To embrace this month’s theme of balance, we decided to explore Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short), one of the world’s oldest holistic healing practices. Years of moderate dabbling in yoga meant that we had heard the word bandied about, but we wanted to consult an expert in the field to fully understand the science and theory behind the system...because, yeah, we’re nerds like that.
To learn more about how Ayurveda helps to maintain the balance between mind, body and spirit, we spoke with Ayurvedic practitioner Anjali Deva, founder of Rooted Rasa here in Los Angeles. Anjali walked us through the nearly 5,000 year old system, and how it can be integrated into our 2019 lives.
What led you to the world of Ayurveda?
Anjali:I was introduced to Ayurveda by my father who is an Ayurvedic Doctor. It has been a part of our family for many generations and, though I tried to rebel against it, I came back to it 9 years ago! It’s an incredible system with so much knowledge to offer, I feel like I have something to study for the rest of my life! I started studying at Kerala Ayurveda Academy here in Los Angeles in 2011. I then traveled to India to meet Ayurvedic doctors there, and have studied with many teachers here in the US and India.
What makes you so passionate about your chosen field?
Anjali: I love Ayurveda because it has been a part of my family for many generations and it lets me honor my ancestral lineage while helping people to feel better!
My passion began in the kitchen with a desire to understand how the food we eat influences our bodies and minds in order to better understand why I was not feeling well. This passion has now grown to include helping people find their inner wisdom, clarity and health through the wisdom of Ayurveda, which has helped me heal. Through self-care practices I hope to help people find their inner harmony and resilience. My dream is to create greater consciousness and community in all practices of wellness.
How has Ayurveda had a personal impact on your own health?
Anjali: I turned to Ayurveda when I was suffering from digestive health issues, anxiety and eczema that covered my face. I knew there was a connection between the multiple symptoms I was having, yet no doctor could tell me why. Ayurveda has helped me understand the role of food in my health, and how my digestive system is affecting my mood and overall health. Ayurveda has helped me tremendously with all three, and I have been eczema free for 4 years now!
What exactly is Ayurveda?
Anjali: Ayurveda is a traditional medical system from India. Currently in India, it is still practiced with its own medical schools and hospitals. Here in the US, in states with the Health Freedom Act, we are limited to practicing as health counselors who help advise diet, herbs and lifestyle. According to Ayurveda, your digestive health is the foundation of all health: physical, mental, emotional.
How can this ancient practice be integrated into modern life?
Anjali: Though the system is very old, it is made to be a living system of medicine that adapts and changes to the time. Most of my practice consists of successful women who are learning to incorporate health, wellness, and spirituality into their daily lives through the lens of Ayurveda. It definitely requires some willingness to make changes to your life, but the benefits are huge.
What benefits can Ayurvedic medicine offer?
Anjali: Ayurveda aims to seek balance in the mind, body and spirit. I have seen it help many women who suffer from a combination of digestive and hormonal issues. There is a huge intersection of the two that Western medicine lacks the language and understanding of. This is my focus in Ayurveda and I have seen so many women find more ease in their daily lives and practice of self-care.
What are common misconceptions you come up against?
Anjali: Often people wrongfully think they cannot practice Ayurveda if they eat meat. This is not true, in fact, Ayurveda even recommends meat in some constitutions! Ayurveda is a diet based on individual needs, not a prescribed list, and this makes it possible for anyone to follow Ayurveda with the guidance of the right practitioner.
Do you recommend your clients take any supplements or herbs?
Anjali: Yes! I love using herbal remedies where they are useful. Often strengthening a digestive system requires the help of herbs because food alone may not suffice. If the functioning of a system is imbalanced, it may need more than just food to help it re-regulate. This can be done with simple kitchen herbs like ginger, fennel and cilantro, and Ayurveda has a large library on how to use herbs for an imbalanced constitution so it can range from mild to strong. Learning about and using herbs can be a lot of fun, as well as an alternative to trying more synthetic medications wherever possible. Some of my favorite herbs for female health are calendula, rose, and ashwagandha.
What does a consultation with you look like?
Anjali: A consultation is 90 minutes long. Prior to coming in, you will fill out intake paperwork that gives me some insight into your history and current state of health. During the session, we will talk about your physical health through diet, sleep, and exercise. We will also touch on emotional health, and how stress may be impacting your current state of health. We’ll determine your Ayurvedic constitution, or Dosha, to find out which of the five elements are present in you and how they create both health and imbalance. You will go home with some changes to make, and a plan to implement.
The doshas in Ayurveda are three constitutions: vata, pitta and kapha. They are made up of various elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Vata or wind like people tend to be thin and run cold. Pittas run warm and have a lot of mental energy. Kaphas are more slow moving and incredibly patient. This is an over simplification of the doshas, but it can be enough to interest you in learning more :)
What role does diet play in Ayurvedic medicine?
Anjali: Over years of study, I found the most impactful change was in the art of using food as medicine. Our guts are our second brain, an enormous part of our nervous system called the enteric nervous system, and are deeply interrelated with every process in the body — including immunity, inflammation, stress, mood, and emotion. If we learn to eat mindfully, eat whole and plant-based foods, and eat for our individual constitution (because we are all unique expressions), much of our imbalance will be healed.
We are given chances on a daily basis to heal our bodies with the food we eat, making our kitchens medicine cabinets. Ayurveda gives us a language to help us understand taste (rasa), digestion (agni), and undigested food (ama) so the process of digestion becomes less complicated and more identifiable. I grew up in a family that loved to cook and it is my passion to help others find joy and innovation in their kitchens.
What about the mental and spiritual components of the practice?
Anjali: In addition to food, Ayurveda promotes dinacharya (daily routines) to help us sleep and regulate energy more efficiently. I have found regular bedtimes, morning routines, daily yoga, and meditation practice to be integral to the process of healing. In my personal journey, dietary changes aided in changing my digestion and eczema, but anxiety was still a daily enemy. Through learning more about integrative mental health and Buddhism, I have found practices and understandings that have deepened my knowledge of well-being.
Is there a balance between using Ayurvedic methods and Western medicine? Can the two co-exist?
Anjali: Absolutely! Because the practice of Ayurveda is somewhat limited to preventative medicine here in the US, it is a fantastic complement to Western Medicine. I worked with an integrative psychiatry clinic for five years where the psychiatrist monitored a patient's medication, and helped them to taper off while they implemented healthy lifestyle changes, better diets, and more stress regulation techniques like meditation and yoga.
If someone is curious about Ayurveda, where is a good place to start?
Anjali: The best way to learn about Ayurveda is to read about the Doshas or constitutions. Banyan Botanicals has a fantastic e-book and quiz that can help you verify your constitution. If it interests you, working with a practitioner is the best way to learn more about yourself from an Ayurvedic lens! It is so fun to learn new things about your diet and lifestyle from this holistic model. Having a practitioner identify your constitution from reading your pulse is a beautiful experience unlike any other.
About Anjali Deva:
Anjali is a NAMA-certified Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga teacher based in Los Angeles. She has trained with the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, Loyola Marymount’s Yoga and the Healing Sciences Program, and many influential teachers both here in the United States and in India. To learn more about this world and find a personalized approach, you can reach Anjali at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit her website, follow her on Instagram, and sign up for her blog.