Nestled here in Santa Fe—among mountains and sky, piñon and juniper and everything that makes our city different and special—is Dr. Eric Grasser's practice, Unity Medicine. Grasser is one of just a handful of MDs in the nation to join Ayurveda, the world's oldest healing system, with modern Western medicine. Grasser practices a genre of Western medicine called functional medicine, "a modern holistic medicine relying…on modern scientific principles…but still looking at people as a set of core functions—not just breaking them down into organ systems," he explains. It is functional because it looks at the body's core functions and because, Grasser says, "who wants dysfunctional?"
Grasser's interest in, and study of, yoga led him to Ayurveda—literally, "the knowledge of life."
"Ayurveda is brilliant…it looks at people as individuals: Everyone is made up of a balance of constitutional types"—called doshas—"and we look at the person and assess them…and then tailor the treatment to match their unique nature."
This individual-based treatment—the attention to what Grasser calls "upstream" causes—is, he says, where Western medicine falls short.
"Traditional systems have always acknowledged the connection between the body, the mind and the spirit. And Western medicine has failed at maintaining that connection; [it thinks] that systems are pretty much unrelated, despite the fact that there's all kinds of evidence to the contrary [in] the Western medical model."
Patients and doctors alike, Grasser says, have grown frustrated with this impersonal medical system, driven by insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
"Physicians are well intended, but they have no choice but to label. I get paid [by insurance companies] to make you look sick, and the way I make you look sick is by tagging codes to you," he says.
Grasser's practice is an attempt to put the best of both systems of medicine into practice. It deals with fission and union, East and West, personal and impersonal, the surface and the subterranean; it joins—finds the balance between—ancient and modern healing techniques.
Unity Medicine is a split practice—Western, insurance-based treatments on the one side, and pay-out-of-pocket Ayurveda on the other (insurance companies do not yet cover Ayurveda). The term "split," however, is deceiving, for the practice is simultaneously a union of two paths—a union that seeks to treat the patient as a complete human being by providing in-depth, individualized treatments.
"People are not getting the holistic and attentive care that will actually make them better…so we set up [this practice]…I call it integrative Ayurveda because…I am informed by my knowledge of Western medicine on [the Ayurveda] side, just like I'm informed by my knowledge of Ayurveda on the Western side…there is a dance," Grasser says. Ayurveda, he adds—along with functional medicine—is about getting people back in touch with the laws of nature. The healing force is within us, he says.
Grasser mentions that he's recently heard about "four fault lines that are all meeting underneath Santa Fe." This joining of separate forms, and the powerful energy that results, is a metaphor for the union that is his practice.
He says he used to think that all of this talk about energy was "a woo-woo Santa Fe thing, but after living here 12 years, I know it's real."
Unity Medicine—joining two different worlds of healing, balancing individuals' energies, harmonizing people with their environments—is a small but mighty example of what medicine as a whole can eventually do: tap into its subterranean faults and strike the balance between the surface and the root, industry and individual, symptom and cause. It too could balance its doshas.
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