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Our traditional medicine volunteer in India program is a unique combination of classical volunteering, theory lessons, and practical classes in India’s ancient medicinal system called Ayurveda. Ayurveda, the oldest known organized system of medicine originated in India is about 5000 years ago and stresses on use of natural plant based medicines for treatments. This program provides a broad learning experience and deeper understanding of this holistic system of medicine. The volunteering component takes place at a traditional medicine man’s clinic where volunteers are offered ample opportunities for inter-cultural exchange and application of the techniques newly acquired in the accompanying classes and lessons. As their knowledge and understanding of the subject grows, participants increasingly lend a helping hand at the day-to-day affairs at the medicine man’s clinic such as help the Medicine man or Vadhiyar (In the local language) in treating patients, bandaging, massages, oil treatments, and preparation and application of poultices.
Our volunteer program comprises of Theory lessons/courses and practical volunteering at an Ayurvedic clinic in the State of Kerala in India. The volunteering program starts off with theory lessons to let volunteers get accustomed with the science behind healing.
No prior experience and/or background in Medicine or Ayurveda is required to participate in this program.
Our Traditional Medicine volunteer program not only focuses on volunteering, but also strives to offer opportunities for achieving a deeper understanding of Ayurveda and holistic healing practices in India. For most participants, it is the first time they venture into this field which in many ways is entirely different from the western medicine’s approach to healing.We have therefore included several lessons and classes in this program which deal with various aspects of Ayurveda and holistic healing to foster deeper understanding and insights.
Some classes and lessons are included for all participants, whether their program duration is the minimum period of 2 weeks or longer. These include Introduction to Ayurveda, Medicinal Plant Walk, and Medicine Making.
Longer programs allow for more classes and courses. The 3 weeks program additionally includes the Dynamic Stretching course, Ayurvedic Oil Massage course, and the Massage Sticks class.
From a program duration of 4 weeks or more, one entire week is allotted to classes and courses including the courses Dynamic Stretching, Ayurvedic Oil Massage, and Ayurvedic Bandaging as well as the Medicine Making and Massage Sticks classes.
This theoretical class covers an introduction into Ayurveda and physical manifestations of mental conflicts based on the holistic Ayurvedic concept that the cause of all disease is triggered in the mind.
This class introduces disease as a symptom of mental conflict and discusses examples of which disease points towards which related mental problem or conflict.
This initial class intends to tune in volunteers for Ayurveda and holistic healing, and to prepare them for their placement at the medicine man’s clinic. The classes are conducted in English language and assume that you have NO prior knowledge of Ayurveda of Traditional healing techniques.
Ayurveda follows a holistic approach, which includes medicinal plants, the proper way to gather them, and the tools used to achieve potent balanced herbal medicines, in which the plants unfold their full spectrum of healing properties.
This walk is conducted in English.
In this practical class, volunteers learn how to prepare 1-2 Ayurvedic medicines in the ancient way following the traditional methods of medicine making and what should be observed in the process for the medicine to unfold its full healing potential.
The medicines typically made in this class include coconut oil made from fresh coconuts and coconut transfluid.
Coconut oil is the carrier for many Ayurvedic medicines and of great medicinal value by itself for both internal and external use. The coconut oil made in this class follows an ancient recipe and is traditionally used as baby oil and gifted to new born babies and their mothers for its excellent regenerating properties.
Coconut Transfluid is a potent essential oil extracted from coconut shells following an ancient method of fire extraction, which has been lost in mainstream Ayurveda. It is only used diluted in a carrier, has strong fat-burning, anti-inflammatory, and anti-parasitical properties, and is used for the treatment of many skin conditions and arthritis.
The class is conducted in English
This practical course teaches the complex sequence of Dynamic Stretching which is similar to Thai massage and a form of passive stretching where the whole body is gently being stretched. Every body part and muscle is progressively being worked on, the entire sequence taking about 1 hour.
After experiencing the entire sequence on themselves, participants practice on each other applying the acquired knowledge of the sequence and technique under guidance of the instructor.
The Dynamic Stretching Course comprises 3 classes and is combined with the Ayurvedic Oil Massage Course to fill 3 half days.
This course is conducted in English, and is included from a program duration of 3 weeks or more. Participants should wear comfortable non-restricting clothing such as their yoga outfits.
This practical course teaches the entire sequence of Ayurvedic oil massage which is a full body oil massage covering back, front, and sides. It is characterized by typically long strokes and muscle-penetrating pressure.
