Along my journey of reconnecting with my roots, I was thrilled to discover Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of healthy living and sister science of Yoga. I had never heard of it growing up.
As I learned more about how this science addresses the root causes of health problems with many practical tools to truly practice preventative health (beyond the standard “eat healthy and get plenty of exercise” advice), I was extremely interested to learn more. Before I could investigate Ayurveda further, however, I traveled across the U.S., Spain, and Australia, and moved cross-country to California, looking for answers to my own health challenges and tools with which to make a difference in the world.
It wasn’t until meeting my teacher, Acharya Shunya, the bearer of a lineage extending back to ancient India, that I was able I delve deeper into Ayurveda, as well as Yoga and Vedanta (a profound universal spiritual philosophy that accompanies Yoga and Ayurveda).
Meeting my teacher changed everything for me. Within just a couple of weeks, so many of my previously unresolved health issues that no one else could resolve for me vanished.
Meeting Acharya Shunya and studying with her was like coming home after a long, long journey.
As the trailer of The Namesake movie says:
“The greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home.”
I love The Namesake. I can completely relate to the main character Gogol’s journey and confusion growing up between two cultures, where we stand simultaneously in a space of neither and both, perpetually searching for the meaning of “home.”
The film shows a brilliantly complex juxtaposition of three central places along Gogol’s journey: New York City, India, and Ohio.
Prior to moving to SF Bay Area, these were the same three places I traversed on my journey.
And while growing up multi-cultural can often feel like an impossible space in which to find our place in the world, as Gogol finds out in The Namesake, and as I’ve experienced, it is one that actually gives us infinite power, freedom, and possibility to shape our lives as we will.
Though I often visited India as a child, I did not understand anything about the Indian culture. Why an ever-increasing number of non-Indians were drawn to Yoga and other practices from ancient India baffled me.
My life growing up looked picture-perfect on the outside. I was a straight A student, attended private schools, went on exciting trips to far-away places, had plenty of friends, boys who were interested in me, beautiful clothes, jewelry, shoes, and parents who supported me to attend one of the best undergraduate business schools in the U.S.
I knew from very early on that I wanted my life to be one of making a difference in society, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant or how to go about doing it.
And inside, I was a mess. While western medicine always informed me that I “was in excellent health,” I seriously questioned this.
Why did I struggle with eating disorders, inexplicable pain, and digestive disturbances?
Why was my mind so anxious?
And why, then, did I have countless sleepless nights?
I searched everywhere for answers. I read books on eating disorders. I visited online forums, checked out therapists, took Yoga classes, and did long silent meditation retreats.
Shortly after taking my first Yoga class in college, I returned to India after not having visited throughout my teenage years. I started to volunteer regularly in India, where I was deeply inspired by all the social entrepreneurship taking place via innovative NGOs there. I took my initial Yoga teacher training at Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, South India, and enjoyed volunteering to teach young people Yoga after completing my training.
The health promoting practices she taught were simple, yet profound.
I loved learning ways to manage my stress that only took five minutes each day and greatly helped calm my mind, while making me more productive.
It was amazing to find out about ways to eat that dramatically improved my digestion, even if I couldn’t always cook.
Then, there was this special daily practice that took away all my physical pain, and helped me finally sleep soundly at night. I even learned how to make my skin clear and glowing without having to buy so many expensive skin products!
I felt like I was able to shed away layers of darkness and find within me a light that was always there, hidden by years of bad habits and unwise choices. I could finally see things more clearly, as if my inner vision had sharpened. Suddenly, I was finding all sorts of creativity and inspiration springing forth that had been lying dormant in me before.
You see, Ayurveda and its sister sciences of Yoga and Vedanta declare that health is our birthright.
After years of feeling annoyed and frustrated with my own mind, it was profoundly relieving to also learn from these sciences that we have everything we’re searching for within us.
The real journey home is about looking inside.
Our own mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy.
We have a choice.
Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta give us tools to take health into our own hands, to make choices that bring us home, to the power, potential, and limitless creativity of our own soul.
With Acharya Shunya, who has been a loving parent-like teacher and guide for myself and many students at Vedika Global, I have had the opportunity to embark upon an incredible journey. It has been a profound voyage, to a place where there is nowhere left to go. After traveling the world, from East to West – and back again, with Acharya Shunya, I finally felt I had come home, to the best of my own self.
Five years after beginning this journey, I loved returning to my hometown of Toledo, Ohio and sharing my journey with my family and so many members of our Indian community there. People from all walks of life, including children, teenagers, uncles, aunties, and grandparents who have very much been family to my parents, sister, and I over the years.
I love how Indians call elders “Uncle” and “Auntie,” even though they’re not biologically related to us. Embracing the whole world as family is a central Vedic Indian value.
