Life & Style

How Prince Charles spent his 71st birthday in Bengaluru eating appams and doing yoga at Soukya, a 30-acre integrative medicine facility


The birthday was a quiet affair, with him cutting a cake that Suja Issac, the co-founder who heads the nutrition unit at Soukya, arranged

Long before the media made a micro celebrity of Issac Mathai, who practises integrative medicine at Soukya, he had met Prince Charles in 2004, through his Harley Street centre. Dr Michael Dixon, a supporter of the integrative medicine, who is currently the chairperson of the College of Medicine and Integrated Health, as well the erstwhile chair of UK’s NHS Alliance, introduced them. The Prince himself is a supporter of the stream of medicine, choosing to be a patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy in its 175th year, despite much criticism in Britain.

The visit

Today, after Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall’s sixth visit to Soukya, in Bengaluru, Mathai says the couple came in for a six-day rejuvenative treatment, where naturopathy, Ayurvedic, and yoga practices were employed. He says he is also a holistic consultant to them (he studied across Kerala and London) as and when required through the year.

The couple enjoyed the organic produce and the vegetarian food that the facility provided at this 30-acre, 25-room facility, including appam and stew, as well as dosas with coconut and tomato chutneys. “The Duchess felt at-home and showed her husband around as if it were her own place,” says Mathai, who gave them the full tour the day after the Prince arrived, the whole centre being reserved for them. Camilla was already here with five of her women friends, while he attended to matters at the British Asian Trust that he is the founder patron of, with reports in Britain speculating on how the two would spend his 71st birthday apart.

The birthday was a quiet affair, with him cutting a cake that Suja Issac, the co-founder who heads the nutrition unit at Soukya, arranged. “We also told them that we would like to do a thanksgiving prayer at the Holy Trinity chapel, and said, ‘If you would like to join, please do so.’ They graciously agreed, and the four of us (his wife and two sons) were with them. The priest did a 20-minute programme, singing in English, Malayalam and Syriac,” says Dr Mathai. In the evening, the 10-foot tall stone lamps usually only lit for Diwali, were lit up for the group.

Into the future

Mathai, whose mother was a homeopathy practitioner herself, has been a proponent of integrative medicine, and is International Ambassador for the College of Medicine, London. He’s just back from a conference that the college hosted, where this year’s theme was “social prescription” or the idea that people can take care of themselves by way of exercise and diet, so they don’t need to go to a doctor unless necessary.

This, he says is exactly what he’s been advocating at his Mathai’s Rural Health Centre, a Soukya Foundation, which services 38 villages at Hoskote Taluk, in Bangalore Rural. In addition to the regular clinic, the centre facilitates yoga in schools.

How Prince Charles spent his 71st birthday in Bengaluru eating appams and doing yoga at Soukya, a 30-acre integrative medicine facility

Last April, an AYUSH centre was started in Saint Charles Hospital, London, as a testing ground to introduce the Indian streams of medicine into the NHS system. “I initiated the project that is now run by the College of Medicine and funded by the AYUSH ministry and the British Asian Trust. This was inaugurated by our Prime Minister and Prince Charles,” says Mathai. It will be monitored by the University of Westminster. Dr Mathai calls it a “Golden opportunity to enter the UK system,” and says he suggested to Prince Charles that he take the model to several commonwealth countries.

He is now hoping that with the support of the Prince and Dr Dixon, Dumpfries House, an 18th century structure across 2,000 acres that already has a Health & Wellbeing Centre, can be tapped into. “My idea is that we have a facility there that can cater to the high income group which can then subside treatment for the community,” he says.

The connection

Dr Michael Dixon speaks about his connection with integrative medicine and Dr Issac Mathai.

What brought you to integrative medicine?

I was looking for answers, because through my practice there were people with chronic tiredness or frequent infections or irritable bowel or headaches or even stress and depression, back pain and neck pain. All these things are only partially treated by the conventional model.

When did it come to you that the solution lay here in integrative medicine?

I had been a conventional doctor for 10 years and was really quite depressed at my inability to treat so many conditions. The positive was meeting come complementary practitioners, who came to my surgery. Now we have 12 different practitioners, including acupuncturists, osteopaths, massage therapists, herbal medicine (in my practice). Probably the very first for me was attending a course in manipulation and finding that I could treat back pain and neck pain with some very basic manoeuvers and stretches, and feeling that I was returning to my roots as a doctor. I found that I was able to help people with very bad backs to start walking and improving and they appreciated the fact that the doctor wasn’t simply giving them a tablet or telling them to see a physiotherapist.

All of the integrative forms of medicine lay an emphasis on talking and touching. Do you think allopathy has lost that?

I think it has. The other thing it has lost is time. If you can only spend a short time, you can’t get to fully understand what their problems are and what the treatment required is. Hippocrates said that touch was very important in healing people and we know that Ayurveda preceded Hippocrates.

Could this have led, in part, to the mental health crisis, in part?

I think it could, because we need to go back to the roots. In the west, people self-harming has reached epidemic proportion and stress and depression are ever increasing. And that’s to do with our society itself being very fragmented and people not being connected to each other in a way that they often are in Indian communities. So I think the cause is disconnection and the treatment – it has to be about building relationships. It has to be about human warmth, kindness, and about things that we find difficult to talk about – like unconditional love. And simply throwing a pill at someone who is highly distressed is never going to be the entire solution.

What aspects of Dr Mathai’s treatment philosophy resonate with you?

His commitment to whole-person medicine – the mental and the physical and not dividing us up into different parts of the body or different diseases. And the holistic approach that includes diet, exercise, yoga, as well as a range of treatments suited to an individual. (At his facility) People are able to get away from the everyday stresses of life – like eating and drinking too much, like being under pressure and stress – to a place that’s altogether more peaceful, alongside a much more healthy vegetable diet, a healthier way of living – it’s really a whole package.

Within the UK any kind integrative medicine hasn’t received support at all.

Complementary medicine is not well respected in England. More often that’s on the parts of the press and some of the conventional medical establishment. Conversely, quite a lot of patients do see complementary practitioners and do find they’re helped by them. There are a number of conventional doctors who embrace the complementary approach.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 4:32:33 AM |

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