Charlotte Bech, M.D., is one of the many “traditional” health care providers who has embraced Ayurvedic medicine as part of their practice. She spoke to us about treating patients holistically, how our state of mind impacts our health, and her course Prana, Yoga and Ayurveda – Mindful Living for Self-Healing.
YogaUOnline: You’re trained as an M.D. in Denmark and you have had your own private practice focusing on Ayurvedic medicine for many years. What made you make this switch, and what do you feel Ayurveda has to offer that complements modern medicine?
Charlotte Bech: I worked for years as a medical doctor in a top hospital in Denmark, but I eventually switched to practicing Ayurveda because it is natural, holistic, and has no side effects when administered correctly. Ayurveda takes the whole human being into account—mentally, socially, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Simply put, it works.
YogaUOnline: In your practice, what are the reasons people seek you out?
Charlotte Bech: Most people come to see me because they are looking for a natural approach. Their doctor may have told them that there’s nothing really wrong with them, but they are just not feeling well. So they are very happy when they finally find somebody who understands that they are not feeling well, and who also can help them do something about it. I also see many people who have a specific diagnosis and have been treated with allopathic appraoches, but they are really looking for natural procedures, because they are concerned about side effects or worried about the chemicals in their body.
YogaUOnline: What results do you see with your patients?
Charlotte Bech: The results are excellent. Ayurveda is not a quick fix, but it works over time with a regular and patient, constant attending to the body. Most of us know remarkably little about how to care propery for our body, and it is striking to see the results people get by simply changing elements of their lifestyle, diet, daily routine, and so on, following the Ayurvedic recommendations. Many people are able to reduce or even completely quit Western medications. So the patients are extraordinarily happy and that means that in my practice, I have six very long waiting lists. So now, I’m training other medical doctors to help me in the practice. I have a group of twenty medical doctors in training right now.
YogaUOnline: When most people think about abouts Ayurveda, they think about the three Doshas but you have pointed out in your teachings that the concept of Prana is just as significant. Tell us what is meant by the word Prana in Ayurvedia, and why it is considered so important.
Charlotte Bech: Prana is a key concept in Ayurvedic medicine. It is best translated as ‘vital force’ or ‘vital energy.’ It is constructed of the syllables, “pra” and “na”. Pra means emerging of impulse and na means movement. So it means a constant emerging movement of impulses.
You can imagine Prana like a river flowing through the landscape of the body and through all of creation. It’s the flow of life through the human physiology, the flow of life in nature. We can say that Prana is really the breath of the universe, it’s the breath of creation, the breath of life. In Ayurvedic philosophy, Prana is our essence, our own inner soul, and it’s the flow of our soul.
In other words, Prana is present everywhere. It’s in light, in air, in water, in plants; it is the life in all living beings. It begins life, sustains life and is the very basis of life. So that’s why Prana is most important.
The amount of Prana in the body determines our life span. It determines how much energy we have when we wake up in the morning, how much energy we have throughout the day, how happy we are, and how healthy we are. Prana is really the most important factor in our health.
Prana is also related to the Vata Dosha. The three Doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—each have five sub-Doshas. Altogether, we have fifteen sub-Doshas. One of the sub-Doshas of Vata is Prana Vata, and this is the most important of the Vata sub-Doshas, because it’s the first one, it’s the mover, it moves everything else. It moves all the other Vata sub-Doshas, all the other Pitta sub-Doshas and all the Kapha sub-Doshas. So by working with Prana, we can actually balance and pacify all the other sub-Doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, i.e. all the fifteen sub-Doshas and all the three Doshas.
In other words, working with the Prana is the key to creating balance in the entire physiology. Prana is also the substance of the first layer in our subtle body, the body of light. Everyone knows we have a physical body, the physiology. But we also have different bodies of light, some people call them “aura” or we can call them bodies of light or bodies of energy. And the first of these is made of Prana. So we actually are living in an organism made of Prana. We’re living in an organism made of food, that’s our normal physiology. But then, the next one is really our physiology of Prana—Pranamayakosha. It’s our physiology of light, and this body of Prana is nourished by the flow of Prana, by the flow of the subtle life energy. And that is why it’s so important to focus on Prana in order to have good health, energy and happiness, and a long life span.
YogaUOnline: What are some of the things that would facilitate the flow of, or the amount of, Prana in the body, and what are some of the things that would reduce the Prana in the body?
Charlotte Bech: That’s a very good question. We come into this life with a certain amount of Prana in our body and through lifestyle and diet, we either increase it or we decrease it. Most people are simply not aware of how powerfully our daily habits and diet impacts us by either freeing or blocking the flow of life force in the body. This is one of the areas where Ayurveda really stands out.
There are two ways to increase Prana: one is internal and the other external. In the internal way, we can increase the amount of Prana by practicing yoga, pranayama, and meditation. We can also increase the amount of Prana via external means by eating very specific foods, drinking specific types of water, breathing specific types of air, specific types of herbal medicine, etc...
How do we inadvertently decrease Prana in the body? By never going outside in the fresh air and the sunlight or eating foods that are stale, old, full of preservatives or other additives. This would decrease the amount of Prana. Also, drinking water that is not pure, water that has chemicals added into it, or water that has fertilizers or pesticides in it as remains of agriculture chemicals. This is also definitely decreasing the amount of Prana. These are just a few examples.
But the most important point is really that our body of Prana, our body of light, is a body that is made out of this life force. And in this body of Prana we have 72,000 channels of energy, streams of energy called Nadis. These 72,000 streams of energy are flowing in our body of Prana and if we are performing pranayama practices, we can increase the flow of Prana through these channels. We can also increase the flow of Prana, for example, by walking in the early morning to a body of water (like a lake or a river or an ocean) just before sunlight and just being present at that moment when the sun is rising on the horizon. This is the time of the day and night where there is the maximum amount of Prana in the air, and in the light.
YogaUOnline: So what you are saying is that when looking at the universal life force from an Ayurvedic perspective, what we are within is the same as what is all around us and, if we can align ourselves with the force that surrounds us, it has a nourishing life-giving influence?
Charlotte Bech: Yes, and even more so, because Prana is also influenced by our emotions and our psychological and mental state. For example, negative thinking or negative emotions will decrease or deplete the amount of Prana. To the extent that we can be in the light, happy, positive frame of mind, to that extent, we are supporting the force of evolution. And to that extent we are really increasing the amount of Prana in our mind, in our thinking, in our feelings and also in our physiology.
YogaUOnline. That’s wonderful. Now you are also teaching a course on Ayurvedic principles for enhancing Prana in the physiology. Tell us more about what you’ll be covering?
Charlotte Bech: We’re going to focus on Ayurvedic guidelines for increasing Prana in the body through our eating and cooking habits as well as the kind of influences we surround ourselves with, particular in regards to the basic elements – water, air, and light. Ayurveda offers an enormous amount of important knowledge about different, small adjustments in how we eat, how we are shopping, how we are cooking, how we are thinking and feeling, and what kind of water we are drinking, what types of air we have in our surroundings, what type of air we are breathing, what type of light we are seeing. So thse are the things we will be focusing on.
When we are increasing Prana through all these different procedures, we are really increasing our own consciousness. It’s about consciousness, our soul connecting to the soul. Everything in Prana means we are connecting to who we are on the inside, we are being connected to our own inner nature, our own inner essence. And that is the main point. That is the secret to release the Prana. So Prana is there. We only need to find it and release it.
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