After experiencing the entire massage on themselves, participants practice the massage technique on each other in team massage with the instructor. One entire massage takes about 1 hour.
For female participants there is a female instructor, and for male participants there is a male instructor, as is custom in local tradition.
The Ayurvedic Oil Massage Course comprises 3 classes and is combined with the Dynamic Stretching Course to fill 3 half days.
This course is conducted in English for male participants and in Malayalam for female participants, and is included from a program duration of 3 weeks or more. Language poses no barrier since everything is point-and-show.
Participants should wear old underwear, which can be discarded after the course, and a sarong-type wrap-around.
This theoretical and practical course teaches Ayurvedic bandaging techniques of various body parts from shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist, and fingers to thigh, knee, ankle, foot and toes. It shows effective ways how to immobilise an arm in a sling or how to fix a splint.
The instructor is a traditional medicine man and martial arts master who in his old age is eager to pass on some of the vast knowledge he has accumulated over his lifetime. Therefore, the classes often go beyond the subject of bandaging and venture into ancient Indian concepts of mythological, spiritual, holistic, and philosophical topics. He typically also includes practical martial arts elements in his classes. Some volunteers are so fascinated with his teachings that they decide to take extra classes with him in their free-time.
The Ayurvedic Bandaging Course comprises 5 classes and is conducted in Malayalam. An English-Malayalam interpreter is provided during the classes.
This course is included from a program duration of 4 weeks or more.
This practical class teaches how to make and use massage sticks. Massage sticks are long narrow cloth sleeves filled with seeds and herbal powders which generate micro electricity through friction when in action. In treatments, massage sticks are used for dissolving persistent blocks.
After making their own massage stick for personal use, participants learn and practice various application techniques which include rolling and tapping.
This course is conducted in English, and is included from a program duration of 3 weeks or more. Participants should wear loose non-restricting clothing.
The volunteering module of our program at the traditional medicine clinic is the main component of the Traditional Medicine program and offers abundant opportunities of inter-cultural exchange, social service and practical application of the techniques newly acquired in the accompanying classes and lessons.
The clinic has one treatment room and specializes in the treatment of closed, non-bleeding skeletal-muscular injuries – similar to the fields that orthopedists, osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists cover in western medicine.
Typical injuries include sprains, fractures, torn muscles and ligaments, slipped disks, sciatica problems, back pain, lumbago, pinched nerves, spinal injuries, joint pain, and other movement restricting disorders.
For most volunteers, the placement at the traditional medicine clinic is an entirely new field. This means that initially the project has a strong focus on learning the basics and understanding a different approach to healing.
After mostly observing treatments and interactions with patients at the beginning, volunteers gradually get more involved by the day till they conduct their own treatments of patients under the medicine man’s guidance. A lot of volunteers get actively involved at the clinic from the first day, help with the examination of patients and diagnosis, and thus take a first step towards ‘feeling’ a patient.
Treatments conducted by volunteers include bandaging, adjusting splints for broken bones, assisting in bone setting, hot oil massage of injured areas, physiotherapy to restore mobility, and preparing and applying a chocolate coloured herbal paste called marmaani, which reduces swelling and works as a cast when dry.
Most of the hot oil massages are applied in the form of kizhi, for which a combination of herbs are tied in a cloth bundle which is soaked in hot oil and then repeatedly dipped into the hot oil during the massage of the injured area. Since the oil is kept very hot, the rotating massage movements have to be as fast as possible to avoid burning the skin.
Some volunteers additionally help out in the waiting area entertaining waiting patients with live music, clown acts or simply giving emotional support and easing the tension.
On days where there are no classes, traditional medicine volunteers go to the clinic from Monday till Friday and lend a helping hand from ca. 10am till 5pm with a 1 hour lunch break. Typical Kerala lunch is served by the medicine man’s family in his residence which is attached to the clinic.
At the clinic, volunteers first observe and then increasingly help with all day-to-day affairs as described in the previous section ‘Volunteering at the Clinic’ (link).
Patients wait outside in the waiting area and are often accompanied by friends or family members. When they are called inside, the initial consultation usually starts with an interview in Malayalam during which the medicine man gets an idea about the patient and their condition, especially in cases of chronic or vague physical symptoms or when he might suspect a psychosomatic condition. This first interview is then followed by a physical examination. In clear cases, such as accidents or acute injuries, he might straight away proceed to the physical examination and subsequent treatment.
