“Quite surprisingly I came to understand that this ancient system of medicine was nothing I had to learn but something I had to remember, something I was already doing all the time, intuitively. When I read about Ayurveda for the first time I think I subconsciously felt this. I was attracted by the feeling of being vibrantly alive, that there was an opportunity of being a better me.”
Anu Paavola founded Jivita Ayurveda spa, clinic and organic food shop all under one roof in 2011 in Kensal Rise, London, inspired by her yoga practice in Finland. Anu moved to London in 2004 and soon found a degree course in Ayurveda which changed the course of her life. A trip to India after graduation brought plenty of experience in patient work in an Ayurvedic hospital in Hubli, Karnataka, under the vigilant eyes of her teachers.
This year Anu launched Jivita Academy of Ayurveda to respond to demand for higher education in Ayurveda. Two courses are offered by the academy at the moment: an intensive training for therapists and a full diploma course for practitioners.
Anu has created a community of enthusiasts by teaching that health in its right form brings about joy in life. Healing and recovering in her opinion do not exclude fun and enjoyment but are an extension of balanced and abundant life.
“Ayurveda for me is a framework for living in an environment that is in constant change. It is something that gives me safety and predictability in ever changing life scenarios.”
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
Nature is built on the principle of balance; Ayurveda is the art of finding that balance. Therefore, Ayurveda for me is a framework for living in an environment that is in constant change. It is something that gives me safety and predictability in ever changing life scenarios. Ayurveda empowers me to feel and develop my body and mind. It allows me to understand that everything is relative, contextual and can be changed. Nature is in me and I am nature. I am Ayurveda because Ayurveda is in me. It is everything.
When did you discover it? How long have you been practising it?
Back in my home country of Finland I started my ashtanga yoga training in 1998. My yoga teacher recommended I read about Ayurveda right from the start, which I did and never stopped doing. Eventually, I trained as a practitioner (B.Sc Hons) in London and India and set up my practice here in London back in 2009.
What drew you to Ayurveda?
I think it was initially a mere feeling. I’ve thought about this often because what I read first seemed quite complicated and sometimes overwhelming. There was still something about it that intuitively made sense. Quite surprisingly I came to understand that this ancient system of medicine was nothing I had to learn but something I had to remember, something I was already doing all the time, intuitively. When I read about Ayurveda for the first time I think I subconsciously felt this. I was attracted by the feeling of being vibrantly alive, that there was an opportunity of being a better me.
Has it helped you with anything major?
Oh yes, my life. It turned around my paradigms. Not all at once of course but gradually, sustainably and therefore Ayurvedically. I can share one of the ground-breaking moments which made me understand the power of Ayurveda in an instance. I used to practice ashtanga yoga quite intensively, six times a week, every evening. I advanced quite fast as I am quite flexible but I did not have enough physical stamina to pull through 90 minutes of dynamic practice with ease. The culture of ashtanga practice was quite hardcore in those days and pushing through practice was common, heavy breathing and working through the pain by practising even though the body would say no. Time went on like this and I used to come home exhausted, sometimes not being able to sleep from overexcitement by strong backbends. I started getting hot and restless at nights and started having deeply disturbing aggressive dreams. They made me think I needed therapy. As if by magic, someone suggested I went to see an Ayurveda practitioner. She gave me advice that changed everything. All I had to do is to be more mindful during practice, slow down and not let my body to heat up too much. I would stop preparing a huge meal after my practice and only have some warm spiced milk with ghee before I went to bed, the only thing between practice and sleep. The dreams were over in one night. Talk therapy would probably have taken a few years to try to convince me I was not a bad person. Ayurveda revealed to me that healing can and will happen when you create conditions for it. This event made me realise the power of Ayurveda but also that I can access not only my physical but also mental health.
Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?
I can’t stop Ayurveda. It cannot be stopped. It is the power of nature to guide our bodies and minds to be in our surroundings. Your body does Ayurveda when it sweats in a hot climate. It does Ayurveda when it shivers in cold weather. Your mind does Ayurveda when comforted in anxiety. These are all built in structures that are automatic. We can add rational thinking and behaviour to enhance health and wellbeing. We can act in order to create balance or create chaos. It’s up to us. In the large scheme of things, anything that creates natural balance, growth and restoration is Ayurveda. Living in tune with nature’s cycles, conducting simple, slow and seasonal life are Ayurvedic teachings that I’ve learned to respect above all. There are obviously practices that come from the tradition of Ayurveda and yes, I adopt quite many of them. Sometimes I do the “wrong things” by choice. Ayurveda is about being flexible for a variety of situations and being strong in the body and mind when diversions occur. I do Ayurveda all the time, even if it was not straight from the manual.
What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?
Small intermittent fasting. There’s nothing like this to boost your health and wellbeing. Forget deprivation diets and juice fasts. Don’t snack and stop eating after 5pm and you’ll feel amazing. Energy levels go high, immunity is enhanced by improved gut health and inflammation and pain sensation decreases.
