Make Every Day a Spa Day With Ayurveda

(As originally published in Elephant Journal)

Have you ever walked out of your favorite spa wishing you could somehow make enough money to always feel the way you do when you step out of a spa? While there were no “spas” in the ancient times when Ayurveda was revealed to Rishis (sages) living in the Himalayas and faraway forests of India, these Rishis have discovered an incredible daily ritual to make you feel like every day is a spa day – regardless of your annual income.

Though many people may only associate the word “Ayurveda” with fancy, expensive spa treatments, Ayurveda is actually a complete medical science of life. The word “Ayurveda” derives from the Sanskrit words “Ayush,” which means “life” and “Veda,” which means “knowledge of.” And the beauty of Ayurveda’s wisdom is that it truly touches upon every aspect of life. From psychology to managing difficult diseases like psoriasis to practical home remedies, to seasonal, dietary and lifestyle recommendations to prevent diseases, to guidance on how to attain the ultimate spiritual goal of Self-Realization, Ayurveda offers health solutions at every level: body, mind and soul.

Abhyanga: A Powerful Disease Prevention Tool

There is an entire sub-branch of Ayurveda called Svasthavritta, which specializes in health consciousness, and teaches many spa-like rejuvenating self-care practices to help people actively increase their health and prevent disease. I feel so fortunate I have learned Svasthavritta practices at Vedika Global, and it is now a joy to teach them to beginner Ayurveda students at Vedika. One of the first daily health rituals I teach as part of dinacharya (Ayurveda’s recommended daily routine to live in harmony with nature) is the practice of self-massage.

The term for Ayurvedic self-massage is “Abhyanga,” a beautiful Sanskrit word that is comprised of the word “Aba,” meaning “glow” and “Anga,” which means “limbs.” Abhyanga literally brings a glow to our skin, reflecting the ever-glowing, shining nature of our indwelling spirits.

The Benefits of Abhyanga

An ancient Ayurvedic medical text called Ashtanga Hrdaya describes the manifold benefits of Abhyanga. Chapter Two, Verses 8-9 of Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutrasthana reveals:

“The advantages of the oil massage are that it wards off old age symptoms and exertion, bestows good vision, provides nourishment to the body, equips one with a long life, good sleep and healthy skin.”

The daily practice of Abhyanga also has a powerful effect of mitigating what is known in Ayurveda as the Vata Dosha, a state of matter consisting of air and ether elements. Vata Dosha is what goes out of balance in us when we feel stressed, don’t sleep enough, skip meals, travel or exercise excessively. In addition to its physical health benefits, Abhyanga has the added power of calming the mind, by calming Vata Dosha. Having had deep Vata Dosha imbalances when I first encountered Ayurveda, I can definitely attest to the degree of stability, grounding, strength and calmness I feel when doing Abhyanga. Since I have been doing Abhyanga, my joints also crack much less and my skin is clearer. When I was a teenager, people used to think I was in my 20s. Now that I am in my 20s, people are asking me if I am in my teenage years. I truly feel like my own bathroom has become like a magical spa, and my oil supply like a fountain of youth I have been fortunate to discover while I am still in my youth.

How To Do Abhyanga

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1. Purchase organic Sesame and/or Coconut oil from a health food store. Sesame oil is best in winter and spring and Coconut oil in the summer and early fall seasons.

2. Pour the oil into a small bowl, which can be placed inside a pot of boiling water to warm it. (Another option is to place a small bowl of oil into a mini, lunch-sized Crock pot to warm up.)

3. Once the oil is warm, sit on a towel and start by rubbing oil onto the bottoms of your feet.

4. Work your way up, from your feet to your calves, knees, thighs, hips, lower back, abdomen, chest, hands, arms, neck, etc. (but not on the face).

5. When you are oiling longer bones, move in upward and downward strokes. When oiling your joints, rub in a circular motion.

6. Spend some time oiling each part of your body, giving extra attention to any area that is particularly prone to pain and cracking. You can close your eyes while applying the oil if you like.

7. Take a shower with warm to hot water, which will allow your body to more fully absorb the oil.

8. Instead of using regular soap, which can dry out the skin, you can grind green mung lentils into flour in a blender and use this instead to scrub your body as you shower.

When To Do Abhyanga

  • On an empty stomach
  • Ideally after you have eliminated your bowels in the morning
  • Before you eat dinner in the evening
  • Especially important to do during the hot, dry months of summer and the cold winter season
  • Try to oil yourself daily, or at least three times per week

Abhyanga Contraindications

  • Never apply oil when you have active indigestion, fever, diarrhea, colds, coughs, flu, etc.
  • Do not do Abhyanga when menstruating
  • Avoid Abhyanga when raining or cloudy
  • No oiling wounds or rashes

If none of the above contraindications apply, the practice of Abhyanga will deeply benefit osteoporosis and other joint-related aches and pains as we age. Another word for oiling in Sanskrit is “Sneha,” which means “to love.” John Lennon once proclaimed that “All we need is love.” Most of us love to receive love, but this desire can often lead to feeling unloved by others. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned from my Ayurveda studies is the practice of not wishing so much to be in love or to receive love, but to actually be love itself. Being love begins with loving ourselves, and Abhyanga is one of the best ways I’ve learned to do that, in a practical way, every day. Start practicing self-love today with Abhyanga and you, too, will start to feel like every day is a spa day, thanks to the power of Ayurveda.

 

The Danger of More in Modern Yoga

(As published in Elephant Journal)

Even as Yoga explodes in popularity, its essence is being lost.

In recently performing an internet search for “Yoga in America,” I was saddened to see the latest of the slew of scandals related to Yoga (that happen not just in America, but throughout the world) appear at the top of my search results. Yoga, an ancient eight-fold practice originally designed to assist sincere spiritual seekers to access deep inner states of meditation and contemplation, seems to have become connected with a pervasive myth that more is better.

