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Seekership, Spirituality and Self-Discovery: Ayurveda Trainees in Britain

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image of Asian Medicine

This paper examines the backgrounds and motivations of persons trained or training as Ayurvedic practitioners at two London-based institutions offering Ayurveda programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It draws upon in-depth interviews with individuals at various stages of their training and practice in order to examine the paths that bring them to Ayurveda, their motivations for undergoing training, and the ways in which they apply their knowledge of Ayurveda during and after their training period. The findings here corroborate what other scholars have demonstrated in the case of Asian traditions like Yoga and Ayurveda in the West. These traditions have inevitably undergone shifts in meaning by virtue of their assimilation into the Western, in this case British, holistic health milieu. Most significant in Ayurveda’s case is the shift away from a preoccupation with remedial medicine (the bedrock of mainstream Ayurveda in modern South Asia), to a focus on self-knowledge and self-empowerment as a path to ‘holistic healing’ (understood to address mental and spiritual, not just physical, well-being). Even though the Ayurvedic curriculum transmitted at the educational institutions in London is based largely on that taught at Ayurveda colleges in India, the completely different orientations and dispositions of students in Britain (as compared to their South Asian counterparts) ensures that the Ayurveda they go on to apply and practise is radically different—this is ‘spiritualised’ Ayurveda, in radical contrast to the ‘biomedicalised’ version obtaining in modern mainstream South Asian contexts.


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