Connecting Ayurveda and Neuroscience and Uplifting the Divine Feminine

SA
Dr, I’ve learned so much from your work. I’m so interested in ayurveda and your practice as someone who not only deals with Indigenous medicine but also works in western medicine. What came first for you, was it the neuroscience or the ayurveda and did it go hand in hand? 

K
When you ask what came first, chronologically, I was introduced to ayurvedic medicine through my mom as a child. But if you have any ayurvedic experience you don’t approach it as, “Now we’re practicing medicine and now we’re not.” It has more to do with the ways that we live, the things that we eat. It wasn’t something overt. If I got sick, my mother would give me turmeric and honey before taking me to see a doctor. That became the backdrop of my childhood. 

When I talk about my professional career, first I went into neurology. I think for so many people who grow up in one culture and are raised in another, you take advantage of the wisdom in your native culture and file it away as something that has meaning but not any significance in the modern world. When I dove into neurology, I was a full fledged believer in modern medicine. It was very, very exciting in terms of the sophistication, how complicated it sounded, all of those things the young mind is hungry for. That intellectual feeding frenzy that happens when you’re in a new field. I came out of neurology not expecting that I would practice ayurvedic medicine. There were still many principles that I practiced although many fell away during my actual medical training because of the nature of that lifestyle. It was once I started practicing as a neurologist that I began getting headaches, migraines. For a neurologist to get headaches you’d think it’s not a big deal, I have an entire repertoire of medications that I could use. I spent about a year experimenting with different medications that I was prescribing as a physician and none of them worked. 

It was at the end of me searching that I actually came back to my mom and asked, “When we were growing up there were these physicians you would take me to, how can I get a hold of them?” She helped me reconnect and that was the turning point for me. When I saw the ayurvedic physician, he spent 90% of the consultation inquiring about my digestion and telling me what I needed to do to fix my digestion. That was a completely novel concept, that my headaches had anything to do with digestion. Nothing else had worked at that point and when nothing else works, you enter a state of humility. After seeing him, in three months, my headaches were completely gone. My energy increased, my creativity increased. Even though I was introduced to ayurveda as a young child, it wasn’t really until after I became a neurologist, and had this personal crisis of debilitating migraine headaches, that I then kind of reawakened and started to look at why my gut health was the underlying cause of my headaches. That just broke the entire paradigm of the way I was treating neurology.

SA
And when that shifted for you, how was that received amongst your coworkers and your clients? How did you begin to integrate that into your practice? 

K
I was working exclusively in the US at Scripps Memorial Hospital which is a very well established hospital system and certainly not a spot where you would think that this young ayurvedic practice would take birth. It was a very pulverized reaction between my patients versus my colleagues. My patients were happy and relieved that they were finally having these conversations with their neurologist. 

I was a well respected neurologist in a well respected institution. The initial response from my colleagues was of complete disbelief and, to some extent, horror. I understand that it came from a place of concern. Over time, as more about epigenetics came out, more about the mind body connection and the impact of stress and the research about the cause of chronic disease, they became more open. They also started to see that my patients were doing better, doing better in conditions that we once believed only got worse. Over time, it went from being just a foreign practice to an understanding of the basic principles: food is medicine and disease is predominantly created through lifestyle choices. Throughout the next decade, more information about the microbiome started coming out and so eventually there was some acceptance, because there was some scientific validity on why and how people got sick through their personal journey. Not just their physical journey. 

When we look at ayurvedic medicine there are so many layers to it. When I first dove into it, I was predominantly focused on what people were eating, the main stressors in their lives and the kind of exercise they were getting. There is a lot of science behind the nature of sound and the vibratory nature of the universe. I would highly recommend mantra and a deeper appreciation for the role of sound in anyone’s life because thoughts are also a form of sound, the words that we use are also a form of sound. What are the chronic thoughts that we listen to? What are the words that we are sharing with other people in the world?

SA
You’re tapping into a higher purpose, higher consciousness, deeper potential for yourself. How do you think about engaging with folks who are reluctant to engage because of the spiritual notions despite the science that shows clear benefits? 

