One of the best parts of the Tibetan Encounter Tour in Nepal was a free health consultation with a Tibetan doctor. Tour guide Thupten Gyatso took us to Tashiling settlement’s health clinic near Phewa Lake in Pokhara. My first encounter with Tibetan herbal medicine — and those tiny hard-packed herb balls, pictured below — was with Dr Youdon Tsering, a Tibetan medical doctor.
I had so many questions for Dr Tsering! How I take Tibetan herbal medicine pills? They’re as hard and round as ball bearings. How do you crush herbal balls that feel like steel? More importantly, does Tibetan medicine cure diseases such as cancer? Diabetes? Digestive problems such as ulcerative colitis? Before I went to Nepal, I took Dukoral to prevent diarrhea (Should You Take the Dukoral Vaccine to Prevent Traveler’s Diarrhea?) — how will the Tibetan herbal medicine balls interact with the vaccine?
Dr Tsering was smart, but couldn’t promise that Tibetan herbal medicine would cure my ulcerative colitis or prevent cancer. She did, however, say that following her prescription and instructions would improve my digestion and increase my energy. Since I’m not taking other prescription medications, I figured I had nothing to lose.
Should you take Tibetan herbal medicine? My experience might help you decide if herbal balls are worth a try. I was having digestive problems two weeks before I left Vancouver and traveled to Nepal; the day I took the Tibetan Encounter Tour was by far my worst day.
Dr Tsering showed me how to crush and take the herbal medicine right there at the health clinic — during the tour! I became part of the entertainment as I ground those hard Tibetan balls, sprinkled them on my tongue, sipped hot water and let the sandy herbs melt in my mouth.
My digestive issues cleared up overnight. Literally.
How I Encountered Tibetan Medicine in Nepal
The Tibetan Encounter Tour started at 5:30 am. Tour guide and driver Thupten Gyatso picked me up long before the sun rose; our first stop was the Shree Bindhyabasini temple near Bagar, Nepal. I sat with the chanting Tibetan Buddhist monks in this monastery. It was the first Tibetan refugee settlement I ever visited (this wasn’t Tashiling, the one in Pokhara with the health clinic).
About the Shree Bindhyabasini — since all Buddhist temples are deliberately constructed to look alike, I wasn’t surprised by the interior. Same with the Tibetan monks’ clothes and appearance, their beautiful gold and maroon colors, shaved heads, serene faces and gentle chanty voices. What surprised me was that the boy monks were just that: boys. Young, fidgety, whispery, punchy, even smelly.
How does a boy become a Tibetan monk?
Tibetan tour guide Thupten Gyatso said boys in Nepal go to Tibetan monasteries when their parents can’t afford to pay for their school. This surprised me; I thought Tibetan and other Buddhist monks felt called to life in the monastery! I didn’t realize that being a monk, taking a vow of poverty, and learning how to be a Buddhist was an economic choice. Further, it’s not even a choice the boy makes on his own. Becoming a Tibetan monk is a family decision, inspired not by the heart but by the pocketbook.
If you have a different experience of becoming a Tibetan monk or practicing the monastic lifestyle in Nepal, please share below. I’d love to hear a different perspective.
A monastery without heart or spirit
I’m supposed to be writing about the effects of Tibetan herbal medicine on my health — and I will! But I have to share one more thing about this tour. The chanting and prayers at the Shree Bindhyabasini temple at this Bagar monastery was rhythmic. The instruments were beautiful and varied: drums, bells, horns, conch shells, singing. The prayers were in standard Tibetan, I believe. Sometimes the young monks-in-training in the row ahead of me (I sat along the side wall) participated in prayers and reading. Mostly they elbowed and nudged each other.
About the heart and spirit of this Tibetan monastery…I sensed nothing. The Tibetan chants were rote and the prayers were cold. There was no energy, passion, life or spirit. It reminded me of being in some Catholic Church services: recited prayers and sayings with no life or meaning, no feeling.
