Sonja Shah-Williams Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner Ayurveda London

It is always around November that I find myself reflecting on the past year, and how events have shaped my thoughts and ideas about the world we live in.

When the madness of Christmas descends (whether we want it or not, it slaps us in the face), I find I am almost too exhausted with it to allow myself emotional headspace. So November seems to be an appropriate juncture, the calm before the storm, when I can reflect on the past few months and the lessons I have learned, but also look forward to planning ahead.

2017 has been a year that has cemented my deep love for, and immense belief in, Ayurveda. This is a medicine system that can benefit every single person on the planet, and every time I hear of new discoveries in medicine about cancer, or diabetes, or Alzheimer’s, or any other chronic disease for that matter, the research always echoes the Ayurvedic perspective. I find myself shouting at the radio and asking why it has taken people so long to realise whatever it is that has come to light from the research.

Recently, there has been a surge in interest about turmeric, a trusted Ayurvedic root that has been known for centuries to contain many health promoting components. Western researchers are now in agreement that curcuma longa may have antiseptic and anti inflammatory properties. It indeed does, along with many other beneficial constituents, and all this information is written about in both ancient, as well as more modern, Ayurvedic texts.

Clinicians and laypeople alike applaud these findings; big Pharma expeditiously manufacture and market turmeric capsules to appeal to a world that still believes that only a pill will do, and the food industry jumps on the bandwagon and adds the gorgeous deep yellow powder to every possible meal and drink, including coffee!

The health and wellbeing industry is making a mockery of our intelligence, and we are allowing it to. Health is free if we manage most of it ourselves, and it need not, indeed should not, be a multi million pound  industry.

Turmeric is an essential cooking spice in every Indian household, and so I can safely say that most Indians have been ‘taking’ it every day since childhood. And that is how good health practice begins, and becomes part of us. We are what we eat and food is the best medicine we can take.

We only seem to take traditional medicine seriously if an element of it is picked out and labelled fashionable enough to create a short term frenzy in the media. Turmeric is having its moment, but soon it will give way to a new favourite.

Having had these thoughts swimming around my mind for the most part of this year, and feeling the strong desire to spread the message of Ayurvedic healing,  a strange, serendipitous event occurred in the most unlikely setting. I was visiting a friend in her beautiful shop, and having mentioned the word Ayurveda as we were talking, I found myself being approached by a lovely woman, a kindred spirit with whom it now transpires, I share many ideas and interests. She asked if I was in any way associated with Ayurvedic medicine, as she had, only the day before, been telling a girlfriend that she wished to have an Ayurvedic consultation but didn’t know where to find a practitioner.

“Here I am,” I told her.

Once we began talking, she explained that she loves the philosophy of Ayurvedic medicine, and that she runs wellbeing retreats in Europe and the UK. Fate had conspired to bring us together, and before I knew it, we were agreeing terms on a collaboration. This means that as of next year, I will be working with small groups of people, teaching and consulting about Ayurveda. Although it has always given me satisfaction seeing individual clients benefiting from my advice, I believe that medicine should be moving away from the traditional paradigm of attempting to fix what is clearly broken, on a one to one basis, and towards a preventative model that comes about through educating as many people as possible about the importance of their own holistic health.

A good place to start addressing one’s wellbeing is on a holistic retreat. When we are part of a group of like minded- people, we are able to learn and put into practice what is being taught. During this time we begin to see the almost immediate benefits of eating regular, balanced meals, practising yoga or pilates, walking in nature, decluttering our thoughts and breathing properly. Without realising it, we are actually practising a form of preventative medicine, taking back the responsibility for our own bodies and minds. Without the usual distractions such as technology. noise, traffic, pollution, ready meals, and overcrowded city life, we can de-stress and stop the constant movement required for urban living.

Chronic stress is an example of a modern day syndrome that requires us to remove the accumulated causative factors, not take a tablet. Stress is a vitiation of vata dosha,the dosha that, when out of balance, can bring fear, self doubt, coldness, loneliness, isolation, irrational and irregular behaviours, hostility and insomnia. If we are feeling the effects of stress on a regular basis, we will identify with some of the abovementioned symptoms.

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to take back control and responsibility for our health. It is not the responsibility of anyone else. We must take the time to address the issues and slowly but surely, rid ourselves of the habits that bring us out of mind and body equilibrium.

Although I find it frustrating when I see clients who want to improve their health but find it too overwhelming to know where to begin, it increases my desire to spread the word of Ayurveda further, and to teach people to understand its amazing philosophy, as well as provide the tools of this medicine system to more people. We need holistic health now more than ever before, so that in generations to come, people will benefit from the first, and only true holistic medicine system still in existence.

We are still living in a society that frowns upon traditional medicine systems that believe in individuals managing their own wellbeing, and favours the modern paradigm of prescription drugs.

But because ill-health often has simple causes- diet and lifestyle being the main ones, and the effects often take years to accumulate to a level that reveals symptoms, it slowly creeps its way towards us, and when we least expect it, it pounces.

And we cry, “how did that happen?”

We still seem to be convinced that ill health is the foe; the one that singles us out as its opponent. We then set about fighting the enemy and attempting to banish it from our bodies and minds, as though it is a separate entity. But sadly, the enemy is often ourselves. Some illnesses, such as genetic disorders, are obviously beyond our control, but many of the chronic diseases of the modern world are caused by preventable factors.

Homo Sapiens means ‘wise man’. We are a wise species, bestowed through evolution with Reason and such capability, yet we are still fumbling around in the dark when it comes to basic concepts of health.

We must all find the tools for self management when it comes to our health and wellbeing. Ayurveda provides logical advice based on thousands of years of efficacy about every single aspect of how our bodies and minds function and why they malfunction. It then explains how the causes create the effect and sets about re-balancing what has gone awry.

So, what have I learned from the past year? That serendipity works her magic when things are meant to be, and that we sometimes need to allow events to show us we are on the right path. I have understood that my passion for my work is not going to abate, and so I must continue to utilise that passion as effectively as possible, by teaching others what I believe to be true.

And now the planning begins, and the year draws to a close.

Happy 2018 and I hope you get to follow your goals.