K
It’s a very interesting question. Now that I’m back between the US and India, I will say, it’s much easier to talk and discuss and offer ayurvedic medicine to the American community than it is to the Indian community. Even in India (the center that we went there to help start) 95% of clients were foreigners and many of the local people did not see the value of this medicine because they looked at it as moving backwards because it’s part of our generational medicine. 

Even though we call it ayurvedic medicine in India, or siddha medicine in Tamil Nadu, you see similar ancient forms all over the world. This was the way that we simply healed throughout one point all over the planet. If you go to Latin America for example, they have their traditions, in Russia, they have their traditions. And if you look at the heart of these traditions, the Native American traditions in the US, they’re all very similar. There was a deep understanding of the healing potential of plants. There was a deep understanding of the mind and the body and the community and the body. It wasn’t just for the individual, they were looking at the impacts of group consciousness on health. This was a universal approach to health. I think for cultures that have had that, they are now looking towards the west for material gain, they looked for material gain and in the process rejected their own past and treasure chest of wisdom. I think that’s a natural cycle that we have to go through. 

We go through this inner rejection of our culture as we see some other culture and think it’s doing better. Then, as we see that they are now adopting what we are not doing—and I always joked with my staff in India, because I was going around the world giving lectures on mantra medicine, you know people in China were so receptive, people in all these countries were so receptive—but it was so difficult to get my Indian staff to be receptive. Now the West is adopting what we started and they are starting to shift. I think to understand the global nature of these medical practices, it becomes helpful to separate them from any particular type of religious lineage and you realize that at one point this was how we approached healing.

SA
We have so much to learn from indigenous knowledge, but there is this constant grappling as people who are not living in our ancestral homes, living in the West trying to live up to this idea of Western success. How can we hold both at the same time?

K
What I have found is that you can better accomplish the American dream when you incorporate your ancient knowledge. It’s not like these practices are telling you to give up your home and go and live in a cave somewhere in a forest. Our research is showing the same thing, that when you follow circadian rhythms you sleep really well. Here’s how you solve inflammation – and you see professional athletes such as Tom Brady who adopt certain things that you would call ayurvedic into their lifestyle. And they talk about how they’ve completely rejuvenated their bodies, they feel younger. When we focus on the science of peak performance on life, then people do start to care about how they’re eating and exercising and managing their stress. They begin to approach their life in a way where their mind and body are so in sync that they can perform at their absolute best. So many of my patients were people who were successful at life and wanted to take it to the next level. I definitely treat people with chronic illness, but I had a lot of patients who were also looking into untapped potential. 

SA
I also want to talk to you a little about the ways in which ayurveda, traditional medicine gets appropriated and commodified in a way in which markets pick and choose and in that process there is a loss of holistic healing. I personally saw a lot of this at the start of the pandemic where there was this collective anxiety where people were struggling with not knowing what was happening. It was interesting to me because the wellness industry is a multimillion dollar industry, and so many people invest in it daily, and yet there was this general depressive state. I do think we’re slowly lifting out of it as people have been interrogating this a bit deeply. How do you reckon with that? Is that just a symptom of living in the biggest capitalist country?

K
My general approach to this is first, coming from a place of patience, compassion and non judgement. If a group is embracing yoga, and when we say yoga we’re really talking about asanas – yoga is an entire school of thought and asanas are the body positions – that is people’s ‘in’. They’re at least doing something that is connecting to their body, and maybe had they not been doing that practice, they may have never addressed that there is this darkness that needs to come out. As a country goes through it’s different developmental stages, and this pandemic is part of the developmental stage for all of the different countries, responding to it reflects which stage of development they are going through – from that you start to look further. After this, there is going to be such a different way of looking at mental health because we can’t just put tens of millions of people on anxiety medication, they need something to cope on a deeper level. As that need arises, the medical system needs to mature to help that need. I’ve found that with any relationship, not just as a physician, but with any individual and any organization in the community, that if you don’t first come in from a place of non judgement, compassion and patience, you won’t make much progress. You can sit there and analyze the problems, point fingers and describe the dysfunction, but you’ll never be part of the solution. 