There is more music played in Yoga classes, more asanas (physical poses), more competition, more heat, more intensity, more challenging poses, more sexy clothing, more scantily clad students and teachers, more scandals.

There are more styles and names of Yoga than can ever be imagined, which always prompts the question I am so often asked: “what kind of Yoga do you practice (or teach)?”

I am very fortunate to be able to respond that, while I have been exposed to two other ‘styles’ of Yoga, I am now learning this practice from an unbroken lineage of teachers extending back to ancient times. My present Yoga teacher, Acharya Shunya, is the founder of an inspiring School of Ayurveda and Vedic Studies called Vedika Global. Acharya Shunya learned Yoga from her grandfather, Baba Ayodhyanath, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India. Baba Ayodhyanath, in turn, learned from his father, Paramatman Shanti Prakash, a 19th century saint, and from Master Yogis in the Himalayas (the home of Yoga and many other spiritual practices from India). The true and highest purpose of the practice of Yoga is Atmabodha: awakening to the truth of our spiritual nature. And the very fact that Acharya Shunya has decided to name the style of Yoga that Vedika Global offers as “Yoga for Atmabodha” reflects a much-needed reminder to modern Yoga seekers of the aim of Yoga, which is spiritual transcendence – not merely physical dexterity or flexibility.While Yoga asanas (physical poses) do definitely provide the body with many amazing benefits, the real purpose of Yoga is to purify the mind so that it may rest in its true spiritual essence. The word “Yoga” means “to unite” or “yoke together” in Sanskrit. Yoga is a Vidya (body of knowledge) that facilitates union with our own highest consciousness. When we collectively reduce the practice of Yoga to being merely physical, we miss an incredibly opportunity to benefit from a great Vidya.

The danger with the trendy nature of Yoga is that the practice will only continue to lose its philosophical and spiritual foundation and aim. The fact that there are more and more “types” or “styles” of Yoga emerging almost every day, it seems, has reduced the greatness of Yoga to associate primarily with various personalities, rather than with its ultimate purpose. While there may now be many names connected to the practice, there is only one Yoga. And while most people these days may be more likely to associate the phrase Ashtanga Yoga with one of the many ‘styles’ of Yoga (which fortunately associates more with the purpose of the practice, rather than any one personality), it is important for Yoga teachers to return to the roots of Yoga. At Vedika Global, we are blessed to learn not only Yoga, but Ayurveda, Vedanta and other Vedic sciences by studying the source scriptures of each Vidya. This scriptural study ensures that the teachings are as authentic and undiluted as possible in their transmission. And in the Yoga Sutras treatise, which were compiled by Master Yogi Patanjali, we will find the description of “Ashtanga Yoga.” “Ashta” means “eight” and “anga” means “limbs.” Ashtanga Yoga, therefore, is not just a single ‘style’ of asana practice – it is the philosophical basis for the entire spiritual path of Yoga. Chapter 2, Sutra 29 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, clearly illustrates:

Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana Samadhyo ‘Stav Angani

There are five Yamas and Niyamas, which are similar to the 10 Commandments, and form the ethical foundation of the Yoga practice. Only when we are living an ethical life, through following the 10 universal values that Yamas and Niyamas represent, can we start to learn Asana and Pranayama (extension of the life force through deliberate breathing exercises).

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News.
Photo courtesy of NY Daily News.

One of the Yamas (literally meaning “self-control”) is actually Brahmacharya, which does not mean total sexual abstinence, but rather a mindful reigning in of all the senses. Though the practice of Yoga does have a very physical component, by stressing the importance of control over the senses and the value of modesty, the ancient Rishis (sages) outlined a path of noble living for Yoga practitioners prior to even teaching them physical practices. The study of physical Asanas were, in fact, actually designed to support seekers in the practice of Brahmacharya, to access deeper states of spiritual consciousness. Nowadays, we have gone very far from the ideal of Brahmacharya, where modern clothing companies have begun competing to create more and more fashionable Yoga apparel, which reveal more and more bare skin, inviting a titillation of the senses that is about as far from the spiritual ideal of Brahmacharya as one can imagine. With just the way students and teachers alike adorn themselves for ‘Yoga’ classes these days, it is really no wonder that we are seeing such an increase in false gurus and sex scandals in the Yoga community.

And while the word “Yoga” has now begun to become more and more connected with sexy clothing, competition(s), fearsome poses, scandals and more, it is important to note that Yoga Asanas comprise only one of eight total steps along the path of Yoga. “Asana” is a beautiful Sanskrit word that means “seat.” By literally strengthening our ability to sit still for extended periods of time to delve deeper into study of the higher Self, devoted practice of Asana and Pranayama lead into the practice of Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from external objects), Dhyana (sustained meditation), and finally, to Samadhi.

Samadhi is a state of Self-Realization and equanimity, in which we are able to rise above joy and sorrow, and live in the freedom of our true Self. Samadhi is a synonym for Atmabodha, a Sanskrit word that derives from the root words “Atma,” which is “soul,” and “Bodha,” which means “to know.” The spiritual practice of Yoga, thus, extends far beyond the physical body and learning more and more advanced Asanas, to empower us with the sacred knowledge of who we really are, why we are here, and how to make the most of our time on earth.  With the majority of modern-day practitioners focusing primarily on the physical aspects of Yoga, without recognizing the original purport and intent of the practice, we have collectively paid a rather large price.

I am grateful for Yoga for Atmabodha, which represents a return to the original roots of Yoga, in the way it was engaged by the Rishis of yore, for the purpose of knowing, perfecting, and ultimately realizing one’s higher Self. If the trend in Yoga continues to veer in the direction of more, then my deepest wish is that we may move in the direction of more authenticity, more empowerment, more depth, more healing, more humility, more modesty, and more and more illumination, recognition, and realization of the truth of our spiritual essence.

