Indie Interview: Journey Into Ayurveda
Today on the blog for the Indie Oxford health & wellbeing January series, Rasangi Prematilaka from Journey Into Ayurveda shares her indie journey, how Ayurveda is a thread that has woven through her life, her personal point of reconnection with it, and how it can help prevent, restore and rebalance. >>
Tell us about your background and why you decided to set up your own business.
My earliest experience of the working world was in the NGO sector in South Asia where I worked in rural villages designing and managing poverty alleviation and empowerment projects. The last 16 years, since I moved to the UK my career has been in the Higher Education Sector at Oxford University where I have worked in senior management for the majority of my time.
As for Ayurveda, it is very much intrinsic having grown up in Sri Lanka. It is the way we lived our daily lives. We cooked ayurvedically, we followed daily rituals, Buddhist practices and used herbal concoctions and oils for treating various ailments and conditions. It has been a part of my life since childhood, though things changed as I got more and more into my career here in the UK.
I was exhausted all the time, unfulfilled and unable to switch off.
There’s many reasons close to my heart as to why I decided to practice Ayurveda; I’ll talk about a couple only here as otherwise I’d go on for days. It was mostly to do with a lack of work-life balance which began to wear me down. Cracks appeared in the form of chronic stress, burn out and my gut health was badly affected. I couldn’t find the time to cook properly and would grab whatever I could at work. It became all about ‘convenience’ and rushed meals, though I always home cooked my dinners. I was exhausted all the time, unfulfilled and unable to switch off.
It wasn’t just my health that I watched deteriorate from the pressure of work and lack of time over the years. Many friends and colleagues were suffering from stress, depression, often turning into serious health conditions as the early signs were ignored. I could feel myself drift further and further away from what I knew to be a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my health for a career. Quitting wasn’t an easy decision to arrive at, but it became necessary. There was a lot happening in my personal life too, you could say I had an early onset of a mid-life crisis.
Ayurveda came back into my life in a very gentle yet sudden way. I was drawn to its teachings of the preservation and maintenance of health, with its deep roots in spirituality. Here was a perfect holistic healing modality; connecting medicinal science, philosophy and spirituality. With a profound understanding of the mind, body and spirit connection. It didn’t separate the mind from the body and the individual from the environment like the western medical paradigm. I began to understand that deep healing wasn’t effective unless it was holistic… that was a powerful shift. So, I decided to study Ayurveda to get a qualification to practice. It was apparent that we needed an attitudinal shift if we were to live our modern day lives disease free.
The global disconnect that we are experiencing which is a direct result of our constant ‘busyness’ also bothered me. People are driven by a notion of success that is very status and money conscious, this is sadly what the majority of us were taught. It doesn’t just affect our health negatively but also creates a disconnection; within us, with each other and nature. These connections are fundamental and necessary along with the ability to rest and just breathe. Disconnection also means an inability to listen to our intuition; which means we are missing all the cues that our bodies give when we’re off balance; physically or emotionally.
I’d like to share some statistics here which gives a glimpse of the present health crisis. There are over 80 different auto immune conditions which are on the rise costing billions in healthcare with no real cure. Dementia for example is said to triple globally from 50M in 2018 to 152M by 2050 (figure quoted by Alzheimer’s UK, www.dementiastatistics.org). Bowel cancer (or colorectal) is on an unprecedented high… Even in young people with no family history. According to the stats from Bowel Cancer UK, 1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with this form of cancer during their lifetime. There are 43,000 new cases each year in the UK and it is the second biggest cancer killer – these are alarming numbers.
Ayurveda has an awareness of causative factors of such conditions, and in some cases are preventable if caught early and not too far advanced. There is a clear pathway and there are many, many symptoms that our bodies give, the problem is that these are not known in western medicine, neither can we recognise them if we are disconnected from our bodies. There is a strong correlation between disease and incompatible dietary habits and stress. This is why I am on this path.
Tell us about your indie business and Ayurveda treatment.
