Beyond Before & After 2.0 Let's Get Woo: What Is Ayurveda Anyway?

Ayurveda’s approach is simple: consider the whole person.

BBA 2.0, Let's Get Woo, takes the last 18 months of life changes/new experiences/self-care and adds a layer of, well, WOO.


Welcome to BBA 2.0, where we get woo.

What is it? Well, mostly it’s a journey of alternative healing. I’m pairing up with my dear friend (and Ravishly contributor) Carrie Saum, to talk about all of the things that western pharmaceuticals don’t usually address. Over the next year (or two, or the rest of my life) Carrie will be working with me to treat my health from the roots up. 

I’ll let Carrie tell you about her role and background.

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Have you ever gone to a doctor and they completely discounted and ignored what your complaints were? Me, too. In 2009, I had a terrible case of The Itchies. My skin was literally crawling 24/7. I suspected bedbugs or another type of mite from a hotel where I had stayed. When my husband also started itching, and welts rose up on both of our exposed skin, we went to the doctor, got a prescription for our skin, and cleaned our apartment better than it has ever been cleaned before. We took all of the necessary steps to sanitize our bed, clothes, bedding, etc. It was a very long day of stressful cleaning.

My husband’s bites and itchies cleared up immediately. We found no more evidence of bedbugs. But my symptoms persisted. This wasn’t a shock to me since I know this is a particular weakness I have. My skin is super sensitive; if there is a bug that will attach itself to a body, it will find me. Then it sets off a histamine response that is almost impossible to get under control once it’s activated. 

I went back to the doctor and did another round of prescriptions and washing all the things. It didn’t work. I went back a third time, and he handed me a prescription for Xanax. I took one. I was still itchy, but also loopy and basically in hell. I went back to the doctor for the fourth time. He wrote me a prescription for Zoloft. I left his office and went straight to an alternative medical doctor who gave me two anti-parasite treatments. One was a supplement created from 100% food; the other was a homeopathic remedy. In less than four hours, my itchies subsided significantly. In 24 hours, they were gone entirely. Was it a placebo effect? Maybe. But I don’t believe so. 

This was my first exposure to alternative therapies. As a trained paramedic, I have been well versed in western (allopathic) medicine. I had been taught to eschew anything that didn’t have significant published research or peer-reviewed studies. I understand why. There are loads of snake oil salesmen out there seeking to get rich off of your ignorance and desperation, and people pay dire consequences because of it. But I also began to understand that allopathic medicine didn’t cover all the bases. So, what if there were more ways to support and treat health issues in addition to our western ways?

Shortly after The Itchies, I stumbled upon Ayurveda. It is an ancient practice originating in India that translates to “The Science of Life.” I read everything I could find on the Internet and ordered some books from Amazon. Ayurveda seeks to treat the whole person, not just the body. There is no separation between the body/mind/spirit because that is what we are. Treating each one as part of a whole was revolutionary to me. I researched Ayurveda training schools, and in 2011, we pulled up our southern roots and headed to the Pacific Northwest so I could train under some of the most highly regarded Ayurveda experts in the world. 

Ayurveda’s approach is simple: consider the whole person.

If a tree has a diseased branch, you don’t toss a stick of dynamite at it and blow the whole thing out of the ground, right? You look at the soil, the roots, the environment, the season, the sun. You take small interventions first, like making certain the soil has what it needs to support the tree, and it’s getting enough water. If those small interventions don’t work, you intervene in more expansive ways. But dynamite is the last resort after everything else has failed, or when the disease is spreading too quickly. This gentle, thoughtful, integrated way of looking at health and healing made so much sense to me. 

Now, I will say this. I have struggled deeply with how to practice this ancient art from a country and culture that is most certainly not my own. Cultural appropriation is always a concern. Being embraced and taught by Indian instructors and doctors who have had this knowledge passed down to them for thousands of years humbles me, and I always endeavor to honor their traditions to the best of my abilities. It helps that each of them has encouraged me to share the benefits of Ayurveda with the western minded folks. The heart of Ayurveda is generous and wise, and also a little bit mystical. So, while some of the language we use is casual and we keep the tone light-hearted, we intend always to honor this practice in its truest form.

And finally for the disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. Don’t stop taking your meds, don’t make any major changes to your life without consulting your personal doctor. Web MD does not count as a personal doctor, either. I don’t diagnose, treat, or cure anything. I just get to write about my understanding and ideas and share them with you. 

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How did we decide to do this? 

It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve struggled with IBS, generalized muscle soreness, poor sleep, lack of energy, a host of other problems — all of this in addition to the bipolar disorder, OCD and anxiety I am already coping with pharmaceutically. 

I’ve had enough. I am tired of layering medication on top of medication. I’m tired of not being able to distinguish between what is real and what the meds are causing. 

I want something else, something deeper, something that gets to the root of what’s going on in my body.*

I’ve always been a little “woo” — prone to lean into ancient practices, to use natural remedies. This might have been borne out of my experience as a child, being reared by my great-grandmother who was half Native American. She rubbed me with things I can’t remember, spoke over me in languages I couldn’t understand. 

But my first truly memorable, “adult” experience with something homeopathic was in high school. I was dreadfully ill. I couldn’t miss school — not with a full AP class load. Every day I drove to pick up my friend Brant Pedersen. When Brant’s mom saw how sick I was — no voice, struggling to breathe (def should have gone to the hospital) — she opened her fridge and handed me a glass jar from the door. 

She told me what was in it — V8, cayenne, licorice root — and told me to gargle it as long as I could; swallow if my throat would permit it. She sent me home with that bottle and within a day I was talking again and on the mend. 

It wasn’t that the mixture itself was necessarily magic (though it definitely was); it was that something existed outside of the pharmacy that could help. It was that someONE cared enough to share with me that mixture and her knowledge. 

And now, I have that chance again. Carrie offered to do that for me — to share her knowledge and her remedies. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

I’m ready to start from the ground up. 

*All of this being said, you should know, for the foreseeable I will continue to take all of what is currently prescribed to me and visit my psychiatrist on the regular to make any necessary changes to those meds. But you should also know that I lived many years without meds (though somewhat recklessly, at times). 

The levels of a few of my meds are at maximum doses and cause memory loss, word-finding issues, exhaustion, and a bunch of other stuff that is highly undesirable (delayed orgasm OKAY). If, under the supervision of my psychiatrist, I can reduce the doses of those medications, I will.

Next week in BBA 2.0: What's my dosha type? (And what IS a dosha?) 


Want to watch my woo? Get woo with me? Meditate? Weep?

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