Ayurveda for Body, Mind & Soul

The beauty of Ayurveda, especially in the traditional way we are blessed to learn this science at Vedika Global, is that it touches not only the body, but also the mind and soul, enabling the potential for profound personal transformation. At the level of the body, Ayurveda has taught me tremendous responsibility. At the mental level, I have learned from Ayurveda the importance of anchoring. For the soul, Ayurveda has provided the keys to liberation, and deeper connection with who I really am, beyond the body and mind.

Ayurveda has impacted me at the physical level by inspiring me to take responsibility for my own health. This is because, unlike modern, western medicine, which works at the level of mere symptom management, Ayurveda addresses the root causes of not only physical, but also emotional, and existential, suffering. Through Ayurveda, I have learned to become responsible for everything I allow to enter through the doorways of all of my senses. That is because I now know the significance of everything I put into my mouth, all that I see, what I put onto my skin, what kind of books I read, the television shows and movies I watch, the music I listen to, and the kind of company I keep.

The word “responsibility” can be broken down into the words “ability” and “response.” Responsibility is, thus, in a very real sense, our ability to respond, rather than react, to any given situation that may come our way. When we are unaware of what is causing the health problem(s) we face, it is only natural to feel a sense of helplessness. Before I knew why I would always feel (sometimes excruciating) pain at some point during my menstrual cycles, I used to dread that time of the month – even wishing I was a man, just to be able to not have to go through the torture of abdominal cramps and lower backaches.

From Ayurveda, I have become aware of every morsel of food and each liquid that enters my body, as well as the potential these substances have to create either ease or disease, depending on how much I consume, in which season, and with what state of Agni (digestive fire). I never would have thought that, by eating dry foods, like chips, crackers, and popcorn, drinking very cold water, and consuming spicy foods, like green and red chilies (that are so common to the modern Indian diet), I was actually further aggravating my period-related aches and pains. Having changed my diet and lifestyle according to Ayurveda’s detailed period protocol, with as simplified of a food and lifestyle plan as possible during periods, I now hardly experience any pain at all – something I never even imagined could be possible prior to my studies!

And even when I do experience some occasional period-related pain (which feels very slight compared with what I went through before), I know how to respond: time to boil water with ajwain seeds! It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly relief washes over my entire body, from such a simple solution that I can create for myself from virtually anywhere. I no longer need to have the once-a-month drug dependency I used to have on Motrin and Tylenol, nor do I have to simply suffer pain. Instead of carrying around heavy-duty-Advil pills, I now just carry my tried and tested, simple ajwain seeds with me, wherever I go. It works like magic, each and every time. Who would have ever thought that one of the solutions to my period problems resided right inside the spice box my traditional Indian mother has kept stocked 24/7, 365 days a year, since far before I was born? This has been just one of so many wonderful discoveries from my culture of origin that I have been truly blessed to find since I first began my Yoga journey, as a stressed-out second-year undergraduate business student living in New York City.

At the level of the mind, Ayurveda has taught me the importance of anchoring. Where does the mind dwell when it is unplugged from its usual power sources? For so many of us, work, personal relationships, cell phones, computers, newspapers, and bank accounts become very real anchors, upon which we begin to rely over time. But what happens when there is no electricity? When our loved ones pass on (as we all inevitably will, one day)? When the financial markets fall into a state of recession, or even worse, depression? What, then, is left to hold onto? Through my never-ending studies of Ayurveda, the Sun has become an amazing anchor, which I find myself plugging into, more and more.

Sun Rising Over the Indian Sky
Sun Rising Over the Indian Sky

Ayurveda worships the Sun (called “Surya” in Sanskrit) as the ultimate bestower of Arogyam, or amazing health. The Sun is, literally, the source of all of life. We are all solar-powered creatures, and living in harmony with nature’s rhythms, as dictated by the course and direction of Surya, empowers us to live the healthiest, and therefore, happiest, lives possible. Anchoring my mind in the Sun has meant, first and foremost, training myself to arise before it rises, to offer prayers, gratitude, and my desire to embrace my own innermost nature, which is as strong and powerful as the Sun I see in the sky.

Surya is completely independent – it shines whether or not it receives recognition or approval for doing so, simply because the nature of the Sun is to shine. A big source of mental stress arises from our expectations and desires not being fulfilled by others in our lives, whether it is our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, lovers, children, co-workers, or friends. The mind constantly wants to feel loved and seen. In learning to give love, rather than simply wish to receive it, we are able to expand, rather than constrict, our consciousness, which inevitably blesses us with more abundance, joy, and true love. Rather than becoming small by our desire for fulfillment from outside sources, I have learned, through my Ayurveda studies, ways we can fill ourselves up with love from the inside, and actually become love itself. The Vedic spiritual tradition teaches us that we are filled with abundant, universal love and light, at the truest, deepest essence of our own being. And, in being love, we need never miss that which we actively acknowledge we are. Being love is all about appreciating our fullness, and acting from a space where we feel full, rather than empty or lacking in any way.

There is a beautiful Vedic sun worship ritual I have been fortunate to learn from Acharya Shunya (Vedika Global’s Founder & Head Teacher), called Surya Upasana. “Upasana” means “to worship.” In Surya Upasana, the first aspect, or quality, of the Sun that we invoke is that of a “Mitra,” which is “a friend.” When we chant “OM Mitraya Namaha,” we not only praise the Sun for being friendly and affectionate to all, but also actively invite this quality into ourselves. Practicing Surya Upasana is part of my daily morning routine, a sacred time in which I am able to observe and let go of the impurities of my mind, and anchor it, instead, in the auspicious qualities of Surya.

