Integrative Medicine in a Retreat Context

By Dr. Mahendra Shah

The ancient wisdom of traditional medicine and indigenous healing practices are being increasingly embraced across the Western world, and a global revival is organically evolving.

Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, herbalism, and shamanic practices have taken their place in the modern seeker’s lifestyle as many turn away from the reductionist and impersonal approach often experienced in modern medicine. At Zen Resort, we seek a more holistic approach—one that envisions the whole human being, rather than merely a combination of parts, systems, and (all too often) symptoms.

Mahendra Shah has been working in the field of sustainable development for over three decades. His passion for including human health in his concepts of sustainable development began at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, where Shah had the honor to coordinate and prepare the 1992 Earth Summit report "The Global Partnership for Environment and Development - A Guide to Agenda 21."

Shah took his synthesized Agenda 21vision to Bali in 2004, where he hoped that sustainable tourism could help to reinvigorate what was then a struggling economy. But he didn’t want to just create another resort where tourists could relax, but also an international centre where guests would be able to truly relax, rejuvenate and heal body, mind and spirit.

“The greatest challenges to humanity in the world today are declining health and the deteriorating environment,” says Shah. In human health, the emerging burdens comprise ailments and diseases of modern lifestyles such as asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes hypertension, mental stress, migraines and obesity.  All of these illnesses are accelerating worldwide and further exacerbated by the degradation of nature and increasing environmental pollution. And most countries simply will not have the medical resources to afford the necessary healthcare interventions to confront the emerging health crises.

In his travels, Shah saw that traditional healthcare knowledge and healing practices were still being handed down by word of mouth in many countries, for example in Africa and South America. The wisdom is still there and available, but modern medicine tends not to acknowledge and embrace the ancient healthcare practices as valuable. “Every little village and every grandmother across the world has secrets that have been derived from generations on relieving health problems,” he explains.

In many developing countries, with very limited health and wellness resources, health administrators are increasingly recommending the inclusion of traditional practices in primary health care on the grounds that the healers know the socio-cultural heritage of the people and that they are highly respected and experienced in their work. Ayurveda in India and Chinese medicine have evolved into internationally respected and functional systems, as formulas have been written down and utilized for centuries.

Sadly, Dr. Shah observes that the worldwide adoption of Western modern lifestyles is resulting in deteriorating patterns: When you are young, you have healthy blood and responsive genes and up to the age of 20 years there are hardly any major health issues.

From 20 to 40 years old, you build a career, you have a partner, and you generally tend not to find the time either to prepare and consume wholesome natural food, nor for adequate exercises– physical, psychological and spiritual. You have stress at home, you have stress at work and you live in an increasingly polluted world. And it is likely you turn to sugar-laden drinks, alcohol or to taking sedative drugs for temporary stress relief.

These modern lifestyles are often driven by the power of money to such an extent that money becomes an obsession, ruling and controlling lifestyles, where health is so often put at risk and sacrificed in the interest of socio-economic success and status. Let us recall the Dalai Lama’s simple but pointed observation that:

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The consequences of modern lifestyles mean that by the time you are nearing 40 years, you have anxiety, hypertension, stress, sugar-level problems. The conventional modern doctor prescribes pharmaceuticals like cholesterol lowering drugs and hypertension control pills and insulin to keep you balanced and alive.

Then, from 40 to 60 years old, the side effects of all those pills are kicking in. If you survive past 60, you probably need more and stronger medications just to keep you in the game.

Likewise, however, Shah has found elements of dogma and reductionism in traditional medicine. As the pendulum swings away from modern technological approaches, people seek a holistic approach and they can lose sight of the numerous gifts that modern medicine has delivered – like cancer therapies, immunity vaccines and antibiotics.

“We need to integrate the traditional with the modern healthcare and medicine practices, but most modern systems do little to actually integrate traditional knowledge. At the same time, traditional medicine also can be arrogant and dogmatic. You have traditional healers looking in your eye, reading your pulse and diagnosing that you appear to have cancer, and for example, “here are herbal plant leaves that will relieve your problem”; that just doesn’t work. The fundamental healthcare challenge we face is:  How can we practically bridge traditional and modern medicine with a focus on a holistic integration of preventive and curative as well as restoring and sustaining health?”