SA
It really is about coming with an open heart and making space to meet people where they are at. 

K
Patience is really important when you’re talking about historical trends, I know the book that I wrote about sound medicine is at least 30 – 40 years ahead of its time, to really be understood. If I was frustrated in doing work that would take decades if not centuries to be really understood then I couldn’t do it. When you’re part of history, which we all are, if you do not have the patience and the appreciation for the historical process you will never contribute anything. You will only contribute that which you can see and reap the benefits of a human lifetime. The human lifetime is a very short span – if you look at how many people in the past, the contributions that they made weren’t really manifested till centuries later. With life in general you need to have a lot of patience and not get so caught up in the timeframe of a human life time because it may or may not be the time in which you see change but that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the change. 

SA
If the pandemic is a portal, what are your hopes for how your practice evolves post pandemic or in the next 3 – 4 years?

K
I used to be somebody who did that a lot, I would have a one year plan, three year plan, five year plan. I could have never predicted that a pandemic would happen a year ago. I stopped pitching these scenes into the future and I’ve just become more responsive to what life wants at me right now. I’ve become less focused on what I want out of life, but instead, in this moment what does life want out of me. 

I will say that one thing I have felt in general as an impulse is doing more and more to reach out to women to explain more about what many ancient cultures have of the divine femine. It’s such a beautiful way to approach womanhood. There is this idea in ayurvedic medicine, and many ancient traditions, that when there is wisdom held within a woman in a household, the entire household changes. I’ve seen that over and over and over, the strength of women to rebuild the philosophy of the family. 

SA
Wow, I really resonate with this idea of the divine feminine and I’m definitely thinking about this concept a lot lately as well. How do you have those conversations with women in India? What does that look like especially as a country that can be contradictory to the divine feminine?



K
So many of these concepts of the divine feminine come from India, and so much of my inspiration came from India. But when I went to India, I was shocked at the state of womanhood there. I was kind of horrified. It was such a collapse of what we had known. There’s a tremendous amount of pain that needs to be metabolized as a nation. Unfortunately, usually when a place is colonized, women suffer the worst repercussions. I always start with, first of all, let’s heal the body. How do we start teaching women the basics of how to treat this body correctly. How do we eat correctly, what is the manual? You start with the body. Then you look at the mind and the traumas. Being a woman in India is not easy. Having spent two years there, I have so much respect for the amount of freedom, independence and leway I had as a woman raised in the US. I always keep in mind that my sense of self came from that ancient culture. It’s very paradoxical in a way that the reason I became the woman I am in America is because of my Indian heritage but I’m only allowed to ‘flourish’ under the social circumstances of America. As we first start to explore what are the traumas of their experiences, as we start to free people of the heaviness of the body and mind, now we can start to go back to what that means. If someone has gone through repetitive sexual abuse, it’s really hard to talk about something like the divine feminine until trauma has been released. Because for them, being feminine was a huge risk, it’s not something to be celebrated, they had to hide everything that is feminine because it was something that is treated that is a liability in cultures that abuses women. So you have to, again, always approach people where they’re at. 

SA
It’s really perplexing to me how much sexual trauma there is within the South Asian community and how rife it is not only back home but also within the diaspora. Which is such a contradiction to me because I look at tantra and all these ancient texts that really spoke to the divinity of sex and intimacy and yet there’s a complete juxtaposition to the extent that we can’t even talk about it with our families. There is such a taboo around this issue and I really do appreciate this conversation. How can women start those conversations within their diasporic communities? 

K
It’s a challenge and it requires a certain degree of understanding. I was really not prepared to see the level of sexual trauma that happens to women in India. I would say the women that I was around and working with, close to 90% had experienced some kind of inappropriate sexual behaviour. The severity of that varied, but the majority of women were raised in a way where they were constantly having to protect themselves. They were told, never be in a room with a man alone, don’t walk down the street. The first few weeks of being in India, I had already experienced inappropriate sexual conduct just by walking down the street in broad daylight. The culture is really built around secrecy and women having to protect themselves against constant threat, whether it’s midday or in the evening. 

