Things sometimes magically come full circle. You see, many years back, I used to work at Stanford University as a Biology Researcher and would benefit from the Department of Medicine's Health Improvement Program (HIP) classes. Back in 2011, when I quit working at Stanford to focus full-time on Ayurveda, my dream was to come back one day to offer it through HIP. After five years, I was able to fulfill that dream with an intense 6-week Ayurveda 101 class, “Ayurveda Lifestyle,” with my colleague Ananta Ripa Ajmera.
The class helped participants experience the power of the ancient science of Ayurveda and feel its relevance even after five thousand years of existence. We had a full class of 31 students from various departments at Stanford University. The 6-class series covered the basics of Ayurveda.
Our pedagogical design was focused on giving participants building blocks through which they could apply Ayurveda in their own lives and build personal intuition. Lifestyle recommendations were grounded in these building blocks helping participants see the connection between theory and practice. You can get a glimpse of the building blocks used in the first class along with practical lifestyle tips through a recording of the Stanford HIP Webinar: Introduction to Ayurvedic Medicine.
Participants learned the connection between theory and practice. For instance, Abhyanga is an important practice emphasized in the Susruta Samhita:
निद्राकरो देहसुखक्ष्चक्ष्दुष्य: क्ष्रमसुप्तिनुत्||७०|| पादत्वङम्ृदुकारी च पादाभ्यङ्ग: सदा हित:||
Improved sleep, comfort to the body, healing for the eyes, removal of fatigue || 70 ||
(These benefits come from) oiling the feet, which also softens it and is always beneficial. ||
Ref: Susruta Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana, 24.70
The experience of Abhyanga brings the wisdom of the Ayurvedic sages into our lives. Oiling one's limbs with warm medicated oils (we used sesame oil in the class and gave samples to participants) is a therapeutic practice that relieves stress and pain in certain arthritic conditions. Like anything else in Ayurveda, this is not a panacea for all conditions and should not be done without the recommendation of a certified Ayurvedic practitioner. In the class, students learned to do padabhyanga (oil massage of the feet). This is particularly helpful for those struggling with sleep.
Our effort was to create a truly immersive experience with science, film, music, poetry, philosophy and food. Students got a taste of delicious Ayurvedic dishes as well as kits to cook these dishes at home.
It was deeply gratifying to read the feedback from the class, a few of which are below:
“This was the best class I’ve ever taken at Stanford HIP.”
“I learned an alternative way to see health, as part of a macrocosm, and about many new foods.”
“I learned how to nurture my body and mind more. And how to stop and take stock of what I am doing, eating, sleeping, etc.”
“The most valuable things I learned was about the five elements. I knew nothing about Ayurveda before, and the whole class was very interesting.”
“The most valuable things I took away were aspects of the Ayurveda lifestyle and really just the motivation/inspiration to learn even more.”
“The experience of slowing down and calming myself when eating feels important to digestion. I seem to be in a hurry a lot, to get to the dinner table, and that continues till bedtime. Another thing I really enjoyed was thinking about where the food comes from and how many hands before the food gets to me was awesome to think about. I want that to be my dinner conversation with my children. It would be great for them to think about that and be more grateful.”
“The love and attention to every detail in class is very clear to see. Thank you very much. I have learned a lot of new information and am enjoying it.”