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Watch this video for a great overview of Ayurveda (over 44,000 views!)
For as long as I can remember I either felt I was overweight, or I was overweight. I remember going to Diet Workshop and Weight Watchers in high school, trying to make peace with myself, struggling with bulimia for years, over-compensating in many ways, being a pleaser, being defensive, and not allowing people to get too close to me. Admitting I needed help in any way, being vulnerable in any way, I saw as being a failure. I was tough. I was funny. Fiercely independent (I can do it!). Single. With many boyfriends.
I was not unhappy, though. I traveled around the world – often on my own. Lived in Israel for a decade. I had massive adventures. I couldn’t take no for an answer. I found a way around everything. I never met an obstacle. Just another challenge. And I was always out to prove I could do it.
Fast forward to 2004 when I decided to open breathe books. I barreled through that too! With great gusto and gumption I opened the shop to great success. It was amazing. But I was exhausted. I was truly overweight, at nearly 220 pounds. In August of 2007 I led a group on my first Sacred Site tour to England. It was a wonderful trip but I felt so heavy. So stuffed not only with food, but with thoughts, plans, ideas, desires. And even though I had been meditating and doing yoga for years, I could not find peace within myself.
One month later, in August 2007, I knew I had to make a change. So I went to the Chopra Center in Southern California for a detox treatment. A voice deep inside me kept whispering “Panchakarma.” It was strange to hear Sanskrit whispered in my head but I continued to hear it over and over, so that summer I decided it was time to move forward and do Panchakarma.
Panchakarma means five actions. It is the Ayurvedic deep cleanse, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I knew I needed this. Since 2002 I had been planning breathe books, opened in 2004 and worked seven days (and many nights!) a week creating the business. While this brought me great joy, it also took its toll. I was more exhausted than I had ever been and I weighed about 220 pounds (down from a high of 237 in the early 90’s)
While I continued practicing yoga and meditation, my weight was creeping up and I actually felt that something sticky was inside me preventing me from receiving nutrition, preventing me from feeling satisfied (emotionally and physically). I felt blocked, cluttered, crowded, overwhelmed. For me, Panchakarma seemed to be the answer for how to get unstuck. Little did I know that this message was going to change my life. I went to the Chopra Center to create space in my life, physically and emotionally.
My week at the Chopra Center took me so deeply into myself. I discovered how tired I was. How much I needed rest. How I sort of battled my way forward in every situation with an “I can do it alone” attitude, often refusing help from others, thinking my severe independence was a sign of strength. The mere thought of accepting help made me feel weak, vulnerable and needy. During my stay at the Chopra Center, my grip on these notions of self began to loosen up and flow out of me, like the physical toxins in my body.
And I began to let go. The different Panchakarma therapies are designed to release toxins from the body and mind. The first few days are exhausting as your body begins to release. The Ayurvedic sessions encourage you to let go by using several different methods: abhyanga (saturating oil massages); steams; herbal scrubs; sound therapy; sirodhara (warm oil poured onto the forehead in a continuous stream); marma therapy (light touch on specific areas of the body); and basti (herbal enemas).
After a week of treatments and classes I went home in an altered state. I felt a deeply profound shift had occurred and I was going to embrace it.
My body and mind felt pristine. I wanted to continue this process so I turned to my favorite bookstore, breathe books! I had a nice little Ayurvedic section including some great cookbooks. I took home a collection and immersed myself. I took the cookbooks to the Indian Market and bought what I needed to create a kitchen that would help me balance my doshas (Ayurvedic mind/body constitution). I bought my oils and herbal supplements to continue the practices I had learned. I read everything I could find on Ayurveda. My mind was so focused, I couldn’t think of anything else. I began to see the world as doshas and maha bhutas – the five elements which make up the doshas (space, air, fire, water and earth). The world began to make sense to me.
My results were rapid and encouraging. In less than three months I dropped close to 30 pounds and my cholesterol fell an astonishing 80 points. (To balance my Kapha dosha, I reduced the amount of dairy, wheat and sugar I ate. I added in many new foods including Indian spices, dals, rice, different fruits and veggies. The diet and daily routine are different for each dosha.)
I was so excited by what I was learning that I needed more information, so I attended another Chopra workshop called Journey Into Healing: An Immersion Into Ayurveda.
In this workshop, Drs. David Simon and Deepak Chopra took me to another level of understanding of Ayurveda. And I loved it. I felt I was remembering a past life — like I was being reminded. As if I was coming home to a memory and knowledge that was deeply ingrained in me and now was the time to remember it. Now I had the time, the money, the skills and desire to remember. And the opportunity was handed to me.
