Ayurveda in the land of Chocolate and Cheese

Switzerland, has been a key player in promoting Ayurveda at a global level and Dr. Simone Hunziker has been one of the active campaigners for this ancient science in this land of chocolate and cheese.  In an email interview with Ninu Susan Abraham, Dr. Hunziker tells about  how Ayurveda is faring in Switzerland and what the country and its government are  doing to take this ancient healing method to a higher platform. Excepts from the interview:

Considering that this issue of our magazine is based on – Wellness through Ayurveda, we would like you to elaborate on some of the wellness procedures in Ayurveda that you practice at your centre in Switzerland?

We do not focus on Ayurveda wellness and tourism in Switzerland and in our academy, but on the medical, scientific and public health aspects. This is the mandate that Switzerland, SAMA and ISA have taken up. We consider Ayurveda being a medical system that should not be limited to wellness and tourism which have been thoroughly promoted worldwide, somewhat at the expenses of Ayurveda’s development on a medical, scientific and academic level. We thus felt that our action should support the latter.

Kindly explain to our readers about the training on Ayurveda that you give to your staff? Is the training done in-house or do you get them trained at any institutes in India?

Our professional school, SAMA-Swiss Ayurvedic Medical Academy based in Vevey on the lake of Geneva, is actually focussing on training  of health professionals that according to Swiss regulations and WHO benchmarks will be practitioners in Ayurveda Medicine and therapists in Ayurveda Therapy who will be working in the public health system with focus on curative and specific preventive medicine. Wellness can be practiced on request by such therapists but their main work is therapeutic.

Our unique 3 – 4 year part-time training program for practitioners in Ayurveda Medicine is called    and is open to students from all over the globe. Courses are mostly held in India by top level teachers who are experienced Ayurveda clinicians at AryaVaidya Pharmacy (Coimbatore) Ltd, a Kerala rooted leading Ayurveda institution. Focus is given to preservation of traditional knowledge with exclusive reference to classical textbooks on one hand and content of BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine  and  Surgery) on the other hand. Besides fundamentals of Ayurveda students will undergo detailed training in diagnoses and treatment lines for all traditionally described pathologies as well as ayurvedic pharmacology /medicinal plants and formulations. Even Sanskrit written and spoken is part of the syllabus. With additional training in fundamentals of modern medicine these practitioners can go for a Swiss Federal Diploma that entitles them to practice Ayurveda in the Swiss public health system in primary care with the same competences as an Ayurvedic doctor in India.

Our therapists are trained in-house in Switzerland by our local teachers in local language in a 3 year part-time training program where besides fundamentals in Ayurveda they undergo detailed training in individualised nutrition, lifestyle and psychological support according to Ayurveda as well as in various massage techniques. With additional training in fundamentals of modern medicine they can go for a Swiss Federal Diploma and practice therapeutic advise and simple massage techniques independently for patients who suffer from functional disorders. They need to collaborate with a practitioner in Ayurveda Medicine for any advanced disorder and for the practice of manual treatment techniques using external application of medicines (medicated oils, pastes, powders).

Can you please elaborate on  your first encounter with Ayurveda?

In January 2001, I was prospecting for new therapeutic opportunities and collaborators for my multidisciplinary centre in traditional medicine in Lausanne. Pushing the door of Kalaguna in Vevey I discovered the then first Ayurveda therapy centre in French speaking Switzerland led by Mr Jean-Pierre Bigler, a Kerala and western trained Ayurveda practitioner and yoga therapist. I was impressed by the truly global approach of the human being and the seemingly boundless knowledge behind the medical system and philosophy of life. The smells in the centre recalled unaltered mother earth and her tremendous potential of healing in contrast to the sterilised world of western medicine and most of alternative methods. In a collaborative effort Kalaguna has over the years evolved into SAMA-Swiss Ayurvedic Medical academy.

What did you find in Ayurveda that attracted you to take it as a profession?

In 2000, I underwent a deep crisis making me question the association of various alternative therapeutic disciplines for a global therapeutic approach of the human being. In my interdisciplinary centre we practiced since 1996 homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy with phytotherapy, osteopathy, kinesiology, various massage techniques, alternative nutrition and psychotherapy. The scope was to offer the patient an environment in which the multiple aspects and the complexity of the human organism were understood at their best and where the various treatment methods offered a complete therapeutic approach. But each of the systems with its therapeutic tools limited to its specificity and having its own concepts and parlance challenged the overall global approach of the patient. The therapeutic relationship which is so important in the process gets altered when split up in too many parts. The overall view and understanding of the patient by the practitioner is not the same. In addition, none of the systems had a profound and documented understanding of the spiritual aspect of the patient, which beside the body and the mind is the third pillar of the human organism.

Ayurveda, in one single parlance reunites on the bases of elaborate, documented and reproducible core concepts the understanding of life, health and disease, of almost all pathologies with respect to their tri-dimensional reality of body-mind-spirit. It offers differentiated tools for effective preventive and curative medicine that cover many of therapeutic aspects found separately in other disciplines. In 2001, I thus decided to change my multidisciplinary centre into a centre dedicated to Ayurveda and thereafter to work for the development and spread of this unique medical system.

Who was your first guru in Ayurveda?

