KA: How, where and when did you first get introduced to Ayurveda?
Naomi: I found Ayurveda, like many of us, through a quest to resolve my own health issues. For over 10 years I suffered from digestive issues, chronic acne, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances. I saw all the experts and took all the tests, yet doctors had no answers. But deep down I knew there was a solution. As I skimmed through health blog after health blog I started noticing the word Ayurveda. I took note. Around the same time, my mom recommended a documentary on Netflix about this Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda. I immediately found the film— Ayurveda: The Art of Being, and from that point forward my life transformed. The next day I took the first step to changing my own health through Ayurveda. I made an appointment with a practitioner who, after a very thorough consultation, developed a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan for me. I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming with so many foods that I should and could not eat and herbal formulations with unfamiliar Sanskrit names. But, I was determined to gain control of my health and I could tell that this particular practitioner was very knowledgeable. I made a conscious choice to lean into everything she recommended. Trusting this process allowed me to experience the true power of Ayurveda. This journey opened my eyes to a new and more holistic approach to health than I had ever experienced. At that point, I knew that Ayurveda was something I wanted to study more deeply.
KA: What is your constitution?
Naomi: I am predominantly Pitta-Vata.
KA: Which of your Doshas is most likely to go out of balance and what herbal medicines and practices do you do to bring it back into balance?
Naomi: In the past, Pitta Dosha was at the root of most of my health imbalances. Today, my Vata tends to get a little unruly. This started post-partum (over three years ago). I wish I had been more consistent with Ayurveda then. Even though I had already been through my Ayurvedic treatment program and had gotten most of the previous Pitta-related issues under control, caught up in the excitement of my pregnancy I fell out of touch with my Ayurvedic practitioner. So regretfully, I did not take care of my post-partum body the way Ayurveda teaches. I now understand that after a woman gives birth, her Vata can go haywire. This is why women can suffer from anxiety, nervousness, depression, body aches, joint pains, gas, bloating and constipation. These are all classical symptoms of aggravated Vata! To calm these, I have used herbs such as: Shatavari, Ashwagandha, Bala, Dill, Fennel, and Cumin, along with warming massage oils, ghee, and heavier, nourishing, Vata-pacifying foods. Since the mind controls so many aspects of our physical bodies, I often start with medhya (mind) herbs as well. My go-to herbs to calm the mind are: Brahmi, Jatamansi, Shankapushpi, Guduchi and Licorice. Other ways I pacify Vata include walking in nature, practicing yoga, and quieting the mind through meditation and pranayama breathing exercises.
KA: What motivated you to become a certified practitioner?
Naomi: When I think about what motivated me to go from being a client of Ayurveda to a practitioner, there are three interconnected reasons. Ayurveda worked for me, so I wanted to pay it forward and help those I knew who were suffering from chronic health conditions.
I am living proof that Ayurveda works. I personally experienced the positive results, not only with the specific issues I initially sought treatment for, but so many other aspects of my life began to change for the better: my moods, emotions, relationships, stress levels, sleep, concentration. During this particular time in my life I was unfulfilled in my work and was seeking a career shift. I had always dedicated my life to “do-gooder” type of work, more on the macro societal and political levels. But there was always something in me that felt a little disconnected, like that work just was not my calling. Now understanding the concept of dharma, I feel that I am finally living in alignment with my life’s purpose.
After I encountered Ayurveda I began to see those closest to me suffering from chronic health issues, which I knew were probably resolvable. To me, modern medicine’s system of diagnosing and labeling is pretty dangerous. People become resigned to their own “disease” as if it were a permanent identity, and they are led to believe healing is unattainable. I literally cringe when I hear people proclaim, “I am a diabetic, or I am an [insert disease here]” and, “My doctor says there is nothing I can do and I have to take this medication for the rest of my life.” Hearing these statements trigger me because that is exactly what my doctor told me! If I had listened to him I am certain I would not be where I am today - looking and feeling the best that I ever have in my life, at the ripe young age of 39.
Needless to say, seeing those closest to me resigned to their diagnoses, combined with my very transformative experience with Ayurveda and my natural inclination to want to serve and empower people, I decided that becoming an Ayurvedic Practitioner was the way I could pay it forward while being most fulfilled. I embarked on this journey and have never looked back.
KA: There is so much in-depth information in the system of Ayurveda. Can you share some of your studying techniques that helped you remember information?
Naomi: While study techniques are important, it is the application of this knowledge that is most valuable. When I was studying in school, techniques like typing up my PowerPoint notes and making charts and flash cards helped me to remember all the critical concepts around the doshas, dhatus, srotas, rasas, gunas, herbs, pathologies, treatments, Sanskrit terms, and so forth. Those served me well for rote memorization, i.e. passing my exams. However, there is a difference between theoretical knowledge and application. I am grateful that my school’s program at the Southern California University of Health Sciences in Whittier, California had a bustling health clinic, where Ayurveda is offered alongside Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Massage Therapy.
My program required us to start interning at the clinic only a few months into the two-year program. While at the time it felt like birth by fire, I can fully appreciate gaining this experience and exposure early on. I soon began to feel confident working directly with clients, doing their intakes and treatments, mixing herbal prescriptions and getting comfortable talking to and assessing people from all walks of life with a vast array of health conditions. I am also grateful to have learned under the guidance of seasoned Ayurvedic doctors, all of whom were passionate and committed to teaching authentic Ayurveda from the classical texts and curriculum based from India. This hands-on experience brought to life what we were learning on paper, and I really do not think I would have been equipped to practice Ayurveda had I not gotten this extensive clinical experience. In short, the real “study techniques” came through the clinical application of the theory and concepts.
