Rachel Tsai – Yoga & Ayurveda

Expert Interview Series with Rachel Tsai

WATCH to learn from Rachel Tsai, Absolute Yoga’s faculty trainer for yoga history and philosophy as well as Ayurveda. Rachel is part of the Hot Yoga Teacher Training team.


So hello, this is Lucas Rockwood here, with Absolute Yoga, and welcome to The Art of Teaching Yoga. This is a collection of interviews with some of today’s leading teacher trainers. Today I’m joined by my friend and colleague yoga and Ayurveda teacher, and Ayurvedic clinical and nutritional consultant, Rachel Tsai. Rachel, are you with us?


Yes, good morning, everyone.


Thanks so much for joining us. So before we get started, I just wanted to give everyone a little bit of background about you. So Rachel’s from Taiwan and she holds qualifications in both Ayurveda and yoga therapy, from the Well Park College of Natural Therapies, in New Zealand.

She has also completed advanced Sanskrit and Vedic Astrology studies. Rachel currently teaches and conducts workshops and training courses in Ayurveda and yoga and yoga philosophy, in and around Asia. Rachel goes to India yearly to take internship with Dr. Liladhar Gupta, I’m not sure if I’m saying that right, who’s a fourth generation Ayurvedic physician, at his herbal research center.

So if you want to learn more about Rachel during the call or later on today, you can visit her website which is www.Matipatha.com. She’s also on the teaching faculty for many of the teacher training courses at Absolute Sanctuary at Koh Samui in Thailand, and you can learn more about those courses at www.AbsoluteSanctuary.com.

So Rachel, Ayurveda is something that everyone in the yoga community is interested in but often knows very little about, so I’m really excited for this discussion today. Are you okay if we just kind of jump right in with some questions?


Yup, go ahead.


Okay, great. So my first question is very, very basic. Most students have heard about Doshas and they’ve probably learned something or other about *** foods, kind of these buzz words in yoga, but really most of us have just a very basic understanding of Ayurveda. So without going into too much detail, can you just tell us in your own words what is Ayurveda and why is it so powerful for yoga students?


There are three ways to look at Ayurveda. I think most people probably know, to some extent, that it is a medicine system, just like Western medicine system or Chinese medicine system. So it has its own way of looking at human body, it has its own anatomy, physiology and pathology, so the science of disease. So that’s one. And second of all, it has its own healing — it’s a complete healing science. So you have a whole host of ways of treating disease. Therapeutic, herbal and also very powerful, its own nutrition principle.

You can look at it as science and knowledge of longevity, which is what most people don’t know about because these days most people can’t even grasp how to maintain their own health, let alone start looking into how to make the level of health go onto another level, which is about the knowledge of longevity. How do you live well? So that’s really Ayurveda.

But I think the relevance to yoga students is a couple ways of looking at it. First of all, it gives the modality. What does it mean? It means there’s a vocabulary. How do you start to do observation of yourself? So it has two ways. One is in the mirror, because you know the modality, you know some of the vocabulary, you can start to do observation. So it gives you a mirror to say, okay am I in balance and do I have health within myself and with my environment. If you’re out of balance, you’re not health, it gives you the tools so you can start to do self-healing. So that’s one.

The other way is I think what I see these days is a lot of people going to yoga but they practice, for example, so many people practice yoga many years, they are very, very advanced practitioners, but they still have constipation or they still have low immunity or they have nutritional problems. So then you start questioning, so how come I’m doing all this yoga and I’m still not healthy and what is wrong here? Because that comes back to the principle of Ayurveda. It’s really about self-understanding. A lot of people, students come to me about, okay I keep doing yoga, I do it so often, I’m very dedicated, but I’m still so stiff, I’ve got no progress. Because everybody is very different, you are a very unique universe, cosmos in yourself. So everybody’s practice really should be different, because you want to use yoga practice as a way to bring forth and increase and improve your health and well-being, rather than using your body and mind to just fit it into these yoga postures and yoga practice, whatever style or form you’re practicing.

So Ayurveda really gives you the — sort of taking that yoga off the mat into your life, where you start looking at health and nutrition very differently. But then later on, it all infiltrate into the relationship and when you do yoga as well.


Well great. I think that gives us a really great overview. One of the things that really stands out for me is when you talk about it as a modality, as a system. Oftentimes we think of Ayurvedic medicine as not a medical practice but as kind of witch doctor or something like this, but I think it’s important, like you said, to realize it is a complete system in the same way that Western medicine is a system.


Yeah, and the funny thing that a lot of people don’t know is actually a lot of modern medicine system, they … principles and theories and practices from Ayurveda, but that’s a different topic. It goes way back.


Well great. I wonder now if we can talk a little bit about body types or personal constitutions. For many people, understanding their own body type or their constitution can be one of the most profound discoveries of their yoga practice. So perhaps you can give us just an overview, a broad stroke of the different types of constitution and what they mean for people.


So Ayurveda is very much of an experience of science. So the ancient sages or the wise people, based on observation of the cosmos, the universe, they have the five element theory, which is not unique because in Chinese medicine, Chinese philosophy, we all each have our own five elements. So what they discovered is these five elements, two of them will have tendency to work together. But actually, they are not element as a substance but they are actually energy. They’re forces.

