A LONG WEEKEND AT AYURFEST
Earlier this month, the Ayurveda community headed towards Glastonbury for the APA’s first annual AyurFest, a gathering to share knowledge and inspiration and connect with like-minded people. Drawing a diverse crowd from the world over, we enjoyed talks and workshops by renowned Ayurvedic experts and doctors, and plenty of conversation over the three days.
Our home for the long weekend was The Earth Spirit Centre in Somerset, which lies within the “temenos” (sacred enclosure) of Avalon. Within seven acres of fields and gardens, we enjoyed fresh air, vegetarian cuisine and beautiful herb and flower gardens, and took our lectures in the seventeenth century farm buildings which have been restored and converted for gatherings such as this. Herbal teas and conversations flowed while the sun shone until bonfires were lit at dusk. Like one big family, we slept in dorms, yurts, tents and caravans — Nick and I had a compact and well-loved caravanette, which we retired to soon after sunset. It had clearly done its time and been put out to pasture. Already overgrown with flowers, this mobile home wasn’t going anywhere fast!
Open to members and non-members of the APA alike, the inaugural festival welcomed all those eager to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Ayurveda, including students, experts and anyone else curious about this Science of Life. There was something for everyone, as the topics were covered by speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including some who have clinical experience in the West. I was honoured to be asked to participate by APA president Renee Mann. I joined friends Tarik Dervish, Nikki Slade, Sascha Kriese and Sebastien Pole, and I made plenty of new ones too, including renowned experts Dr. Vijay Murthy who is based in Marylebone; Andrew Mason, a Jyotish Astrologer; Dr. Akil Palansamy, author of The Paleovedic Diet who hails from The Institute for Health and Healing in San Francisco, and Dr. Ghanashyam Marda, straight from his Suraj Ayurvedic Clinics & Research Center in Pune, whose purple suit and enthusiasm for the power of asparagus I shall never forget!
With welcome ceremony chanting courtesy of Nikki Slade — one of my favourite Kirtan musicians — as well as lectures in sustainability and an eyes wide open lecture on “The Purpose of Disease: Understanding pathogenesis holistically,” everything from spirit to mind-body was catered for. Each morning the whole camp filled every inch of the yoga shala to take part in yoga asana, breathwork and meditation with Maria Garre before a communal breakfast on the lawn or in the shade of the gazebo. Nick and I decided to divide and conquer so we could take advantage of several lectures running simultaneously — I attended a Marma class while Nick headed straight for the fires for some medical alchemy. I took part in the Herbal Preparations workshop, where we completed 10 different kashayams (herbal drinks) in an hour, while Nick explored the science behind traditional household secrets with spices as medicine. Then Dr. Ram Monahar took our understanding of Ayurveda to the edges with an amusing lecture on the rules of an Ayurvedic diet, leading with the big Ayurvedic no-no of eating yoghurt at night, and Dr Ramkumar’s softly spoken session took us through the cleansing of the mind and its role in the healing process of not only our own bodies but of the universe.
Dr. Diana Lurie, an Ayurvedic doctor and professor of neuropharmacology at the University of Montana, who combines the latest Western science and research in neuroinflammation and psychiatric disorders with Ayurveda, revealed new research on the power of daily massage with sesame oil.
My workshop (slightly nerve-racking amongst peers and leaders in Ayurveda) was how I communicate Ayurveda and Ayurvedic cooking to the yoga and wellbeing communities with easy to understand overviews on the science, relatable metaphors and practical lifestyle and cooking tips.