Health, Wisdom and Lasting Beauty

Ayurveda turns us beautiful on three levels, says Dr (Vaidya) Manisha Kshirsagar (rupam, gunam and vayastyagam), but we have to live the practise, first. Dr Manisha knew she wanted to be a doctor when she was in 5th grade, and after completing her education in India, she now lives in Santa Cruz, USA, teaching and sharing the knowledge of Ayurveda. She is a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Science, a Licensed Massage Therapist, and she graduated from Pune University with a Bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery. She also trained at the Indian College of Naturopathy and qualified as a Yoga Instructor from the renowned Kaivalyadham University in India. She has been teaching at Kauai Ayurveda academy and other institutes for more than 10 years specialising in women and infant health, skin care and natural beauty treatments. She also offers regular workshops on Ayurvedic cooking and nutrition. In conversation with the Center for Ayurvedic Studies.

Sophia: Did you always want to be a doctor and why did you choose to study Ayurveda?

Dr Manisha: Yes, I decided to become a doctor when I was in the 5th grade. I always wanted to help other people. There were many eminent Ayurvedic doctors in my family and I had seen their work closely and how such a simple and natural thing works amazingly. So I decided to become a doctor of Natural medicine. I am an Ayurvedic Physician and a Naturopath from India.

Sophia: What is like teaching and practising Ayurveda in the West, which relies so much on allopathy?

Dr Manisha: It’s fun teaching and practising Ayurveda and Yoga in the western world. Our Vedic wisdom is amazing. We can offer so many things to the western culture through our wisdom traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda. People are hungry to learn, they have never seen/heard this information before. They embrace and respect our unique heritage. Ayurveda works on all chronic conditions. People are fed up with western medicine so they are ready to make changes in their diet and lifestyle with natural medicine. During the Pandemic, people have accepted the fact that “Health is the Real Wealth.” They are now inclined towards self-care rituals and healthy habits. Simple tools like turmeric ginger concoction, hot water, nasya, gargles, worked effectively for Covid 19 prevention. During the pandemic, we were teaching our clients how to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, self-detox, self-massage, nasya to improve their immunity and vitality…. People were fearful, anxious, depressed and lonely, so working on their emotional health was also a priority. Meditation, yoga, breathing and positive affirmations worked very well for mental and emotional well-being. These spiritual practices improve our awareness and motivate us to lead a health-conscious lifestyle.

Sophia: How has Ayurveda affected your life on a personal level?

Dr Manisha: Growing up, I grew up in a household that utilised Ayurvedic principles to treat common health conditions. Simple remedies like clove- turmeric concoctions for a sore throat, cumin-coriander-fennel tea for headaches and PMS, buttermilk with dried ginger for diarrhoea, etc. It wasn’t until I formally studied Ayurveda in college that I understood the true benefits of these ancient recipes. There is a scientific logic to all the recommendations. You also need to walk the talk. I try to follow all the good things that I tell my clients in terms of daily routine, seasonal routine, detoxification etc. And that keeps me healthy and happy.

Sophia: You specialise in women's health and infant health. Tell us how you use Ayurveda in both contexts?

Dr Manisha: I often tell my patients that good child care begins before you conceive. That applies to mother and father both. If you want a healthy progeny, you need to work on your cycle and hormones. Ayurveda has a vast description on women’s health, all the different transitions that a woman goes through (baby girl, teenage, pregnancy, delivery and menopause) and how to take care of your physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health during these transitions. We often teach our clients about diet, exercise, sleep, herbs, spices, herbal supplements during these transitions. These are all the tools I use in my practice, along with emotional support. I also help them align their biological rhythms with the environment. This promotes well-being and balances all the hormones. I help them understand the connection between the menstruation, conception, delivery and lunar cycle. Women’s physiology is all about the hormonal interplay. Because of our hectic lifestyle, our hormones tend to get erratic and can lead to many imbalances.  Same thing with infants also, many new moms and babies have a lot of problems with breastfeeding, baby formulas, sleep, tummy aches, teething, etc. during these times a mother needs to take care of herself and her baby. I teach them how to do a mother-baby massage, home remedies for teething and how to improve the quality and quantity of breast milk. In India women are blessed with this kind of traditional knowledge and also support from the extended family and neighbours. In the west, they don’t have the same support from their family and with lack of holistic knowledge, it can be very stressful. 