So air and space, the most subtle and most mobile one, they tend to congregate together and they constitute to this thing called Vata. Vata basically — Vata type of people, if they are predominately Vata, they are more airy, water. What I mean is the energy inside our body tend to dissipate. That applies to body and the mind. So they like to move a lot, they like to change things. They do well with a changing environment, jobs, and they like this variety in their life. In their food, how they eat, when they eat, when do they go to sleep, pretty much everything.

The second Dosha, the second constitution type of element is fire and water. This is fire, so these people tend to be more intense. And because of fire, which is the element of — the agent of changes, so these people are about transformation. So they like to manage pretty much everything, and their appetite, their digestion, their immunity are much more steady because they have that fire element in there. But with the same token that they tend to apply intensity to how they eat and what do they seek in life and in relationship. Also for example immunity, immune response, that’s a reaction because fire, they tend to be quite developed to certain allergies in the body.

The third constitution type is called Kapha, and that’s the element of water and earth. So these are the heavier, most growth elements, and what I mean is that in the body, also in the mind, they tend to coagulate and tend to accumulate. So these people are the steadiest people. They’re very loving, they’re very patient. The body and the mind are a lot more steady, the immunity is good. But it become kind of more entrenched in their tendency and constitution, they become more conservative, could be more stubborn and they tend to be a little dull and slow and they need to be stimulated to get into action.

So these sort of traits, they obviously all apply into the body and mind. However, having said that and as Lucas will know, that if everybody was just one Dosha dominant, my job as a clinical consultant would be very easy. Most people will have two Dosha dominant, yet we all have three Dosha. They make the body and mind work. But most people, I’d say 80 percent of people in my clinical observation, will be two Dosha dominant. So you will observe one or the other in the body, in the mind.


Okay, great. So we have Vata which is primarily air, Pitta which is primarily fire, and Kapha which is water and earth. And these three, there are people who are predominately one, but in general you’re talking about most of the people you work with are some combination, right?


Yeah, most people will have two. For example, a lot of people come to yoga, mostly they are Pitta/Vatha or Vatha/Pitta. So the overlapping quality of these two Dosha is the likeness. They tend to be very dynamic, they tend to like to use their head and they are quite intellectual, like changes. But all the time living in the head. What I mean, people like that tend to ignore their body. So they come to the practices and they embrace and go with a gusto, whether it’s Ashtanga practice or hot yoga practice, they do it three times a day and they run out of gas. Vata people usually run out of gas, and they’re just like an engine switches off. They become fatigued and then they’ll be like, okay this thing doesn’t work for me.

The Pitta people, they will go with so much fire power, too much fire you’ll combust at some point. So yeah, it depends on which element you have, and again, the environment coming to play is if you live in a hot climate like Thailand then you definitely want to watch your Pitta. But if you live in Scandinavia, colder climate, a little bit more fire is not a bad thing. So again, we all have to take the living environment into consideration.


And so a lot of it, I guess, is just kind of understanding your predisposition, so that you have a better understanding of what your natural tendencies are. Would you say that’s fair?


Yeah, but most people though do have what they call the present state. Most people, ever since they are born, I say ever since the fetus is conceived, they start developing the present state. If a lady who’s pregnant, she’s Scandinavian and during the pregnancy she moves to Taiwan or Hong Kong or Thailand, that environment comes in, so the baby starts developing slight differences in the present state. So what most people see right now is the end product of your 20, 30, 40 years of choices, lifestyle, diet, work and because today trouble is so easy, so that comes into effect. 500 years ago people don’t have that because people aren’t that mobile. But these days we have that.

So what you see right now in your body and mind is slightly distorted, but that still is the basis for everybody to start to observe. So I like to eat this food. Why do I like to eat it? And then how does that make me feel when I do these things and in what climate? Wintertime, springtime how do I feel? When do I get dry skin? When does my hair start getting frizzy? So like I said, it’s very much experiential. That’s why the principle is about vigilantly watching your body, watching your mind and you start to develop what I call a knowledge base of our cause and effect.

When you do that, you develop that. A lot of people these days, oh one day I eat peanuts it’s okay, the next day it’s not okay and the following day it’s okay again. Do I have an allergy or not? People don’t know it. So if you want to know that, how you would do that, I can give you a method to experiment with that, because basically you have to from your own experiential point of view. So I often tell my students, my patients, don’t take my word for it. I’m going to give you a lot of knowledge, in my clinical report I give you lots of things, but you’ve got to go and experiment with it.

Because once that knowledge becomes through the practical practices and becomes realization, that becomes part of your cellular memory. That won’t go away.


Wow. I have a question right here from a student and she asks, “I took an online test that says I’m primarily a Vatha, and I feel stiff in my yoga practice and I have a hard time with concentration in meditation.” So her question is, “What should I do?” I know that’s kind of a long thing to go into, but maybe you can give us an idea about someone who’s starting to understand their constitution, where can they start to go to get some more direction in terms of finding balance, if they have a Vatha tendency or an overactive Pitta or something like this?