Our modern world is one of constant chaos and change. This, along with having Vata dosha (an Ayurvedic physiological constitution comprised of air and ether, which are both known for creating a lot of change and motion) in my mind and body, have made the anchoring of daily and seasonal routines, revolving around Surya’s cycles, incredibly healing for me. When my mind is confronted with a moment of doubt, anger, worry, fear, or any number of negative thoughts and emotions, rather than becoming buried in the endless abyss of my feelings, thanks to my anchoring, I now find myself chanting one of the many Surya mantras I have been blessed to learn from Acharya Shunya, and coming back to my center, sooner and sooner than ever before.

For the soul, Ayurveda has empowered me with an incredible feeling of freedom, an ever-deepening, abiding connection with the spiritual part of me – my innermost essence, which remains untouched by the ups and downs, and transitory nature of life on earth. The goal of all the Vedic sciences is nothing less than the lofty goal of Atmabodha: the journey of awakening to our spiritual essence (with “Atma” meaning “soul” and “bodha” meaning “to know“). Ayurveda teaches us so many wonderful ways to care for the body, and tools with which we can anchor and train the mind, and it is all so that we can really come to know, understand, and ultimately, realize our true identity with the soul within, which is eternally one with the universal soul, existing everywhere.

The beauty of this ultimate freedom that Ayurveda connects us with is that, unlike the responsibility we must take in caring for our bodies, and the training we need to anchor the mind with auspicious qualities, we need not do anything to “be spiritual,” because we all already are spiritual beings. We need not “do,” but rather learn to “be.” In empowering us to strip away the layers of physical and mental disease and distress, Ayurveda sets us free, to become who we are, at the deepest core of our own being. And in that beautiful space of being, I have the opportunity to see the real “me,” which is eternally free. In my expansive state of being, my perception of “me” becomes “we,” as I begin to understand the nature of the Ultimate Reality, in which there is no separation, even between me and my so-called “enemy.” From Ayurveda, I have learned to see myself in others, more and more. From Ayurveda, I now recognize that the more I love myself, the more my definition of who I am expands into a much larger sense of Self, which is one with all that is, was, and will be.

Seeing Our Destinies in Our Own Hands

(As published on Elephant Journal as a “Staff Pick”)

Ayurveda is often thought of as being an art of living. Our life is the canvas, and our thoughts and actions are like a palette, from which we can paint any picture we wish. It has been said that as we act, so we become. There is a popular expression from the ancient Indian spiritual text called the Upanishads, which beautifully reveals this truth:

“Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

The Sanskrit word “Karma” literally means “action,” or “activity.” We perform so many Karmas every single day. These Karmas are of three types:

  • Thoughts
  • Speech
  • Physical actions

Our thoughts become speech, and our speech and actions mold and shape our characters, which dictate our destinies. The seemingly small choices we make on a day-to-day basis, starting from the moment we rise in the morning, till the moment we rest in the evening, add up to make a huge difference in creating the quality of our lives. Our thoughts are ultimately what influence our actions, and in addition to waking up early, one of the best ways I’ve started to think more positively is by performing a beautiful spiritual practice I learned from my Ayurveda teacher Acharya Shunya ji. The practice is called Kara Darshanam. “Kara” is a Sanskrit word that means “hands” and “Darshanam” means “to gaze,” in a reverential way.

The Sun represents the power of the eternal soul. Waking up early to greet it has been a powerful spiritual practice for me. (photo courtesy of Liveperson.com)
The Sun represents the power of the eternal soul. Waking up early to greet it has been a powerful spiritual practice for me. (photo courtesy of Liveperson.com)

As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I first gaze at the palms of my hands. I cup my hands together as if I’m holding water in them. I look at my hands, and appreciate them for being a primary instrument that empowers me to take positive actions (Karmas) in my life. Having struggled with anorexia nervosa as a teenager, I can clearly recognize now how my insistence on filling my body with as little food as possible was a physical manifestation of a deep inner battle regarding personal control. Starving myself for long periods of time used to fill me with a sense of euphoria, because I felt I could control one of the most primal human needs: to eat. What felt like a spiritual quest for self-mastery to my ego at that time, in reality, only led to a wasting away of my bodily tissues. The true change needed to come from a deeper space, which studying at Vedika Global has helped me connect with, inside my own self, more than any other place.

Learning how to surrender to the presence of an all-pervading spiritual power that is greater than my own limited self (my ego) has brought about a great transformation in my life. Seeing my hands immediately upon waking up each morning has been a powerful affirmation of and way to strengthen my connection with the great Spirit that ultimately holds all beings and things, seen and unseen.

My personal transformation has been guided by the grace and blessings of many teachers, who have compassionately reached out and held my hand when needed. Now, when I gaze at my own hands every morning, I see not only the kindness-filled faces of my teachers, but also remind myself of the responsibility I have to reach out to hold the hands of others who may be in need, as I once was. I affirm to myself that in reaching out to hold others’ hands, I am also being held by the hand of that great Spirit, and that I am thus never alone in facing whatever difficulties may come my way. I cannot control what happens to me, but how I respond, rather than blindly react, to the hardships in my life has molded, and will continue to mold me into a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate person. I surrender my self into the hands of that benevolent, higher spiritual force each morning, so that the divine may ultimately direct my actions to become more and more wholesome, compassionate, and life-giving, leading myself and those I may touch, physically, or in spirit, towards true peace, health, and wellbeing.

I have been blessed to learn beautiful Sanskrit mantras to accompany my morning Kara Darshanam practice from studying at Vedika Global. One can offer any prayer from any religious or spiritual tradition to accompany this practice, however. The words are not nearly as important as the sacred intention of aligning our thoughts, speech, and actions with our best and highest possible self, and offering everything we think, speak and do to something greater than ourselves. In doing so, we affirm that our destinies truly lie within our own hands.

