A year ago, Starr Mary Wolfe of Monroe awoke to terrible stomach pains. Despite seeing doctor after doctor, the pain -- and accompanying issues with digestion and heartburn -- kept getting worse. "No one knew what it was," she remembers.
In March, she went to a workshop on ayurveda, an ancient form of healing, and says the lecture changed her life. There she met local ayurvedic practitioner Simone Cameron, who began seeing her regularly. Today Wolfe's pains are gone. No more heartburn or indigestion. Plus, she is sleeping better.
"I didn't like having to take medicine," Wolfe says. "No one could tell me exactly what I should be eating to make myself better, and every time I ate I got sick. I knew that it had to be the food that was making me sick. Simone figured it all out. She opened a door for me that I was ready to walk through. I am so thankful I did."
Like Wolfe, Cameron had tried everything to clear up a medical condition that had plagued her for years: psoriasis. "Doctors didn't want to fix my problem," she says. "They only wanted to give me medicine to mask it." She finally tried ayurveda and her psoriasis went away. She was so impressed with the results that in 2004 she graduated from Kripalu's School of Ayurveda in Stockbridge, Mass., (a New York City branch opened in February) and opened Presence of Wellness in Monroe.
In Sanskrit, ayurveda (pronounced i-your-veda), means the science of life, the science of the body, senses, mind and soul. It is the oldest continuously practiced system of medicine in the world, beginning in India more than 5,000 years ago. "A sister science to yoga, ayurveda is a system of medicine focused on bringing peace, harmony and balance to the entire person," says Larissa Hall Carlson, assistant to the dean at Kripalu's School of Ayurveda, and an ayurvedic yoga specialist and lifestyle consultant. "Ayurveda focuses mainly on diet and lifestyle recommendations to keep the body/mind healthy."
Ayurveda is a complex science. Although every practitioner has his or her way of conducting the initial session, it usually includes an extensive medical history, taking the pulse, examining the eyes, skin, nails and tongue, which in ayurveda is like a map of the internal organs, and the state of digestion.
"Ayurvedic practitioners can look at the tongue and get a good understanding of what is going on in the body," Carlson explains, citing a few examples: "Scallops on the sides of the tongue can often signal malabsorption. An overly quivery tongue can signal overstimulation of the nervous system and/or sense organs. A thick white coating on the back of the tongue can signal toxins in the colon."
Ayurveda is built on the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Clients discover their dosha, the energy that governs the functional aspects of our bodies. Carlson explains that there are three doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha -- and although we might possess qualities from all three, we each have one main dosha. (See sidebar for descriptions.)
Your dosha is determined at birth, but diet, stress and life can cause imbalances in its state. "It's important to know your dosha to identify your optimal diet and correct lifestyle choices to maintain balance and prevent disease," Carlson adds.
"The beauty of ayurveda is that I get to find out who my clients are, and then to educate them so they learn to live in harmony with who they are," Cameron says. "Each client is an individual, with unique psychological, emotional and physical conditions. Our lifestyles naturally create imbalances in our bodies."
Cameron says her goal is to free the energy within each of her clients, so it flows freely throughout the body. "Take something as simple as breath," she says. "We do it without thinking, but so many of my clients don't know how to breathe. I teach them how. I am providing the road map for my clients to become healthy and happy in their lives."
At the core are her recommendations about the seasonal foods they should be eating for their body type.
For Wolfe, who is a pitta, this meant changing her diet from one heavy on ethnic Italian and Mexican foods to one consisting primarily of poultry and fish, quinoa and beans, spices such as turmeric and cardamom, and walnut oil. "Some people might find my diet difficult, but I think it is delicious," she says. "It only took a month of eating this way for me to see a tremendous change in the way I felt. I can never go back to my old way of eating. It is just not worth it to me."
In addition, she lost 13 pounds, something she wasn't even trying to do. "I needed Simone the day I found her," she says. "I know God sent her to me. My body was on fire, and I've learned how to put that fire out."
Carlson would say Wolfe has learned to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, eating seasonally, and truly understanding her own constitution. "Ayurveda can provide an individual with strong immunity, peace of mind and an uplifted spirit that allows life to be lived with an enormous amount of grace, harmony and radiant aliveness."
The 3 Doshas
Larissa Hall Carlson, assistant to the dean at Kripalu's School of Ayurveda, and an ayurvedic yoga specialist and lifestyle consultant, explains the three doshas:
Vata - Made of ether and air, it governs communication and movement in the body/mind, specifically breath, speech and circulation. Vata's main qualities are cold, dry, light, mobile, clear and subtle. If this is your main dosha, you likely have a thin body frame and dry/cool skin, and are fast-moving, fast-talking, enthusiastic, creative and energetic. If vatas eat too many light and dry foods such as rice cakes, crackers or salads, or have a lifestyle that has too much travel, movement or change, they can develop dry skin, hair and nails, constipation, gas, bloating, insomnia, fear, anxiety and memory loss.
Pitta - Made of fire and water, it governs digestion and transformation in the body/mind, specifically digestive fluids that break down food. Pitta's main qualities are hot, oily, sharp, penetrating, light and spreading. If this is your main dosha, you are likely to have a medium body frame and warm, oily skin, move with intention, and are intelligent, bright, organized and competitive. If pittas eat foods that are too hot, spicy and oily, such as fried food, onions, garlic, coffee and alcohol, they are likely to develop acid indigestion and skin rashes, hives and acne, and will be irritated, easy to anger and critical.
Kapha - Made of water and earth, it governs the lubrication and structure in the body/mind, specifically the synovial fluid that lubricates and protects joints. Kapha's main qualities are cold, wet, heavy, slow, smooth, stable and soft. If this is your main dosha, you are likely stocky with strong muscles and bones, move and talk more slowly, dependable and jolly, with good memory and endurance. If kaphas eat rich and heavy foods such as meat, rich sauces and gravies, ice cream, dairy products and mashed potatoes, they are likely to develop congestion, weight gain, water retention and become sluggish and lethargic.