Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda: The Meaning of Chikitsa by Pandit Vamadeva Shastri

[ This article is sourced from Dr. David Frawley's website:]


The Sanskrit term for therapy throughout its medical literature is Chikitsa, which literally refers to the application of consciousness (chit) or caring. Yoga Therapy is called Yoga Chikitsa.

Yet chikitsa as a specific term occurs rarely in traditional yogic texts. Yoga texts do mention disease as one of the main obstacles in Yoga practice, but do not make addressing disease in the ordinary sense of a medical system as the purpose of Yoga practice, which aims more at spiritual development.


Yoga Sutras is divided into four sections or padas, which each has a name. These are Samadhi PadaSadhana PadaVibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada.

  1. Samadhi Pada deals with the definition of Yoga as Samadhi or unity consciousness and how to achieve it. The definition of Yoga (YS.I.2) as chitta-vritti-nirodha or mastery of the movements of the mind, is traditionally regarded in the commentaries as a definition of Samadhi (note books of Swami Veda Bharati). Yoga is Samadhi. That is its first and foremost definition. This nirodha of the mind results in tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam, or abidance in the Self-nature of the Seer (YS.I.3), referring to the Purusha or Atman. Yoga is control of the mind for the purpose of Self-realization or the liberation of Consciousness which occurs through samadhi. This is its subject matter.
  2. Sadhana Pada deals with the practice of Yoga, which is called sadhana or a way of realizing something. It begins with the three principles of Kriya Yoga or the Yoga of Action as tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana. Later it introduces the eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga, yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These are stages to purify the mind to lead us to samadhi as the transforming power of consciousness.
  3. Vibhuti Pada deals with the powers and insights that arise from Samadhi in the broader sense of Samyama (combined dharana, dhyana and samadhi), including occult , healing and psychic powers as well as higher wisdom.
  4. Kaivalya Pada relates to Kaivalya, the natural Samadhi state of the Purusha beyond body and mind, Prakriti and the gunas, which is the goal of Yoga practices. It ends with defining Kaivalya much like the first pada describes the Seer. It says (YS.IV.34), svarupa pratishtha chiti-shakti, when the power (shakti) of Consciousness rests in its own nature. This is much like the statement of abidance in the Self-nature of the Seer, only the emphasize is on the power of the Seer, not simply the Seer.

The second section or Sadhana Pada also introduces the theory of the five kleshas or factors of suffering for the mind, which can be related to psychological and emotional pathologies in general and forms the basis for Yoga psychology one could say. Here we must remember that Yoga Sutras is more a text of meditation or Raja Yoga than one of physical practices or asana, so this psychological orientation makes sense here.


The term chikitsa, h is very common in Ayurveda and occurs prominently in Ayurvedic texts, which contain a Chikitsa Sthana or section relating to therapy or treatment. Chikitsa usually goes along with a Nidana section or section relating to diagnosis, which in turn follows from the Ayurvedic view of body, mind, pathology and the disease process. Medical systems require a diagnosis as the basis for therapy and cannot work without them. Ayurvedic chikitsa is broad based and includes diet, herbs, massage, Pancha Karma, rejuvenation, even Yoga and meditation, extending from lifestyle factors to clinical treatment.

Traditional Ayurveda includes Yoga as a therapy  as part of its Sattavajaya Chikitsa or therapy for increasing sattva guna, which is its main psychological therapy, reducing the psychological doshas of rajas and tamas, where the theories and practices of the Yoga Sutras fit in quite well. It regards Yoga as the means of eliminating spiritual suffering, not just physical or psychological suffering.

Chikitsa therefore is a primary term in Ayurveda and a secondary term in Yoga, which is more of a sadhana or spiritual practice. Ayurveda mentions Yoga as a therapy particularly in the context of yamas and niyamas as behavioral therapy for the mind. Yet Ayurvedic texts also mention the importance of mantras and honor deities of Ayurveda like Dhanvantari and also Lord Shiva, the Lord of Yoga.


For a Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, the question arises as to what is the Nidana or diagnosis it is based upon? Modern Yoga Therapy rests more on modern medicine and is usually an adjunct physical therapy for diseases as diagnosed and treated by modern medicine. There is nothing wrong with that but it can obscure the traditional connection of Yoga therapy and Vedic chikitsa with Ayurveda. There is no traditional Nidana or yogic diagnosis apart from Ayurveda, which employs all methods of observation, touch, pulse and patient examination according to Vedic principles of three doshas, three gunas, five elements, five pranas, agni and Atman.

 For the best results in Yoga therapy we recommend not only a modern medical diagnosis of the conditions it is treating but also an Ayurvedic diagnosis. This connects Yoga Therapy with the broader group of Ayurvedic therapies, from diet and herbs to massage and Ayurvedic clinical methods. It adds considerations of the condition of body and mind according to the three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) of Vedic thought. It can also bring in Ayurvedic disease theories and stages of disease but also that of the Klesha theory of the Yoga Sutras.

