Today’s my birthday. Birthdays, like the beginning of each new year, are excellent opportunities to reflect and take stock of where we’ve been, and to see where we want to go. As it’s been a while since I’ve been in touch, I wanted to take this chance to catch you up on where I’ve been and where I’m headed.
2015 took me on many joyful journeys to share the ancient healing wisdom of Yoga and Ayurveda with different groups of amazing people.
My students spanned Silicon Valley seniors to Yoga enthusiasts to staff at Stanford’s Health Improvement Program to Alameda County Probation Department correctional officers to Health Technology Forum innovators to Stanford Health Care Valleycare patients to the Social Innovation Summit’s Fortune 500 executives, White House representatives, and leading social entrepreneurs.
One of the most meaningful talks I gave was on January 3, 2016, at the Hindu Temple in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio.
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, when I used to attend the Hindu Temple while growing up in Toledo, Ohio, 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.
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 got super interested. 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.
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 taken an incredible five-year journey. We’ve gone on 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.
I loved recently returning to my hometown of Toledo, Ohio and sharing my journey with my family and 125 members of our Indian community at the Hindu Temple there.
A flier sent out a day before drew 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.
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 and that work even if you don’t have that much time.
80% of my extra-busy students report feeling less stress, 47% less overall pain, and 46% better sleep, amongst other powerful statistics.
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.
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 last fall 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.”
I consider you to be part of my extended family, and would therefore love to know:
What you would most like to learn to take health into your own hands this new year?
Your response will help me ensure that future e-newsletters, webinars, trainings, and my forthcoming introductory Ayurveda book are as helpful to you as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you. I read every comment.
Thank you for being part of my journey.
Here’s to your health + happiness,
Ananta Ripa Ajmera
Want a Healthier, Happier, More Productive Staff?
Alameda County Probation’s training manager sponsored me to become a California Board of State & Community Corrections certified trainer. She says: “all agencies, especially law enforcement agencies, can benefit from this phenomenal self-care training. Perfect way to start the new year!” Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about staff trainings for your company or organization.
Join Stanford Health Improvement Program (HIP) 6-Week Course
Shaaranya and I are looking forward to teaching a practical, hands-on Ayurveda course at Stanford this winter. All students will walk away from each of the six sessions with easy-to-apply tools you can use to improve your health. Classes are on Wednesdays, 5:30-7pm at Stanford, starting Feb 3. Register now; limited seats remain.