In Ayurveda, good health depends on our body and mind’s ability to metabolize life experiences, good and bad through our 5 senses. This is why digestion, or agni is important as it relates to the metabolization of life on all levels. Agni is a Sanskrit word meaning gastric fire, enzymes, and metabolism. Its strength determines our ability or inability to convert information in the form of food, experiences and emotions into nourishment. When agni, and the gastrointestinal tract is strong, everything is broken down and absorbed into the mind-body physiology. Anything that is not useful is eliminated from the mind and body.
When agni is weak, it leads to improper digestion of food, experiences, and emotions. This results in an accumulation of impurities or toxins. Ayurveda refers to these as ama. Ama clogs the channels in the body that are in charge of waste removal and circulation. Appropriate assimilation and nourishment are then denied to the mind-body physiology. This is the start of disease.
So you understand that emotions/stress too needs to be digested and processed. Every individual has a limited capacity to manage excessive stress (resilience can also vary), the body is simply not made to handle chronic stress without negative consequences (when the body is in constant fight or flight mode). A lot of us are walking around in fight or flight mode with dysregulated nervous systems. Stress directly affects agni or the body’s capacity to generate digestive enzymes leading to all sorts of dis-ease. So, from a physiological point of view, we are placing a huge amount of pressure on our bodies by our dietary and lifestyle choices. When I say lifestyle, I also mean the choices we make in terms of relationships (I realise with family we have no choice). Chosen or not chosen, they can make or break us and I also mean this from a physiological point of view. Sometimes difficult decisions might be required.
I am not saying one should abandon the relationship/s (unless of course it is abusive in nature) but it needs to be consciously chosen and if there is trauma related/shadow work that one or both partners need to do then this is something that they should consciously show up and commit to. Often what becomes our personality or habit can be a result of a trauma response. Something that a lot of people don’t realise for example, is that the constant need to be busy and over-functioning is actually a trauma response. So, it is a lot of unlearning patterns/habits, and re-learning positive behaviour and establishing positive boundaries with each other.
The reason I am explaining all this is because Ayurveda is all encompassing. It takes all of this and more into consideration before treatment. It’s a lot, and it really is very holistic in nature.
There are several ways of approaching such healing work. Ayurveda has a branch of psychotherapy that is closely linked with Buddhist/Yogic teachings. We also use herbs, oils and specific techniques like shirodhara and panchakarma which have powerful abilities in releasing trapped emotions and toxins from the body. We have protocols that effectively treat anxiety and severe panic attacks. I personally encourage these techniques in conjunction with traditional talk therapy or trauma therapy (I know some excellent practitioners in Oxford), depending on acuteness. For some, trauma therapy on its own can be harsh on the mind and body. So, a part of my treatment method is also figuring out which approach might be best from a psychosomatic and spiritual point of view, and advising accordingly, always only where necessary.
My Ayurvedic treatment method in a nutshell –
- Identifying the dosha imbalance, and the causative factors of that imbalance
- Identifying which dhatus (bodily tissues) are involved
- Identifying which strotas (channels) are obstructed
- Chikitsa (therapy) – removing identified obstructions (not always physical) with herbal remedies
- Chikitsa (therapy) – eliminating the nidhana (causative factors) through diet and lifestyle
- Chikitsa (therapy) – correcting the gut fire or agni with the use of herbal remedies
- Chikitsa (therapy) – strengthening of Ojas (essence of vitality that rules our immunity)
What conditions can Ayurveda help with?
Many people here in the west still consider Ayurveda as an ‘alternative’ healing modality. Ayurveda is actually the oldest medicinal system in the world, a system of healing first described around 5,000 years ago in ancient Vedic texts as comprehensive teachings on preserving and maintaining health. In India and Sri Lanka, it is still practiced in conjunction with western medicine. Western medicine excels when there is a life-threatening condition where for example, a coronary artery bypass surgery is needed. Ayurveda will give you the knowledge and tools to make sure that your chances of needing a bypass surgery during your lifetime are relatively low.