During the physical examination, the hurting body part is pressed, turned and twisted in various locations and pressure points, accompanied by the question ‘Pain?’ or ‘Vedana?’ in Malayalam which often is the first word volunteers learn in Malayalam. Most volunteers play an active role in this physical examination from their first day at the clinic to help them understand the art of diagnostics, for which pain is a potent indicator.
After interview, examination, and diagnosis, the medicine man decides on a course of treatment, which often begins with a prescription and a trip to the local Ayurvedic pharmacy. Patients are asked to take the prescribed herbal medicines as per his directions for a few days up to a week, and then come back for the actual physical treatment. These prescribed medications intend to clear initial obstructions and to prepare the body for the following treatment. So, even though volunteers may not see first time patients again for some days, they would come back for the actual treatment, and by then a lot of volunteers are ready to help with the treatment or conduct it entirely under the medicine man’s guidance. Depending on the patient’s condition, these treatments take 1-2 weeks, during which they daily return to the clinic.
This means that on a typical day at the clinic, volunteers see a combination of new and returning patients at different stages of their treatments. Sometimes, volunteers get assigned their ‘own’ patients for the entire course of the treatment.
By the time volunteers arrive at the clinic, the medicine man has been treating patients for hours. He starts treating patients at around 6am and often sees patients until 10pm – even on weekends. Volunteers, who wish to spend longer hours at the medicine man, are welcome to do so.
Since deeper explanations about treatments, patients’ backgrounds, and prescribed medications pose a language barrier, we send an interpreter with the volunteers 3-5 times a week, so that they can ask questions and communicate more easily.
On days where there is no interpreter present, the learning and communication will be a lot through “point and show”. Some volunteers have reported that this helps them to ‘feel’ a patient because they cannot rely on spoken language for communication, and tap more deeply into reading body language – both of patients and the medicine man.
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Start Dates : We understand fixed start dates do no suit all volunteers and hence we have kept the start dates flexible. Volunteers are free to start on any date/date of their choice. We though recommend volunteers to arrive in India on a Thursday/Friday so that they can rest, relax and acclimatize over the weekend before starting the project on Monday. The project is available all throughout the year.
Please note that we have limited placements available each month for our volunteer program, hence before confirming your travel plans please ensure that we have booked your placement. The program is limited to 6 volunteers at any give time.
Duration : The minimum program duration for the traditional medicine program is 2 weeks, but we recommend a duration of at least 4 – 6 weeks to fully benefit from the program.
For the participation in the Traditional Medicine Volunteering Program, no previous knowledge about Ayurveda is required, but an open mind, hands-on attitude, no fear getting your hands dirty, and readiness to deal with and touch patients are extremely helpful in making this experience most rewarding.
You participate in the program as a volunteer, and no one is going to force you to do anything. A certain degree of self-initiative is expected. If you notice something that you could do or that you think would be helpful, go for it. Also all volunteers must be 18 years or older on the start of the program and fluent in english language.
The traditional medicine volunteer program in India program takes place in Kannur, also called Cannanore, the district capital of Kannur district in north Kerala.
Kerala is an Indian state in southwest India, flanked by the Arabian Sea in the west and by the Western Ghats Mountains in the east.
Kannur’s long coastline is interspersed with rivers, tropical beaches and beautiful backwaters while the mountainous jungle areas in the east are home to rich wildlife including elephants, tigers, leopards, gaur, monkeys and many others.
Kannur lies at the Malabar Coast and its people are called Malabaris. The population is diverse with Hindus, Christians and a large Muslim community, that goes back to Arabian spice traders, living peacefully side by side. The language spoken in Kerala is Malayalam which is one of India’s official languages with its own distinct alphabet.
How to reach Kannur ?
The closest international airport is Calicut/Kozhikode (Airport Code CCJ), ca. 120km south of Kannur. We provide airport pick-up from Calicut and bring you straight to your homestay in Kannur. The drive takes about 3 hours.
Another option is to fly into Cochin (Airport Code COK), where we have a local contact person who would organise your airport pick-up and transit to Kannur by train or sometimes Volvo AC bus. For longer layovers in Cochin, you have the opportunity to freshen up and rest before the train’s or bus’s departure. The train or bus journey from Cochin to Kannur takes ca. 6 hours. We then pick you up from the railway station or bus in Kannur and take you to your homestay.