Watch Vedika Global’s Official Trailer

Ayurveda, in the unique and traditional way it is taught at Vedika Global, has profoundly changed my life…this trailer captures some of the magic that can be experienced at Vedika…if you or anyone you know lives in or around the SF Bay Area, attending the 2-month or 1-year courses will definitely be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

You can read more about my experiences here:

Listen to Ayurveda students and teachers from Vedika Global share what makes Vedika unique, as well as personal transformation experiences.

Vedika Global’s popular courses in Emeryville, CA are now open for admissions – classes begin in January 2014 (see below for more info + to apply today):

Re-blogged from http://vedikaglobalblog.com

Ayurveda & Rakshanam: Protecting the Positive

Having officially discovered Ayurveda (the ancient Indian medical science and art of healing) as a 22 year old, and having grown up in mainstream American culture, I have definitely seen and been part of what I often think of as a “throw-away” society. In this modern society, which is  rapidly spreading all over the world, we constantly seek out the ‘latest and greatest,’ only to very quickly tire of our various toys. These ‘toys’ range from electronic gadgets, reflecting the most recent technological advances, to fad diets, to fashionable clothing, to designer watches and purses, to expensive vacations meant to relax us, but that only end up tiring us out even more, to relationships we pick up and then easily drop and replace for seemingly more interesting or otherwise attractive people. Reflecting on the biggest surprise from my studies of Ayurveda, I would have to say it has been the principle of “Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam.” “Svastha” is a Sanskrit word meaning “health,” and “protecting the health of the healthy” is the meaning of this phrase.

From my first official Ayurveda class, where my teacher, Acharya Shunya ji, recited the “Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam” shloka (poetic verse), I have been fascinated by it. Ayurveda is unique in how it stresses to all of humanity the true value and purport of not only managing disease in the best manner possible, but also actively protecting whatever amount of health we are presently blessed to have. Far from the consumer attitude I have grown up with in America, inherent to my Indian roots is an art and science that teaches us that health is our birthright, and that there is, in fact, a deep part of us all, our innermost essence, which is always completely healthy. We don’t need any external toys or objects to fulfill us, once we can connect with our inherent fullness. In Ayurveda, I have found so many amazing, all-natural, drug-free ways to reconnect with the true health that this science teaches me is my essential nature.

Ayurveda has taught me the value of investing in my health. I have learned that the more I take care of my health, the more it will grow, and the stronger it will become. Learning Ayurveda has also inspired me to more broadly appreciate the art of preservation of wealth, which I am learning through studying the principles of investment management. After all, wealth operates a lot like health: the more you ignore it, the more it goes away. Inherent to the notion and concept of “Rakshanam,” or protection and preservation of what is positive in our lives (with health also being a powerful form of wealth), is a profound sense of gratitude. One of the Yamas (observances) of the spiritual science of Yoga is Santosha, which I understand to be synonymous with the value of contentment, being happy with, and appreciative of what we have. Whatever we express gratitude for in our lives tends to grow, so why not express gratefulness for our health in as many ways as we possibly can?

The emphasis on living by higher ideals to achieve health at all levels has also been a pleasantly surprising discovery from Ayurveda. It’s hard to imagine learning about the importance of cultivating spiritual values, such as Satsangha (keeping wise company), Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice), and Seva (selfless service), when visiting a modern, western medical practitioner. But one can’t really achieve abiding health through Ayurveda without cultivating the virtues of patience and perseverance, amongst many others, because of the amazingly detailed health promotion protocols Ayurveda lays out through the path of Svasthavritta (a Sanksrit word meaning “maintenance of health”). From Ayurveda, we learn that it is not enough, or even a good idea, to take prescription pills daily to attain “health” – we must work to promote health through our every thought, word, and action, which demands of us the continual application of consistency, clarity, and conviction in everything we think, speak, and do. Reflecting further on ideals, I love how Acharya Shunya ji once shared that we can find insights on how to best deal with toe fungus, as well as realize the truth of we are, in the very same Ayurvedic text. What other science can that be said for?

Having grown up with the standard “eat healthy and get plenty of exercise” health advice (with a blanket statement about health given by the FDA in the form of one pyramid to guide all, irrespective of an individual’s particular needs and attributes), it has been a beautiful surprise to learn the value of Satsangha (keeping wise company) for physical health. It is, however, hard to imagine choosing health-promoting habits when in the constant company of those who are addicted to various substances, whether they be drugs, or even hamburgers, or frozen yogurt (my own former favorite substance!). I look forward to working to spread knowledge of the sacred science of Ayurveda so that we can all have more and more people in our lives who know how to be healthy, practice promoting health, and support and inspire us to live in truly healthier ways.

More generally speaking, the value of Satsangha (staying in the sangha, or company, of Sat, which is truth) has been an amazing molding instrument of my mind. Even when I am not able to be physically surrounded by people who follow an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, I have found it incredibly important to give my mind the company of positive thoughts, especially those recorded by the ancient Rishis (seers) of India, whose every Shloka (poetic verse) can truly unlock so many answers.

The Shloka that defines Ayurveda, in and of itself, holds so much truth…

hitahitam sukham dukham ayustasya hitahitam manam cha taccha yatroktam ayurveda sa uchchyate

The very first word of the Ayurveda definition, “hitahitam,” is so brilliant…in delineating what is “hita” (beneficial) and “ahita” (non-beneficial) for us at all levels (body, mind, senses, and even soul), Ayurveda not only lays out a clear, individualized path of health for seekers – it also inspires discrimination. It takes discrimination to follow Ayurveda. In a world where we are given so many different recipes to attain health, as well as overall ‘success’ (normally defined in primarily a monetary way), it takes discrimination to determine that which is truly beneficial for us. I believe and trust in Ayurveda because it has withstood the test of time, and has proven to be just as powerful in my modern life as it was in the ancient times in which it was revealed and recorded by the Rishis of India.