This is what we are seeing in the new Yoga Therapy that is arising in India today that emphasizes treating all five koshas (body, prana, mind, intelligence and bliss), not just a physical or even psychological approach to Yoga and Ayurveda but threefold as body, mind and consciousness. Doshas and gunas are part of this examination.

 Such an integration of Yoga and Ayurveda is what we recommend in our books and courses on Yoga and Ayurveda, extending to integrating other Vedic approaches like Vedic counseling, Jyotish and Vastu into both Yoga and Ayurveda.

World needs Ayurvedas Code of Medical Ethics

Medical practitioners should take the Ayurveda oath of Ethics

Even the mostroutine of medical interventions today is a nightmare. The old trust in afamily doctor who knew all about the familys medical history and willing tolisten to the patients complaint has long disappeared. Today the story is allabout ultra-expensive annual checkups with fancy discounts, doctor-diagnosticcenter-pharmacy tie-ups, and insurance companies involved in payment wrangles.

Worldwide, doctors todaycontinue to make the Hippocratic pledge, a tradition that holds that a doctor isethically required to use the best of their knowledge to recommend to thepatient what they consider to be in the patient's best interestswithout regardto the interests of the third-party payer, or the government, or anyone else.

The Charaka mentions some topics not there in the Hippocratic Oath. Student asceticism, the duty to withhold services under specified conditions, the value which places the patient's life above that of the physician, are the most prominent. Also scholars point out that while the ideas in the Charaka oath were mainstream, the Hippocratic document originated in a group representing a small segment of Greek opinion.

However, as Dr Jeffery A Singer wrote inReasonmagazine, most doctors today are following the Veterinary ethic. The medical profession has been forced to give up this (required by the Hippocratic) approach for what I like to call a veterinary ethic, one that places the interests of the payer (or owner) ahead of the patient. For example, when a pet owner is told by a veterinarian that the pet has a very serious medical condition requiring extremely costly surgery or other therapy, the veterinarian presents the pet's owner with one or more optionsfrom attempt at cure, to palliation, to euthanasiawith the associated costs, and then follows the wishes of the owner.

On the other hand, A. Menon and H. F. Haberman say the Charaka Samhita's dedicated physicians oath, reveals, the dedication and high moral principles required of a physician. There is no doubt that the patient's welfare comes above any personal considerations of the physician. It seems that the physician was expected, in his bearing, speech and his approach to patients, to act in a particular manner which was considered befitting a physician.

They say the Charaka Samhita oath is essentially ritualistic. The spirit of the oath is essentially religious and it is apparently administered in a ritualistic manner. The student takes the oath in the presence of the 'sacred fire, Brahmanas and physicians. The prayer 'for the welfare of all creatures beginning with the cows and Brahmanas' is reminiscent of ancient Vedic prayers.

This oath is reminiscent of other aspects of a Guru or teacher in Indian thought and culture. The style of the oath, the rituals involved, the asceticism required of the student, the student-teacher relationship, the emphasis on the limitlessness of knowledge, the association of worldly prosperity, fame and ethical practices: all these are in conformity with the mainstream of Ancient Indian thought and practices, say Menon and Haberman.

The Hippocratic Oath and thepromise undertaken in the Charaka Samhita are similar, both essentially religiouscovenants; both offer rewards for fulfilling the covenants and punishment fortransgression, in both, the student teacher relationship is very intimate andsimilar to the relation between a father and son. Furthermore both express thehigh moral principles expected in the practice of medicine, say Menon andHaberman.

However, the Charaka mentions sometopics not there in the Hippocratic Oath. Student asceticism, the duty to withholdservices under specified conditions, the value which places the patient's lifeabove that of the physician, are the most prominent. Also scholars point outthat while the ideas in the Charaka oath were mainstream, the Hippocraticdocument originated in a group representing a small segment of Greek opinion. Farfrom being the expression of the common Greek attitude toward medicine or ofthe natural duties of the physician, the ethical code rather reflects opinionswhich were peculiarly those of a small and isolated group.

Quoting Western authors Menon and Haberman say, 'It is more likely that Pythagoras was influenced by India than by Egypt. Almost all the theories, religious, philosophical and mathematical taught by the Pythagoreans, were known in India in the sixth century B.C. It is conceivable that the Hippocratic Oath was influenced by Ancient Indian teachings and practices via the Pythagorean school. On the other hand, we have seen that the oath found in the Charaka Samhita is the embodiment of concepts and practices of the Ancient Indian community in general.

The Ayurvedic Approach

Medical care has become a market place of options. Ayurveda however saw things differently. It is the feeling of love and compassion for suffering humanity that first gave rise to the sages efforts to discover the science of medicine. (Caraka Sutra VI, 7).

Sage Kashyapa has written in the Kashyapa Samhitadated to 6thCentury BC, Medicine should be studied for the sakeof the knowledge of truth, of acquiring spiritual merit for himself and of extendinghelp to humanity.

Dhanwantari, the Indian deity of medicine definedthe purpose of the medical sciences as release from suffering to those who arein the grip of disease and maintenance of well-being as regards those who arcright-healthy. Medical science is eternal, sacred and bestowed of heaven, fame,longevity and subsistence.

