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The Ancient Wisdom Of Ayurveda As Antidote To Pandemic, Modern Stressors

Rima Shah
Courtesy of Rima Shah
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Rima Shah runs Diva Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic Wellness Center, in Milwaukee.

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic or “whole-body” healing systems.

It originated in India thousands of years ago and uses lifestyle intervention and natural therapies to encourage balance in the body and mind. Treatments start with inner purification and can include changes in diet, herbal remedies, meditation, yoga and massage therapy.

Rima Shah has taught and practiced Ayurveda in the Milwaukee area and elsewhere for decades. She runs Diva Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic wellness center.

Shah says the pandemic has had an impact on those coming in for treatments. “So, I think that isolation has been such a key thing,” she says.

Modern people are no strangers to loneliness, Shah says. “We are a society that when we're not busy, we actually feel lonely and unproductive. And when we're too busy, we feel overworked, lonely and exhausted. So that concept of loneliness has always been there," she says.

But Shah says true isolation, like we saw during the pandemic, was very hard on people. “We don’t always have the time to be able to sit with ourselves,” she say. “So, I think in in that whole process, people's mental anxieties, mental challenges came up a lot, and I think their sense of worth, self-worth — where do they belong, how do they fit in, what's their purpose?”

Shah says that’s where Ayurveda comes in. Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words “ayur,” which means science or knowledge and “veda,” which means life. "Ayurveda" can thus translate to the knowledge of life. Shah says it’s a medicinal system that uses ancient wisdom for practical everyday living.

“So within that, Ayurveda really helps people understand what lifestyle choices to make, what dietary choices to make, what herbal choices can we bring in, what treatments or therapies or rhythms can we create in our life to truly understand who we are in terms of the cosmos?," she explains.

A main component of Ayurveda is the principle of universal interconnectedness through the "doshas." There are three doshas in Ayurveda: vata, pitta and kapha.

“The moment that you are created, you have certain aspect of all five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and ether," Shah says. "And no matter what happens to you through your life, no matter how much you change that elemental makeup of who you are never changes, it always stays the same.”

She says the doshas are a doorway to look at oneself not as symptomatic people, but as elemental people. Ayurvedic treatments are built around the idea that opposite cures.

“So, if you are somebody that has a vata dosha, which is made up of air and ether, they're very light elements,” Shah says this could present itself in a person being cold, having rough skin, being dry or constipated. She continues, “When we see those kinds of things, we recommend opposite qualities, grounding practices, establishing routine, using warm, moist, oily foods in your diet to counteract dryness. And then, that way, there's a real clear-cut plan on how to balance yourself.”

Shah says another important Ayurvedic principle is that people are circadian beings — they work well from sunrise to sunset. “So, one of the big things that I tell anybody that comes to see me is establish routine around eating because then your body knows ding ding ding, it 12 o'clock you're going to eat at the same time every day," she says. "Granted, our lives can change a little bit, but if we establish that rhythm, then we're going to have good agni and that's our digestive fire."

Another principle of Ayurveda? You are what you digest. So, enliven your kitchens, Shah says. “We want to use spices because not only do they make food taste good, they all have digestive properties to them. So we teach students, we teach clients, why do we use ginger? Why should we use cardamon? Let's use a pinch of cinnamon here. Because every one of those spices, even if you come from an Italian tradition and your family use thyme, oregano, they all help with digestion. So that's key," she says.

And, Shah says Ayurveda can be used as a complement to Western medicine. “Yeah, you know, a lot of people think that clients that come to Ayurveda must believe in woo woo medicine,” she laughs. “But the truth of the matter is, is that 85% of the people that have come to my practice over the last 17 years, have been to so many doctors, and they've been using the Western medical approach so much, and they were looking for more, and doctors are used to it now.”

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