The woman extended her wrist, so the man in the turban--supposedly the finest "pulse diagnostician" in the world--could examine the health of her entire body.
After perhaps 30 seconds of touching the pulse in each of her wrists, the 70-year-old Indian physician provided his judgment through an interpreter: Tightness in the lower back and neck, pressure in the lower abdomen, heaviness in the stomach after meals, heat in the liver and upper part of the small intestine . . . nothing serious now, at least not yet.
The woman was mildly impressed. She indeed experienced more than a typical amount of tension in her back and neck, having once broken both. And though she wasn't aware of any abdominal difficulties, that part of the diagnosis made sense; her abdomen was the area in which she carried a disproportionate share of excess weight.
But how could the doctor tell her about the temperature of her liver by feeling her pulse? And what do you do for a hot liver anyway?
The physician explained that disruptions in specific areas of the body can be perceived in the central nervous system, which has effects on the heart and is reflected in the pulse. He added that pulse diagnosis is only one of three methods he may use, the others being visual observation and interrogation of the patient.
Exercise, dietary and life-style recommendations tailored to the woman's "constitutional type" (diagnosed as fire and movement), along with regular meditation (for stress management), specific herbal supplements and certain detoxifying procedures.
Dr. B. D. Triguna had come to the United States to appear at such medical schools as UCLA, Harvard and Johns Hopkins to discuss the ancient Indian system of medicine known as Ayurveda (pronounced eye-your-VAY-dah, which means "science of life" in Sanskrit).
It was all a part of the World Plan for Perfect Health, inspired by India's Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Guru watchers will recall that the Maharishi is the television guru who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the Western world about 25 years ago--largely through such celebrities as the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys.
Though considered strange and bizarre at the time, TM is so accepted in Western culture today that some insurance carriers now pay for TM instruction when prescribed by a physician.
But the guru is not one to rest on his mantras. He and his followers are now promoting Ayurveda, a prevention-oriented system of holistic medicine that had died out even in India after it was suppressed there by the British.
(The Maharishi was not available for comment on Ayurveda, that is, unless one was willing to submit a taped set of questions to him, wait for him to receive the questions and tape a response from just outside New Delhi--where a 1,200-bed Ayurveda hospital is being constructed.)
But, in his place, along with Triguna, came Dr. Deepak Chopra, an Indian-born internist and endocrinologist who is the former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Boston.
At UCLA, the two addressed an audience of about 250 physicians, medical students and observers as a part of a lecture series, "The UCLA Medicine and Society Forum."
Chopra, who is one of about 50 physicians practicing Ayurveda in this country, told the audience that unlike Western medicine, Ayurveda uses entire plants for healing rather than extracting active ingredients and nothing else.
"It is the plant that has the intelligence of the universe within itself," he claimed. "The reason we see side effects in Western medicine is that we isolate the active ingredients from the plants."
To Ayurveda practitioners, Chopra continued, isolating active ingredients from plants is an affront to the wholeness of nature, "it's like taking the intelligence and leaving the wisdom behind."
(At present, about 6,000 patients have been treated in the last 2 1/2 years at four major Ayurveda centers in the United States: Boston, Washington, D.C., Fairfield, Iowa, and Los Angeles (Pacific Palisades). As Ayurveda focuses on the prevention of disease, the centers do not presently include surgical or acute-care facilities; however, according to Chopra, Ayurvedic surgical techniques are similar to those in Western medicine.)
At UCLA, there was so much interest in what Chopra and Triguna had to say that their scheduled one-hour address continued well beyond its appointed time in a small room near the lecture hall.
"I thought it was interesting. It was like sitting at the feet of Hippocrates," commented Dr. Bernard Towers, the UCLA School of Medicine professor of anatomy and psychiatry who directs the UCLA Medicine and Society Forum. "He (Triguna) obviously has a lot of clinical insight but there's no reliance on scientific data . . . It was an interesting experience to see what I guess you'd say was a traditional healer in operation."