The labelling of disease conditions is very much a part of western medicine, and diagnosis of disease only when fully manifested. In Ayurveda we go with the symptoms that our bodies give and the assessment of doshic imbalances. We often pick up on subtle signs that are warning signs the body is giving of something more serious to come. For example, a client could come in with gut issues (which in itself is a warning sign of more serious conditions to come if left untreated) but the analysis could pick up early signs of diabetes or arthritis. Our bodies have an innate intelligence and has the capacity to self-heal, something we are so far removed from at present. Ayurveda is like a ‘reset’ and removes the obstacles so that the body can self-heal.
The conditions I treat are exhaustive but I will name some for our purposes here:
- Digestive issues/IBS/Crohn’s/Ulcerative colitis
- Acid reflux
- Persistent Coughs/Colds/Sinusitis/ Seasonal allergies
- All respiratory conditions including asthma
- Skin conditions – Acne/Eczema/Psoriasis
- Anxiety/Sleep disturbance
- Excessive sweating
- Chronic UTIs
- Menstrual pain
- Menopause symptoms
Describe how a client session would go for those who haven’t tried Ayurveda before.
Ayurveda uses what we call an Ashtavida Pariksha, an 8-fold clinical assessment method (of urine, stool, tongue, pulse, eyes, skin etc.) which though seemingly simple, gives us a profound insight into a client’s doshic imbalances and the workings of strotas and dhatus. Since the assessment is individual to each client it gives the opportunity to create a holistic treatment package unique to each client.
This, combined with an understanding of the client’s lifestyle and dietary habits, it is possible to identify the causative factors of an imbalance, comprehensively. I then focus on eliminating those along with regulating the natural flow of any blocked channels. This is the aim of Ayurveda and it relies on the commitment of the client to make the necessary changes. The initial consultation can vary from 1.5 – 2 hours and will take the form of a lengthy chat revolving around the 8-fold assessment method along with a client’s medical history/family history, symptoms, medications, diet, lifestyle, stress (past and present), relationships and routines. Consultations are very laid back and provides a safe place for a client to be open and honest. Consultations are followed with:
- A diet sheet based on the assessed doshic imbalances and nutritional needs
- Home remedies
- Recipe suggestions taking into consideration time restrictions
- Lifestyle recommendations
- Personalised herbal remedies and oils where deemed necessary
- Gentle encouragement is given to those more open to spiritual practices and/or interested in trauma healing
- 2 to 3 further follow up sessions at 3 – 4 week intervals (long term support is provided when dealing with chronic disease)
- Continued support between sessions via e mail/WhatsApp
With reference to herbal remedies, some herbal remedies I make myself but others that require specialist skill and knowledge are sourced from a trusted and long-established company based in Sri Lanka. These are ethically made, sustainably sourced and made to age old recipes which are traditionally passed from one generation to another. Ayurvedic herbs must never be randomly bought online and should only be taken under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
I would like to add that I do not recommend Ayurveda for anyone seeking a quick fix or to anyone unwilling to change incompatible dietary habits.
When you’re not working on, or in, the business, what do you love to do?
I’m a little hooked on scrolling through cute animal videos on Instagram… 🙂
There’re lots that I love doing when I’m not working but I love spending as much time as I can in nature. I listen a LOT to Sanskrit chants/mantras which I play in the car, when I’m cooking, for meditation and when I practice ashtanga yoga. The latter which I wish I practiced more… I am also studying Ayurveda for a few more years to get an advanced qualification, so it’s a lot to juggle between work at the University and the Ayurvedic practice but I am eternally grateful to be on this path.
Which are your favourite indies in Oxfordshire?
There are so many wonderful indies in our beautiful shire. I do love food but I don’t eat out a lot anymore but when I do, these are some that bring great joy; Gee’s Restaurant and Bar, The Cherwell Boathouse, Alfonso Gelataria because the ice cream is homemade and Lewis has delicious non dairy options. The Garden of Oxford for flowers. I have only recently come across SO Sustainable via Instagram and am really keen to explore soon.