ANANTA RIPA AJMERA
“Ayurveda helped me overcome years of debilitating eating disorders, related digestive disturbances, skin breakouts, insomnia, and anxiety. I had searched everywhere for solutions to these particular issues. What I found in the form of talk therapy, online support forums, books in the library, fad diets, and even yoga and meditation classes was all helpful to an extent. But each option was limited. None addressed all the interconnected aspects of me that were causing my problems like Ayurveda did by seeing and addressing me in my entirety.”
Ananta Ripa Ajmera is a certified Ayurveda health practitioner, yoga instructor, and Director of Ayurveda for THE WELL, a modern wellness club that brings together world-class doctors and master healers for a more balanced you.
She is the author of The Ayurveda Way, which helps readers tap into ancient Indian science to achieve a state of balance in body, mind, spirit, and the five senses. Her book received a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Award in 2017 and a 2017 Silver Nautilus Award (a major honour granted to the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Barbara Kingsolver, Deepak Chopra, and Eckhart Tolle).
Ananta has taught Ayurveda at the Stanford School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program, the California Department of Public Health, and UNICEF, and has spoken at the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), Columbia Business School, and UC Berkeley – to name a few. She graduated from NYU Stern Business School with an honors degree in marketing.
“Ayurveda, to me, is a set of beautiful, golden keys that unlock the potential to live a wholesome, healthy, joyful, well-balanced life.”
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
Ayurveda, to me, is a set of beautiful, golden keys that unlock the potential to live a wholesome, healthy, joyful, well-balanced life. Ayurveda helps us live in harmony with Mother Nature, as well as the best of our own inner nature. It connects us with the interconnectedness of all existence and supports us in aligning each of our daily choices — big and small — with what brings us abiding joy. Joy-giving (and hence, health-giving) actions are those that benefit not only ourselves but others, too. The very definition of Ayurveda is that science that teaches us to make joyful choices that benefit all. In that sense, Ayurveda to me also means a strong sense of social, environmental, and ethical responsibility as the gateways for personal health and wellbeing.
When did you discover it? How long have you been practising it?
I first discovered Ayurveda while living in New York City in 2005 via a friend who I used to attend yoga classes with. I have practised Ayurveda as a personal lifestyle since 2009, when I first experienced the profound joy and beauty of living according to the rhythms of nature (that Ayurveda empowers us to experience) as part of a yoga teacher training program I took in Kerala, India.
What drew you to Ayurveda?
The holistic nature of Ayurveda that addresses all dimensions of our being — the physical, mental, spiritual, and sensorial — drew me to it. I was very attracted to how comprehensive it was in its scope and how it addresses the deepest root causes for why living beings suffer at all levels of our existence.
Has it helped you with anything major?
Ayurveda helped me overcome years of debilitating eating disorders, related digestive disturbances, skin breakouts, insomnia, and anxiety. I had searched everywhere for solutions to these particular issues. What I found in the form of talk therapy, online support forums, books in the library, fad diets, and even yoga and meditation classes was all helpful to an extent. But each option was limited. None addressed all the interconnected aspects of me that were causing my problems like Ayurveda did by seeing and addressing me in my entirety.
Ayurveda healed me by first connecting me with my spiritual Self, which possesses all the power to do what it took to change my life. I then made many changes in my diet, and experienced the magic of food as medicine. Within just a few weeks of eating according to Ayurvedic food principles, I found that so many of my symptoms simply vanished. Over time, living according to Ayurveda’s beautiful lifestyle wisdom resulted in a strengthening of my mind, making it peaceful, focused, calm, creative, and cheerful even amidst very challenging life experiences.
Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?
Ayurveda is an extremely integral part of my everyday life that informs every single thought I think, word I speak, and action I take from the moment I wake up till the moment I fall asleep at night. I cannot imagine being without it. Even when I have to travel or am engaged in special events or activities that cause me to not be able to follow my normal Ayurvedic lifestyle as closely, I find that I naturally want to do as much as I can of it. And that it draws me right back in once I return to my routine life. My Ayurveda lifestyle is truly like a refuge — a safe haven I can always come to that protects and nourishes me with the healing power of nature.
What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?
1. Eating warm, cooked, gently oiled foods
This one practice was a real game changer for my digestion. Our state of digestion impacts every aspect of our bodies and overall health according to Ayurveda, so when I started eating warm, cooked, gently oiled foods, I noticed how I slept better at night. My skin started to clear up. My mind even became noticeably clearer, more focused, and calmer.
2. Oiling my body with warm coconut or sesame oil
The practice of oiling my body with warm coconut oil in the summer and fall and warm sesame oil in the winter and spring changed my life. The word sneha signifies “to oil” in Sanskrit. It also means “to love.” Oiling my body has been an amazing self-love practice that calms and soothes my mind as much as it does my physical body. In Ayurveda, we learn how the five great elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth) comprise the foundational building blocks of our entire universe. Because oil consists of the heaviest of these elements — water and earth — it has a very grounding and stabilising influence on our being. Oiling the body is incredibly rejuvenating also. Just as leather lasts longer when you rub oil onto it, our muscles, skin, and bones become stronger and more supple the more we massage ourselves with warm oil.
