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The Healing Arts of the Philippines

by Virgil J. Mayor Apostol (continued)

Virgil manipulates the urat to increase the flow of blood and spiritual energy

Photo:   Virgil manipulates the urat to increase the flow of blood and spiritual energy

The concept of a hot-cold syndrome is found in the Philippines, as well as other Southeast Asian countries. For example, a humid condition opens up the pores and causes the body to sweat.

Wind (angin) then blows on the body and cools the sweat, its coldness transferring into the body. If not attended to, a disruption of the natural internal balance occurs; the vigor is weakened, thus causing the body to become susceptible to sickness. This is why parents make sure their children are kept dry and covered, especially if there is a breeze since the pores are still considered open.

The hot-cold syndrome plays an important role in other aspects as well such as in diet, emotions, relationships, etc.There also exists an ancient science and theoretical counterpart to the metaphysical level of sickness. The belief in spiritual energetic channels, called urat and pennet sets the foundation of how massage practices in the Philippines evolved.

Not only does the urat and pennet carry spiritual energy, but also describes structures such as nerves, veins, tendons, arteries, sinews, ligaments, muscles, intestines, windpipe, etc. In other words, an urat and pennet describes a channel- or tube-like structure that anything can pass through.

The concept of the urat and pennet is parallel with native scientific theories of neighboring countries.

In the Ayurvedic and yogic traditions of India, the nadis are channels that carry prana or life force energy. The srotas, on the other hand, are carriers of blood, air, food, water, plasma, sweat, lymph, etc. Being highly complex since historical times, their influence has reached eastern and western nations.

In the Thai practice of Nuat Bo'Rarn, or Thai massage, the en or sen en are not only carriers of prana, but also describe structures that are long, hollow, and tubular such as veins, blood vessels, tendons, cartilage, muscles, and ligaments. Thai medical practices were well established dating back to the time of the Buddha.

Pidjat or Urut, which are the Indonesian and Malaysian names for massage (Apun in Balinese), use the terms urat and uat (just like some of the Northern Luzon languages) to describe tendons, nerves, veins, blood vessels, muscles, as well as a transporter of spiritual energy.

These countries have preserved their traditional lontar or usada medical texts, which, in the past, had been inscribed on palm leaves.

The concept or acknowledgment of these spiritual or physical channels has also traveled into the outlying islands. In Guam Micronesia, massage (Lasa) manipulates the gugat. The physical channels are also known in several Polynesian islands as uaua, a'a, waan, etc.

Not only does this show a linguistic tie, but also points out that the belief in spiritual energy channels or physical channels, is not an uncommon concept and is shared by many cultures.

My grandmother, Alejandra "Allang" Mayor, was a well-rounded healer and her knowledge of the urat and pennet was unique. One of her testimonials was regarding a patient that had inflammation of the lymph (babara), and in this case, of the groin. Since the inflammation was predominantly on one side, she treated this by systematically massaging the armpit opposite to the inflammation, following an "x" or contralateral lines.

With this concept of contralateral lines, she would treat similar cases, not only through massage, but also by tying a string around the toes, especially the tangan (big toe), a similar practice that is also found in India.

The linking of these distant urat basically follow the same principle as in the Thai sen kalathari channels which crosses at the navel and connects the opposite extremities down to the fingers and toes.Since the urat is believed to have an interconnection throughout the entire body, its manipulation can have effective results.

One of my Arnis (a Filipino martial art) teachers back in the Philippines was the town's midwife (or midhusband?). One day, a couple with their baby, about one-year-old, came to him not only because he was their midwife, but also because their baby had a fever for four days straight.

Due to open wounds to my teacher's hands, he asked me to handle it. I found the baby nonlethargic and responsive with smiles. The body temperature, though, was hot when touched.

Diluting some vinegar (suka) with water and applying it several times to the insides of the elbows, knees, and on the soles and palms, I began to massage the soles paying particular attention to the big toe. During this time, the baby continued smiling. Then after a couple of minutes, the baby began to cry. Almost instantaneously, beads of sweat, which seemed as big as kernels of corn, broke free from the top of the baby's head! This was dried off immediately and I instructed the parents to keep the head covered.

By this time, the baby's temperature felt normal.Those who become healers believe that they have a special calling. Some claim that various spirits instructed them, that they are a product of breech birth (suni), or part of a family whose tradition is being passed on. But for a foreigner (or one who is not familiar with Southeast Asian healing modalities) to learn, he or she must be open-minded, grasp the concepts, and have an idea of the culture and environment in order to truly understand how and why Filipino and other Southeast Asian healing modalities developed and practiced in their unique ways.

It is quite interesting to note that many Filipino elders, who are experts in the native healing arts, are also experts in the native martial arts. It is as if these two arts are two sides of a coin. If an injury were to occur during practice or an actual encounter, such knowledge would make a difference in the recovery process.

My grandfather, Lucio Respicio Mayor, was such a person. His martial art was called kuerdas, an adopted Spanish term translating as "cords" which is synonymous to the urat. Depending on the desired result, Mayor was able to cause his victim to fall unconscious, collapse with temporary paralyses, become hysterical, and cause internal hemorrhage or epistaxis among other things, all accomplished by knowing which points to attack. It was usually on the back of the body, or opposite side of the point struck that a counter-point was manipulated in order to reverse what was initiated.

Herbal medicine was administered such as the chewing and swallowing of young guava leaves to help in coagulation if one were spitting up blood. For a bleeding cut, the leaves were first masticated then applied externally.

Traditional healing methods are continuously sought despite the presence of hospitals and medical clinics. They are also sought not only because they are less expensive, but also because they get satisfying results.

Even in the more populous towns and cities, there are those who would visit a folk doctor for certain ailments before going to a medical doctor, or vice versa when one would go to a folk doctor after finding no hope from a medical doctor. Some enjoy the best of both worlds.

Although some oppose the integration of traditional and western medicine, there is a minority that supports their merging. What usually happens, though, is that the physicians of western medicine usually hold the monopoly or the upper hand backed up by large organizations and money.

Whatever the physicians say the humble folk healers must abide by. This strips them of their holistic practices by displacing them into the mainstream. Other attempts have been made to commercialize traditional medicine as a tourist attraction.

Fortunately, in many cases, doctors and health professionals feel at home when traditional medicine is concerned, not only because it comes with the culture but because they are open-minded and may have integrated such ideas into their own practice. It is sometimes evident that there are those that seem to be on a race to catch up with the mainstream, high-tech medical practices abroad, but time will come when they, too, will catch up with the many who are preaching the concept of mind-body medicine synthesizing traditional holistic health care practices with conventional medicine.

The concept of mind-body medicine may be new to many, but not to the ancients who were naturally holistic in their approach to life - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The healing arts of the Philippines, and of other great cultures, are a testimony to the wholeness that we seek to return to.

Author's Biography
Virgil J. Mayor Apostol is a Holistic Health Practitioner and Licensed Massage Therapist, as well as co-author and editor of the book, The Healing Hands of Hilot –Filipino Therapeutic Massage. His exposure to Ablon stems from a family tradition and from other elders of Filipino healing. He is a member of the Philippine Healers' Circle, Inc. and International Massage Association.

Apostol is currently an Ayurvedic Therapist at the Chopra Center for Well Being and is preparing a second manuscript from which this article derives. Send inquiries to: Rumsua - Maharlikan Traditions, P.O. Box 210096, Chula Vista, CA 91921-0096, or email: rumsua@mail.com.

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