1. How, where and when did you first get introduced to Ayurveda?
I was introduced to Ayurveda during a yoga teacher training in 2008. The studio owner brought a smorgasbord of raw foods and tried to explain them in terms of the doshas. As it turns out she was an extremely vata provoked vata individual, living in a vata environment at upwards of 8K’ elevation in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Regardless of how I was introduced to Ayurveda, here’s the thing: I was introduced to Ayurveda at just the right time in my life. Only five years earlier I was on another trajectory studying Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA when my father was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. I knew instinctually that there had to be “another way” to access health and wholeness in mind, body, and spirit, but at the time I was not ready for the depth and breadth of self-care and purification practices offered by Ayurveda. It took the deeper work of finding stillness (sthira) and single pointed concentration (dhārana) on the yoga mat to be prepare me for my introduction to the Elements (mahabhutani) as Beings with whom I could enter into relationship. That was the shift that occurred that led me to study the science of Ayurveda as a healing practice.
2. What is your constitution?
Tridoshic pitta. Sharp (pitta), quick (vata), and resilient (kapha).
3. 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?
Pitta! My favorite home remedy to bring pitta back into balance during the hot summer months is generous use of rose water spray and chandan as a paste or oil. I revere Australian Sandalwood for its kapha and pitta-soothing qualities, allowing us access to the sattvic qualitites of the sandalwood tree in the most sustainable way possible. Internally, I am rediscovering a love of neem, although it has to be used judiciously with its tikta/kasaya rasa, laghu guna, and sita virya which can be vata provoking. I am ever in love with Haridra (turmeric), which is currently being extolled throughout the functional medicine and natural healing community for its many health benefits.
During my four years studying at Alandi Ashram and Ayurveda Gurukula I fell into a deep and lasting relationship with Shri Chandra (the Moon) and have taken to moon bathing during warm summer nights or predawn with a paste of rose water, sandalwood, mandukaparni Centella asiatica, and brahmi Bacopa monniera smeared on my forehead. Seriously. Best. Ever. It is a protective, cooling, uplifting and soothing medhya rasayana.
4. What motivated you to become a certified practitioner and become so involved in the Ayurvedic community?
That whole notion of “another way” motivated me to study further and dive deeper into Ayurveda, pursuing four years of full time study with my teachers Alakananda Ma and Dr. Bharat Vaidya. The whole of humanity is terribly out of balance in this day and age – we pollute our water, air, and earth; our oceans are filled with garbage patches the size of Texas; the US Navy experiments with sonar waves off our coasts impacting orcas, whales, and other sea life; we continue to pursue fossil fuel energy in the form of “clean natural gas” by injecting toxic sludge into frack fissures; and we can’t seem to contain the carbon emissions and methane gas byproducts of this insatiable desire for energy. In the United States, our legislature refuses to have a reasonable debate about gun control let alone enact common sense legislation, and the US political scene is, well, a scene out of a bad reality TV show. Across the globe nearly 60 million people have been displaced – the worst refugee crisis in history. In health care we are dealing with an opioid epidemic that has ended the lives of nearly half a million people in the US between 2000-2014, and the World Health Organization recognizes that global obesity has also become “epidemic” with 1 in 5 people worldwide projected to become obese by 2025. Not to mention the depression epidemic that many of us are unwilling to face.
The Upanishads continually remind us Tat Tvam Asi - “there I am” or “that art thou,” and the Mundaka Upanishad reminds us that the Lord of Love is the “source of space, air, fire, water, and earth that holds us all.” I desired, on the soul level, to reconnect with the knowledge inherent in the ancient wisdom that birthed Ayurveda, to reconnect with Source, grounded firmly in this experience of life on earth and faced with the reality of this here-and-now, to be able to shine a light on the trail towards Self-Knowledge for others to follow – into wholeness, health, a sense of rhythm and community. Ayurveda is all this and more. If our earth is hurting, so are we. And as we hurt, the Earth hurts. Our healing is so much more than our individual experience of symptoms. For every person I can help, the implication of the ripple effect on our entire human experience is enormous.
5. There is so much in-depth information in the system of Ayurveda. Can you share some of your studying techniques that helped you remember the information?