Medical oaths and pledges are not new to India. Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita, written around 2700 BC had very sacred oaths of initiation for physicians. The cure depended on the pureness of intent of the dispenser. Says the Charaka Samhita-weapons, learning and water are wholly dependent for their merits and demerits on their holder.

Charaka Samhita

Thou shaltspeak only the truth, be free from envy,

Thou shalt behave and act without arrogance andwith undistracted mind, humility and constant reflection . . . thou shalt prayfor the welfare of all creatures,

Day and night however he may be engaged, thoushalt endeavour for the relief of patients with all thy heart and soul. Thoushalt not desert or injure thy patient even for the sake of thy life

When entering the patients house thou shalt beaccompanied by a man known to the patient and who has his permission to enter.Thou shalt be well clad and bent of head, self-possessed and conduct thyselfafter repeated consideration Having entered, thy speech, mind, intellect andsenses shall be entirely devoted to no other thought than that of being helpfulto the patient and of things concerning him only.

The peculiar customs of the patients householdshall not be made public. Even knowing that the patients span of life has cometo its close, it shall not be mentioned by thee there, where if so done,itwould cause shock to the patient or to others.

Though possessed of knowledge, one should notboast

Susruta Samhita

Thou shalt renounce all evil desires, anger,greed, passion, pride, egotism, envy, harshness, meanness, untruth, indolenceand other qualities that bring infamy upon oneself.

Thou shalt clip thy nails and hair close, observecleanliness . . . and dedicate thyself to the observance of truth, celibacy andthe salutation of elders

The preceptor, the poor, the friendly, thetravellers, the lowly, the good and the destitute those thou shalt treat whenthey come to thee like thy own kith and kin and relieve their ailments

Kashyapa Samhita

O gentle one, you should be agreeable indisposition and righteous. You should control your senses and be ready tostudy Share the suffering of others and be resolute. You should be away fromgreed, anger, infatuation, envy, derision, enmity


O son! You should never turn deceitful, wicked, greedy,envious, hard hearted and unfair. You should always be free from lethargy andsin and should have the character of venerable persons and compassion for thefamily.

Fees, presents and remuneration to medical men

This science of life is permanent and yieldingmerit Those who, for the sake of a living, make merchandise of medicinebargain for a dust-heap, letting go a heap of gold Practice of medicine isnever fruitless, it sometimes gives money, sometimes religious merit, sometimesrenown or sometimes the opportunity for study

No Side Effects Drives Ayurveda Growth

An international report on Ayurveda trends conducted byMarket Research Future(MRFR) this year predicts that the global Ayurveda market is poised to increase by 2023. The over 3,000-year-old Indian Ayurveda system offers a unique approach to healthcare through collaboration of body, mind and spirit.

The main driver for this growth, says the report, is an increasing reliance on organic and herbal treatment procedures with the belief of having no or less side effects. Ayurveda practitioners use natural herbs for preparation of concoctions that possess healing properties. Increased research in the field of Ayurveda, along with collaboration with technologically advanced techniques, are some of the other factors that are fuelling the growth of the global Ayurveda market.

The report divides the global Ayurveda market into four major regions: North America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, and Africa. The Asia Pacific region commands the lions share in the global Ayurveda market, led by India. The rich tradition of herbal medicines and large-scale export of Ayurveda drugs from India to various regions in the world are majorly aiding the growth of the Ayurveda market in this region. The increasing trend of organic treatments and a reduction in preference for synthetic drugs are propelling the expansion of the Ayurveda market in the North America region, says the report released earlier this year. Growing demand for natural therapies that might not cause certain side effects on the body is fuelling the growth of the Ayurveda market in the Europe region. The Ayurveda market in the Middle East and Africa region is flourishing owing to the availability of herbal medicines that provide cost advantages over synthetic drugs.

Empirical Success of Traditional Indian Sciences

Professor Alex Hankey, a British theoretical physicist trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University, is currently doing research at Indias premier Yoga and Ayurveda research agency, S-VYASA (Swami Vivekanada Yoga Anusandana Samsthana), in Bangalore, India.

Comparing Indian sciences to Western practices, Professor Hankey says that Indian traditional sciences depend on the well-defined process of cognition from the Yogic state of Ritam Bhara Pragya described at the end of Patanjali Yoga Sutras Pada I. When the applied Vedic sciences such as Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharva Veda, Sthapatya Veda, Shiksha, Vyakarana, Jyotisha, Nyaya, Samkhya and Yoga are considered, the feedback of empirical success into the structure of knowledge and teaching are very much in evidence, also in the Arts such as Natya Shastra, Painting or Sculpture, to name but a few.

Professor Hankey says Indian sciences can solve modern problems because they recognise the difference between the gross physical level, Sthula, and the more subtle, Sukshma, level(s). The western sciences have almost no idea of the existence of the latter, and tend to deny evidence for it when data indicating their existence is brought up. The power of the Sukshma levels can explain all the great results reported in ancient Indian sciences. Professor Hankey says he has developed an authentic and powerful theory of how the Sukshma fits into the physical world.