Sophia: You also specialise in skin and beauty treatments. How is an Ayurvedic beauty ritual different from a regular spa?

Dr Manisha: Ayurveda truly understands that lasting beauty is the beauty from within. It is an inside-out approach to beauty as opposed to an outside-in one. Every Ayurvedic treatment is tailor-made for a person’s unique body constitution. In order to help them not only reverse their imbalance but promote inner, outer and lasting beauty. Beauty is not found in any lotion or potion, you need to work on three levels of beauty.

  1. Outer Beauty (Rupam): you can achieve this by diet, exercise, sleep and other healthy habits 
  2. Inner Beauty (Gunam): You need to find out your good inner qualities and learn to cultivate and boost your skill sets. Find out how unique you are and how blessed you are.
  3. Lasting Beauty (Vayastyagam): If you manage your inner and outer beauty then, you will become an example of lasting beauty which exudes elegance, femininity, and True Beauty (Satyam Shivam Sundaram). 

Sophia: What are your favourite books on Ayurveda?

Dr Manisha: “Science of Being and Art of Living” by his holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is a great example of how Ayurveda and the traditional sciences can be of use in today’s modern world. Maya Tiwari’s “Secrets of Healing” talks extensively about home remedies and the simple treatments for well-being in an accessible way. Lastly, Deepak Chopra’s “Perfect Health” is a guide for anyone who is just beginning on their path of healing. It highlights the major points of focus that one needs to make to gain maximum results. 

Sophia: Who have been your mentors and inspirations?

Dr Manisha: My first mentors were my parents who practised and continue to practise Ayurveda in their daily lives. A living breathing example of what perfect health can look like. I have had many inspirational teachers like Vaidya B P Nanal, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Drs.PH Kulkarni, Subhash Ranade, MY Lele, and many others. I also have some wonderful colleagues such as Drs. Deepak Chopra, Sheila Patel, John Doulliard and Marci Shimoff.

Sophia: What is your view on weight-loss diets vs following a consistent Ayurvedic diet?

Dr Manisha: Weight loss diets trick our body for short periods of time. You have to keep in mind that weight loss is not a natural state for the body to be in. Ayurveda uses your unique body type to make sure that you are changing your body composition in a healthy and balanced way without any long term side effects. 

Sophia: Is Ayurveda restricted to just food and diet?

Dr Manisha: Absolutely NOT! Ayurveda is literally translated to the science of life. Which takes into account not only your lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise and daily routine, but more importantly it teaches you about yourself! Ayurveda is used as a tool to increase your self-awareness and then being able to connect it to Mother Nature. It is a microscope into who you are and a mirror towards what you could become. 

Sophia: What is your advice to young students and practitioners of Ayurveda?

Dr Manisha: Start practising what you are learning as early as possible. Ayurveda is a qualia science, which means it needs to be experienced. The more you learn about ayurveda the more you will realise how much more there is to learn. Do not get discouraged but rather use your friends and teachers to synthesise that wisdom. Your patients are a reflection of divinity and patient care is God’s work. You learn a lot from your clients. Their transformation is transforming you as a healer, educator and practitioner. You want to keep in mind, when you help someone, sometimes you gain wealth, but sometimes, you will gain a friend or you will learn something new. This is why your duty (Dharma) is to help someone. So never think “I have wasted my time and energy”, but rather how it helps you to polish your skills.

The Interconnectedness of Yoga and Ayurveda

“An Ayurveda lifestyle brings alignment with Nature as well as our inner nature. If a person practises yoga and chanting as leisure activities without seeking more than their more superficial (yet precious) effects, it’s not really essential to integrate an Ayurvedic lifestyle. However, if a person wants to get into the deep core of yoga and chanting practices, then an Ayurvedic lifestyle is like a trampoline taking them to greater heights,” says Monica Buendia, who recently completed the Veda Studies Teacher’s Training Course with Shantala Sriramaiahji. Monica’s integrated approach to spiritual practices has given her spiritual journey a sound basis and platform that is essential for inner personality development. In conversation with The Center for Ayurveda Studies.

Sophia: How did your spiritual journey begin?