KA: What are your top three favorite books on Ayurveda?
Naomi: So many… of course, the classical texts, such as Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha are indispensable. As a student and practitioner there are many reference books and modern interpretations that are very useful, such as:
My top three books for an audience new to Ayurveda are:
A very practical book that I am really liking right now is Body Thrive by Cate Stillman.
KA: Have you ever felt discouraged on your journey with Ayurveda with health problems and your Ayurvedic education? If so, how did you overcome it?
Naomi: I have definitely had my moments of feeling discouraged even though overall I find this work very fulfilling. With regard to overcoming health problems, because I intrinsically know that becoming the healthiest in mind, body and soul is a lifelong journey with many ups and downs I almost expect setbacks. Likewise, with regard to education, I understand that learning the depth and vastness of Ayurveda is endless so I know to take it in stride. However, what I am finding most challenging is starting an Ayurvedic practice in a cultural context where Ayurveda is largely unknown to the vast majority and is a profession that has yet to be officially licensed. For practical reasons, this creates a barrier for a client who may benefit from Ayurveda but cannot afford it. More broadly speaking, as Ayurvedic practitioners we are faced with the ongoing task of simultaneously raising awareness, while working on all the aspects of building a business— marketing, social media, networking, giving workshops, start-up costs and investments, keeping books, and actually working directly with clients. Unfortunately, we are not yet privileged with coming out of school and applying for an established position in a health care setting. At the same time, it is exciting to be in this field during its beginning stage (here in the West). Yoga and acupuncture are now part of work health programs and covered benefits. I am confident that it is just a matter of time before Ayurveda joins them. I am optimistic that if I continue walking this path the future will be abundant with opportunities.
KA: What is the first thing you focus on when working with a new client who doesn’t know anything about Ayurveda?
Naomi: The first thing I focus on with clients is understanding the entire context of their lives. While it really depends on the client, I have found that most people are less concerned with the theory and concepts of Ayurveda because by the time they actually seek out Ayurvedic treatment they are so desperate to resolve their health issues. Oftentimes they have already exhausted all other avenues. Therefore, I spend less time explaining Ayurveda (unless they are in fact interested), and more time getting to know the client and understanding their immediate health issue within the context of their overall lives. I find out about their family, their childhood, their jobs, their diets and lifestyle. This helps me to gain a holistic understanding and begin to identify the root cause of their physiological imbalance. The first line of treatment in Ayurveda is nidana parivarjana - eliminate the causative factor. So while working directly on their specific issue with herbs and diet, I aim to tease out and address the causative factors, which are often deeply ingrained. So I offer them tools for incremental change along with a lot of ongoing encouragement.
KA: When a client becomes discouraged about slow results or difficulty breaking old habits, how do you help them stay focused and positive?
Naomi: When a client becomes discouraged I remind them of their vision and the reason they sought out Ayurveda in the first place. During the initial consultation we focus on overall health goals beyond the immediate need. For most people their goals are around things like increased energy, better sleep, emotional balance, less stress, better physical condition, more strength, and improved immunity. When a client becomes discouraged we revisit these. We breakdown the long-term goal, which may seem lofty and unattainable and we create very realistic and achievable baby steps. I assure them it is normal to have ups and downs but once embarking on this path there is a consistent trajectory of positive growth, even if that may not seem discernible in the moment.
KA: What do you think is the most important duty of an Ayurvedic doctor/practitioner?
Naomi: The most important duty of an Ayurvedic doctor/practitioner is practicing with the utmost integrity and intention to facilitate healing, always with the client’s best interests in mind.
KA: What is your mission as an Ayurvedic practitioner?
Naomi: My mission as an Ayurvedic practitioner is to work directly and deeply with my clients to support them in their own desires to be healthier and to raise awareness of Ayurveda. This includes demystifying it as this “woo-woo” ancient healing modality and uplifting it as a complete system of medicine with real scientific basis and proven effectiveness.
KA: What is your favorite part about being an Ayurvedic practitioner?
Naomi: My favorite part about being an Ayurvedic practitioner is supporting my clients toward fundamental transformation of their lives, and not simply short-term change. I am thrilled when my clients start seeing results and that sparks something in them to keep going and reaching for new heights. They are so thankful for my support in helping them to find the best tools and practices for their own healing. Ultimately, they become empowered in their own healing processes. I have also found that there is an exchange. I learn as much from each client as they do from me, so I am grateful for each and every person I cross paths with through this profession.
KA: How would you like to see your practice growing in the next 5 years?
Naomi: My vision for my practice is to open an integrated wellness clinic that is truly patient-centered with a variety of holistic health practitioners working together toward the healing of each patient. This center would include Ayurvedic practitioners, health advocates, hypnotherapists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, physical therapists, sound therapists, reiki practitioners and chiropractors all working as a team in the best interest of each patient. A similar model I have seen, funny enough, was in a briefly run spin-off of the television show Grey’s Anatomy called Private Practice. In this practice there was a doctor, a psychiatrist, an acupuncturist and even an Ayurvedic practitioner! They had meetings about each patient and referred them to each other toward the integrated healing of the patient, rather than for each practitioner’s individual profit. Given my extensive background in non-profits this clinic may be a non-profit or hybrid structure to create access for those with lower incomes and other barriers.
Check our Naomi's Vata-balancing Autum recipe!
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