What is ‘natural health’? Zen Maitri explain their philosophy

Zen Maitri, the recently opened health store in Turnham Green Terrace, describes itself as a ‘natural health apothecary’, offering herbal medicine, health consultations and meditation as part of an integrated approach to health. Co-owner Krishan Dhokia grew up around natural health, as his parents ran Maitri Health, a successful natural health store in Streatham, south London, but he is also a qualified pharmacist. “I wanted to understand the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches to health” he says. This combination of the natural and the scientific is the ethos of the store, to modernise traditional practices and combine the empirical with the natural. “Our philosophy is to integrate with and support conventional medicine” says Krishnan, “not to work against it or develop a distinct approach from it”. The herbalists who work at Zen Maitri are qualified medical herbalists who have done a four-year medical degree in herbal medicine. Their nutritionists are similarly professionally qualified.

Photographs: Zen Maitri and herbal products

Natural health supporting conventional medicine

The NHS is quite sniffy about herbal medicine, lumping it together with all manner of complementary and alternative practices on the NHS website, but even it acknowledges that ginger can be good for reducing morning sickness and has given its support for an academic study of the effectiveness of herbal remedies for the common cold. The Daily Telegraph’s Science Editor Sarah Knapton reported in March that in the first NHS intervention of its kind, 20 surgeries in south east England are offering the South East Asian herbal remedy andrographis, or a placebo, to see if the plant can help soothe symptoms of coughs, sore throats and sinusitis. Some 33 trials have already suggested that andrographis is useful for treating the common cold and the flu virus but it has never undergone clinical testing in the west. The trial is being monitored by Southampton university.

Antibiotic crisis

The antibiotic crisis facing health organisations around the world is a great example of why herbal medicines are becoming increasingly relevant, says Krishan Dhokia. Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. “We desperately need to develop new antibiotics and, just as important, GPs need to cut down on needless antibiotic prescriptions (which are exacerbating the problem) and instead look for natural ways to treat people. Fortunately, many herbal medicines are effective, sustainable, cheap and far less likely to lead to resistant strains of bacteria” he says.


What is ‘natural health?’

It’s quite hard to know what to trust when you enter the realm of natural health as, despite various attempt by parliament, it is a field which remains unregulated and even practitioners themselves struggle to come up with an agreed definition of terms. Krishan Dhokia explains that Zen Maitri’s understanding of natural health uniquely combines three distinct elements which are scientifically recognised and grounded: herbal medicine, nutrition and meditation.

Mindfulness as effective as drugs for depression

Mindfulness, inspired in part by Buddhist philosophy, involves training the brain to deal with negative emotions using techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and yoga. Zen Maitri offers all three. A recent study led by Professor Willem Kuyken, a clinical psychologist at Oxford University, found Mindfulness to be at least as effective in treating depression as commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs, but without harmful side effects. Professor Willem Kuyken is director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. His study was peer reviewed in the JAMA Psychiatry medical journal, published by the American Medical Association in April 2016.

Krishan Dhokia sees empowerment as the key: “If you can teach a community the power of herbal medicines and practices like meditation, they can take control of their health, live more sustainably and be in a much stronger position to deal with the challenges they face”. Zen Maitri’s Natural Health Apothecary aims to be a community hub for bespoke herbal medicines, health consultations and classes in meditation, pranayama and breath work.

“We want to be a hub where the community can learn about the health benefits of all things natural. That starts with our expertise in herbalism but extends to our in-house nutritionist, our in-depth consultations and our meditation classes. People are complicated and their health is too, so we look at their challenges – whether that’s fatigue, mental health, skin problems, immunity, digestion etc – from a holistic perspective. We can develop custom teas, creams, oils and supplements to go and also have a range of ready-made products. Ultimately everything we do is about helping people live and feel better, through a combination of herbal medicines, our expert consultations and empowering classes”.

I am looking forward to trying out what they recommend for my aches and pains and seeing what difference it makes. Zen Maitri is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme, offering a 30% discount across a range of products and services.