Monica: It began in a very organic and instinctive way. During my 20’s, I experienced a strong inner urge and curiosity for Yoga and Ayurveda. This led to an ‘intellectual’ type of seeking in order to understand what these were all about. I remember spending hours and hours in the early days of the internet searching for Yoga and Ayurveda with very little success. To my great surprise, a yoga centre opened near my home. Yoga was considered a bit strange at that time and not very popular in the area where I lived in Spain. So, I followed that inner urge further and signed up for my first class. It was an integral session with a lot of pranayama and mantra chanting, and I just fell in love. I felt at home. Yoga has been a part of my daily life ever since.

This was all happening while I was working full-time in the corporate world of civil engineering, leading big infrastructure projects with high budgets, large teams and being, most of times, the unique woman in the project. I loved those years and enjoyed the challenges. Then one day, I started to feel a strong incoherence between my inner spiritual self and the outer professional me. Looking back, I see just how much Yoga and Ayurveda helped me to sustain balance through that stressful period of life. Both helped me to see just how inharmonious the situation really was. Ultimately, they gave me the courage to give up my job with no plan B. That decision allowed me to more clearly align with my inner self and deepen my spiritual journey.

Many years later, I travelled to India where I met my guru Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati. She gave me diksha and initiated me as Jignasu Sannyasin in the lineage of Satyananda Yoga. This opened new doors into my spiritual practice and my sadhana became more settled. A guiding thread that continues to this day.

Sophia: You practise and teach Ayurveda, yoga and Vedic chanting. Tell us about how you developed such an integrated approach to spiritual practices?

Monica: It’s taken time to develop. In the early days it was not very integrated at all. I started focusing on Yoga as my main activity from work. I remember waking up at 5 AM to do my sadhana before rushing out to work and returning at 8:30 PM just to drop in for an evening class. Aside from that, my lifestyle was not Ayurvedic at all. Eventually, the yoga practice helped me realise the need to change more of my lifestyle habits and that led to greater interest in Ayurveda. Back then, there were only a couple of places in Barcelona where Ayurveda was taught (fortunately nowadays you can find it easily anywhere!). I joined a training with the intention to apply it only to myself. I immediately fell in love with Ayurveda and began integrating it with my Yoga sadhana. It took some time to transition to an Ayurvedic lifestyle but even the little changes had amazing effects, which encouraged me to keep learning and applying more and more. Eventually, it became very natural and easy to follow a complete Ayurvedic lifestyle. Ayurveda made my whole life make sense. Things became simpler and lighter. Peace and contentment became more regular companions. I also saw a positive change in my relationships with others as my awareness shifted. 

Experiencing the joy and transformation that Yoga and Ayurveda brought to my own life led to the decision to start teaching. I felt the importance of helping others learn and benefit from the same tools that had been so valuable on my journey. My relationship with chanting has taken more time to develop. I used to be much more analytical-rational and not particularly devotional. It was difficult for my mind to surrender to the feelings I experienced when first listening to mantra chanting. But that all changed in a big way years later when staying at an ashram in India. I was totally speechless when I first heard and experienced a group of pundits reciting Veda. It was absolutely mesmerising. I would spend hours and hours, day after day sitting in front of them, feeling their voices resonating so strong inside me. It was almost like science-fiction the level of focus and millimetric rapport that existed between them for such long periods of time. 

Then during the pandemic, I met Shantala Sriramaiah online through Veda Studies where I have trained to be a chanting teacher. She has shown me just how much tapas is behind that ‘science-fiction’. Shantala’s teachings and sweetness have become so important in helping my inner journey of becoming devotional and prayerful. It is an honour to train with her and be part of a traditional lineage that is filled with such respect, accuracy and love in its transmission of the ancient teachings. All of these practices are now intimately connected for me. I’ve discovered that the more one digs, the more one finds just how interrelated they really are. 

Sophia: How does Ayurveda complement Yoga?

Monica: Ayurveda complements Yoga at many levels. It helps to maintain our body-mind in good health through proper food and a beneficial lifestyle according to our unique nature. It promotes quality sleep and offers different techniques for each individual according to their psychological temperament and constitution. Most importantly, Ayurveda brings an invaluable inner and outer knowledge very useful on the yogic path (and any event in life). It helps liberate many conditionings that plague our minds through a deep understanding of our tendencies and the events taking place inside and outside of us. Ayurveda also enhances the peace of mind and sattvic mood required for yogic practices. I like to see Ayurveda as the road-map and Yoga as the backpack filled with plenty of tools to help us as we wander the path of life. And chanting is the sound and rhythm to live each event arising on the path with deep connection.

