Our Students on Internship in India

An internship diary with multiple contributions

In February and March 2024 a group of 19 academy students, guided by our academy director Martine van Beusekom, spent 3 weeks at Vaidyagrama to do their educational internship program. Below we share the lively diary from the internship, starting from the most recent entry!

Enjoy scrolling and reading =)

Week two: March 4 – 10

Part II: From Garden to Gulika

Lehyams and kashayams don’t grow on trees. Nasyam doesn’t just drip from the branches. Let’s have a look behind the herbalism scenes of the pharmacy factory where every step of the process is explained. 

by Eva Dusch

The students wriggle like a snake through the building while following the enthusiastic lab workers and Dr. OmPrakash. If we want to understand how Ayurvedic medicine comes into being we have to understand every step of the way; from the chemistry preparations in the lab and big factory machines to the women who provide manual labor by collecting the herbs before they get further processed. The giant batches of Dhanwantaram tailam bottles (that smell, so good!) lead to big eyes and exciting hearts. 

It’s promising to hear how many of these Ayurvedic medicines are being shipped daily all over India and even beyond borders to Australia and other countries. Yet, it also leads to questions. How can you keep producing all these beautiful medicines like choornam, lehyam, tailam, facial creams and medicinal incense on such a great scale while preserving their sacred nature? ‘Respect the herbs. Don’t buy herbs to just buy herbs. The process is really sacred’, notes Dr. OmPrakash. 

Those last words are perhaps the most important ones as a takeaway of this day. It’s not just interesting but even more so a humbling experience to be here. To see with our very own eyes what happens behind the scenes of all the medicines we work with now and in the future. We must remember and keep remembering the incredible depth, complexity and sacredness of making these ancient medicines. And may we thank all the people who preserve and carry this wisdom and its traditions forward in a world that’s ever evolving. Especially in a time of growing pollution and distance between man and nature. Often questions are being raised, especially in western societies, about the purity of more controversial ingredients like Gomutra (cow urine) or popular herbs like Ashwagandha. But the answers are backed up by decades of wisdom, experience and the integrity and skill of the people working in this field. ‘It’s not easy to make these medicines. One small mistake can spoil hundreds of batches. We have to plan according to the seasons. For anu tailam we need rain water, for dhanvantaram tailam we need milk. We have to look ahead in order to produce.’ 

The promising news is: the students can play their own part in both modernizing ánd preserving this sacred herbal knowledge and tradition. Especially now Ayurveda is building momentum in the west like Europe and the United States. How can we bridge both worlds? How can we explain and share our own experience with these medicines? If we want to practice Ayurveda we cannot just prescribe medicine, we must also know about phytochemistry before it’s being bottled. Not only because it’s interesting but also as a necessity to preserve the future of medicine. And today was a beautiful way of acknowledging that. 

Week two: March 4 – 10

Part I: Deep dive into dravyaguna 

The citrusy flavor of curry leaves. The sharpness of mustard seeds. The astringency of turmeric. Healing at Vaidyagrama goes hand in hand with the use of many spices and herbs provided by its beautiful land. The students were sent on a search this week to identify the most important ones. Easy? Not so much. 

by Eva Dusch

One of the most important and profound branches of the Ayurveda studies is dravyaguna. It’s the science of therapeutic substances and gives deep insight into the language of nature. From the very first study year students have learned how to see plants, herbs and spices in terms of rasa (taste), gunas (quality) and karmas (actions). Knowledge of how to use each single one of them for particular patients, complaints or ailments is paramount. Why is Guduchi good for all doshas? What makes Neem good for blood and skin diseases? What makes Sarapunkha great for liver stimulation? Which herb is best for Nasyam? All these details are the foundation of making appropriate choices for every person and situation. 

‘Karma allows us to infer guna and guna allows us to predict karma. Finding the scales in each Dravya, that’s Ayurveda’, says Dr. OmPrakash, someone who’s a leading example of how this deep knowledge is one of the important pillars for becoming an Ayurvedic doctor or therapist. It’s an understatement to say that the students are highly impressed by all the details he readily shares with everyone. Having such a great role model standing in front of class is the best fuel and motivation to deepen our relationship with these thousands of dravyas provided by Mother Nature. 

To freshen up this profound knowledge even more Dr. OmPrakash challenged the students this week to find as many as 25 out of 40 chosen herbs and spices in the gardens and alongside Vaidyagrama’s pathways. It has led to lively conversations and questions about how to recognise Guduchi, Arjuna, Sariva, Bala and many more herbs. The students know their smell, taste and actions, but what information is revealed when you actually see their original appearance and natural environment? Being in India offers the unique and playful opportunity to spot them ‘in the wild’ and interact with the plants in a new way. 

Let’s see what the students come up with in their final week of the internship. The hidden key (or should we say shortcut) to finding them is the beautiful Indian granny who’s often overlooking the gardens, a place where she used to spend many hours before entering her olden days. ’There there’, she says, while pointing and nodding her head. Time to hit the gardens again! 

Week one: Feb 26 – March 3

It has been an exciting finish to the first week. The students were part of the medical camp in the local village followed by a visit to the herbarium to learn all about the spices and herbs used in Ayurveda. 

by Eva Dusch

Part I: A Medical Camp 

‘Your existence is only because of this body so we should pay respect to it. Every moment we have to live in that space of humility, to live egoless’, mentions Dr. Ramadas, medical director of Vaidyagrama. Ask him about one of the best remedies in Ayurveda and it has nothing to do with pills, powders or treatments. So then what? Humility. Giving service (Seva). Performing the right karmas. ‘You can burn your karmas in three ways: thoughts, words and actions. Make it service oriented.’ 

