Alternative therapies are getting a new lease of life, thanks to some proponents who believe there is more to health and well-being than just conventional treatments
MANAS GOHAIN Barua would like to call his establishment in Gurgaon a ‘medical hotel’. It caters to ‘guests’ who are in the satellite city of the National Capital Region (NCR) for treatment of various ailments. With a tenure of stay that mostly stretches to as long as three months, owing to the requirement of regular follow-ups after surgeries, among others, guests also prefer Barua’s The White Collar in Gurgaon’s tony Sector 40 due to its proximity to reputed healthcare institutions like Medanta the Medicity, Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) and Artemis Hospital.
But more than anything else, Barua believes in offering art therapy to his guests—apart from regular services associated with a boutique hotel—that has him swear by the term ‘medical hotel’. “We believe that art therapy isn’t just an alternative mode of treatment. It’s a therapy. Art helps people express themselves and their inner desires and feelings. Mostly, therapy, in relation to psychology, includes talking to the person and getting them to express themselves in words. This same expression can also be drawn through the medium of art,” says the 35-year-old former advertising professional, who worked in Singapore for over a decade before opening his 18-room hotel in August 2013.
Barua is among a bunch of proponents who believe there’s more to health and well-being than just conventional medication and treatments. Reela Hota, for instance, was naturally inclined towards ‘health systems’, as yoga, too, was a part of her life since childhood. “My mother Bijoylaxmi Hota, and three generations before her, had learnt yoga from the great yoga guru Paramahamsa Swami Satyananda Saraswati. When the time came for organising an event that I would also like to participate in, the spiritual/healing aspect of arts was what drew me,” says the 40-year-old contemporary Odissi dance performer, educator and producer.
And thus was born the International Ancient Arts Festival, “a multi-arts event, which educates while entertaining and provides nature-based solutions for a healthy and holistic lifestyle,” says Hota, its founder-director. The theme for this year’s event, which took place on December 4 and 5 last year at the Siri Fort Auditorium in the national capital, was ‘healing through creative arts across cultures’.
“In my cursory research on this subject, I found substantial material linking arts from ancient cultures to health and healing. We, in India, pride ourselves on having preserved our traditional culture in yoga, performing arts, paintings, Ayurveda and what have you. I found similar traditions in the cultures of China, the US, Africa and Egypt. Research shows that native American drumming is associated with healing, Chinese musical instruments are meditative and Indian classical dance has elements of yoga in it. The list is endless,” explains Hota.
But how necessary is it to treat diseases and ailments through this unique medium? “It helps rejuvenate a patient, whether he/she is a cancer patient, somebody recovering from an intricate surgery or even somebody with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It helps put colour into their lives and keeps them hopeful and optimistic,” offers Barua of The White Collar.
“There are biological reasons why such therapies work. For instance, when we listen to music, hormonal changes occur. Some researchers claim children exposed to music at the pre-natal stage grew up to be mentally sharper with enhanced learning abilities,” explains Hota.
As per Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of the self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.
Expressive/creative art-based forms of therapy have been around in the West and across the world for over five decades now, says Parikh. “Even though expression and healing through art, dance and music has been part of Indian culture for centuries, its systematic, structured and accurate use in India is still in its early stages with very few qualified trainers and professionals,” he says, adding: “It may not be necessary, but it is proving to be one of the most effective modes of treating various mental health problems in conjunction with other forms of psycho-pharmacological therapy.”
Creative arts-based work has been found to be effective with many different kinds of difficulties and illnesses. From daily-life stresses to trauma and abuse, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders and conversion disorder, among others, art therapy can be seen as a tool that can relieve people of feelings associated with guilt, anger, isolation, worthlessness, aggression and inattention.
But who can better spell it out than a person who has been through all the pain herself? Kolkata resident Trina Lahiri has been battling cancer for the past six years, but that hasn’t stopped the former mass communications professor from teaching cancer-affected children how to use their creativity as a tool to fight cancer and get rid of the pain associated with the disease. Her work takes her to the hinterlands of states like Jharkhand and Odisha, apart from her home state, West Bengal.
“My artwork helps reduce my pain. I am trying to help others do the same. It needs a lot of positivity to live with diseases like cancer. Alternative therapies can help bring that positivity among patients,” says Lahiri, who is also involved with paper-cutting, an art that helped her win several international awards, including one from Unesco and another from the University of Bologna in Italy. “I am in touch with some oncologists and social workers, who help me reach out to young patients, especially in rural areas. I go there as a friend and ask the kids to tell me their stories through drawings and sketches. If an artwork is really good, we see that it gets the required exposure,” adds Lahiri, the daughter of eminent cartoonist Chandi Lahiri and artist Tapati Lahiri.
Lahiri was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 when she was teaching mass communication in Delhi. From the lower abdomen, it soon spread to other parts of her body. Although she has taken a break from her career, in between her chemotherapy sessions and doctor appointments, she takes out time to go to villages and narrate to children how to fight cancer courageously. Her positive work has even prompted the the WHO to fund 60 cancer patients’ treatment at reputed medical institutions like AIIMS in Delhi.
“In India, due to unaffordability of medicines, many cancer patients in rural areas are suffering. Creative arts are offering them a ray of hope to stay positive,” Lahiri explains. Apart from art, she also teaches kids to sing, play musical instruments and “even indulge in some humour”.
Meanwhile, Fortis has now made its art therapy programmes available at its centres in Gurgaon, Shalimar Bagh and Noida. The programme is under the department of mental health and behavioural sciences. “The focus of our team is two-pronged: to use art as a tool for healing patients admitted to hospital for physical ailments, as well as clients coming to visit the department of mental health and behavioural sciences in the OPD. Our focus is primarily to work with children admitted to hospital using art, craft, creative writing and storytelling to help ease their anxiety with regard to hospitalisation, the fear and isolation they feel, as well as other issues they may bring up in the sessions,” explains Parikh.
Fortis also organises events that bring together the entire hospital, using art, role-play and craftwork on occasions such as Christmas, Children’s Day and World Mental Health Day, among others.
“We are in the midst of extending our services to various regions, from where we shall conduct OPDs with certain super-specialists. We also intend to incorporate art therapy in our OPDs. Along with regular medical seminars, we might organise a seminar on art therapy as well,” Barua of The White Collar adds.
Healing has never been so meaningful.