An offering by one of our student chefs to the kitchen altar at Vedika Global (my Ayurveda school), where everything about eating is a beautiful art form.

I think we all generally know that eating well is essential to good health, but only in learning Ayurveda have I been able to view the kitchen as being like a magical medical clinic, in which we have the power to create as much health as we please, with our very own two hands. I never thought of cooking as a spiritual practice before learning Ayurveda. Having struggled with eating disorders as a teenager, I have really experienced the power of food to heal my whole being.

Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice) has now truly become the best way to describe my entire experience around eating, from the act of selecting and chopping vegetables, to the beautiful prayer of gratitude I’ve learned to recite prior to eating, to connecting with my deepest reservoirs of inner power and health, while aiding my digestion by sitting in Vajrasana (a special Yoga pose) after meals. Before learning Ayurveda, I used to treat my body like a trash can, consuming so much junk food, eating beside the sink, while driving, or working on the computer. Now, the entire act of eating has transformed itself into a sacred ritual and art in which I can really connect with the divine in the food itself, in the person(s) who grew, cultivated, and cooked the food, and in the act of cooking.

Before studying Ayurveda, I never realized just how much our personal relationships play a role in our physical, as well as mental, health. In this aspect of life, the concept of preservation has also proven powerful and transformational. While it has become all too commonplace to replace relationships, one after the other, in search of the elusive ideal of the perfect ‘other,’ I have learned from Acharya Shunya ji the value of preserving and protecting the relationships we have. It is more important for us each to work on becoming the ideal partner, parent, relative, and friend that we may wish to have in the form of another. I love that the Ayurvedic texts mention Seva (selfless service) as a way to cultivate one’s health, by going beyond wishing to fall in love, or to receive love from someone else, to teaching us to actually become love. Seva, to me, is really love in action, and an important value to practice in the context of relationships. How we treat others determines how others treat us, as the fruit of our karma (actions) do eventually return to us, even if not immediately.

In a culture where casual sex has become the norm, and commitment a rarer phenomenon, the value of preservation and protection, once again, is an essential teaching of Ayurveda. It is inspiring to me how Ayurveda teaches that the same fluid that gets released and exchanged during the sexual act is utilized to create health, vitality, immunity, and beauty in each and every cell of the body, when mindfully contained. Where, when, why, how, and with whom we exchange these vital fluids become essential questions to ask of ourselves in regards to sexuality. In this way, Ayurveda promotes more meaningful, rather than more frequent, sexual exchanges. It is about quality versus quantity (a philosophy that can be extended to many aspects of life).

Ayurveda has more broadly taught me the invaluable lesson of conservation of energy: a very active way of promoting the principle of protecting the health of the healthy. I now really scrutinize my every movement, via car, plane, and train, and always ask myself if the purpose of my excursions are truly worthwhile and meaningful to me, or if they are not actually fully necessary. This is because I have now learned that excessive traveling can easily lead to the buildup of many imbalances in the body that are connected with Vata dosha (a state of matter, consisting of air and ether, which is responsible for creating a tremendous amount of diseases).

Speech is also a form of energy, and too much speaking can also deplete the body of vitality. I never imagined the power of conserving my speech prior to studying Ayurveda, but in learning to do so, I have come to really appreciate how much power each word can possess, when emerging from the potent space of silence. I cherish silence so much now that I take at least one full day per week to be completely silent, and find that this practice gives my mind the opportunity to receive so many insights, and the clarity I need to navigate my life with more peace and ease.

This Thanksgiving Holiday, I am overflowing with gratitude to the ancient Rishis of India, for gifting to humanity the sacred science of Ayurveda, and especially for the biggest surprise of my Ayurveda student journey: Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam, protecting the positive, in every way possible.

New Year’s Resolutions: 9 Sankalpas for 2013

The Sanskrit word for “resolution” or “intention” is Sankalpa. The number nine is considered very auspicious in Indian spirituality. This is because of the number nine’s connection with the number three…three is considered the number of completion, as in the cycle of life (birth, life, death), the construction of any quality story or other writing (beginning, middle, end), and the stages of one’s life (youth, middle age, old age). There are three divisions to the day: morning, afternoon, and night. Time is also a triple division, of past, present, and future.

Ayurveda (the ancient Indian art and science of life) teaches that there are three primary gunas, or qualities of nature, that pervade the entire universe: sattva (purity, peacefulness, harmony), rajas (passion, activity, motion), and tamas (inertia, darkness, stagnation). One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is that of the three doshas, or bio-psychic forces comprised out of the five great elements, with vata dosha consisting of air and ether, pitta dosha comprising fire and water, and kapha dosha containing earth and water.

The number three also contains religious and spiritual significance, with the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (representing creation), Vishnu (symbolizing preservation), and Shiva (a metaphor for destruction). Christianity also possesses a Holy Trinity of three powerful forces: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Three being such an important numeral of life and nature, the number nine, which is three times three, is thus considered very auspicious. As a young Indian woman, the number nine, for me, also resonates deeply with being a woman. This is because of the presence of the Hindu festival of Navratri. “Nav” means “nine” and “ratri” is “night.” Navratri is a nine-night festival of celebrating the one goddess (personifying the non-gendered, undifferentiated consciousness, called Brahman in Vedanta, the Indian science of Oneness), who is worshipped in nine different aspects.