Oil pulling with organic sesame oil. Until a few years back my teeth used to be quite sensitive. Not anymore! 15 minutes of oil in the mouth every morning helps sensitive teeth. It is also good for plaque, tooth decay and bleeding gums.
Cardamom seeds are something I always carry with me. I grind them between my teeth to create a smooth powder and sip hot water with it. They are a great mouth freshener, anti-inflammatory herb, great help for indigestion, gas and bloating.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
Simplicity. I went on for a while thinking mechanically about the complexities of the theory and application. When I realised I only had to shift my attention to feelings and then balance bad feelings with opposite feelings, it all opened up to me in a completely new way. “Ayurveda is a medicine of feeling, not knowing,” one teacher of mine used to say. When you stop knowing you feel. When you feel you have easy access to healing. There’s no need to know the name to everything. It is important to know how it feels and that’s usually quite simple.
Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?
It was gradual. I always say to my clients that the best change is a gradual change. When people come for consultations I send them quite a hefty email after with advice on every front. But, I also warn them not to try too much in one go because too much change is not healthy. Our bodies are able to change but gently, with kindness. Try one day to go to sleep at 9pm when you’re used to go to sleep at midnight. Or, if you are a heavy coffee drinker, stopping coffee altogether often causes headaches. Gradually changing our habits to new ones is the safest and most sustainable way.
Do your children/family eat an Ayurvedic diet? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or do they just think of it as home cooking?
Yes, my 7-year-old eats what I eat: home cooked seasonal food. Her lunch is her main meal and she doesn’t usually eat after 5pm. She never asks for snacks, she can withstand hunger until the next mealtime without raising an alarm and she is happy with what she is offered. She is also good at taking herbs. She only drinks warm water and knows when it is needed to detox (i.e. if her eczema flares up).
What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
Chicken bone broth. However, food that is seasonal and not too complicated is an Ayurvedic recipe for me. There is a catch though. You need to know how to eat it. If you wolf your food down your seasonal and simple food it is not Ayurvedic anymore.
Now at the start of winter I absolutely love stews and crave fermented foods. Any roots fried or baked in ghee and garlic and some warming herbs like rosemary are heavenly. I am having lots of thick chicken broth. It’s excellent on its own and great to add to many other recipes. I think it’s quite difficult to compete with bone broth in terms of healthiness.
How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routines?
It fits like a glove! It never leaves me, however, mornings are times when I follow Ayurvedic practices by the book. I wake up early, around 5-5.30 most of the days, do a light Asana practice, strong Pranayama and an hour of meditation. Before yoga I take my seasonal herbs and used the neti pot. I do something called Nasya and Dhupana, i.e. oiling the nose and inhaling medicinal smoke. Flushing the nose with a neti pot can be a bit drying especially in this period so it’s good to apply oil, especially sesame oil in the nose.
As a ritual I burn a bit of palo santo and inhale the smoke. This is recommended in the Ayurvedic ancient scriptures and it can be done with smoke from a variety of plants. Especially after neti and nose oiling Dhupana is a wonderful invigorating practice. After I get off my mat, I do oil pulling. After breakfast I scrape my tongue before brushing my teeth. The next Ayurvedic practice would be my work.
What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?
I think alternative therapies should be made more available for the general public through NHS. There is a lot Ayurveda and other traditional healing practices and options from the East can offer to manage chronic lifestyle disorders, a thing that modern bio-medicine struggles with. We need more media exposure and I’m happy to say Ayurveda is more and more in the public eye. Many people now at least recognise the word!
Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?
Yes! I run a business near the area where I live and my best friends (The Goddesses, of course) live nearby. We have a lot in common in terms of how we live our lives, including Ayurveda. There’s lots of like-minded people in Kensal Rise and my family has in recent years started listening to my advice as well. ;)
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try or you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
To stop eating in the evenings. I think this is the worst thing we are doing to ourselves. If we just managed to change this I think the majority of lifestyle disorders would disappear. Or, they at least would be better managed, especially food intolerances. Heavy evening eating won’t allow the repair work to happen when we sleep. Consequently, we wake up heavy with bags under our eyes, less able to focus and be productive, more reactive and inflammatory, have skin issues and bad breath. You name it. A lot of things can be prevented and healed by just fasting in the evening.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To promote Ayurveda and to provide highly skilled professionals I’ve set up an academy to teach Ayurveda called Jivita Academy of Ayurveda. We run two types of courses: a diploma course of three years for practitioners and an intensive three-month course for Ayurvedic therapists. We also will provide workshops and seminars for those who cannot commit to full training. Our next Introduction Day to Ayurveda takes place on 26th January in Evolve Wellness Centre and the following on 2nd March in the same place. If you are interested in the courses this afternoon workshop is also a great taster and opportunity to meet and talk to some of the teachers.
Also, I wanted to thank Jasmine for promoting Ayurveda with such fresh and genuine energy.