Making Indic Knowledge Systems Mainstream

Indic knowledge systems including Indic technology, Vedic Physics, Ayurveda and Yoga, can become mainstream, says Professor Hankey, by establishing well-respected empirical validation of scientific conjectures derived from them.

Yoga has been thoroughly validated, and the numbers of Randomized Controlled Trials conducted at such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas, and NIMHANS in Bengaluru (not to speak of S-VYASA) is steadily increasing. Similarly, the number of case studies and randomized controlled trials of Ayurveda is steadily increasing. There is now a national move in India to promote AYUSH integrative medicine. More work on the foundations of Yoga is needed; particularly on its ability to produce higher states of consciousness like those intimated in the second half of Mandukhyopanishad (vs. 6 to end) verifying the principles enunciated in Ishopanishad, Yoga Sutras, etc. Decisive work has been carried out on the Sukshma Sharira, verifying such statements as Padmasana being the most effective means to energize the subtle body (its verification led to one of my Ph.D. students being named Valedictorian of his graduating class).

In the field of Ayurveda, Professor Hankey says South Indian cuisine, with its Sambhar and Rasam, emphasizes replacement of mineral losses due to Swedana. Both systems use the fundamental masalas including Haridra, Ginger, Dhanya and Black Pepper, that reduce cancer, especially in the GIT (Haridra), enhance digestion (Ginger and Dhanya) and absorption (Black Pepper). The popularization of various Indian curry dishes, and modes of cooking such as Tandoori, around the world does much to enhance awareness around the world of Indias culture, both historic and contemporary.

The Chancellor and Founder of S-VYASA, Dr. H R Nagendra says the institute has focussed on scientific research, and has made the largest contribution of research on Yoga in the world. We have been able to unravel the secrets of Yoga from Yoga texts and offer it to society through an evidence based approach, says Dr. Nagendra, who is believed to be a sage and scientist rolled in one.

S-VYASA aims to bring the best of the East with that of the West, to bring peace on earth, create an ideal social orders marked by Wealth and Health, Bliss and Peace, Efficiency and Harmony, says Dr. Nagendra, who is the Yoga guru for the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

Yoga and Ayurveda are two of the greatest sources of soft power of India. S-VYASA attracts over 200 non-Indians a year to study in their campus and has centers in over 30 countries. The Center for Soft Power is bringing together over 26 countries to celebrate Ayurveda Day on October 25.

It is significant that in Hungary Ayurveda has become an accepted medical system and is an obligatory subject for a postgraduate degree course since 1997. Guru Kiran Vyas who runs Tapovan at Normandy in France was the first person to introduce Yoga at UNESCO. He says:

Yoga and Ayurveda are the two greatest gifts of India to humanity, to planet earth. I tell them that the health of a human being depends on the health of our planet earth. I also tell them that a human beings health is not just for the body?it includes the body, mind and feelings. There is the pranamayakosha,the body of energy, the manamayakosha,the body of the mind, and then of course the psychic and spiritual body. All of our being should be treated, to be in good health. Ayurveda and Yoga have made people become more and more aware of this.

(This story first appeared in University of Southern California's CPD's blog:

Indias Ancient Culinary Science from Earth to Hearth

From Earth to Hearth will look at the journey of food. Every culture has its own culinary traditions and cuisine, and India's cuisine is so varied it changes every few hundred kilometres. Indian cooking traditions have been influenced largely by Ayurveda, though not exclusively, and there are inscriptions and texts that show a well documented, well-thought out system which looked as food as being medicinal. These texts outline the entire process right from the growing of certain crops, the emphasis on the local and seasonal, the use of certain utensils as well as the nature and mood of the person cooking food.

Ancient Indian traditions believe: You are what you eat, the food you eat can keep you healthy or can be a poison to the body. Ahaara or food is considered Para-brahma in India.'

Annam Brahma raso Vishnu pakto devo maheshvarah |evam jaktva tu yo bhunkte anna dosho na lipyate ||

Derived from Bhojanakutahalam, the shloka says Food is Brahma, the essence is Vishnu and the consumer is Shiva. In other words, every being is born out of food (Brahma), sustenance is through food (Vishnu) and ultimately is dissolved into food (Shiva). This shloka is to be chanted before the commencement of a meal. In the taittiriya Upanishad too, food is said to be Parabrahma. For Swasthya or good health, food was very important.

The ancient texts of India such as Bhojanakutahalam, Kshema Kutuhalam and Nalapaka Darpana give an account of traditional food science and technology as developed by our ancestors. The present generation, more commonly known as junk-food lovers prefer taste over the properties of food and this food can have a serious impact on their physical and mental well-being. Modern science has played a role in elucidating the nutritional aspect of the food but has left out the medicinal aspect.

Ayurveda does not tell what to and what not to eat, but tells us how to eat. The concept of dietetics and culinary art is described very clearly in Ayurveda. Cooking is an art form that spreads life, which is why it is often said that while one cooks, the mind must be unagitated and that tranquillity is absorbed into the food. When other people consume this food, that tranquillity in the food is transferred. Also when it is cooked this way, the food turns out super aromatic and delicious.