One of the great ways of serving people is Vaidyagrama’s monthly medical camp. Providing free consultations, medicines and a lovely meal to the people in the local village. A fun change of scenery and a beautiful way for the students to see the doctors in action and interact with a different group of patients: old age. Main complaints of the day: bones and joint issues, aches and pains and constipation. It was a clear example of how Vata dosha (air element) is rising the more we age and what kind of diseases come with it. 
One reliable way to keep this air element in check? Having a nourishing meal on time. Which was exactly what was on the menu after a whole morning of engaging with the colorful and graceful patients. 

Part II: The Herbarium
Time to hit the ‘party’ bus (you should have seen its colors) for another excursion. This time to visit the Centre For Indian Medical Heritage (CIMH) where all the herbal knowledge from the past study years fully came to life. Behind its beautiful entrance you find 14 acres of herbal garden in which it is maintaining a medicinal plant conservation park having a good number of plants with many medicinal benefits. It was the perfect outside classroom for the students to get more familiar with the actual looks and qualities of all these natural medicines of which many grow beautifully in this Indian climate. With guidance of Dr. OmPrakash the students zigzagged through the forest and gardens to see, smell and even taste from the leaves or flowers. Some of which are very familiar even in Western kitchens like turmeric, ginger, cardamom and pippali but also highly valued Ayurvedic medicines such as neem, guduchi, shatavari and bilva. Many of them are being used daily in the kitchen or otherwise for the medicines and treatments. Every piece of garden is beautifully categorized by type of disease or medicinal effect; for the brain, pregnancy and post pregnancy, menstrual issues, fever, skin problems and bronchial diseases. 

Although many cooling herbs and spices were present in the garden, the real thirst of the students could only be quenched with some fresh coconut water and fruits. The much needed sweetness and rasa was the perfect snack to cool down the mind and senses after a long practical study day in the tropical Indian environment. It led to a calm return to the lands of Vaidyagrama where all the spices and herbs appeared again as the well-known kashayams, avalehas and tailams.

Week one: Feb 26 – March 3

Students attending Medical Camp:

First week at the clinic: Feb 26 – March 3 

Flushed cheeks, squinting eyes and sticky foreheads. It’s easy to blame the hot Indian climate and scorching sun for this, but not just that. It has been a long and busy first week for the academy students at Vaidyagrama. 

by Eva Dusch

Every morning you can hear the sound of echoing prayers hovering above the fields and property of Vaidyagrama. The Sun being the great conductor setting everything in motion, while the birds and peacocks weave through their own symphony. There’s nothing like Mother Nature’s morning alarm and this is how the day starts here in Tamil Nadu. It’s a beautiful moment of calmness and preparation before the winds pick up and quickly move the students in all different directions, following every footstep of the doctor. 

The morning program is packed with patient visits and case study material. It’s through these real life examples and disease pictures where all the study material from past years really comes to life. Ayurveda is a beautiful art and science in how to align the body and mind with nature; if we don’t align with nature then nature will align with us. And that wisdom and depth is tangible in every nook and cranny of this Ayurvedic hospital. There’s no scratching the surface during these weeks at Vaidyagrama, rather it’s a deep dive into all aspects of Ayurveda. The variety of diseases that the students have profoundly studied in the classics are now manifested in actual human bodies, both from Eastern and Western backgrounds. It ranges from young to old patients dealing with different bone and joint ailments, skin disorders and autoimmune diseases to diabetes, neuro- and psychological disorders and cancer. It leads to many profound and meaningful conversations with the doctors on how to understand the disease process from A to Z and how to decide on the variety of treatments. 

The serious faces from the morning program slowly melt into laughter during the classes on tongue diagnosis with the passionate and critical Dr. Rama Prasad. He’s not scared to challenge the students with unexpected tests and new ways of thinking. How to be less rigid with the classics? How to approach some parts of Ayurveda in a more non-traditional way? His quick and witty way of teaching keeps everyone awake and alert (next to the singing peacocks) as the scorching midday heat can often feel like a heavy damp blanket on the mind. But no matter the high temperatures, by the end of the day countless pages of new written remarks and insights are being carried under sweaty armpits, slowly moving back to the main house where a madhura cup of tea and fresh fruits are waiting to cool down the overheated Western bodies and minds. 

Although the night turns darker and the crickets announce it’s time to rest, the light in the dining room is often still lit as students stick around for some final thinking and writing on the medical study cases. Soft whispers fill up the space as they are discussing the patients of the day, letting their own knowledge and thoughts roam through the pages for new ways of understanding and formulating questions for the next day. Until it’s time to really unplug and find stillness, with the only thing left spinning are the zooming ventilators above everyone’s bed. Grateful for another day of learning and new gained wisdom. 

Week one: Feb 26 – March 3

Students at work in Vaidyagrama!

Arrival Days: Feb 24 – 26

By Martine van Beusekom

Today marks the commencement of the three-week final internship for our students at Vaidyagrama, a prominent Ayurvedic hospital situated in Tamil Nadu, India, as an integral component of their four-year bachelor’s program. Vaidyagrama, renowned for its exceptional learning facilities, offers our students a captivating environment for practical learning. This final internship, occurring in the concluding year of their studies at the Ayurveda Academy Netherlands, imparts valuable hands-on knowledge.

Nineteen of our students are granted the opportunity to shadow doctors for an immersive three-week experience, where they will receive lessons on herbology, assessment techniques, and gain insights into Ayurveda in its authentic Indian setting. The program also includes visits to herbal gardens and pharmacies.

The internship commenced with an inaugural ceremony, symbolized by the lighting of a ceremonial lamp and the distribution of study materials to the students. We extend our best wishes to our students for an enriching and insightful learning experience during this period!

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