I see a lot of Indian women who now live in other countries, and as we start to do the work, I’m amazed at how much sexual trauma is lodged in their bodies. It could be women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and even in those ages it’s hard work. You have to have realistic expectations. Could you have groups in their 20s and 30s who are ready to discuss this? Yeah, I think that’s a completely different group, but if that group needs for their mothers and grandmothers to admit what was happening, you’re trying to get water from an empty well. It may be too much. I do think this conversation can begin with younger generations, but even in that conversation, it has to shift a little bit from not just our individual stories, which are of course very important, but what is the conversation of the nation, which puts it into context historically. It helps us understand why this is the way it is, and moves you a little bit out from purely being victimized to understanding this is a national phenomenon. Switching from our individual lives to thinking about the nation and then having dialogue about what we now do as women for our legacy and the next generation, from me it would be to you, we need to start asking what we do with that legacy. That has been a desire, and coming up more and more. I’ve been amazed that heavy conversations like that can be brought up in light ways. You can train women on topics like natural beauty products, and how to create beauty from within and that’s a way to bring them into the body. You can invite people into a very warm and safe environment and then begin to take the conversations a little deeper that way. You don’t need to totally shock them. Natural beauty for example, brings up so many themes in taking care of the body. So many of the beauty products created for women are so toxic and they created hormonal imbalances because of the chemicals that react with estrogen receptors. That is just one way to say, you may not feel that you are strong enough to process this trauma, but let’s start with where you can make changes. Let’s start with, where can you make a change that is honouring yourself as a woman. Let’s have dialogue about what it means to be a woman and then you can lead people as far as they want to go from there.

I’m spending more time in my yoga practice. Doing sun salutations every morning has been especially grounding


Eating a traditional Indian ayurvedic diet, incorporating more seeds that help balance hormones and cortisol levels

Reading:The Power of Now & A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Eckhart Tolle is a rare person who is a modern spiritual teacher who actually does reflect the ancient teachings. When I read his work, it resonates so much with the ancient texts. It’s not about ‘how you manifest this’ and ‘how you get a big this’ it’s really about what is our work as human beings. To be able to hear the words of the ancient sages translated into modern language has been very helpful.

Reading: Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. I decided during this time, I wanted to be a better parent. My son and I are separated right now because he’s in India, so now I’m thinking, what is it going to be like when I go back? How do I become a more compassionate and receptive parent? This boy is going to need, really, months of learning how to feel secure again. Attached is a wonderful book on attachment theory. It’s helping me understand better what the impact of this detachment is going to be on for him.

Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary’s combined expertise in both modern neurology and the ancient science of health known as Ayurveda has uniquely positioned her as an expert able to pull from the broadest possible base to treat her clients. She is passionate about raising awareness for the need of a paradigm shift in contemporary medicine that focuses on patient empowerment and a health-based (rather than disease-based) medical system. 

Confronting the Capitalist and Casteist Appropriations of Yoga with Neha Sharma

SA
One of the most visibly violent wellness spaces is the yoga industry. In the west, this is driven by white capitalists appropriating Indigenous practices for profit, fetishizing and erasing true custodians of the practice. The misinterpretation of yoga is actually a double edge sword. Historically, as a practice Indigenous to South Asia, it has been reinterpreted by upper caste Brahmins as a tool of exclusion towards the Dalit community. Accessibility to yoga is widely spoken about in a Western context in recognition of the lack of space made for Black, Indigenous and people of color in general, yet an unintended supremacy lingers in the ignorance many have towards it’s South Asian roots. From the invisibility and lack of centering South Asian practitioners to a masking of the casteist interpretations of the actual practice. What have your experiences as a South Asian yogi been like in the Western world, and what does it mean for you to engage respectfully with yoga as an Indigenous practice?