Yeah, that’s a good question because so many students have that. So the stiffness is basically a dryness or roughness. That’s a quality of Vatha. Now, that could happen to somebody who’s the Pitta constitution or Vatha constitution. But the present symptom is Vatha. So I’m guessing this person most likely has some toxicity in their colon, so you want to look at the bowel movement and things like that.

In terms of diet without knowing this person, of course you want to counter the Vatha. Basically, Ayurveda is very easy. You have too much dryness. Put some oil in it. Too much coldness, you put some warm in. So this person would definitely not want to eat salad all day long or fruits all day long, because those are cold. So you want to eat warm food. You want to have something more oily.

The best thing to do for anybody who’s Vatha, in terms of body or mind, is oil massage. Not the kind of massage you do like a Swedish massage or Thai massage, because those are too athletic. Too much movement creates friction, and in itself if it’s overdone it creates even more Vatha. So do the one like aromatherapy or Ayurveda massage, where it’s applying oil. But remember, don’t use a lot of essential oils because that’s again, stimulating to the nervous system.

And in terms of the concentration in meditation, again, if someone has problems sitting, even like I teach a lot of yoga where a lot of people find it very difficult even to sit for a posture maybe three minutes, that’s basically an indication of you’re over-stimulated, unsteady nervous system. So there are two things you do. Again, oil massage to calm. Actually, our skin is a digestive organ. A lot of Vatha people tend to have their digestion not too strong, so too much oil in the GI tract, in the digestive tract, actually they can’t take it. So best actually to absorb oils through the skin. That’s one. And the second is this person already have too much stimuli. It could be in the job, it could be in the environment, it could be in the habit or recreation. What you want to do is reduce the stimuli. We have five sensory organs, and most people receive their stimuli from visual as well as hearing. So that means don’t overuse your eyes, computer games, movies and TV and don’t read right before sleep and thing like that. And then the audio part as well, so you want to really calm these two sensory organs, so kind of shut down all that stimuli.

And people who find they have concentration problems in meditation, like I said, most likely will have problem or toxicity with their colon, and second is their sleep pattern. So these two things definitely have to look into as well.


Okay great. If we were talking about someone with a Vatha imbalance and they wanted to do some oil massage or maybe they’re just doing some self-massage, what type of oil would you recommend for someone like that?


Okay, so if it’s somebody who’s a Vatha constitution that’s quite airy and the bone is very crisp and prone to easily to get simulated, then you can use cold-pressed almond oil or sesame oil, cold-pressed. So no essential oil, not the fragrant oil. Everything just plain. If where you are right now is cold, then I would suggest even heating up a little bit. It’s very easy. Just put like two or three tablespoons or oil in a little dish and then you take a bigger dish, a bowl, fill it with some hot oil and you put that little dish in there, so just warm it up a few minutes. Again, the warmness will counter the Vatha coldness quality.

So to do some self-massage like Lucas is saying is wonderful. Remember, the head massage, you are massaging your scalp, not your hair, so don’t do too much. All you need to do is dip the 10 finger or 8 of them, and then the fingertip has it and you go deep into your scalp and do slow, circular, very soothing, slow strokes. Not really quick. Quickness, again, you’ll actually aggravate your Vatha.

For the feet the same thing, you can massage the bottom of your feet and press the big toe, which is the acupuncture point. If you find you have problems with sleep, I recommend all my students do that all the time. Just have that ritual before you go to bed and do the head massage and then do the feet. And then if you have problems with digestion, slow bowel movement, things like that, you can even massage your belly in the direction of the intestine, which is clockwise. So that’s all very good ways to put some measurements into your regime.


And so when we talk about cold-pressed almond oil or cold-pressed sesame oil, you’re talking about stuff you’d buy at a health foods store, as opposed to a beauty shop. Is that right?


Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but if you live in a metropolitan city there will be a lot of good quality health food store, or even if you go to a dispensary, herbal dispensary, they always have good quality carrier just neutral almond oil, sesame oil.


Yeah, well great. Ayurveda as a traditional Indian medicine is a really deep and complex topic, obviously. Just in the same way that Western medicine or Chinese medicine is. So for your average yoga student, someone with a normal life and responsibilities, I’m wondering what are some things that they absolutely must learn, in your opinion, to gain some insight into themselves and into their practice?

I guess what I’m asking is this. If someone has limited time and limited resources, like a lot of us do, what are some things that people can do, what are things they can read, what are things they can learn about, to start getting connected with their body with sort of an Ayurvedic insight?


Yeah, that’s a good question and actually it’s really easy to do, it’s just to be patient. What I see these days, obviously 90 percent of the yoga practitioners have no idea their constitution. And they come to this practice thinking it’s really wonderful, they do it for a long time, but without any understanding and then actually get distorted. Because most people these days, not everybody but a lot of people, the mind is living in one direction, their body is going the other direction.

