Ayurveda: The Superhero of the Wellness World

The following passage is an excerpt from Ananta Ripa Ajmera’s book, “The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More

Ayurveda Way

My life always looked pretty awesome to others on the outside.

I was, in many ways, the girl who seemed to have everything: intelligence, wealth, a fancy college education at New York University’s prestigious Stern School of Business, parties, expensive vacations, beautiful clothes, jewelry, shoes, plenty of friends, and dating possibilities. What more could a girl growing up in America want, right?

My inner and outer worlds, however, sharply contrasted one another. I suffered from much pain and stress connected with traumatic childhood experiences. My mind was like a prison, full of anxiety, fear, and worries. My sleep was regularly disturbed by nightmares. Though I was in my mid-twenties, I felt tired a lot. I worried a great deal about how I would fulfill my life’s purpose, which I felt was to be of service to humanity. My father wanted me to climb the corporate ladder. I never felt that was right for me, and we fought constantly about it.

My body wasn’t supporting me, either. My hair began falling out. I had acne. I struggled for years with eating disorders. I regularly skipped meals and had terrible digestion. The worst of my physical suffering occurred during my menstrual cycles, when I’d have excruciating pain and depended on over-the-counter painkillers to get me through each month. I felt powerless in the face of my own body and mind.

By the time I was 24, I’d searched everywhere for health solutions. I was sick and tired of trying random diets, taking painkillers, and doing talk therapy to try to get to the bottom of my years of suffering. Even yoga was not able to help me beyond a point, as it didn’t teach me how to eat or what kind of lifestyle I needed to support my practice. I needed and wanted something truly holistic I could understand and benefit from immediately at the levels of body, mind, and spirit.

Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of life from India, became the answer to all my ailments. Ayurveda not only fights disease but also teaches people how to become — and remain — healthy. It addresses the root causes of why we manifest health challenges at the levels of the body, mind, spirit, and five senses. Ayurveda gave me the tools I needed to take my health into my own hands.

Ayurveda teaches that health is our birthright, and that it exists at the core of each person, though hidden at times by disease and distress. It views each person as a whole, multidimensional being and addresses every aspect of him or her.

Finally, I discovered a system of healing that didn’t judge or label me, or try to give me a quick-fix solution to “just eat” or take antidepressants. And the solutions to my problems could be attained right from the comfort of my own kitchen and garden! Imagine that.

Since following Ayurveda’s vast health-promoting practices, I can’t even remember the last time I needed to visit a doctor. I craft my own radiant health with each food, spice, thought, yoga pose, and breathing exercise I employ for wellness. I feel connected to a source of joy, freedom, and peace that emanates from within my own being and isn’t dependent upon anything outside myself. I feel completely transformed, like I’ve been born again, into what the Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore would call “the freedom of the life of the soul.”

I have a much more ease-filled relationship with my parents, who have become some of the greatest supporters of my unconventional path. I hardly notice when I have my menstrual cycles now. My skin is clear. People often think I’m younger than I am. I sleep soundly. My digestion is strong, I never skip meals, and I find joy from a sacred relationship I’ve developed with food. I have much more energy than I ever had, giving me the strength to handle significant amounts of responsibility and manifest many entrepreneurial service projects. I am living the life of spirituality and service I always dreamed of. And it has only just begun.

How did this all happen within a span of just five short years? With the love, grace, and blessings of my Ayurveda teacher, Acharya Shunya, who is also my spiritual teacher, or Guru. Acharya Shunya was born into a long line of Vedic spiritual teachers extending back to ancient India. She learned Ayurveda, yoga, and Vedanta (a universal Vedic spiritual philosophy) from her grandfather Baba Ayodhya Nath in Ayodhya, India. Baba Ayodhya Nath, in turn, learned from his teacher Paramatman Shanti Prakash, a renowned 19th-century teacher who was also his father, and from master yogis in the Himalayas.

The yoga practices in this book come directly from a life-changing pilgrimage that Baba, my great teacher, embarked on in the Himalayas. I studied at Vedika Global, the school Acharya Shunya founded to carry on her family tradition of teaching the living wisdom of Ayurveda, yoga, and Vedanta. While I am now a teacher of Ayurveda lifestyle, informed by the spiritual sciences of yoga and Vedanta, I remain, first and foremost, a deep and sincere student of my Guru.

After years of schooling at leading institutions, where I lived from exam to exam, I’ve had the blessing of learning at Vedika Global primarily from practice, from applying the knowledge in the laboratory of my own life. Whereas my educational goals were previously mostly to obtain a certificate, the education I’ve received at Vedika has uplifted my spirit and transformed my consciousness. The study of all the Vedic sciences is lifelong, as they are all geared toward the lofty goal of awakening to the truth of our highest Self.

In ancient India, students learned Ayurveda (and other complex subjects) by living with or near the teacher and being part of the teacher’s family for many years. Students would help out with household chores since they were then members of the teacher’s family. This tradition of residential education in a family-style school (called gurukula, meaning “teacher’s family”) was mostly wiped out during the British colonial rule of India (as was the practice of Ayurveda). Acharya Shunya has been a pioneer in reviving the gurukula system of education.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to live near Acharya Shunya and her life partner, Sanjai, a master Ayurveda chef who teaches Ayurvedic cooking at Vedika Global. Over the years, I have been blessed to take care of their animals and plants and help out with some chores, as students would do in the ancient gurukula tradition. You’ll read about some of the beautiful experiences I’ve had and lessons I have learned from these human, animal, and plant teachers. Spending a significant amount of time in my teachers’ home has also meant chopping lots of vegetables and having the rare opportunity to apprentice with a master chef. I learned all of the delicious recipes in this book from Chef Sanjai.

All of the practices and recommendations presented in this book are based upon the ancient wisdom I’ve been fortunate to learn at Vedika Global. They come directly from ancient Ayurvedic treatises, namely Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita,

Bhavaprakash, and Ashtanga Hrdayam. These books contain the healing wisdom that the Vedic sages are believed to have received in the depths of their meditations in ancient India. While the scope of this particular book is purposely simplified, know that you are supported by a vast ocean of knowledge in Ayurveda.

I truly feel Ayurveda has given me a second chance at life.

It informs and suffuses each and every aspect of my life, filling my heart with hope, light, and freedom where there was once despair, darkness, and a feeling of imprisonment. When I discovered that my own maternal grandfather, Amarchand Khokhani, was a renowned Ayurvedic doctor (vaidya) in India, and that he’s also part of a long line of Ayurvedic healers, I knew I had connected with my purpose in this lifetime. I believe I am here on earth to spread the sciences of Ayurveda, yoga, and Vedanta, which have given my very life back to me.

As Acharya Shunya once shared, “Ayurveda belongs wherever there is suffering, because Ayurveda ignites a lamp in every heart, without being expensive, without depleting nature, and without making the body an arsenal of harsh chemicals. Ayurveda is a knowledge-based system, a friendly system, an ecologically viable system. Yes. We can say yes to it. Here is this living science. Come to it, and change your life.”

All photos are copyright Liz Daly 2017, from The Ayurveda Way, used with permission by Storey Publishing.