The Ksemasarma describes the kitchens of those days and why it must be located in the south-east corner of the house with the stove running from east to west. Agni devata or the fire god resides in the south east corner. The utensils that one uses while cooking also plays a role in exudating health and taste to the food. Food that is cooked in clay, iron, bronze, copper, gold and silver is said to confer benefits at the physical, mental and intellectual levels. When the food is digested, the Sthoola and Sookshma nourishes the body and the soft tissues (physical) and the Parama-sookshma nourishes the Prana and the Manas (mental and intellectual).

The storage of boiled rice, ghee, vegetables, milk and other dairy products in the right containers is very important to retain the nutritional status of the food. Certain materials confer medicinal properties to the food that when consumed is beneficial in curing various maladies.

Clay is considered a poor conductor of heat yet is used extensively in the manufacture of cookware. This is because it conducts heat slowly and this way the food is cooked uniformly. Chulhas which are traditionally made from clay and brick while cooked on an open fire. The taste of the food is not only enhanced but is given a more rustic aroma. Clay water pots keep the water cool and this cool water never causes sore throat or a cold. This water is filled with minerals and is known to improve metabolism. Other than water, milk-dishes and buttermilk has to be stored in earthen containers. One might have observed rasgullas stored and sold in these earthen containers. Curd made in these pots sets well and has a unique taste. Earthen vessels are to be used only as containers or cooking utensils. Food must not be served in them as they are known to bring misfortune.

Before cast iron came into being, puranpolis, the Maharashtrian delicacy, was made in earthen pots with holes in them, known as Khapar. Even now, in Khandeshi cuisine, this utensil is used extensively to make puranpolis.

Bell metal used for cooking helps to improve one's intellect, appetite and clears the blood and the food cooked in it remains pure. Bell metal containers should be used to store boiled rice and items that are made out of flour.

Food cooked in iron vessels helps to increase the haemoglobin content in the body. It also helps to cure infections of the eye and piles. Ghee, cooked leafy vegetables and edible plant products have to be placed in iron vessels. Alternatively, they can be stored in wooden or stony vessels. Also, food served in iron and glass utensils confers success to the consumer. It also treats inflammation, imparts strength and is known to be an excellent treatment for Kamalaa.

Crystal is a widely used material used in containers. Glass, crystal containers must be used to store raita, Khadava powder and Sattaka. Crystal is pure and cooling.

Golden and silver utensils alleviate doshas and help to improve sight. They bring in enthusiasm and improve intellect.

Ayurveda gives an account of utensils made out of leaves as well. Leaf vessels stimulate the Agni and act as a detoxifier. The plantain leaf is an aphrodisiac. It improves the taste and treats any toxicity in the body. Food served in a pineapple leaf alleviates kapha and vata and promotes health.

Food that is served in leaves that secretes milky sap helps to overcome thirst and alleviates any burning sensation. Ketaki leaves used to serve food are beneficial to the eyes.Food that is stored in appropriate containers will remove diseases, brings happiness and pleases the heart. When this is not obeyed, the doshas are affected and disease is caused.Nala in NalaPaka Darpana describes the processing of food. He speaks of how pulses must be cooked with turmeric and asofeotida. He describes various pulses and says pulses are alleviators of Pitta and promoters of heath. He had classified food items into 5 different types based on their texture- bhakshya (semi hard- laddu), bhojya (soft food- rice, pulses), lehya (food that can be licked- sauces), cosva (food that can be sucked on- sugarcane), and peya (drinkable items- fruit juices) and these 5 types of food will possess either of the six tastes as described by Ayurveda- madhura, lavana, amla, katu, tikta and kashaya. Those who relish on these food items that are prepared with the utmost care will be rewarded with positive health. These preparations taken in this order will alleviate one from Vata and pitta disorders.

The qualities of a cook also affects the final outcome of a preparation. A cook who is appointed must be habituated to that place. He must be intellectual and must possess moral and ethical values. He must be aware of metallic utensils, conversant with the places and seasons. He must be very attentive and must possess the knowledge of every type of cooking.

Finally, it is important to eat right- which means eating the right food at the right time. When an Ayurveda practitioner prescribes medicines, they will also prescribe a diet- how, what and when to consume the diet. An interval of three hours between each meal is necessary and one must have food before a 6-hour timespan. Drinking water before meals is not advisable as it depletes the digestive fire. Eating short meals every two hours is not right and this is one of the root causes for obesity and other diseases. Ayurveda lays down clear directions for all to keep the Agni strong thus leading a healthy lifestyle.

People From the West are Puzzled to See this Level of Contentment with Simplicity: Tarini Dadisman

Tarini (Shanna) Dadisman first came to India with a Panchakarma group led by Ayurveda practioner Durga Leela at the Vaidyagrama Ayurveda hospital. She fell so much in love in India, that she broke the rules of Panchakarma treatment aftercare and sought out India all on her own.