For example, in a student Ashtanga practice … that example, and the person has constipation and the more they practice the more constipated they are. Because they are so attached to the practice and they use the practice to fulfill the desire. So the happiness and pleasure are not the same thing. Oftentimes we do things to satisfy our mind. Fair enough because our mind is part of our being, there is the body and the mind. The mind needs food as well, but more oftentimes the body is subject to the mind and the mind is dictating the body. I tell you to do this, I want you to do Lotus, you must do it, at all costs.

So what I would suggest to everybody is to slow down. Last year I taught a class and there was a student, … you always tell us to feel what you feel and connect with it. What do I do? I say, okay, very easy. After you ate something, all I want you to do is just sit down and just for five minutes, just ask yourself how you feel after that meal. They said, that’s it? I said yes, you don’t need to buy anything, don’t do anything. He’s a lawyer, he’s very busy. He said one day he just goes to his favorite place and had this meal like he always does and then he got on the subway to go home. He said on the subway, he said, okay I’m going to do the exercise my teacher told me, Rachel said. So he just sat there, okay, how do I feel now. And he said oh my God, he said I never realized that… is so greasy. It was disgusting. But all it took is five minutes to really ask yourself, really how do you feel. And that’s all it takes.

So just take a step back in a neutral position, observe. What do you like to eat and how do you feel after you eat that? If you’re a fire person, chances are you like coffee, chances are you like spicy food, chances are you like things more savory and salty and things like that. That is all fine, don’t change it, only just apply some awareness. When you eat it, 100 percent be there, and afterwards say really, how do I feel about an hour afterwards. You like to do this style of yoga? How do you really feel? A lot of students say I really love Ashtanga practice, but really I’m so fatigued. Afterwards I just have to lay flat for five hours. Then you ask yourself, is the practice serving you or you just cram yourself into this structure of the practice? Your life is just an hour and-a-half or two hours on the mat, and then you ask yourself, well what am I doing here? Has practice become my escape or fulfilling the vehicle, or is this serving me to be a more positive participating human being in my environment where I am?

So you start to observe the cause and effect, and very easily all you need to do is a few things. There are 10 pairs of quality, and there’s 20 of them, to describe pretty much everything in nature that’s in Ayurveda. So cold and hot, everybody goes through cold and hot. After eating salad, after eating ice cream, would you be cold or hot? Don’t think it’s, oh of course it’s this and that, but actually a lot of people don’t know. And then you just do that, cold and hot.

Heavy and dull. If you have a meal, you have a nice meal at home, your mom cooks for you or your loved one cooks for you, versus you go out and have a pizza, then you have some beer, then you have some ice cream, then you have some chocolate. Do you feel really good about it? Just be honest. Even if it’s not, you say, well I like it, well that’s fine, just take ownership of it. That starts building all these intelligent databases in your universe, in Rachel’s and Lucas’ universe, what is my relation with tomato? What is my relationship with coffee? What’s my relationship to rice? We eat three or four times a day or even more. That’s the easiest thing to start, because we are made of five elements, human body, and the food is made of five elements. That’s why eating food nourishes our body. Of course it nourishes the mind.

In Ayurveda, it helps all the way deep into the tissue. Every food has three, four layers of. You can always just know, after I eat an orange how do I feel? After eating some strawberries how do I feel? You will definitely feel. If you just spend five minutes asking yourself.

So observation is really the first. The other thing you could do is for example like behavior. If you have a challenge or hurdle in life, whether it’s at work or relationship, what is your physical response? That’s for our tendencies. Our constitution determines our tendency, which naturally shapes how we make decisions in life, and eventually all those things put together decide our destiny. So that is called the science of freedom. It’s really about teaching us responsibility and freedom, because we want to really have freedom. Freedom is not a free ticket to have indulgence, 24 hours a day. That is not true freedom. But really what you want to really have, freedom is about the ability to adapt and forgive, like in Ayurveda we say immunity is called ability to forgive disease. But it all starts from you just watching yourself.

One book that’s really good, I think one of the best books ever written about Ayurveda for all of us outside of India, and the book is called Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution, and if you ever wanted to research on Ayurveda you’ll probably come up to it. It’s written by Dr. Robert Svoboda. He’s the only, to this day, the only person who studied Ayurveda in India and is licensed to practice Ayurveda in India. He’s a well-known author in the field of yoga and Ayurveda and Tantra, so very easy to find.


So the book is called Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution, and could people find that on Amazon.com or something like that?


Yeah, yeah, definitely. I’m not affiliated with Dr. Svoboda in any way. I’m a big fan of his work. But that is for me, I always recommend to people who just started out because it’s written in a very clear and concise way and is very, very powerful because his writing is so wonderfully insightful and there are so many things you can just start to practice yourself. He’s written other books for Ayurveda students or practitioners, but this one everyone can start.


Good. I have a question from Sandra who’s in Encinitas. She asks, “Is there an Ayurvedic recipe book you could recommend?” I don’t know if you have one in mind.


Yes, actually there is. I think for people — Ayurveda is from India, so the nutrition and herbalism are India spices, but there is one really, really good book by Amadea Morningstar. It’s called The Ayurvedic Cookbook. I think it’s on Amazon, you can find it. She is wonderful because she really integrated Ayurveda nutrition principles into a lot of Western recipes. But you will have to be starting to practice sort of a new age grain like quinoa and amaranth and different kinds of flour and things like that.