N
I could write an entire essay on this, but I’ll keep it as concise as possible. As an Indian-American yoga teacher based in NYC, I have witnessed, experienced, and encountered the blatant ongoing appropriation of yoga in every sense of the word. From studio spaces to merchandises to management, being a South Asian yogi in the western world can often feel like being a foreigner in your own home. I entered the industry three years ago and since then I’ve been taken far aback to find that I have visibly no fellow South Asian yoga teachers or students in the space. I’ve never seen a single South Asian yoga model on popular yoga apparel brand ads like Lululemon or Alo, which are typically completely washed with white women and a token Black or East Asian woman. Similarly, I’ve never seen any South Asian teachers hired to teach at those brands’ studio spaces here in NYC. I’ve been an anomaly in this industry, which I’ve always found odd as an educator of the sacred practice belonging to my own ancestors. I first started teaching in small boutique studios throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, owned and managed by white women who often knew nothing of the practice, let alone had any sense of respect for the Indigenous roots of it. One studio owner said to me once after I did a demo, “we don’t use Sanskrit here”. I thought to myself, “that is like going to church and saying, ‘we don’t say Jesus here’.” Needless to say I didn’t take the job, but somewhere between the insulting kitschy “beer yoga” and “hip hop yoga” trends, it quickly became evident how Western capitalism has violently stripped away the very essence of yoga and what it represents at its core. Western capitalism has robbed yoga of its Saucha (purity) by breaking a core philosophical principle of Asteya (non-stealing). Across the board, it’s clear that irresponsible brands getting a kick out of “Namaslay” and “Namastayinbed” have no intentions for truly embodying the cultural roots of yoga as an Indigenous practice of India. Images of the gods and goddesses I’ve grown up to praying to have become logos for their disgraceful marketing tactics. I’ve seen a Ganeshji tattooed on a non-South Asian girl’s foot — an utter sign of ignorance and disrespect. These realities have been unsettling me for years, and have filled me the same rage I feel when I think of how colonization has historically stripped Indigenous people of their identity, resources, and rich abundance for personal capital gain. I have now transmuted this rage into committing to the radical decolonization of yoga. I teach my classes with Sanskrit names for the asanas. I refuse to teach in a space that perpetuates watered down versions of the practice with trendy labels and unrelated pop fitness branding (what the hell does Cardi B have to do with yoga!?). I often take the time to illuminate the South Asian roots of yoga through my dharma talks while creating an inclusive space for all who are willing to learn with an open mind and ego-free heart. I’ve made a promise to never again work at a studio or with a company unwilling to acknowledge the Indigenous sanctity of yoga. As a South Asian teacher and practitioner, I believe it is my responsibility to engage respectfully with yoga as an Indigenous practice through action-oriented reclamation and raising my voice loudly against appropriation. *Tip* for my fellow SA teachers, an important but often overlooked place to start is to start correcting people on pronunciation. It’s not “Naaaaa-maaaa-stayyyyy”. It’s “Nam-uh-stey”. Don’t allow people to butcher our beautiful language while continuing to call themselves educators of this practice.

SA
A critique of the commodification of wellness is absolutely needed in order to sustain a practice that is genuinely focused on a deepened awakening for the Self, the Community and the Earth. Without challenging the underlying power structures of white supremacy, casteism, capitalism, the patriarchy and colonialism that often leak into wellness platforms, we are reaffirming the status quo and recreating power imbalances. How does your practice approach this idea?

