medicinal herbs in different European countries. I was impressed to learn that there is a now a new college in Nepal called ‘Sorig Khang International Nepal’ which will welcome its first students for a five year degree course in Tibetan Medicine this autumn (this course is open to western students too). I marvelled at the work done by Herbert Schwabl and his team at Padma Inc in order to make Tibetan formulae available in Europe despite complex and restrictive regulations which vary in interpretation within different EU countries, and I was totally enthralled by Eric Rosenbush’s presentation on ‘An Exploration of the Nectar of Immortality within the Science of Healing and its Lore in Indo-Tibetan Spiritual Traditions’. I seriously could have listened to this presentation for a great deal longer than the programme allowed.
On the second day of the congress we were treated to a demonstration of the Lum-Five Nectar Bath Therapy by Dr Dimitri Khokhlov from ATTM Buriatia thanks to the confidence and good humour of a volunteer who agreed to strip off and climb into the steam bath tent and sit there for 40 mins in front of a large audience. Dr Dimitri explained that this very valuable and ancient system of therapy is particularly helpful for patients living in colder parts of the world. I also attended a workshop in the use of heated iron instruments instead of herbal moxibustion cones, called ‘tel me’ in Tibetan. I found the heat from the iron rods to be soothing, penetrating and lasting so I could see how this form of moxibustion would be very good for the treatment of joint problems or injuries. I really liked the fact that this form of therapy does not leave a smoke filled clinic, something which I have found can be a little impractical in my premises where a moxibustion session could in theory be followed by a consultation with a patient suffering from a respiratory disorder. I can already hear the cries of ‘What about smokeless moxa?’ but I find even smokeless ‘moxa’ is a little smokey.
Dr Anastazja Holecko gave a very interesting presentation on diet. She had drawn on functional medicine to help bring the very ancient advice contained within the Gyuzhi into a format compatible with western diets and lifestyles. My patients will be all too aware that my treatment recommendations always involve dietary and lifestyle advice. It is so important to eat in a manner that suits our personal circumstances and constitution. I see a great many patients who have unwittingly unbalanced their health due to following a new healthy eating system, promoted on the internet and in the media as being perfect for everyone. In fact in reality we need to adapt our eating to our constitutional nature. For example someone of a nervous or anxious disposition will do much better if they include rich and nutritious, warming foods such as bone broth, oats and sesame seeds rather than following a very light raw food diet.
It was a great honour to hear about some Tibetan Medicinal formulae passed down through many generations of Dr Wanma Caidan’s family lineage in Amdo. It is awe inspiring to think about how such precious knowledge has been passed orally from father to son and now to daughters too for many centuries. There were also two very interesting presentations on karmamudra and sexual rejuvenation practices, as well as love, attachment and sexuality by Dr Tetsu Nagasawa from Japan and Dr Olev Poolamets from Estonia.
With three very full days packed full of presentations and demonstrations there was a great deal more which I won’t list exhaustively but I will add that I was very happy to hear the highly experienced Tibetan Doctor and teacher, Dr Machik from Amdo, speaking. Dr Machik was special guest of honour at the congress and I believe it was the first time he has travelled outside of China. I’m hoping to be able to travel to Amdo to study with him this summer.
After the formalities of the congress we delegates walked through the beautiful old town of Tallinn to the youth centre where we took part in the ceremony to ritually destroy the intricate Medicine Buddha sand mandala which had been constructed there a few days earlier. Although in the west we may find this destruction an alien concept, within Buddhism it is very helpful to be concious of the fleeting and impermanent nature of life. The destruction of the sand mandala helps to bring this impermanence into the forefront of our minds and helps us to grasp life to the full while we have its blessing.
I could say so much more about this but I am still digesting the experience myself. It was certainly a very intense few days and I found the interchange amongst delegates between the sessions was just as valuable as the formal presentations themselves. I know that attending the congress has refreshed and rejuvenated me after years of hard work focused on my clinic and patients without a change of scenery. I have come away from the congress with new friends, new ideas and a sense of being part of a wider Sowa Rigpa family. Once again though I’m left with a renewed wonder at the sophistication and spiritual depth of this wonderful and ancient system of healing.