Sophia: Is an Ayurvedic lifestyle essential for yoga practice and chanting? How has leading an Ayurvedic lifestyle affected your yoga and chanting practice?

Monica: Absolutely yes. An Ayurveda lifestyle brings alignment with Nature as well as our inner nature. If a person practises yoga and chanting as leisure activities without seeking more than their more superficial (yet precious) effects, it’s not really essential to integrate an Ayurvedic lifestyle. However, if a person wants to get into the deep core of yoga and chanting practices, then an Ayurvedic lifestyle is like a trampoline taking them to greater heights. An Ayurvedic lifestyle has given me an intimate understanding about the gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas) taking place within me at every moment. This insight allows me to align my yoga and chanting practices with the greater purpose of matching the required state in the moment.

Sophia: Who have been your spiritual inspirations?

Monica: I have found a lot of spiritual inspiration in many people over the course of my life; many who wouldn’t even describe themselves as spiritual. I am so inspired by the sincere generosity of people who share unconditionally with others; offering their care, their time, their presence, their attentive listening, their sincere smile, no matter what their own situation is. In this way, my mother is a supreme Goddess who continues to be an inspiration. Swami Sivananda Saraswati is a great inspiration as a superb Yogi and Ayurvedic doctor endowed with great altruism for others. As is his disciple Swami Satyananda Saraswati, by his fulfilment of the mandate of his guru to expand yoga from shore to shore, for the benefit of all. My teachers-gurus are all women of great spiritual inspiration: Swami Satyasanganada Saraswati (Yoga), Dr. Prachiti Kinikar Patwardhan (Ayurveda), Shantala Sriramaiah (Vedic Chanting). Each one of them is endowed with their own special story, their great knowledge, their rigour for transmission and their supreme love for what they do. I deeply admire them and feel profoundly blessed and grateful for taking me by their hand to support my evolution.

Sophia: What is the role of food and diet in your spiritual practices? 

Monica: I see food as the foundation blocks from which I constantly build myself, body-mind, day by day. I have a clear understanding about the important role that food develops in all my systems and functions, and the effects of that food over me. Sometimes I stare at my food before eating it and think “you’ll become me, and I’ll become you”. Sometimes this has stopped me from eating what I was tempted to (lol). There have also been periods when my diet was so inadequate. These were great teachings as I was able to observe its effects on my practices, and how my body and psychology responded. I focus on having a sattvic diet and adjust it to the climate changes, personal circumstances and impact on my sadhana. But I’m not too rigid, I allow myself to indulge, for example, when I’m having a nice time with family or friends, and it also feels great. This flexibility and tolerance are of great value on the spiritual path.

Sophia: Have you travelled to India? What does India mean to you?

Monica: Yes, I’ve been to India three times. First in 2017, and then each year until the start of the pandemic. I intend to go again this autumn. I miss it too much! I feel a very deep connection with India. Within two days after arriving on my first visit, I was walking in a very little town in Kerala and I literally heard a “crack” in my chest, like my solar plexus had suddenly loosened. It was symbolic of the comfort of being at home. I have found many important answers in India, clearer perception and an ability to make wise life decisions. India is like the outer source for my spiritual development. It’s a place where one can find many teachings around any corner. India can be a very confrontative experience and provides ongoing opportunities for inner growth; chaos, devotion, intense smells and tastes, duality… India is a superlative expression of life.

Sophia: What advice do you have for young students and practitioners who want to pursue the spiritual path?

Monica: As many teachers from ancient times tell us, the spiritual pursuit is an inner journey not an outer seeking. Yet to find the door to ‘the inside’ and figure out the encrypted code is not so easy. Yoga and the Vedic sciences help us decrypt our personal code and for me that’s the best start in the spiritual path. So, my first advice is ‘start by knowing oneself’ and open the door to the inner world. Also be aware of the connection of events happening between the outside and the inside. This will help to deepen things further. Simultaneously, cultivate the art of improving oneself for the betterment of all beings; knowing, at the same time, that we are all unique and have a gift to share with others. Let’s support ourselves (and one another) using the many Ayurvedic and yogic techniques and mantric practices available that suit us best, according to our personal temperament, to really dig in, connect with our true self and shine all the way back to share it with others.