N
Living in a deeply capitalist city like NYC, the commodification of wellness is so insidiously ingrained, it’s nearly impossible to disintegrate from it. It’s a constant work in progress to dig deep into the systems in place and identify the power imbalances. You can drink all the green juice in the world and wear hundreds of dollars worth of yoga leggings, but that does not make you a real yogi. The more of a pull there is towards the material possessions in the wellness industry, the farther it pulls one away from core yogic ethics like Aparigraha (non-attachment). In my personal practice, I make sure to never stop questioning what is being presented to me and how it is being presented. For example, many wellness brands recently hopped on the black square trend on Instagram in support of the “amplify melanated voices” social media campaign. Many brands completely missed the mark, posting performative content which simply reaffirmed lack of authentic reflection on true representation of Black, Indigenous and people of color in their marketing and corporate management. At this point the ignorance or alleged confusion is disingenuous because Google exists. Educators exists. There are endless resources available for those who seek true reformation. Those who are ready to learn, will in fact take the first steps to doing so. When they do, that’s when I’ll make space for them on my radar. In the meantime I continue to navigate the wellness space with just the right amount of healthy, bold skepticism and I support those who are working to dismantle the colonial structures in place. My practice is about tapping into ancestral intuition and resilience to challenge the status quo. Do not believe everything you see or hear. Keep asking the hard questions. Discomfort is how change gains momentum.

SA
How has committing to a decolonized practice of wellness allowed for an enhanced sense of your own Self?

N
It has been liberating. Each day I learn more about myself, my practice, and my purpose. I am undeniably committed to decolonization of wellness and yoga. This commitment has brought more like-minded Black, Indigenous and people of color leaders and wellness educators into my sphere, and I am happy to say I have virtually met more South Asian healers in the industry since. I believe once you sharpen your focus and find what fuels your fire, the tools for stepping into your own power will come to you. There is so much more work to be done, but I’ve discovered a new spark of hope that the decolonization process is underway and here to stay. It truly is a reclamation of Self. I am excited to be an agent for change and a medium for sharing the message.

Combining her training in alternative eastern medicine and healing with a comphrehensive background in healthcare, Neha has come to understand how mental health stressors, diseases, and chronic body pains negatively impact our lives in an increasingly demanding world plagued by external pressures. Through her work, Neha observed many gaps in the system, noticing the lack of emphasis on preventative health care. Witnessing how human behavior and lifestyle choices inevitably impact health and wellbeing at large, Neha figured it’s time to take back control over our mental and physical health without relying solely on medication and doctor visits.

Ayurveda and the Subversion of Brahmanism with Navi Gill

SA
I’m so glad our timelines could finally align for this, Navi. Where are you located right now and can you describe how your spirit is feeling in a few words?

N
Me too! I am speaking to you from Vancouver BC, specifically Surrey BC which is the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh people. And my spirit has been feeling beautiful today, light, clear and connected to the source.

SA
Lovely. It’s a real joy knowing that you are feeling clarity, especially as we approach the end of the year. 

I discovered your practice earlier this month, when you were circulating your ‘No Farmers’ graphics around Instagram. What prompted the presentation of this information, and can you perhaps speak more to how the wellness industry is complicit in the oppression of farmers throughout India and the world?

N
I am so glad that so many people found that graphic resonant, whenever I create something it’s like a very strong message from spirit and there’s this need to speak it out in some way. I never had any idea it would blow up or that people would even care but I looked at the industry that I happen to work in which is growing so quickly, every single day, and everyone is coming in at different levels and sometimes I forget to simplify things. In this case I just thought about what it is that people will connect to to relay the greater message. The wellness industry is no different than any other industry where white supremacy exists and where capitalism and corporations exist. I had said that the wellness industry is not exempt from creating harm just because there is good intentions. There are many ways but starting with the extraction and appropriation of deeply spiritual practices from other cultures, people and traditions and the gatekeeping of them. White people being self-proclaimed experts and the rest of the world going along with it, allowing them to create the opportunities, profits, the industry standards, the rules, minimizing the value of many practices where people from those places were persecuted, killed, silenced and unable to practice these medicines, these practices. There was/is no acknowledgement of the colonization of wellness until now where BIPOC are finally just taking up space and reclaiming, we don’t need certifications and external validation (especially from White folks) to prove/tell us about the wisdom we carry in our bones, in our cells, in our breath, in our DNA that comes from our lineages and land. 