Since Tibetan monks follow the Buddha and study Buddhism, it shouldn’t surprised me that they don’t have a relationship with spirit. Buddhism is not personal. Nor is it a calling of the heart or pull of the spirit. I guess being a monk is a job; some monks do their job extremely well, other monks just aren’t into it.
You still have questions about whether or not Tibetan herbal medicine cures cancer or improve your health — and I apologize! But for me, Tibetan medicine and Buddhist monasteries are tightly intertwined. That’s what happens when you’re traveling in faith, going on spiritual journeys, and exploring healthier ways of living! You get transformed, and nothing is ever about that one thing.
What I Know About Taking Tibetan Herbal Medicine Pills
Back to Tashiling settlement’s health clinic near Phewa Lake in Pokhara, which was the next-to-last stop of the Tibetan Encounter Tour.
Tour guide Thupten Gyatso introduced us to Dr Youdon Tsering. I can’t remember how long she’s been a Tibetan medical doctor, but she trained in India under an Ayurvedic medicine specialty. Sbe was born and raised in Tibet.
Dr Tsering took us into her office and examining room at the health clinic. She spent about 15 minutes introducing us to Tibetan traditional and Ayurvedic medicine (I believe she practices a combination of the two), and answered our questions.
Then, Dr Tsering gave us each a free individual health consultation! It was brief, but awesome. I told her about my ulcerative colitis and recent digestive health problems — which were flared that very day.
Dr Tsering asked questions such as:
- How is your digestive health?
- How fast do you feel full when you eat?
- Are you constipated?
- How often do you get constipated?
- What are your energy levels like?
She also took my temperature and listened to my heart rate. Then she prescribed a thrice daily routine of Tibetan herbal balls, packets of Tibetan herbs, and hot water.
I asked Dr Tsering these questions:
How do you crush Tibetan medicine balls? Dr Tsering sold me a Food Grade Pill Crusher. You put the balls inside the short round tube and keep twist the lid closed. It grinds the medicine pills to into sand or fine grain. Since I got home, I’ve been using our hand-held coffee bean grinder to crush the herbal balls. My hands were getting really tired of crushing those pills — they really are almost as hard as ball bearings!
How do you take Tibetan medicine pills? When I was using the Tibetan Pill Crusher, I just held it above my mouth and gently tipped the crushed herbs into my mouth. Dr Tsering showed me how to tap the lid of the pill crusher against the container part; this dislodges the remaining sandy bits. I can’t do that with the coffee bean grinder, so I use a tiny spoon to clean out the herbal bits and powder.
Does Tibetan medicine cure diseases such as cancer? diabetes? I didn’t ask Dr Tsering if the herbal medicine balls cure diabetes or cancer; I was focused on healing my digestive problems and mild ulcerative colitis flareup. And, indeed, my digestive problems were healed overnight. I started taking the Tibetan medicine pills before lunch on the day of the tour. The next morning, my guts were calm and quiet.
Happy guts, happy traveler!
If you’re wondering if you should take traditional Tibetan medicine to cure or prevent diseases like cancer or diabetes, talk to at least two health providers. Since no doctor or practitioner can guarantee that any type of medicine cures anything, you have to trust your gut instincts. You know your body.
When a doctor is prescribing medicine, take a few moments to listen to your intuition. Do you feel a green light, a sense that maybe this might be worth trying? Or do you feel a red light — a red flag — telling you that you need to get more information before taking this medicine? Give yourself the time and space you need to decide.
I immediately knew that I should try the Tibetan herbal medicine balls for my digestive problems at the Tashiling settlement’s health clinic in Pokhara. I just had a feeling it was the right thing to do and it wouldn’t cause other health problems. I didn’t expect the herbal balls and packets to cure my ailing guts overnight, though! That was definitely a happy surprise.
Your thoughts, big and little, are welcome below. If you have any tips or tools for Tibetal medicine or travel that transforms you, please share. We love tips and tools :-)
You never get lost if you travel in faith.