Ranjit has been coordinating volunteers for Ehsaas in his hometown Kannur, Kerala since 2005 after he left the corporate world of Chennai. He is a traditional medicine man, Reiki healer, and martial artist. A spiritual guide to many, he is deeply connected to the world within and without, and lives spirituality on a daily basis. His other passions include herbal dyeing, medicinal plants, creative arts, and power kiting which he also teaches. Within the Traditional Medicine program, he conducts the classes Introduction to Ayurveda, Medicinal Plant Walk, Massage Sticks, and Medicine Making.
Katza has been coordinating Ehsaas volunteers in India since 2005 after she came to India as a volunteer herself. Originally a biologist and English teacher from Germany, she quit her German life, travelled and volunteered all over the world, and found her true home in Kannur, Kerala in 2006 together with her soulmate and husband Ranjit. An ideal ambassador between Indian and western culture, she equally understands what it feels like to come to India for the first time as well as the deep-rooted culture and traditions of her new home in Kannur, where Ranjit and her give volunteers a home away from home.
Accommodation is in home-stays in single and double rooms with fan, some with private bathroom. The bathrooms are fitted with western toilet and shower.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided by the host family. On volunteer days at the traditional medicine clinic, typical Kerala lunch is provided at the medicine man’s residence. The meals can be adjusted to food allergies and personal needs such as a vegetarian diet. Most Keralites include fish and seafood in their diet, a lot of them chicken, and some beef.
Internet access is available in the homestays, and drinking water is provided, either filtered or boiled.
Since you will be staying with an Indian family, try to interact as much as possible to enhance your inter-cultural experience. Become a part of the family! There will be at least one person fluent in English in every homestay.
As a volunteer respect the culture of India and the family’s habits, even though they may differ from your own. Inform your host family where you are going and when you are going to be back. Before entering an Indian home, please take off your footwear, unless stated otherwise. The guest is God in Indian culture. Live up to it!
When we take you to town after your arrival in Kannur, we strongly recommend that you purchase a sarong-type wrap-around skirt called lungi, as well as a Kerala style towel as work outfit. Both are inexpensive. The first is ideal as an apron to protect clothing from hot oil and stains, while the Kerala style towel, which is absorbent cotton and resembles a tea towel, is convenient for wiping hands after applying poultices by hand or after oil massages.
Since you will be working in a rural environment, we also ask of female volunteers to have knees and shoulders covered at all times out of respect for local culture.
Hatha yoga and yogic breathing (pranayama) classes are included in the traditional medicine program 4 times a week.
Similar in their emphasis on harmony between body and mind, yoga and yogic breathing add another aspect to traditional medicine, focusing on prevention of illness rather than treatment, thus ideally complementing the traditional medicine program.
Our yoga master is a certified yoga therapist. Yoga therapy deals with the healing aspects of yoga, in which specific postures and breathing techniques are used to alleviate a range of health conditions. Besides Hatha yoga, our yoga master also teaches Naga yoga which is based on the morning stretches of serpents and generates bio-energy.
No previous yoga experience is required. The classes are suitable for beginners as well as advanced learners with the lessons’ levels being adjusted accordingly.
The yoga classes are conducted in English. Participants should wear comfortable non-restricting clothing and bring their own yoga mat or purchase one in Kannur.
Saturdays and Sundays are participants’ weekends at their leisure for own activities and explorations, or to simply relax and process the week’s events.
This being said, we have, however, included two half day trips for local sightseeing in the program, which we usually conduct on one of the weekends.
The first trip is to Parassinikadavu Temple in Kannur’s backwaters with a visit to the Snake Park, a 1 hour boat ride if available, and the opportunity to do some souvenir shopping.
The second trip is to a historic Portuguese Fort and the lighthouse in Kannur, rounded off by a visit to a popular local ice cream parlour.
Overnight weekend Trips
Most participants opt for one or more of the following overnight weekend trips, which are not included in the initial program cost.
Other popular destinations for overnight weekend getaways include Goa, Gokarna, Cochin, Ooty, and Mysore.
For those participants who would love to venture deeper into the experience of local culture, we offer additional cultural lessons in the following fields:
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Note : Apart from the above program fee, the volunteer project also attracts an application fee of $250 US to be paid at the time of registration.
Extension : $255 per week extension for programs longer than 6 weeks.
Paying to volunteer comes across as a very strange notion but our program is a combination of a lot of practical, theoretical lessons combined with volunteering at the traditional medicinal clinic. Training is an important part of the volunteering program which prepares the volunteers for the work at the clinic. Our program fee covers all costs associated with providing the highest quality of training along with other boarding and lodging costs from arrival till departure to ensure a safe and quality volunteering experience with hidden costs.
The program fee covers :