SA
I am nodding my head ecstatically in agreement – yes to all of this! I really admired the way you were able to articulate the above appropriation and responsibility folks have to the ancestral lands of their practices. It’s still really striking to me that the ongoing farming protests have received such minimal media coverage, and that wellness spaces are carrying on as usual – particularly white dominated yoga and ayurvedic spaces. There’s such a disconnection and dissociation that exists there which really emphasizes how individualistic and spiritually void some of these spaces can be – which is antithetical to the indigenous roots of the practice.

How did you get into ayurveda and being a practitioner?

N
Ahh it’s kind of a long-ish story but I will give you a summary. TBH it was a remembering for me of something I have known my whole life or looked for my whole life but I didn’t have the language for. Most of my life something felt missing, like everyone had a purpose except me and I was constantly trying to find an example of someone doing what I wanted to do and didn’t have that. When I was 23, my Nana Ji suddenly passed away and that was when everything broke open for me and I think I saw the fragility or… impermanence of life so clearly and nothing I was trying to fit into or follow from the outside world mattered. In my grief I had permission to say fuck it, and I went deep into that grief and like all the grief and anger I held my whole life, but didn’t feel, I had permission to feel or express: it came out in a big way. I went to India at the end of that year for my Nanas last rites and I was in Kerala on a very impromptu trip with some of my family and I saw people practicing Ayurveda, I saw, felt, smelled, touched, tasted the plants and herbs and I remember the exact moment where my spirit just felt electrified and this… whoosh when I realized this was it, what I was looking for. Since then I have been studying Ayurveda, I became a practitioner of Ayurveda bodywork, Yoga, i even threw “life coaching” in there because at the time there was no space or place to practice or learn Ayurveda that was accessible and people didn’t really know wtf it was so I was like maybe coaching will be a way to have a practice that would serve as an umbrella (but again that was me trying to fit into a mould of playing small created by whiteness).

The last three years have been pivotal in just claiming that space and acknowledging that the knowledge and wisdom I carry is a blessing from my ancestors and I can choose how I want to heal, how I want to work, how I want this work to look and it’s very clear that it’s for my people, it’s for BIPOC and it is ever evolving but without being apologetic or feeling like I don’t know enough or what I do know isnt of value. Rediscovering Ayurveda and this ancestral work is a blessing from my Nana, a gift he gave me from the ancestral plane. 

SA
Mm what a beautiful journey – not one that’s been easy with the passing of your Nana, yet one that is inherently yours and transcendentally passed onto you. 

I only recently found my way to Ayurveda. While bits and pieces of the system have been scattered throughout my upbringing, as Tamil Christians, my family always strayed away from getting too heavily involved in anything considered too ‘traditional’ as it was also considered sacrilegious. Since being on my own healing journey though, Ayurveda has proved to be the most holistic, most sense making therapy for me. Although, I have been a little bit conflicted about practicing lately since learning about caste based violence that is inherent in systems of Ayurveda and Yoga. Mainly thinking about how purity laws have been used by upper caste Brahmins to further marginalize lower caste communities, how dharma and karma teachings have become misinterpreted to label Dalit communities as ritualistic impure based off past lives etc. And then looking at how the BJP and fascism in general in the subcontinent is on the rise – it makes practicing these traditions a little bit sticky and uncomfortable for me. 

How do you, if at all, think about moving around and through these violences? How do we reclaim our indigenous practices in ways that aren’t erasing lower caste histories? 

N
Well, I think what makes it easier for me is being a Panjabi Sikh womxn in this space, I already know that the purist think I shouldn’t be practicing this and that used to play a big part in me feeling insecure about putting my work out there. I didn’t grow up with any inkling of this knowledge being practiced around me and I didn’t discover a lot of yoga, pranayam, sadhana practices until I came into the Art of Living. I needed that community to learn and experience those things because I had no other way of accessing the knowledge. Eventually my relationship changed because I started to become acutely aware that in those spaces, I stood out. I was not represented. I was not seen in many ways because my identity was different from most others who happened to be hindu or from backgrounds where they were ok adopting those traditions and practices. I feel there’s so many layers to this question so I’m going to do my best to articulate. 