After her first 28 days, she decided that she needed to experience more of India, something deep down was calling me to stay. At that point, I went against all recommendations for Panchakarma treatment aftercare, cancelled my flight home to California, and set out to experience Mother India for the first time on my own. I had no idea what I was doing, had to truly face myself for the first time, learn to surrender, and allow myself to be guided.

Of course, not everything was easy. I definitely made mistakes and had to face some tough life choices in that first 4 and a half month stay in India - but I still would never describe it as a difficult experience. It was a transformation. As soon as I returned back home to America, I missed the experience of India so much that I was already making the plans to set out for my return to Mother India just 2 months later - this time was for a longer 6 month stay. For the past 3 years since then, I stay most of my days in South India and am very happy to call it my home. After falling in love with India the first trip, that decision to stay indefinitely was the easiest decision I have ever made, says Tarini.

In this interview with Indica Yoga she talks about her recovery from heroin addiction, and her new life in India

While many think Ayurveda and Yoga to be different and unconnected, is there a common thread that you see?

There is such a variety of reasons why people today are turning to Ayurveda and Yoga that it is hard to for me identify a specific common thread. The most general way to identify a common thread is people are looking for relief of their suffering - the dis-ease that they have to endure in their everyday home lives in whatever way that is showing up for each individual. This shows up at all levels, physical, mental, and spiritual dis-ease and people seem to be turning to Ayurveda and Yoga for relief of that suffering more and more.

Tarini with Durga Leela holding their 12 Step sobriety birthday chips in Mount Shasta, California

How did Ayurveda help to break your addiction?

The first thing that helped me break a severe heroin addiction was a program through the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in California called Yoga of Recovery. Founded by Durga Leela, Yoga of Recovery retreats integrate the wisdom of Yoga and Ayurveda with the modern recovery tools, for example, 12-Step Recovery programs. It was through my connection with Durga Leela and beginning the exploration of the Self through Yoga and Ayurveda that guided me through my first 18 months of recovery with pharmaceutical assistance. After that first year and a half, I was strong enough and established in my recovery to detox off of the opioid replacement pharmaceuticals through a month long Panchakarma treatment at Vaidyagrama Ayurveda Hospital. My care was led by Durga Leela, Dr Harikrishnan, and Dr Ramkumar Kutty overseeing our entire Yoga of Recovery group.

Coming off of the opioid replacement therapy was unheard of in the West, allopathic doctors suggest people in recovery from heroin addiction to stay on some form of opioid replacement medicines for life to avoid a potential relapse. My experience with Yoga and Ayurveda told me that the connection I was always seeking during my active addiction was not going to come from chemical happiness - that connection I was seeking was within me and the chemicals were only further blocking that connection. After undergoing a deep Panchakarma detoxification, I was free of all pharmaceuticals and as an added bonus I was able to kick the addiction to cigarettes at the same time.

Would you recommend it to people struggling to beat addictive habits?

Yes, developing a daily routine built around the Ayurveda diet and lifestyle recommendations has significantly helped me become stronger in my journey with addiction recovery. Just like I was taught in Yoga of Recovery, I believe it takes all 3 parts to find true and lasting recovery from addictions - Ayurveda, Yoga, and addiction recovery programs. At any point on the recovery path, Panchakarma treatment is a good way for people who have suffered from addictions to repair some of the deep damage that is done to the body in active addiction, alcoholism, or other destructive habits such as eating disorders. So, whether someone is using Ayurveda to actually quit their active addiction, or if they have already been abstinent for some time, turning to the ancient medicine system of Ayurveda eases the struggle.

How do understand Karma Yoga?

Karma Yoga is one of the four paths of yoga. It is the yoga of action, the yoga of selfless service to the other. Since we are all interconnected, serving others leads to serving our own selves and we begin to experience unity in all that surrounds us. One of my favorite definitions of karma yoga is serving the Divinity through works and services. It is the yoga path that helps practitioners transcend the Ego, move beyond their own likes and dislikes for the good of the other, for the good of the community as a whole - leading to a deeper connection to the true Self within.

Getting into selfless service is one of the main recommendations to people in recovery from addictions. What we say in the rooms is Service gets you outside of yourself - meaning that engaging in service to someone in need can help shift uncomfortable feelings that may lead someone back into active addiction. Practicing karma yoga has helped shift uncomfortable feelings for me countless times in this first 5 years of recovery and is a big contributor to me still being clean and sober today.

Tarini at Balagrama where she runs a Yoga programme

How did working on the Balagrama Yoga program help in the recovery?

A big part of 12 Step Recovery programs is service, specifically service to the still suffering addict or alcoholic. Step 12 says 'Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts/alcoholics/people suffering, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.' For me, the Balagrama Yoga program became my personal practice of Step 12 because with so much travel, I have never had the time to give back in the recovery programs by guiding a fellow addict/alcoholic through the 12 Steps. Most of the children from Balagrama have come from backward villages and were exposed to alcoholic, abusive, or other ways dysfunctional households. They were brought to Balagrama to give them better opportunities, to change their lives, and to create change in their local suffering communities. The Balagrama Yoga program became my own practice of carrying the message of recovery through the teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda to a community who has been affected by the disease of addiction.