But you can make pancakes, you can make lots of things and desserts. Ayurveda people, we are all about food, so I eat extremely well. We’re all about eating well and feeling good as well. So in that recipe book it is very wonderful. If you like Indian food, then there’s another book I could recommend by Dr. Vasant Lad. Dr. Vasant Lad is the person who started Ayurveda Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is basically the proponent in bringing Ayurveda outside of India, into the West. He and his wife wrote this wonderful book. It’s called Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. I’m pretty sure you can also find it on Amazon.


Okay great. So we have Amadea Morningstar’s Ayurvedic Cookbook, which should be easy to find, and then the second one is Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. The Amadea Morningstar book is integrating Western recipes with an Ayurvedic slant, and the Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing is more Indian-based recipes. Is that right?


Yeah, so Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing is all Indian recipes, if you love Indian food and the chapatti and dal and lots of those things. But the Amadea Morningstar book is lots of Western recipes.


Great, well those are great resources for people to get started with. If we’re looking at Ayurveda and yoga as sister sciences, is it fair to say that martial arts and Chinese medicine are sister science as well? I’m wondering if these two are contradictory at all, and even one step further, is Western medicine contradictory to Ayurveda or are they just different?


I’m always trying to be very careful when I answer that question, because I don’t want to attack Western medicine. All these things are good, they’re all from human minds. I think the purpose of medicine is to help people release suffering.

I would say that, because when I studied Ayurveda I also studied Western medicine science because I think knowing both modality and vocabulary helps me to communicate with my patients and my students. So I think it’s certainly wonderful, but I guess it’s really the therapeutic… help people these days practice medicine. For example, Ayurveda really treats a person. We don’t treat kidneys and livers and colons. The way to treat Lucas’ and Rachel’s liver would be very different, because Lucas and Rachel and very different constitution. Even two people with the same constitution, the causes might be different. The symptoms are the same, but the causes are different.

How so? I’ll give an example. Two weeks ago, two students came to me for constipation. They’re completely different constitution. One is very airy, the other is very watery. Both of them have kidney stones. But the causes of it are completely different. Even though the kidney stone are the same, but in Ayurveda, kidney stone, there are three different Dosha types. So they are different in kidney stones, so the treatment for both are different. If both of you have rheumatoid arthritis coming, one doing oil massage may be good, the other might be so good, might aggravate it. How so? Back to the constitution.

Another key thing in how we treat is this very unique concept in Ayurveda is called digestive fire. If you are dabbling in yoga for a while, or Tantra, you know this very old concept called Agni. It’s translated as the fire God in Veda, 500 years ago. But in Ayurveda it’s actually a scientific principle, and there are 40 different types of Agni in our body. So Ayurveda science of healing in how we treat patients, is basically looking at peoples’ Agni.

So these things are lacking in Western medicine. I think the other thing that’s quite telling how Western medicine treats people, that I have a very good friend, he’s from New York, and he goes home ever year to see his family, his mother is quite ill, has been in hospital or old folks home for quite a long time. I said how’s your mom, and he said, oh you know, this and that. She has to take 43 drugs every day, 43. If somebody is absolutely healthy and well and starts taking 43 drugs every day, this is for sure getting mental, because his mother has mental disease. Here is somebody who…let alone a sick person, but that’s how she goes from hospital to hospital, mental institution to mental institution, nursing home to nursing home. Everybody disregards the previous history, so she ends up having to take 43 drugs every day. That is just unacceptable. I think that is very telling how these days the hospital, how they treat things.

Or my own experience. Face it, a lot of people come to alternative mode of healings, like Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, homeopathy even, Western herbalism, is that they’re desperate. Now I have this patient come to me. For no reason, the other day, she’s in her 50s, she fainted. She came two and she started vomiting, she had diarrhea, she couldn’t walk, she was dizzy. After she steadied herself she went to the hospital. The hospital said, oh everything is fine, there’s nothing, nothing, and sent her home.

But she wasn’t imagining things. She came to me, so I spent two hours with her, understanding her diet history, disease history, what’s happening in the last couple of years and I realized what’s happening. The symptom is fainting and diarrhea and vomiting, but the cause has been developing all this time, because nothing happens out of no reason.

So I gave her treatment because she was so desperate because she had seen so many people. She realized nobody can help her. This is one of those things you’ve got to really look into and start to have some grasp of what’s happening. So she was willing to do everything I told her. I’m willing to spend money, I said you don’t have to. I give you three herbs because you kind of need some herbs, and the rest of it is just regime and spices. Just make the recipe, taste it, see how you feel, keep me posted. In the evening do this, in the morning do that. That’s it. In three and-a-half weeks she was a different person.

So that’s why it makes me very fulfilled, because I don’t want people to come and see me and then they keep coming back to take drugs. Then I really fail as an Ayurveda physician or consultant. I want people to really understand the healing. The ability of healing is 100 percent within yourself. We as a physician is really just helping you to really kind of activate that.

