What can journalism learn from the pre-colonial Ayurvedic knowledge?

On a very rainy Saturday in Ubud, Bali, my friend Janie organised the final presentation of her ayurvedic course that had lasted for a year and invited 20 of her closest friends to attend. She is educated as an architect and worked in that field for ten years. On the side, for her own personal development, she has developed a yoga and holistic health practice. And even though it was strange at first to tell people she was an architect and a yoga teacher, the two seemingly different professions actually worked together perfectly. “Our body is a structure, to begin with”, Janie would tell people who asked about the similarities between the two.

The foundation

A strong foundation is another aspect of both a high standard building and a good quality lifestyle. She decided to embrace ayurvedic concepts into her design work and apply a holistic view on building an environment for someone. Janie:

“When clients would come to the office of the architect group I was working for, they’d come with wishes about how they’d like their future house to look. Some just kept the wishlist practical, outlining the number of bedrooms, the size of the living room and the location of the kitchen, for example. Others would show their Pinterest board and first sketches of their very clear idea of what it should be like. We as architects would take these wishes and create something that’s more related to our idea of a nice house, based on our years of experience and education, instead of taking the client in full account.”

It doesn’t make sense to Janie anymore to be very mindful of what you eat and drink and what yoga style fits you best, and at the same time not think of the environment in which this healthy lifestyle of you flourishes most highly. And it starts with enhancing the vision of who you are as a person.

I think it’s one of the most important concepts I learned through my own yoga teacher training and meditation practice: we’re all different and our bodies are all different. So what suits one person doesn’t necessarily have to be the best solution for the other.

Find balance

In Ayurveda, there are three types of doshas to be divided: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. You’re always a bit of all of them but one is dominant. And once you know your dominant doshas, your constitution, it’s about keeping the balance and knowing what to do when you’re unsettled.
My main constitution, for example, is Pitta, which is a combination of fire and water elements. Let’s keep it very simple and say that I, as a Pitta-person, are naturally hot and fiery. So when I feel imbalanced I could, for example, look at my diet and see if I’m maybe eating too many spices. Because if you’re naturally on fire already, why add more heat to it? Instead, you should eat more cooling food to balance it out. That’s — again very simple — the concept.

Janie adapts the concept to design, for example (again, simplistic) if you’re Pitta you probably like things organised and minimalistic. You also want to know about the idea behind the design and how to use the place to the fullest extent. She made case studies of different types of architecture and interior design that fit the different doshas. I love how much sense it makes and how we can optimize the quality of our lives by realizing our constitution. I also started to think about a broader implementation of the ayurvedic concept. Of course towards my own profession: journalism.

Pre-colonial

I recognize Janie’s path coming from a certain professional background (architecture in her case, journalism in my case), starting to study yoga at some point and discover the commonalities. It’s why I initiated Inclusive Journalism, to mix and merge the elements from my spiritual practice with the foundations of journalism. A long term vision, engagement with ‘the other’, self-reflection, enlightened knowledge, decolonization and a holistic view (I explain those six points in this article).

And the Ayurvedic approach fits in there quite well. It’s important to understand that the ayurvedic tradition comes from pre-colonial times before The West brought in the hegemony of modern bio-medicine. And because of the modern language and methodology of science, Ayurveda doesn’t get recognized as credible and the institutions and systems of Ayurvedic knowledge production have been tethered to the margins of our learning and education, as Madhulika Banerjee writes.

Uncomfortable

As journalists, it’s important to realize the context of how we perceive Ayurveda and why the way in which modern medical research works doesn’t always suit the way to evaluate the benefits of Ayurveda.
I’m not an expert nor am I saying that we should leave Western medicine and jump over to Ayurveda, but there should be space to enable the benefits of traditional practices in our current journalism. And I know that the framework of today’s journalism is also built within the hegemony of the West. So we need to inform ourselves with new knowledge outside of our trustful environment. That’s uncomfortable and journalists aren’t used to doing that.

Luckily, the present-day brings about more and more collaborations between modern science and traditional practices. Banerjee emphasizes how hard Ayurvedic scientists and doctors think carefully about credible translations between the two language, methods and world-views. But, she also concludes:

“they struggle to publish in the mainstream and those that do, never make breaking news”.

And that’s where the responsibility of journalism lies. To dare to break out of the Western framework and decolonize our science knowledge.

Brainwave

Coming back to implementing the Ayurvedic concept onto journalism, I would say that there are a few ways of executing:

  1. First of all, journalists should work on getting to know themselves, resulting in a better understanding of why they do the work they do. And which type of journalism fits them best. The doshas can be of help, but other ancient traditions are options as well.
  2. Secondly, journalism as a profession can learn from the Ayurvedic ethics that hold slightly different nuances towards autonomy than Western medical ethics and therefore a more profound idea of diversity and the need for pluralism. It reminds me of the discussion about objectivity in the media in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sure, this is just a brainwave, out of a rainy Saturday Morning in Bali where my friend Janie connected the dots between yoga and architecture. But I believe these creative ideas are necessary to innovate journalism. We need to learn from ancient pre-colonial traditions and be able to involve disciplines outside of the profession to get new insights. I love to hear your thoughts.

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Exploring the solutions to the lack of inclusion in journalism, focusing on decolonising journalism and discussing whiteness, Eurocentrism and objectivity.

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