What do like about the symbolism of Indian culture? You talk about the peacock (as I was reading it I hear a peacock....goosebumps)

This is such a vast subject that I am just beginning to learn about, but what speaks to me is that there seems to be sacred symbolism in every aspect of Indian culture, potentially turning the smallest acts into an offering to the Divine. The first symbolism of Indian culture I connected to was with learning about the Goddess Durga who symbolizes the Divine forces (positive energy) that is used against the negative forces of evil and wickedness that exists within and without. She represents pure positive energy, known as Divine light that is the embodiment of feminine and creative energy. She is depicted as a warrior woman with eight hands carrying weapons of different kinds assuming mudras (symbolic hand gestures) that represent her teachings. Each weapon symbolizes things like dharma, happiness, eradication of vices, when we face difficulties we should not lose our values, detachment, devotion and surrender, courage, forgiveness, and unlimited power.
In the 12 Step recovery programs we are taught to surrender our will and our life over to the care of a Higher Power of our choice, the Goddess Durga and all she represents is my personal Ishta Devata, or Higher Power of Choice. I have felt such a connection to this that it has opened the door for me to start exploring the connection with other beautiful aspects of the symbolism of Indian culture.

What is it about modern western society that drives individuals towards seeking solutions from the East?

I think it is mainly stress, a struggle to achieve, and a lack of contentment with the current circumstances of life. These things all put so much pressure on everyone that a personal health regime and Self growth is set aside. There is just no time for it. It is all go, go, go. In Western society people have all of the material things that they believed would bring happiness but still there is something missing; still there is so much suffering.

In the East, life is seemingly much more slow and simple - but people tend to be much happier in their day to day lives. Generally, there is a routine aligned with nature and a surrender to the higher forces ingrained everywhere in daily life. On the outside, people can have very little and still seem so full of joy and contentment in their life. I think when people from the West see this level of contentment with simplicity it is puzzling to them. What brings people to the East is there is a curiosity to want to know more; to find out how to bring that level of joy and contentment back home to their lives.

What is your daily practice in Ayurveda and Yoga?

Every morning I wake up at about 5 am, first thing I scrape my tongue and take care of elimination, by 5:30am I am practicing abhyanga (self oil massage) with prescribed Ayurveda oil to lubricate my joints and reduce pain before going to my yoga mat between 6-6:30am. I practice my asana practice with a set goal in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition, as given to me by my teacher. My yoga asana practice begins and ends with both prayer and pranayama. In this time of Covid-19 with added time at home, I am grateful to dedicate myself to a full 90 minute practice, but under normal life circumstances my yoga practice on the mat is about 60 minutes. After my yoga practice, I go for a walk minimum 30 minutes, then I tend to the rest of my Ayurveda dinacharya practice (daily 5 sense cleansing) with oil in the nasal passages, ear canal, mouth, face, bottom of the feet, and top of the head. I have my bath and then have my first meal at around 9:30 am. My mealtimes and quantities are regulated throughout the day by Ayurveda recommendations of when to eat, how much to eat, and what to eat based on my own individual constitution, current location and season. When I notice imbalances arising in my body, such as indigestion or trouble sleeping, I adjust my diet and lifestyle accordingly. Somewhere throughout the day I find some time to practice some healing chants, practice chanting the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and I include some time for swadhyaya (Self Study) either in the yoga traditions or a reading from 12 Step Recovery literature. My evening routine is less regimented as my morning practice, but before I go to bed I make sure to have at least 1 hour off of all screens and practice about 15-20 minutes of meditation and conscious breathing to calm down before going to sleep before 10:30pm. Having this self-care routine is especially important during these stressful and uncertain times in the world. It is helping me stay grounded and use this time as an opportunity for exploration and growth, even amongst the turmoil that surrounds us in the world.

India has truly taught me how to go with the flow. It is a constant practice of contentment and keeping an equanimous state of mind through the ups and downs of daily life - learning to accept and adapt to those ups and downs as they arise has been a big gift for me from Mother India

How has staying in India made a difference?

Living in India has made a significant difference in my daily life and I see the benefits more and more every time I return back to my family home in California. After my first trip to India, I noticed I was much more patient, tolerant, and adaptable to change than I had been before my travels. If there is one thing that India teaches best is how to adapt when things do not go according to plans because most often than not, there will always be some deviations in whatever plans you try to make. India has truly taught me how to go with the flow. It is a constant practice of contentment and keeping an equanimous state of mind through the ups and downs of daily life - learning to accept and adapt to those ups and downs as they arise has been a big gift for me from Mother India.

What aspects of Indian culture, cuisine, textiles appeals to you the most?