It was at this workshop in November 2007, that I decided to take the Chopra Center’s Teacher Certification program. This supplied me with an organized path of study in addition to all research and reading I was doing on my own.
Over the next few months I lost another 15 pounds and I watched my body take on this new shape I hardly recognized. At 45 years old, my weight had fallen to where it was when I was 18. Mentally I began to slowly shift into this new phase. I still find my mind is catching up to my body. I think when the two meet, I’ll be able to let go of another 15 pounds or so that I would like to say goodbye to! (I’ll add that now – at the age of 51, the weight and cholesterol levels have remained the same!)
I took a year to complete my course work, and after a week of intense study and practice at the Chopra Center in November 2008, I received my certification. I am so unbelievably proud to part of the Chopra Family as a Certified Chopra Instructor.
Besides the weight, I found other things in my life that weren’t serving me began to change. I sought out corners of my house where clutter had accumulated over the years and rid myself of the unwanted things. Old clothes, paperwork, items of no use. Gone. I created breathing space. The prana, or chi, was flowing through me and around me. By creating space inside and out, I was encouraging this healthy flow to nourish me.
And into that space I created, my soul partner walked in. My husband-to-be, Larry Bohlen, actually walked into breathe books in December, 2008. We were married in September 2010. Then came Ella, our Border Collie mix. And then our lab-boxer mix Shadow. and in November, 2016, I was studying Ayurveda in India with Dr. Vasant Lad, when I found a dog chained to a tree. Her name is Joonie and she came home with me and joined the family in December 2016.
Since my initial experience with The Chopra Center I have gone to two other Ayurvedic Clinics for Panchakarma. Life Spa (www.lifespa.com) is located in Boulder and run by John Douillard. The Ayurvedic Institute (AyurvedicInstitute.com) in Albuquerque is the U.S. base for Dr. Vasant Lad. Panchakarma continues to be a profound and different experience each time and each clinic has its own benefits. (If you decide to contact The Chopra Center, please use my name to receive a discount or you can contact me to arrange your program!)
While not everyone is able do it, Panchakarma is ideally done twice a year. For me it jump-started my Ayurvedic practice. But there are things you can do right now, right here to begin your journey.
Cooking nutritious food is the backbone of Ayurveda. I was privileged to take a five-day cooking class with my food guru Amadea Morningstar at Kripalu in April 2008 and a week-long intensive at her home in New Mexico in 2009. I learned many Ayurvedic techniques and some beautiful mantras and chants to use while cooking! I recommend Amadea’s book, “The Ayurvedic Cookbook”, and “Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners” to anyone who wants to create an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Now Amadea comes to Maryland to teach with me. We completed our second Ayurvedic Cooking Weekend Retreat with Amadea Morningstar, in March 2011. Over 40 people have come to a beautiful farm house at Fox Haven Learning Center in Frederick, Maryland to learn the art of Ayurveda. Amadea came to Baltimore in October 2015 and taught classes and offered individual sessions in Susan’s Kitchen, my new business, a vegetarian cooking school.
In April 2012 I attended a week-long Pulse Reading Intensive course at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, with Dr. Vasant Lad. Pulse reading is an ancient diagnostic tool that is now part of my tool-kit when I work with clients. The pulse can reveal deep-seated imbalances as well as indicate good health and a strong constitution among other subtler indications of health both physical, mental and emotional. In December 2015 I completed a 6-week Clinical Ayurvedic program in Pune, India with Dr. Lad, and in July 2016 I received my certification in Marma Therapy, also from Dr. Lad, in New Mexico.
In addition to speaking engagements, classes and workshops, I offer individual Ayurvedic Consultations in which we take an in-depth look at your lifestyle, nutrition, health and emotional well-being and I make recommendations to you based on your Ayurvedic prakriti (natural born constitution) and vikruti (imbalance) to help you restore balance and harmony and bring you to perfect health! Please click here to learn more.
breathe books, and now Susan’s Kitchen & Breathe Ayurveda have become a sort of Ayurveda-Central. My life has reached a new level of health and happiness because of Ayurveda. One of my missions is to share this with you.
I wish you a wonderful journey into Ayurveda. Please note, that if you would like me to come teach your group about Ayurveda or meditation, please contact me. I’m able to travel anywhere around the world to teach! It’s my Dharma.