Rejuvenation for Maharishi Center; Lancaster center regroups around Ayurveda practice.
Byline: Karen Nugent
The following correction was published in the Telegram & Gazette on Nov. 11, 2009:
LANCASTER - Ayurveda medicine is complementary and supplementary to modern medicine and should never be considered to be in place of modern medicine, according to Dr. Steele Belok of the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center. Because of a reporter's error, a quote in a Nov. 4 article about the health center was erroneously attributed to Dr. Belok, who is also a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and an internist in Cambridge.
LANCASTER - A lucky cell phone call made to Lothar Pirc as he sat in a taxi on a crowded Delhi street led to the rebirth of the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center.
Or was it karma?
That call came from Kingsley Brooks, the center's vice president and a longtime follower of the ancient Indian Ayurvedic health and meditation practices. Mr. Pirc is the director of a Maharishi Center in Bad Ems, Germany, in a palatial mansion where Emperor Wilhelm I once spent his down-time. Mr. Pirc's wife, Dr. Karin Pirc,
is the German center's medical director, and he is involved with six other Ayurveda centers around the world.
During the telephone call, Mr. Pirc agreed on the spot to support the re-opening of the once-famous Lancaster center, which was to be shuttered this year after limping along for nearly a decade.
During the 1980s and 1990s, rumors would fly around town about the latest celebrity visiting the mysterious Maharishi center on George Hill Road. Ex-Beatle George Harrison was spotted in various stores. People would try to catch a glimpse of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts or George Hamilton, among other glitterati, or just plain rich people, who came to spend a few days relaxing, meditating and getting ancient Indian herbal and oil treatments.
The celebrity sightings faded around 2000, when the center was moved to North Carolina by founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who started the transcendental meditation movement in the 1970s. A small group of Lancaster employees brought back some of the old clientele, but they could not survive the recession.
"I have a base here," said Mr. Brooks, who grew up in Cambridge. "And I have a desire to see this wonderful place succeed. It has a historic place in the Transcendental Meditation movement."
The center is on 250 acres surrounding an elegant 54-room turn-of-the-last century mansion built by the Thayers, one of the town's most prosperous families. It needed extensive renovations, Mr. Pirc said. But, he agreed that it has a dedicated staff and is held in high esteem by Ayurveda enthusiasts around the world.
Work on the mansion began this summer, with $200,000 spent so far. Ten of the 15 guestrooms have been beautifully refurbished with marble bathrooms and antique furniture. All windows have been replaced. An adjoining two-story clinic featuring treatment suites, of three rooms each, has been done over as well.
Mr. Pirc said plans call for development of the grounds, including the construction of at least 10 specially-designed Ayurvedic homes (they must have east-facing entrances, and other layout specifics). In the long term, he said, an Ayurvedic college with medical students from around the world is proposed.
There have been staff changes as well.
The clinic, once headed by Dr. Deepak Chopra, a new age movement pioneer, now boasts Dr. Vaidya Jagdish N. Vaidya, who is from a long line of well-respected Ayurvedic physicians in India. (His first and last names means "ayurveda doctor.") Dr. Vaidya joins Medical Director Dr. Steele Belok, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, who has been with the center for more than 20 years.
Dr. Vaidya, described as one of the most sought-after practitioners of Ayurveda in North America, explained that while the practice has been in India for more than 5,000 years, the original knowledge was lost many years ago. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died last year, met with leading Ayurvedic families in India in the 1970s, studied ancient texts, and helped the practice re-emerge. Although Ayurveda was initially based in Hinduism, the center is non-secular.
Its primary goal is to improve health and well-being through prevention and rejuvenation, using nutritional changes such as eating a fresh, vegetarian diet, and using various herbs. It also involves cleansing the body of toxins. The practice claims to improve chronic pain, skin diseases, allergies, nervous disorders and other ailments. The use of Western prescription drugs is discouraged, although some modern medical knowledge is incorporated.
Dr. Belok noted that 90 percent of diabetes is preventable through lifestyle changes.
"A GP (general practitioner) 80 percent of the time cannot find out what is wrong with you. They can suppress symptoms, but they don't really know the root cause. They cannot find out what is really wrong; what the onset was," he said. (SEE PUBLISHED CORRECTION)
The main Ayurvedic therapy involves spa-like treatments using oils, steam, massage, yoga and, of course, meditation.
During an interview in the center's massive, ornate dining room - in which guests (they are not called patients) are fed gourmet vegan meals on antique China and silver settings - Dr. Pirc said a big part of Ayurvedic practice is the taking of pulses.
The pulse, taken at the wrist as it is in Western medicine, is listened to for a longer period of time, she said, and can reveal all sorts of problems - from tumors, to blood clots, to anxiety.
Although the cost of staying at the center is pricey - $690 a day, which includes seeing doctors, plus treatments, food and classes - a one-hour outpatient consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor costs $150.
"There are two objectives," Dr. Belok said. "To keep a healthy person healthy, and to take care of any disease. It is both preventative and curative."
On the Web: www.ayurveda-lancaster.com
ART: PHOTOS; ILLUSTRATION
CUTLINE: (1) The 54-bedroom mansion on George Hill Road, Lancaster, has undergone extensive renovations and is now home to Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center. (2) Dr. Vaidya Jagdish N. Vaidyawill head the clinic. (3) The elegant and ornate stairway, above, and a guest room, right, were part of the renovation at the center. (ILLUSTRATION) Areas of potential benefit from ayurveda
PHOTOG: (PHOTOS) RICH DUGAS Photos (ILLUSTRATION) T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.