I was initiated into Ayurveda by several teachers to begin with by Mr Jean-Pierre Bigler who opened me also the gate to Yoga and who is practising his teachings in his own life on a daily bases. Later on the initiation into Ayurveda medicine took place in India with Indian doctors and teachers.

Tell us more about your India-Ayurveda connection?

In 2008, I approached the then Secretary of the Department of AYUSH (traditional medical systems of India) with concerns about the scattered spread of Ayurveda and the threat of getting the knowledge system diluted if the Indian government would not take action. Subsequently in April 2009, the first dialogue with international delegates was organised in New Delhi for  two days in the presence of the top delegation of AYUSH and about 100 delegates from abroad and from India. A first dialogue took place, common targets were discussed and standards were set and followed up in international working groups until the following meeting in 2010. I had been nominated as  member of the steering committee by AYUSH.

This dialogue initiated various new developments in Ayurveda as a well as a process that in 2013 led to the creation of the Indo-Swiss Ayurveda Foundation (ISA) for the globalisation of Ayurveda as a medical system. The fruit of a first tri-partite MoU between AYUSH and a private foreign institute, joined by AryaVaidya Pharmacy, is DHARA, the first global online database for Ayurveda research articles, online free access since 2011. Further collaboration with AryaVaidya Pharmacy led to the creation of the MedVaidya training program in Ayurveda Medicine which is the first such program of its kind in Europe.

In 2016 the Indian government recognised the Swiss regulatory model – on which we were working since 2005 – for the globalisation of Ayurveda and a new collaboration has been established with the central government to further the process. In this context our Foundation, ISA, has in 2016/17 been given centre stage in major international events such as World Ayurveda Congress and International Conference of National Institute of Ayurveda Jaipur. I am privileged in having received in February 2017 the Pandit Shive Sharma Oration & Award – given for the first time to a woman and a to foreigner – by the Indian Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine (IASTAM) at Benares Hindustan University. Since 2008, I incrementally shifted my life to India in order to follow our MedVaidya students and to work on new projects.

What aspect of Ayurveda is most popular at your centre?

In our academy the Ayurveda Medicine training program is currently our most attractive offer. In the clinic we have patients who are looking for alternative treatment for established diseases, others who wish to restore minor to medium disorders and maintain health through adequate change in their lifestyle and food habits and some who are looking for manual treatments for wellbeing. The latter are a minority whereas the former two are equally important.

Finally, what is your vision for Ayurveda in Switzerland 10 years from now?

In 10 years we will have well trained professionals practicing Ayurveda in the Swiss public health system. A first generation of teachers will be able to help transmit Ayurveda Medicine in Switzerland and take care of the therapy training courses. All useful medicines will be available on the market and consultations as well as therapeutic products will be reimbursed. Switzerland will have set up a centre of excellence for Europe in therapy and professional training that would collaborate with a global reference centre in India for the spread of the Swiss regulatory model for the globalisation of Ayurveda as a medical system.

Dr Simone Hunziker

Founding President of Indo-Swiss Ayurveda Foundation since 2013

Managing and medical director of SAMA-Swiss Ayurvedic Medical Academy since 2003

Member of the Steering Committee of the International Ayurveda Alliance initiated by AYUSH Ministry / since 2017

Past-President of the Swiss Professional Association of Ayurveda medical Practitioners and Therapists / 2009-14

Member of the Steering Committee created by AYUSH for the International Working Groups on Ayurveda / 2009-10

Dr Simone Hunziker, a Swiss medical doctor, was ever driven by the vision of sustainable global health for future generations. She thus trained and pioneered also in naturopathy, homeopathy and Jungian psychotherapy but Ayurveda brought about her resilience. In 2001 she decided to dedicate her life to the global spread of Ayurveda as a medical system by creating the model for its globalisation in Switzerland – known for its high standards in medicine and education, as a global trend setter and home to European pharma industry.

In 2003 she founded SAMA-Swiss Ayurvedic Medical Academy and involved in professional politics, first at the national level and then internationally, up to the Indian government and incrementally shifted her life to India. Her actions have contributed to decisive breakthroughs: in 2009 and 2010 the Indian government held in New Delhi the first international meetings with Ayurveda delegates. A dialogue was established, standards were discussed and WHO published the guidelines for professional training in Ayurveda by 2010. The first global online data-base on scientific Ayurveda research came to be in 2011. Under her Presidency the Swiss professional association for Ayurveda (ASMTA) successfully regulated Ayurveda in two new government recognised professions.

In 2013 she created the Indo-Swiss Ayurveda Foundation (ISA) for the global promotion of Ayurveda, with eminent personalities from India and Switzerland. By 2015 ISA launched a unique training program she had designed in Ayurvedic medicine for international students according to WHO and Swiss regulatory directives. In 2016 the Government of India recognised the Swiss regulatory model for the spread of Ayurveda.

She had received the Faculty Award from Lausanne University for her medical dissertation in 1992, was nominated in 2009 steering committee member by AYUSH for the International Working Groups on Ayurveda and in 2016 received lifetime honorary membership at ASMTA in Switzerland and in India felicitations plus memento from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Sri Nara Chandrababu Naidu, in February 2017 she received the PanditShive Sharma Oration & Award by the Indian Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine (IASTAM).




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