During my first year of studies I wrote out notecards with Sanskrit words on one side and English transliteration on the other - or a philosophical question on one side, and the text from the Bṛhat-Trayī on the other. When I left the Gurukula and opened my practice, I placed a pile of my notecards on my desk to remind me to continually study. At the top of the cards tonight is a card that reads, “By knowing one science alone, one cannot arrive at an accurate scientific assessment. Therefore, a physician should study other sciences in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis.” Su SU 4:6
It’s an understatement to say that I’ll be at this a while. I may be at this for many lifetimes.
6. What are your top three favorite books on Ayurveda?
The Dravyaguna Vijnana by Dr. Gyanendra Pandey, volumes I-III, is a set of my three favorite books. This set of three books is enormous; these three volumes cross-reference every other important text in the study of the Ayurveda pharmacopeia, what I refer to as our “plant allies.” Glancing over at my bookshelf I’d have to add A Women’s Power to Heal by Mother Maya Tiwari and the Encyclopedia of Indian Medicine in 6 volumes.
My first love was found in the musty volumes of the Caraka Samhita though. I bought my first set used, online, from Abe Books.
7. Have you ever felt discouraged on your journey with Ayurveda and now working on becoming an Ayurvedic doctor? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes! The study of Ayurveda is not unlike finding yourself adrift in the middle of the ocean, bobbing on a vast sea of the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. Sometimes the ocean is peaceful and still, other times turbulent and terrifying. I use a simple method for overcoming discouragement, doubt, or fear of any kind. I sit with my eyes closed and breathe deeply. I become very, very still. And I listen. When I meditate, I can hear the “small still Voice within” which guides me, comforts me, and provides clarity about why I practice. That inner Voice has never steered me wrong.
8. What is the first thing you focus on when working with a new client who doesn’t know anything about Ayurveda?
I focus on their experience. If I can help a client interpret their own unique experience in the context of the doshas, by the qualities (gunas) that comprise the elements, so that he or she can begin to glimpse the rationale, the beautiful logic, and the being-ness of the elements at play from his or her own direct experience – then it doesn’t matter what I offer, recommend, or suggest. I know I have planted the seed of self-observation that will serve my client indefinitely.
9. When a client becomes discouraged about slow results or difficulty breaking old habits, how do you help them stay focused and positive?
I find that I spend a great deal of time in pep talk. I remind the client of why they came or how they found Ayurveda in the first place - that they are seeking health and harmony which requires their full and complete attention and ownership - and that their willingness to persist is the most important factor in their journey into health. I have had to remind clients that we can’t get to the deeper and more effective techniques (i.e., pancha karma and shodhan therapies) until they are ready mentally and physically. So persist, persist, persist with shaman therapy (ie, pacification therapy) and the day will come when they will know and I will know that they are ready. Pancha karma isn’t for everyone - despite what the tourism boards and delightfully enthusiastic practitioner will tell you. There are many contraindications of classic pancha karma that must be studied deeply to be understood.
10. What do you think is the most important duty of an Ayurvedic doctor/practitioner?
The most important duty of an Ayurvedic doctor is to know the specific “features of the doshas, drugs, place, time, strength, body, sāra (or how we know the essence of the doshas through their effect and movement through the dhatus), diet, suitability, psyche, constitution, and age because therapeutic treatment depends on this knowledge. The physician having no knowledge of the features of the doshas (etc.) is incapable of controlling the disease.” Ch VI I:3
That’s a big task, and one I continually strive towards accomplishing.
11. What is your mission as an Ayurvedic practitioner/doctor?
My mission is to help each and every client discover that you have the power within yourself to be your own supreme healer through radical self-care, knowledge of the Self and by coming into harmony with the elements and the doshas. These aren’t abstract concepts. This is Reality.
12. What is your favorite part about being an Ayurvedic doctor?
My favorite aspect of practicing Ayurveda is offering others access to healing with plant-based medicine in harmony with nature. The key to health does not lie “out there” in some textbook, hospital room, or operating theatre. We have access to health every day, every moment, every meal, every interaction and every observation we make within ourselves as we begin to recognize the dance of the doshas, the effect of the doshas and as we continually enter into relationship with the elements. To that I offer my hearty “Pranam”!
* Photos courtesy of www.coloradoayurveda.org/heather-baines
* Find out more about Heather at Roots of Wellness Ayurveda
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