The holistic wellness centers that Dr. Shah is developing around the world are focused on effective integration of the preventive and curative as well as restoring and sustaining health treatments.

“We have been negotiating to launch an institute of traditional and modern medicine in Holland, as well as an institute of herbal medicine. Why Holland? Because it is an ideal EU-centered location to bring together modern and traditional medicine as well as production and processing of a wide range of herbal medicines in an environmentally clean and technologically effective manner. Alongside these two institutes will be a Zen Resort Europe that will practically implement these innovations.

We’re building a worldwide network of modern and traditional wellness practitioners committed to incorporating multi-disciplinary interventions and applying integrated therapeutic measures. At the same time they recognize that all clinical aspects of the individual patient condition must be considered to achieve the core goal of optimal health and healing. We have found that traditional diagnosis of body impurity levels and a multi-dimensional approach to diet and detox facilitates an effective wellness practice to change course and begin a new life for those stressed out with modern lifestyles,” emphasized Shah.

On the Island of Bali, with its solid niche as a global yoga and healing Mecca, the spiritual depth and community-centered culture have provided a solid foundation for Shah’s vision to flower. “With its local level village councils, Bali represents a community model of caring and functional societies where the council and neighbors are there to provide support in times of need and share in the joy and sorrows of life and living,” he says.

Shah’s Zen Resort in Bali has already seen this concept take root, with a strategic focus on a coordinated body, mind and spiritual approach to rejuvenation and healing. “The moment you enter Zen resort, soft music begins to take away some of your cares and stress. Your villa looks out onto a verdant landscape down to the sea with sunsets in the evening and sunrises at dawn. The mature, landscaped gardens and pool merging with natural forest, rice fields and vineyards to the beach, all merging into the marine landscape are hypnotic in their tranquility,” says Shah.

“We have incorporated and learnt much from the traditional health and societal care wisdom of the Balinese, while at the same time building on Ayurvedic therapies and diets, yogic breathing and meditative practices as well as self-healing spiritual guidance in a non-dogmatic and non-judgmental setting".

At Zen Resort we recognize that tourists increasingly search for wellness destinations where they can recuperate and heal from the stresses and strains of modern lifestyles and at the same time experience recreational holiday activities. We have pioneered and developed Zen Harmony Diving™, an integrated system that combines scuba diving and snorkeling with yoga, meditation, pranayama and ayurveda.

ZHD offers a unique pathway to better health through the effective practice and adoption of controlled underwater breathing, meditative focus and free flow physical exercise, whilst at the same time discovering the amazing diversity of the marine world. ZHD also has the potential to boost this community, empowering them to document and report on the degradation of the marine environment and raise public awareness about threats to the world’s oceans and seas, which account for some 70% of the Earth’s environment.

Zen Resort encompasses strategies that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. To this end we financially support local small-scale fishing, facilitate employment and other livelihood opportunities for the local community, develop and market local health and beauty products, advise local farmers on crop agronomy, especially medicinal plants and also promoting subsidized holiday stays for doctors willing to give a few hours of their time each day for local community health services.

Dr. Shah firmly believes that “ Zen Resort has created a holistic health and holiday recreation facility where visitor’s seeking relief from the stresses and strains of modern lifestyles: It is a place where your energy, creativity, fantasy and mindfulness of living in harmony with yourself and with nature comes alive. Such places need to be at the core of sustainable wellness tourism development, integrated with the local community and bringing together the best of traditional and modern practices for sustainable health and healing.”

“In conclusion let me emphasize that, in a world increasingly confronted by the emerging burden of the ailments and diseases of modern lifestyles, the practitioners of modern and traditional medicine need to heed their respective oaths of service and care towards mobilizing their science and practices to deliver the right mix of preventive and curative medicine towards restoring health and healing the body, mind and spirit.

The imperative ahead in this the 21st century is to achieve sustainable development and sustainable human health and wellbeing if we are to secure the future.”

Tags: Health & wellness

Posted by Dr. Mahendra Shah

Dr. Mahendra Shah is a world-renowned expert on Sustainable Development. He has experience working with the United Nations, the World Bank, and a number of international science and policy research institutions. In the mid-2000s, Dr. Shah traveled to Bali to develop Zen Resort Bali, a holistic health resort. Find out more information here:



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