Contrary to the widespread disregard and abuse of women in modern-day India, the Indian spiritual tradition is actually very rich with deep reverence for the power and role of a woman, and is one of very few, if any, traditions that still offer goddess worship today. (In ancient times, almost all cultures and civilizations had some form of goddess worship.) There is a reason why India is called “Mother India.” Indians, especially from the state of Gujarat, where my parents hail, love to do garbha dancing throughout the nine festive nights of Navratri. While most Indians are aware that the dance is an offering of worship, what most people are not cognizant of is the fact that the word “garbha” derives from the Sanskrit word “garbho,” which means “womb.” The garbha dance is done in a circle, symbolizing, and thus celebrating, the reproductive aspect of women. The nine days of Navratri represent the nine months of pregnancy, as well as the spiritual journey of Self-realization (enlightenment).

In 2013, I will turn 27, which is divisible by three, and adds up to nine (2+7) in numerology. According to Vedic astrology, this is also supposed to be an auspicious year for marriage for me. I have nine Sankalpas for this New Year of life:

  1. Seva (selfless service)
  2. Sadhana (spiritual practice)
  3. Satsangha (keeping wise company)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Sattva (cultivating purity, harmony, and balance)
  6. Storytelling
  7. Sharing
  8. Sanskrit
  9. Self-realization

Seva” is a Sanskrit word for “selfless service.” Service is the very purpose of life; as someone once said “it is the rent we pay for being alive.” The Indian culture is a profoundly grateful one. Thus, in the Indian spiritual tradition, there are three primary debts (called “rin” in Sanskrit) that each person must pay off: to one’s family (especially parents), teachers, and to God. I have a lot to be grateful to my parents, teachers, and God for. For the gift of my life, I am deeply indebted and grateful to my mother, who, along with myself, almost died in childbirth. Her and my father have generously provided for all my material needs, even when they both did not have very much themselves. Thanks to their hard work, I do not have any financial debts to pay off, and have lived a physically comfortable life so far.

Through my parents, I have also discovered wonderful role models in several of my relatives on both sides of my family. My mother’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were renowned Ayurveda healers, who I feel deeply connected to as I continue my studies of this great spiritual science. My father’s father broke a whole cycle of violence by transforming himself into a profoundly spiritual man who provided service in the way in the way it was always intended to be rendered: without any expectations. My paternal uncle and maternal aunt have continued my grandfathers’ legacies in their own beautiful ways, the stories of which I am looking forward to writing in a book I intend to write about Family, both the one I was born into, as well as the one I’ve chosen in my life, which includes so many incredible teachers. A life of service has always deeply appealed to me. Having received so much education on how to care for myself and others physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially, I am looking forward to beginning a holistic counseling practice at the end of 2013, to give back the knowledge of health and wealth I have received.

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Beautiful Yoga students of mine in Gujarat, India

Sadhana” is Sanskrit for “disciplined spiritual practice.” Yoga, meditation, and prayer are three common forms of Sadhana that I have practiced for the past seven years. In the past two years, I have learned two beautiful additional Sadhanas: Japa practice (mantra repetition on a rosary of 108 beads, called a “mala” in Sanskrit), and Sandhya Vandam (a beautiful offering of gratitude to God in the form of the effulgent, ever-illuminating Sun). My Yoga and meditation practices have deepened since learning more about the deeper significance of the Gayatri mantra (which is considered the most sacred mantra of India). This year, I am looking forward to working with my teacher to compile many of her and her grandfather’s deep teachings related to the true significance of the great Gayatri mantra into a book.

Beyond my formal morning practices, Sadhana is a core value of the Vedika Global lineage. Sadhana extends far beyond the mat, and is something I strive to apply to all my relationships. When giving me my Jyotish (Vedic astrology) reading, the astrologer wanted to bring my attention to my upcoming marriage. I have Mars in my seventh house. Mars is traditionally known to be a very passionate planet, responsible for conflict and a lot of upheaval. The seventh house indicates the nature of one’s marital life. The astrologer told me that my future husband will “say things that will hurt me” and that I have to “make a practice out of not taking things so personally, as he won’t mean any harm by what he says, and is innocent.” The Sanskrit word for the planet Mars is “Mangal.” Another meaning for “Mangal” is auspicious, so, after many years of being uncertain and afraid of getting married, I am actually looking forward to this life change, whenever it may happen. I feel it will be an excellent way to go deeper into my Sadhana. I am also looking forward to having and taking care of children, as a way to repay my debt of gratitude towards my own parents.

Satsangha” is derived from two words: “Sat” and “Sangha.” “Sat” means “truth” in Sanskrit, and “Sangha” means “company” or “association.” Satsangha thus means staying in the company of truth. Satsangha, for me, has meant attending classes in subjects like Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta, which deal directly with helping sincere students understand the deepest truths about the inter-connectedness of all of life. Applying the value of Satsangha into my life has extended beyond the classroom, however, and has taught me to be more discriminating about the quality and characters of the people I spend my time with. When there is no one around with whom I can discuss spiritual topics, I tend to spend time studying great spiritual texts, which leads me to the next value I strive to continue living by in 2013…

Svadhyaya” is Sanskrit for “self-study.” It is not enough just to hear or read about spirituality; one must contemplate what one has learned, and then integrate it into one’s day-to-day life. This is the three-pronged process of study in the Vedic Indian spiritual tradition, which I am learning from my teacher Shunya ji. “Shravanam” is the Sanskrit word for “deep listening to what is taught,” “mananam” means “to contemplate what one has heard,” and “nidhidhyasana” signifies the process of application of knowledge to life. Svadhyaya is a form of mananam, or contemplation, which allows spiritual seekers to scrutinize our own selves to see where we can improve ourselves, where we can continue to grow and evolve. This New Year’s Sankalpa writing is a form of Svadhyaya for me.

Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (Sanskrit for “observances”) of the Yoga tradition, as outlined by Master Patanjali (the author of the famous treatise “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras”). In addition to examining one’s own self for areas of improvement, and reflecting on one’s thoughts, words, and actions (and thereby improving one’s future karma), another wonderful form of Svadhyaya recommended by Patanjali is to study the lives of saints. Studying the lives of great teachers and leaders can be a profound source of inspiration for us as we seek to make our own marks upon the world. It can also provide comfort in trying times along the spiritual path (the most arduous – and rewarding – journey one can ever take).

