Our medical system in the west, sometimes called ‘modern medicine’ is what Alter describes as reactive or remedial healthcare. While incredibly useful, it is also limited in scope, primarily because of the way it defines health and illness. The starting point, in the theory of modern medicine, is that we begin life naturally healthy, then fall ill and later – through medical intervention – are restored to our former state of health. Within this model, we are inherently healthy but it therefore follows, ironically, that because of this we are prone to disease.
Ayurvedic medicine can be practiced in this remedial way but Alter interprets Ayurvedic medicine as defining the human ‘body as naturally imperfect – and therefore ironic as it may seem – naturally perfectible’. This opens up the idea of being proactively ever improved upon, something he calls ‘hyperfitness’. He considers this split between remedial and proactive healthcare, to be as significant a problem for medicine as that created by the Cartesian dualism that divides the body and mind. In Alter’s interpretation of Ayurvedic medicine, for remedial medicine to be effective, we must also follow a daily routine of health development and personal hygiene.