So I think that’s sort of a long-winded way to answer Lucas’ question, but I wanted to say that I don’t think Western medicine is contradictory at all. There are wonderful things. These days, medicine is about saving peoples’ lives. But the theory is one thing; how you practice is another. So I will leave it at that.


So is it fair to say that Western medicine in general, of course there are amazing doctors in the Western world, but Western medicine in general takes a one-size-fits-all kind of reactive stance, whereas Ayurveda in its best is practiced more on a body-specific, individual-specific and more looking for the cause of things as opposed to reactionary? Is that fair to say?


Yeah, it’s fair to say and that is a pretty good sum up. But I guess the second, I think one of the key things that differentiate it is Western medicine look at symptom, they suppress symptom. If you have arthritis, it’s now treatable these days, you go and they just give you steroids that you have to be on the rest of your life so that you don’t have pain. But that doesn’t really relieve or get rid of the causes at all. The cause is still there. So although you’re on the drug you don’t see it, but a host of other things are developing, because you’re taking a steroid which interferes with your whole endocrine system. It’s messing up your hormones, so other things go wrong. Of course they find something else to treat it.

It’s like you’re in front of a big water damn and there’s a hole. You use one finger and another finger, so eventually the whole thing is going to blow out. It’s just a matter of time, really. So Ayurveda is about looking at the cause.


My next question has to do with modern yoga and modern Ayurveda. Many people think that the yoga they’re practicing today remains unchanged. They think it’s the same thing people have been doing for thousands of years, but probably that’s not really true. Things are always changing, always evolving. It’s not for me to say whether that’s good or bad, things just do, they change.

So I’m wondering with Ayurveda, is it changing, too? And are there some practices and teaches that are outdated or irrelevant? Or are most of the principles truly timeless?


That is a wonderful question. We’ve seen yoga kind of explode out of India with the kind of popularity today. If you tell the average Indian how yoga is practiced in a yoga studio and all that, they will find that absolutely incredulous. Ayurveda coming out of India, it certainly has changes.

But I think is it truly timeless? I believe so. Because it’s not about a lot of specifics, because if you look at it, thousands of years ago human body and today’s human body is the same. You have the heart and you have the lungs and you have five sensory organs, the skin. Nothing has changed very much. But look at how many more diseases we have these days, called modern disease, autoimmune disease, things we get when we age.

So in Ayurveda, because the way I studied Ayurveda I studied the traditional Sanskrit text, and so I can say Ayurveda is timeless because the principle is about experience. It is really — Ayurveda in principle is a science of relationship. What does that mean? Digestion is a relationship. If you eat a meal, you say you feel bloated, you feel gassy, you feel stomach cramp, you have a bad relationship with the food. If you eat an apple, you feel bloated, you have a bad relationship with that apple. That apple was sitting quite nicely and neutrally outside of your body. Once it comes it it’s having a relationship with you.

So that is really the principle of it, so that’s why I come back to the point I made before, that it teaches about freedom and responsibility so that we can live in a world kind of healthy. So that’s really the principle, the spirit of it.

How it’s practiced definitely evolved. These days in India, if you go and study Ayurveda, you go to Ayurveda university, six years, a lot of people do two modalities together, one is Western medicine and the other is Ayurveda. However, traditionally Ayurveda is studied just like yoga. You go live with your teacher, you would work with them and then that’s how you learn Ayurveda. When I go to do teaching with my Ayurveda teacher, if he goes to harvest some herbs I do that. If he’s making a herb I do that. If he sees a patient I’d stand next to him. So that is really how Ayurveda is learned.

It definitely has changed quite a bit, but the interesting thing these days, for example my teacher has done some very in-depth study and treatment of people with Alzheimer’s. So Ayurveda principle now is being brought to the forefront to work with the Western, sort of modern disease, and see how Ayurveda, actually the treatment, therapeutic and herb, put it all together, how powerful it is. It is incredibly powerful, because again, back to how Ayurveda sees disease and back to how Ayurveda sees human body.

So it’s timeless in principle, but interestingly in terms of how it’s practiced, more diseases come to Ayurveda and asks if Ayurveda will be able to treat and see the effects of it is definitely evolving.


Great. That leads into my next question, which is about the practice of Panchakarma, and anyone who gets sort of introduced to the world of Ayurveda, immediately usually starts to hear something or other about detoxification, Panchakarma. I know many of my friends have gone to Panchakarma retreats in India, where they undergo some type of fasting and massage and maybe some enemas. I’m just wondering what are your thoughts on Panchakarma and is that like square one for somebody coming into an Ayurvedic approach to healing? Or is it just specific treatments?


That is a great question, and I always try to clear the air a little bit whenever I have a chance. Panchakarma is quite an advanced treatment. Panchakarma literally means five actions, and it’s a detoxification treatment. These days you go to India, or even outside of India, if you see we can Panchakarma two days or something like that, please avoid it at all costs if you ever see that. That is totally bogus. Panchakarma is a very, very advanced — like I said, the physician has to have a lot of knowledge. The preparation, the assistance, and that’s a big thing.