In continuing my practice of Svadhyaya, I resolve to continue to develop more Sattva guna in my life. “Sattva” in Sanskrit is the quality of peace, harmony, clarity, balance, detachment, and the true joy that comes from within one’s own soul. The nature of the soul is Sattva. When the surface layers of Rajas (the quality of passion and attachment, which can lead to violence and aggression) and Tamas (the quality of inertia and darkness connected with the subconscious, which can lead to committing crime, theft, and abuse) are washed away from criminals through practices like Yoga and meditation, what remains is the pure light of Sattva. I have seen this for myself when I used to teach these practices to juvenile delinquents in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it was truly an inspiring experience to behold. As one of my students once shared with me:

“For a long time, I avoided dealing with my parents’ divorce. Practicing meditation has helped me go into it. Now whenever I have to deal with my parents fighting when they visit me here, I focus on breathing in the good they have to say and exhale all the negativity that comes up when I have to be around them both together. I used to want to help my parents get back together and thought there was a way I could do that. Now I realize the only thing I can really change is myself.

I often get mad when I think of my grandparents who died, as I wish I could be closer to them. I also get angry when I start to feel that my parents’ divorce was my fault. Instead of going off on someone when I’m mad, I’ve learned how to just be quiet for even five minutes, which puts me in a place where no one else can go but me.

As I’m leaving this place, I don’t want to be a threat to society anymore. I don’t want the police to recognize me as a troublemaker anymore. I can live, go to work and get paid the right way. I can take care of and support myself. I want to help others before I help myself now. My grandparents used to always say “if you do something right for others, you get that back.” I like to help kids. I want to be like your friend Laura, who goes to help others in countries where they don’t have food, clothes and shelter. I love to travel and plan to go to Haiti and New Orleans to volunteer if I have the chance.”

Any action we take in our daily lives can fall into the category of Sattva, Rajas, or Tamas. Ayurveda teaches seekers so many wonderful ways to cultivate more Sattva guna through the foods we consume, the spices we use, our daily routines, the kinds of conversations we have, the types of books we read, the company we keep (Satsangha), and the nature of the work we do.

The Vedic astrologer told me that my basic life purpose is to serve as a teacher. I have always loved serving in this capacity for children, ever since I was a child myself. So much of teaching is a matter of effective Storytelling, which I intend to do more of. I have had the  good fortune of helping edit the English translations of some of Shri Daya Prakash Sinha’s (who I affectionately call “Tata ji,” which means “respected grandfather in Hindi) most famous Hindi plays these past two years. I have learned so much from Tata ji about Indian History and Mythology through our play editing processes. All of Tata ji’s many plays tell stories that bring Dharma, a Sanskrit word meaning “duty, ethical conduct, charity, law, the innate duty of things (e.g. the dharma of fire is to burn)” to life in provocative and important ways. I am looking forward to continuing to learn from Tata ji and doing Seva with the intention of spreading his messages.

Included in the debt of gratitude one must re-pay to God is that which we owe to the Rishis (Sanskrit for “sages” or “seers”) who have given us so much spiritual wisdom to help us navigate our lives with more well-being and ease. Through creating the nine forms of the goddess worshiped during the Navratri festival, for example, what the Rishis have offered to us are personifications of God as human beings going through all the trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows that we people experience. They have created some brilliant characters worth doing Svadhyaya on, and then emulating in one’s life.

My teachers have literally and figuratively opened up a brand new world and new life for me, in more ways than I can even imagine. I am thus looking forward to Sharing stories about my teachers and what they have taught me, as well as my own experiences, for the benefit of others. I feel that I have received so much that I am compelled to share as much as I can of the universal healing wisdom, spirituality, arts, and culture of India with the world. Last year, I truly enjoyed organizing a performance opportunity for 16 children to share the message of Ekatva, a Sanskrit word meaning “Oneness” with 1,500+ people in California. I am looking forward to continuing to contribute to promoting, spreading, and sharing Indian arts and culture through writing, speaking, marketing, and the performing arts. One hallmark of Vedanta-inspired storytelling is the ability to write one’s own script, which is something I am deeply inspired by, and intend to do more of as I continue my quest of creating pattern-breaking, sustainable, and scalable changes in my life.

Interwoven throughout this Sankalpa writing is the transformational language of Sanskrit, which produces changes in one’s subtle body of thoughts, which translates into speech and action, creating the reality we live in. Sanskrit is a language that one need not even understand to feel more peaceful from encountering it, either through listening, reading, or writing. It is considered the Mother of all languages. It is a musical language, full of poetry, and a truly positive perspective on life. There are not even any self-defeating words in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit is like the key that unlocks the deeper mysteries of life, as contained by Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta, Gayatri Sadhana, and Indian Mythology. I am looking forward to deepening my studies of Sanskrit this year, being transformed by it, and to sharing it with others.

And, finally, I dedicate all of my Seva, Sadhana, Satsangha, Svadhyaya, Sattva, Storytelling, Sharing, and Sanskrit studies to the pursuit of my main goal in life, which is Self-realization (or enlightenment). As any and all of my previous eight Sankalpas can easily become ego-driven activities, which can definitely bind me more to worldly attachments and expectations, and a whole lot of self-created suffering as a result. By putting the pursuit of Self-realization first, I intend to live my life in such a way that I create more freedom for myself and others, rather than manifest more bondage. I hope that this will be a year where I find myself remembering who I am more often than forgetting, where I can see my Self mirrored in others, and focus the majority of the direction of my attention on the light of love, which you and I are but mere reflections of.

Happy New Year!

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