What fuels me to learn, practice and share is that my identity allows me to bring this knowledge to the people who its been kept away from. I believe it is our birthright to be well and my ancestors and Gurus put me here to be that bridge because I am so deeply connected to my own heritage, my own spiritual path that I can’t simply just fall into this structure created by Brahminism. My wellness and purpose expands and lives for my people. I think also because it is something that has always been innate, to want equity for all people it’s hard for me to explain, my brain and spirit says why the fuck not? Why would all people not be able to have this, to experience wellness, to be liberated, to have sovereignty. I think that probably pisses a lot of people off who have put themselves on these pillars and here’s the thing about decolonizing this work- first we deal with the white supremacy and get into our own people, and there we have the other beast which is Brahmin patriarchy. That second part is where we are collectively at now and working on dismantling. I truly feel like it’s the perfect time and I have been preparing for it for the last decade because now there’s space to speak about these things, everyone else who doesn’t fall into that group is done with being oppressed and we are coming together, finally.  Oh and to answer the last part, I ensure I am informed, I am advocating for marginalized communities and people and through my privilege I create connections, resources, give this knowledge to communities that need it and will always prioritize that and no one can tell me shit really.

SA
This makes so much sense. I think it’s such a fugitive, subversive act to be a South Asian who has historically been excluded to then come and take up a space that primarily focuses on transformative action. It’s so powerful, Navi, and I can really feel your passion and your fire as we have this conversation. 

N
Haha well I am literally burning up as I write this so I’m glad it’s coming through.

SA
What advice might you have for South Asians who are similarly unsure about their place when it comes to our Indigenous practices. Do you have any tips for folks like me, who understand the profoundly healing tenets of Yoga and Ayurveda, but are hesitant to engage in order to avoid complicity?

N
Forge your own path, I am a believer that a lineage is important to have and trusted teachers but don’t let anyone keep you in the box or dependant on them. A true teacher leads you to where you step into your own unique purpose and create what you came here to create. The old paradigm of groupthink and someone else deciding what is right for the collective is gone. I have never fit into most groups and even in my spiritual community I always shook shit up because I asked questions, I used critical thinking and also listened to my spirit to know what was right for me and what was fed to me. It takes time, everything comes at its own time but as long as we remember that we are sovereign, we are worthy of being well and having access to tools to bring us greater health, wealth and wellbeing then we will get there. And be authentic, don’t try to do things that are not you especially if you want to teach or be a wisdom carrier, and that requires a lot of self work, a lot of healing, a lot of discernment, just work period. I find because spirituality is suddenly cool, everyone wants to bypass the work and be a healer but it doesn’t work that way. Embodiment is key and the blessings of your ancestors.

SA
Thank you, Navi. It’s so important to remember that we all have nuanced needs and desires that can really only be actualized through contemplation and interrogation. It’s exciting to think about the future of what our practices might look like, and so comforting knowing that folks like you are leading this new wave. 

As we come to the end of this discussion, and to the end of the year (!!) what are a few things that you’ve come back to this year to help you stay grounded? 

N
This question always makes me emotional because I can think of all the moments where I experienced being more grounded and nourished and for me it’s a few things- ritual, my sadhana- breathwork/pranayam, some form of movement and meditation, praying- prayed my ass off this year, writing, physical acts of self care like abhyanga, oiling my hair, massaging my face every night, sleeping more,music, crying, tea and a good pastry or cookie always helps, going into the forest or getting sun whenever I could but I would love to do more, and listening to my inner voice, and giving myself permission to honour its needs. 

Navdeep (Navi) Gill is an Ayurvedic practitioner, therapist  and educator specializing in lifestyle consulting, Marma Chikitsa therapy, foundational Panchakarma bodywork. 

She helps clients and community experience holistic wellness and gain autonomy over their well being through her ancestral medicine practices.  She has been learning and practicing Ayurveda and yoga since 2011, her work focuses on decolonizing, reclaiming and connecting BIPOC to ancestral wisdom and ritual as a form of self care.