3. Waking up early (by 6 a.m.)
In Ayurveda, there are three fundamental qualities (called gunas) that are the even subtler foundation of the five great elements. These three qualities are called sattva (meaning purity, balance, clarity), rajas (signifying action, passion, motion), and tamas (indicating darkness, inertia, depression).
During the early morning hours of 4 to 6 a.m., yogis have known since time immemorial that the quality of sattva reigns supreme. There is something profoundly meaningful to the act of watching the darkness of night transform into the light of the day. Seeing this phenomenon of the sky changing colours subconsciously informs our psyche that no matter how dark our own minds and lives may feel at times, darkness is always temporary. Light is the only truth.
The sun is a symbol of health in Ayurveda. It also represents courage, vitality, inspiration, creativity, strength, power, brilliance, knowledge, and every other intangible thing that we seek in our lives. When I see the outer sun rising in the sky, I feel connected to that part of me that reflects the light of the sun. The part of me that is connected with all beings. And that contains everything I look for outside myself.
I have found that waking up early makes my mind feel fresh and inspired. It helps me eliminate my bowels early in the morning (the most optimal time to eliminate for healthy digestion). It is easiest to meditate during the early morning hours as compared to any other time of day. It is also literally much easier to wake up before 6 a.m. than it is to awaken afterwards. This one practice has given me tremendous hope, inspiration, clarity, and inner peace.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
What very pleasantly surprised me the most about Ayurveda was how it proclaims that health is the birthright and true nature of every human being. Health lives within us. We activate our inherent potential for health and happiness when we begin to live in greater harmony with nature via the Ayurveda lifestyle, which includes our wake-up, sleep and meal times, spiritual practices, the kinds of foods we eat, how we eat, when we bathe, exercise, and so much more. I was amazed to discover a science that does not outsource health as the byproduct of drugs and getting “fixed” by doctors, but as our true, innate state of being. Ayurveda does not put labels or judgements onto us or call us horrible things like “anorexic,” an “insomniac,” etc. That was so refreshing to me. I was also surprised by just how many practices Ayurveda offers us to live a healthy and happy life!
Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?
In the beginning of my formal Ayurveda studies, I began gradually integrating Ayurvedic practices. Eight months into my training, however, I suddenly incorporated everything all at once. At that time, the suicide of a woman I read about online awakened and inspired me to truly embrace my life by overcoming my inner resistances that previously told me I didn’t deserve to be healthy or happy. This woman had similar life challenges to mine that she never fully faced. She didn’t have an opportunity to start afresh, but I realised I did. Her death was, in a very real sense, like a new birth for me that was enlivened with the practice of Ayurveda.
What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
My favourite Ayurvedic recipe is khichadi [n.b. also spelled as kitchari], a simple dish made with yellow mung lentils and white basmati rice. It is cooked with turmeric, rock salt, and cumin seeds. I vary the recipe with different additional seasonal spices as well as seasonal vegetables throughout the year. It is an excellent recipe for digestion and I never get tired of it!
How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routine?
I follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle that informs each part of my day-to-day routine. The Ayurveda lifestyle follows a circadian rhythm. It starts by sleeping no later than 10.30 p.m. (ideally by 10 p.m.) to awaken no later than 6 a.m. (I like to wake up around 5.20 a.m.). As soon as I wake up in the morning, I look at my hands and affirm that health, wealth, abundance, creativity, knowledge, and power reside in my own hands. I then eliminate and thereafter brush my teeth with Ayurvedic herbal powders mixed with a neem and pomegranate-infused toothpaste. After that, I perform my spiritual practices, followed by oiling my body. I then take a shower. After showering, I eat my breakfast. I then begin my work, and schedule the hardest intellectual work, important meetings, etc. between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I make sure to eat a heavier lunch, as Ayurveda teaches us that we are most able to digest what we eat at lunch versus breakfast or dinner. After eating, I walk 100 steps to support optimal digestion. I try to eat dinner around 6 or 7 p.m. and avoid doing anything too mentally stimulating from 7 p.m. till bedtime, as doing so can disturb our sleep at night. I love to sleep before 10 p.m. if possible to repeat the cycle the next day!
What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?
I really wish that hospitals had Ayurvedic food options on the menu for those recovering from surgeries and other major procedures. Digestion is considered the key to good health according to Ayurveda, and those who are undergoing intense health experiences requiring hospitalisation can really benefit from eating food that supports healthy digestion as a key to recovery.
Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?
Yes! As soon as my book The Ayurveda Way came out in 2017, everyone I know is now aware of my great love for Ayurveda. It was beautiful to see many people I know start to adopt some of the simple practices for living an Ayurvedic lifestyle after reading my book, 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?
Ayurveda teaches us how critical our digestion is to our overall health. By eating warm, cooked, gently oiled foods (and avoiding cold, raw foods), we are able to support our digestive system in unprecedented ways. This one simple practice of choosing soups over salads, for example, has made a world of a difference to so many of my clients (and myself)! So much so that I have made it the very first practice featured in my book.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks very much for the opportunity to share a bit about my love for Ayurveda!