What I love about Indian culture is the importance of the family, not just the importance that is placed on your blood related family, but the concept of looking at those around in your community as your auntie, uncle, che-chi, akka, di-di, bhai, anna, etta, amma, acchan, & appa. I love how these words that translate to older sister or brother, mother, and father are very common respectful and affectionate ways of addressing members of your community. It is a beautiful way of looking at everyone around you as a member of the family. As a Westerner in India, missing my family at home in California just comes with the territory, but what makes things easier is that I am welcomed with open arms (or Namaste prayer hands) into many extended families across the country. By integrating myself into the various communities I have lived in India, I am lucky enough to have a giant extended family with homes I am welcome in all over India - and these people also know they are welcome in my home anytime in Chennai, and even my home in California if anyone wants to come. With the giant extended family, any feelings of loneliness I have battled in my past have subsided and I feel so honored to be the daughter, sister, auntie, and granddaughter of so many.

My favorite textiles are the beautiful handmade block print fabrics that are made in Rajasthan.

Of all of the varieties of cuisine I have experienced in India, the variety and diversity of South Indian cuisine is what appeals to me most. I am a strict vegetarian and South India is my favorite place to eat because at all mealtimes, there are so many delicious vegetables and tasty dishes to choose from! The one rule I have learned in my travels around this beautiful country is to eat the traditional local food of wherever I am currently located, and, despite the cravings for a little taste of home, I avoid the continental restaurants attempting Western dishes. Not only am I disappointed by the attempt at some of my favorite International dishes, but the extreme weather of India demands that I take care with what I put into my body to be able to digest the meal fully to maintain optimal health and immunity.

For textiles and what I choose to wear in India, I usually dress in local attire. I have learned that the only way to stand the extreme heat of an Indian Summer while also keeping my body completely covered is to wear the local breathable cotton garments. My favorite textiles are the beautiful handmade block print fabrics that are made in Rajasthan.

What are the beneficial oils of Ayurveda that have helped you?

Jatamansi (Spikenard) Essential Oil for grounding at bedtime, along with oil application on the feet before bedtime to promote deep sleep. Also helpful for travel on long airplane or train rides.

Jatamansi (Spikenard) oil is one of the most effective essential oils for supporting a calm mind and balanced body. Those who suffer from worry or other overly active and mental habits will benefit immensely from regular use of this special oil. Jatamansi is calming and grounding and is highly revered for its ability to support deep sleep and to help one work through and release subconscious trauma. Use jatamansi oil diluted in a carrier oil on the bottom of the feet and/or crown of the head before bed to promote deep sleep and positive dream states. Jatamansi oil is also one of the most important herbal medicines for dealing with grief after losing a loved one.

This was one of the first recommendations I received from Durga Leela in my very first Ayurveda consultation. It is the one recommendation that I stick to because I see how it has helped me overcome my traumatic past and the bad dreams that came from that, overall it relaxes the body into a nice deep sleep without any drowsiness the following day.

Kumkumadi Thailam - Face Oil infused with Red Saffron - Apply a thin layer on the whole face, gently massaging with the fingers. Leave on for about 10-20 minutes and wash off with hot water. Benefits can be felt immediately! Kumkumadi improves the skin complexion & texture by creating both a cleansing and nourishing effect on the skin, has anti-aging qualities, removes scars, pimples, blemishes & wrinkles, and makes the skin radiant and beautiful.

Could you please share how you feel Panchakarma benefits you.

Since January 2017 I have taken Panchakarma treatment three times and I have received different gifts from each treatment. The first two times I went with a group called the Yoga of Recovery facilitated by Durga Leela, and I am so grateful I had her there to guide along the process. My first treatment was mostly focused on chemical detoxification and building enough stability in the body and mind to not return to needing chemical happiness. In addition to being chemical free, in the year that followed my first panchakarma I noticed that some of the reactive qualities of my mind were easing - I especially noticed this in my work and personal relationships which just seemed like they were flowing easier and with less conflict. Like I mentioned before, I did not follow all of the doctors recommendations after my first treatment, so when I returned the following year I was determined to follow all of the suggestions and just surrender to the process.

The second year I followed all of the recommendations, including limiting screen time to a minimal and allowing time to just rest without needing outside stimuli to distract. In that year, I found my stability and had some very clear signs to direct me to the next phase of my life. Before then I was mostly floating around India with no clear direction, during that 3 week treatment the direction for my life that I was looking for presented itself in multiple ways.

The stability I found in taking panchakarma with Yoga of Recovery two years in a row was priceless - there is nothing that compares to the deep healing on so many levels that I received there as apart of this group. That stability I found has lasted and continued to blossom to leave me feeling more and more connected to my true Self.

My most recent 30 day panchakarma was my opportunity to press the Re-set button and connect back to that Self after I found I was going through an unusually low period. I had full faith that panchakarma treatment would help me find that stable ground again so I could move forward with the next phase of my life from a balanced state of mind. This last panchakarma treatment has given me exactly that; the ability to be comfortable in my own skin in all circumstances and build strength and resilience even in these uncertain times of the world. At anytime these imbalances arise, I know I can turn to the loving care of the doctors and the rest of the staff at Vaidyagrama to help bring me back to center. I am so grateful to have a place to turn to during times like these. As we say in the 12-Step Programs to people struggling with the disease of addiction, and it is the same for me with panchakarma, I am going to just Keep Coming Back.