Asha: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner in Malaysia
“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In general terms, the primary manifestations of Rheumatoid arthritis are in the peripheral joints, but there is a wide systemic involvement in the body. Asha Nair was one such patient. By the time I met her, she’d been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for the past five years.

When she first walked into my room, the first thing I noticed was what I call a ‘moon face’. Her face was swollen and this told me that she was probably on steroids. Her gait was so unstable that even at that young age, she was using a walking stick. After introducing ourselves, she took a deep breath before she held her hands out and said, “Look at me, Dr. Siby. I can barely move.”

True, I could see that both her wrists and elbows were swollen. She could hardly move her fingers and they were slowly losing their shape. They were tender and her wrists were bigger. Her shoulder movement was strained and her hip joints were both tender and painful.

“Can you walk without the stick?”

Asha shook her head. “No, Dr. Siby. I can’t even stand straight. It’s very painful. See,” she replied and showed me that her knees and ankles were swollen.

“Alright. Let’s discuss this a bit more. How is your appetite?”

She exhaled, shook her head and replied, “I can’t eat much. With all this, how to eat?”

“Hmmm…” This wasn’t good. This meant that her digestive fire wasn’t strong. “Tell me a little bit more about your family.”

“Father died. Mother still alive. Married with no children. One sister – Maya. She is fine. I am the one who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.”

In Ayurveda, a condition like rheumatoid arthritis is called Vatarektha. We believe that undigested toxins, Ama, originates in the colon where there is improper fat metabolism. This creates a variety of Ama which shows a special affinity for the bones and joints. If the diet is not checked, the inflammation becomes chronic and destroys the joint, which causes nearby muscles to atrophy.

“Is there anything more to tell me?”

Asha hesitated before saying, “I remember my mother saying that when she was pregnant with me, she was on medication for depression. She only stopped when we came back home.”

“OK. That may be something. But that’s in the past.”

After this, she agreed to start treatment immediately. My plan was to reduce her temperature and the amount of undigested toxins in her system. This could improve digestive fire and make her feel hungry. Internally, we administered a whole host of medicated oils. Externally no oil was applied as this is contra-indicated when the patient has a fever. Throughout, I allowed her to continue taking her medication.

After ten days, the inflammation around Asha’s joints had reduced. She was sleeping well every night and her appetite had improved. Although her gait was still ungainly, she felt confident enough to walk without the aid of a walking stick. Asha left our centre and was back four weeks later to go through a whole programme with us. The treatment in her first week followed the pattern set during her previous 10-day stay, but we included external oil applications since she no longer had a temperature.

In Ayurveda, Vasti (medicated enema) is particularly important in cases of rheumatic diseases. We believe that it plays a key role in helping remove Ama from the body. Medicated oils or liquids passed through the anus, vagina or rectum have an amazing power to control and eliminate Vata disorders. This is because the nerve endings and channels here are particularly sensitive and medication is absorbed faster than if it’s given orally.

Asha’s diet, during this time, was also severely limited and she ate nothing but rice porridge. In Ayurveda, we believe that the reason you develop rheumatic conditions is because you’re probably allergic to several of the foods you commonly eat. True, in Asha’s case, her mother’s medication for depression was a contributing factor, but her condition started to manifest during her marriage.

“Actually, my husband is OK. We are quite happy. But it was a total lifestyle change for me when I got married. We stayed with his family and, during the first five years, my husband and I only went on holiday once. He didn’t even want me to go to my parents’ house in Perth.”

“Hmmm…”

“Don’t get me wrong. My in-laws were not bad people. But I had to listen to everything my mother-in-law said. I couldn’t eat unless my father-in-law had eaten. And we always had to eat what he wanted to eat. I remember, he wanted to eat prawns. I am allergic to prawns, but had to eat them anyway. They only listened when I began to swell up.”

“OK. But where was your husband in all this? Didn’t you talk with him?”

Asha sniggered. “Talk? My husband? He was more interested in making money than anything else.” She shook her head, “I told you, we never went on holiday … at all.”

I sighed, patted her shoulder and said, “OK. You rest. We will talk later.”

Eventually, on Day 27, Asha had a breakthrough after she told me part of her story: “What happened was that my father became very ill. My sister called to tell me he was in hospital and wanted to see me. I still remember his – my husband, that is – words: ‘Once you marry, you leave your family, you know. Your sister is there to look after you mother. You don’t need to go.’ In the end, he died and I never even went to his funeral.”

In Ayurveda, emotion is a significant causative factor of arthritis. When you’re upset, grieving or feeling insecure, you cannot pay proper attention to what or when you eat. Arthritis sufferers are often psychologically rigid and inflexible. We believe that it is a condition that predominantly affects women.

I let her cry for a while. When she was feeling better, I told her to rest and that we would speak again another day.

The next day, I saw a completely different Asha and her healing was faster than ever. By the end of 35 days, it was hard not to notice that Asha’s transformation was amazing. She smiled brightly and was no longer in unbearable pain. When she left Ayur Centre, her gait was more confident than ever.

(4 May 2017)


This story is an excerpt from Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner (ISBN 978-967-415-4004) by Vaidya C.D. Siby and Aneeta Sundararaj. It is an enlightening book published by MPH Publishing that dispels the myths surrounding this ancient medical system.

Click here to return to the index of stories for Knowledge of Life


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