So in Panchakarma traditionally, we have to do three stages. One is Pruva Karma, which is before you do the treatment. We have to make sure the patient’s body and mind is ready for it because as we yank the toxins out of the body, there will be body and mind revolting, rebelling. So the first stage, what we’re trying to do, of course, you go through the detailed diagnosis, whatever disease is being treated, and decide your strength as a patient and…

Then we have a treatment plan. Then we first of all prepare you for it. Once you’re well prepared and then we do the treatment, under the monitoring of the physician and the attendant and assistant, and afterwards, after the toxins have been taken out, it might take more than a few Pruva Karma. My friend’s mother, she has Alzheimer’s. She’s been going to India each year twice, been doing it for two, three years, so it might be a few.

But after this Pruva Karma, you have to do Paschat Karma, which is after the toxins are taken out. We’re starting to nurture you back to health, before we release you back to your normal living environment, your job, where you come from.

So the whole thing has to be very tight, and it is incredibly powerful. Of course, as an Ayurveda student I learned that. We have to do that to each other, the different versions if we have any diseases or not. I definitely believe in it. I think a lot of disease will actually go through the Panchakarma with a different sort of focus. Like Lucas just said, there will be some fasting, massage, lots of different massage and colonics, because the toxins have different active roots and how do we take them out and guide it out of the body. But all of that really depends on a qualified, a very intelligent physician.

So I think it’s an amazing thing, but definitely you want to be careful the kind of doctor that you go to do Panchakarma with. Make sure that you don’t trust just anybody. And like I said, just sit there, talk to the doctor, feel the environment and trust your instincts. If there is anything you’re not so sure about, then make sure you listen to it.


Well great. Maybe this kind of leads into my next question. We also have a question from Darren, who’s in Washington, D.C., and he’s wondering about finding a practitioner and he’s curious if possibly you do virtual consulting. So maybe you can just tell us a little bit about your teachings, about your private practice and the work that you do, and maybe you can just tell us also about some of the work that you’re doing that you’re most excited or most passionate about.


Yes, I do a lot of things for sure, over the years. But the bulk of my work is still in Ayurveda, so that’s teaching. I worked with Lucas on a number of training programs in Thailand, also teacher in Hong Kong, in Asia. And the other half obviously is my clinical work, so just treating patients and students. That’s really the bulk that’s really, really important. Because I think as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I always call myself a messenger of Mother Nature, and in Ayurveda we say that no doctor can cure any disease. Western Ayurveda or Chinese medicine. The only power that can cure any disease is Mother Nature.

So all that us physicians are doing is really about activate, helping invoke that innate ability, through the knowledge we’re given, through the knowledge that we study, whatever modality each of us is. So that it’s really Mother Nature is going to cure. That’s how I see.

So both of teaching, as well as clinical, is really important because I am a medical professional so I want to help people, but teaching is also really important because I feel that if I can teach people to start to look at their well-being and thinking about those things, understanding themselves, disease can be avoided. It’s through understanding the kind of violence we committed to ourselves on a daily basis. For example, over eating. For example, you’re busy so you can’t sleep as much or you sleep little. Little in the day, then the next day a little and gradually you will have chronic fatigue or a nervous system weakness or things like that. Before you do such violence we commit to ourselves, then we’ve got to have much better relationship with ourselves, and that will translate into the environment.

So on the bigger scale, I feel that that is really, I help through one person at a time, teaching them to respect themselves, therefore respect Mother Nature, and then the environment will be a better place. It might be a little corny, but that is the bulk of it. And I do teach yoga because I’ve been doing yoga for a very long time, and somehow for me yoga is a mini therapeutic session as well. So often, what I teach is about people understanding don’t cram yourself into a posture. Holding it for 10 to 20 breaths is useless. Body is going to open when we respect it, so bring in the mind and then the body’s natural intelligence comes alive. That only happens when we’re not kind of oftentimes thinking we’re just dictating, controlling our body.

Because our body is much easier than the mind. I often tell people the body doesn’t know you’re eating Thai food or pizza or ice cream or Italian food. It only knows carbohydrate, blood sugar, glucose, lipids, those things. So a lot of people you need this and that, but nutritionally it doesn’t make any difference in the body. So you have to come back to the basics and look beyond the level of style and understanding the substance of it. So for me, the teaching part of it, really I hope will help just kind of reach a wider audience, as well as teaching yoga.

What am I most passionate about? I guess you can probably already tell my passion. I do feel Ayurveda has gave me great knowledge, as well as great health, because my full-time job is really to be healthy and balanced. So I never overwork myself, I never over-schedule myself, because if I’m not balanced and in harmony and healthy, I am no good to anybody. So I have to really walk the walk before I talk the talk. So my full-time job is continue to practice Ayurveda and just so that I can be an example, and that is first and foremost my most important job.

Most rewarding work is really seeing people realize that there is absolutely no end to the kind of quality of well-being and health and joy you can feel, if you have faith in the system. For example, I have this patient, when she came to me two years ago she was depressed and chronic insomnia, infertility, and she was trying to get pregnant. She’s a very rich person and she has seen everybody in town, Western, Chinese, you name it. She came to me, she was absolutely, of course, depressed and absolutely desperate.