As British historian Arnold Toynbee said:
“It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. In the Indian culture, we have the attitude and spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family.”
I love how Yoga, Ayurveda, and other treasures stemming from the ancient Indian culture are particular to India, the world’s oldest civilization, yet are so universal in their scope and noble aim to create a universal human family.
Photo Copyright © 2017 Liz Daly. All Rights Reserved.
Today, nothing in this world gives me more satisfaction than helping members of my human family experience the power and freedom of taking health into your own hands, using simple, time-tested tools that transformed my life.
I first met Acharya Shunya at an Intro to Ayurveda talk that a couple who are like a brother and sister to me organized for her at Stanford University in May 2010.
Five years later, in May 2015, it was a beautiful full circle journey to return to Stanford with my sister, Shaaranya, to give an Intro to Ayurveda webinar for 145 Stanford staff members via Stanford’s Health Improvement Program, which is hosted by Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford School of Medicine. We have since enjoyed offering longer-term staff trainings at Stanford.
I taught Yoga and Meditation to juvenile delinquents at Alameda County and San Mateo County Probation Departments back in 2009-2010. 2015 also marked another beautiful full circle journey, to return to Alameda County Probation Department to train correctional officers there in Yoga and Ayurveda’s health promotion tools.
One of the Alameda County Probation Department staff development specialists reflected on the training I offered there in 2015 with S. Michael Newman (who is like a brother to me):
“This training allowed our staff to be fed consistently. Over time, I think that helped their humanity grow and expand, because they were receiving tools for a higher personal quality of life. They are givers. They give a lot and they’re on guard, frontline a lot. As they saw and tried the health tools, they felt more fellowship, more family, and more of their natural personality, versus their professional personality came through, which was awesome.”
My mission is to continue to spread the healing power of Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta as far as possible, to give as many members of my human family as possible the opportunity to awaken to the health and happiness that are our birthright.
I was amazed to learn, after six months of studying with my Guru, Acharya Shunya, who teaches from a long family lineage extending back to ancient India, that my own maternal ancestors were also part of a long lineage of Ayurveda healers.
As it happened, I learned about my maternal family connection with Ayurveda just prior to a Vedic celebration we call Guru Purnima. The Guru Purnima festival is celebrated each July in India and worldwide, to honor our teachers and ancestors who have traversed the journey of awakening to knowledge, and have left behind a path for us to follow.
Guru Purnima always coincides with the full moon during the month of July. The moon is traditionally associated with one’s mother. In the Ayurveda tradition in particular, the lunar energy is something we try to really soak in to nourish our body, mind and spirit, as this energy is so soothing, calming and nurturing, particularly for anyone having a lot of heat and intensity in their life.
I remember walking outside to see the full moon on Guru Purnima with Acharya Shunya after my first celebration of this festival with her and our community at Vedika Global.
The moon was not visible that night. I remember looking up at the sky to try to see it, and then saying to my teacher:
“But I don’t see the moon anywhere!”
And my teacher responded by reminding me that the ultimate reality, the Truth beyond so-called truths, is not to be found above or below, to the right or left of us. The greatest truth is that of our fundamental interconnectedness, of the eternality of the spirit, which continues on even after the body has completed its physical, earth-bound journey.
So though the moon was not visible, it, like my maternal grandfather’s spirit, and that of my teacher’s grandfather, and all the rest of the grandfathers that guide us till today, is still present… If we make the journey within, the journey to touch and connect with that place where you and I are really One.
My maternal grandfather’s name is Amarchand. In Sanskrit, this name derives from two roots words: “amar,” which means eternal, and “chand,” which means moon. The moon shines eternal, indeed.
Though I hardly got to spend much time with my grandfather in this lifetime, I know his soul always guides me as I make my way to continue on his work today.
In the Vedic tradition, it is customary for one’s Guru to give their student a spiritual name, to guide the student on their journey of awakening to the truth of their spiritual nature.
The name that Acharya Shunya gave me three years after this experience, near the time of Guru Purnima in July 2014, was Ananta.
“Ananta” is a Sanskrit word that means “eternal, infinite, limitless.” Ananta is our potential, that space of infinite hope, freedom, and possibility that lies deep within. Ananta is who we all really are.
The study and practice of Ayurveda has proven its eternality, and I feel that my deep family connection with this ancient science is just one more testament to this.
Having received so much healing and hope from my studies, teachers and ancestors, I am now equally humbled and delighted to pass along the knowledge I have received through my work.
I encourage you to learn more about Staff Trainings I offer to support you on your own journey of coming home, to your self.
And please do not hesitate to contact me if there is any way you see that we can work together to spread the light of Vedic knowledge, particularly among those who have least access to it.
With Love and Light,
Ananta Ripa Ajmera