I gave her things to do, and it was all very easy. Again, just morning and evening regime and she was using Chinese medicine dietary principle. But within two months, she has great improvement and happily only two months ago I saw her and she just had her first baby. And of course she was there thanking me for helping her. I said, but please don’t thank me because actually my job stops when I give you the treatment plan, because you’ve got to be the person to do it. And there will be times when it’s tough, but you have to really muster up that discipline and faith and say I’m going to keep at it.

So eventually she’s helping herself, and so for me I find it most satisfying when someone told me, I couldn’t believe after I did that this happened, and now I realize this potential is unlimited, as long as I don’t limit myself, because most people limit themselves with their understanding that this is where I am, I have always had indigestion, I’ve always had diarrhea, I have always had these issues. But that doesn’t have to be.

For example, as a female, a yoga practitioner and a clinical physician, every single woman I meet has problem with their menstruation and during their cycle, they’re all in pain to some degree, discomfort. But everybody just puts up with it. Why? Because it doesn’t have to be that way. But people don’t see that this is the way you are, but if you want to have something you’ve never had before in the context of health, healing, balance and harmony and joy, you have to do something that you’ve never done before. If you just stick to the way you’ve done it before, then that is just the way it is. You make your choices and you have to be happy with it.

So it’s about choices after the knowledge had been given, after the tools has been given, but it’s a commitment to really keep to it. When I see people really take that step to commit to it, much like yoga as well, then things happen, transformation happens. That’s really, for me, the most satisfying.


Well great. We’ve covered so much great information. We’re just about out of time here, but there are a couple of people, Darren and Jimmy in Florida is also asking is there a best method for finding a true, authentic, qualified Ayurvedic practitioner in their local area? Just like anything in the alternative medicine world, there’s a lot of kind of …masquerading around that aren’t so helpful. If somebody’s looking to get in touch with you, obviously they can get in touch with you through your website. And again, that website is www.Matipatha.com. If they’ve found somebody locally that they want to work with, is there anything they can use as a litmus test to see if this person is really legitimate? What are things people should look for?


Very easy, I tell you. You look at this person and do you see radiance? Do you see light? Do you see clarity in their eyes? Can they connect with you eye-to-eye and focus? That’s it. Because Ayurveda physicians, each and every one of us practices the science of help and healing our own selves. If the person can’t even look you in the eye, can’t spend 10 minutes to connect with you, the only thing they want is you to open your wallet and give them your money, want you to buy their product, that’s not the person you want to go with.

Because it is a spiritual science. Ayurveda is very much a spiritual science. It’s about clarity within yourself. It’s about responsibility. It’s about teaching. So if they don’t practice on themselves, I don’t really think they can teach you, even help to heal you.

But I want to answer the question, how would you find these authentic and qualified Ayurveda physicians. It is a good thing and bad thing that you can’t, because no one can really regulate a science like Ayurveda, as much as people want to be. So there is no network, there is no body to regulate that, but for all you guys in the states you’re lucky because Dr. Vasant Lad is there in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Let me see, I think they have a website. Yeah, it’s Ayurveda.com, and it’s a wonderful school. Over the years there are many graduates. So whatever your area, send them an email and say you want to visit a good Ayurveda physician or consultant, and then probably to be a little bit more specific, because Ayurveda physician or nutrition consultant is a little bit different.

So you want to say, okay I just want to find out my constitution and just do a full check up and no major disease, then they can probably refer someone. Versus if you have chronic or acute disease you’re working with, make sure that you mention that so that they can give you somebody more senior.


So if you’re in the U.S. and you’re looking for someone to work with in person, you can go to Ayurveda.com, is that right?


Yeah, yeah. And if you have other questions, you’re welcome to send me an email to ask me, and if I can help I will.


So if you’re in the U.S. and you’re looking for somebody to work with in person, go to Ayurveda.com, and if you’re not in the U.S. or you’re just in a place where you can’t find anybody which is probably 99 percent of the people in the world, you can get in touch with Rachel at her website.

I just want to wrap up and say thanks so much for joining us today, Rachel, and sharing your knowledge and your experience. Ayurveda is this huge topic and we could go on for hours. We could actually go on for days. I mean, we do courses on this and stuff. but even in this short conversation it’s really helped me get a better understanding, and I know we’ve got a lot of questions coming in so our listeners are really engaged as well.

Again, as we close here, if you want to learn more about Rachel, if you want to get in touch with her, her website is www.Matipatha.com, or else you can visit Absolute Yoga’s training website, Rachel is on the faculty for a bunch of our courses, it’s www.AbsoluteSanctuary.com.

So again, this is Lucas Rockwood with Absolute Yoga. This has been one of our featured interviews in The Art of Teaching Yoga Series, and thanks so much for joining us, Rachel, and goodbye for now.


Thanks, Lucas, and thanks, everyone, for all the listeners out there. Great pleasure to be here. Live well and be healthy.