You can’t seem to have a conversation about health with your fellow backpackers these days without someone throwing in the Ayurvedic buzzwords “dosha”, “five elements” and – heaven forbid – “fasting”! Deputy Editor Karen Farini catches up with Ayurvedic Practitioner, Kimmana, to unscramble the mystery of this ancient Eastern tradition of medicine creeping its way into the lifestyle of the contemporary traveller…
Thirty year old Kimmana Nichols, from Noosa, Australia, comes from a family of healers and consciously-minded people – his grandparents were doing yoga even before his parents were born! Having co-taught his first breath workshop to a group of more than 200 people at the tender age of five, he has since travelled all over the world, connecting with sought-after establishments and gifted healers. Now, he practises this form of ancient holistic medicine both at The Sanctuary on Koh Phangan in Thailand, and via his website www.kimmana.com, teaching both clients and practitioners how to access the healing wisdom they need and to unleash their own healing powers.
1) A general question to start off with – you’ve been interested in health since you were a very young child! What, in your opinion, does it take to be healthy?
- Perfect Health is a very dynamic process with so many factors that can support or sabotage it. The most important factors would be to use all of your senses in wholesome ways, to love and enjoy your life, to know your individuality and to live a life of balance.
2) You talk about the three pillars of health. What are they?
- The three pillars of health all revolve around the fact that health comes through the application of right knowledge and wisdom. These pillars are the stepping stones of how a client can align themself with right knowledge to heal chronic disease, and they are:
- Self Knowledge: The want, will and know how to be healthy
- Holistic System: Time-tested understandings of what your complex mind and body needs
- Great Support System: A person or team willing to guide, educate and empower you with self knowledge and a holistic system that is right for you.
3) Quoting your website: “Many people underestimate the value of health and the happiness it provides until they don’t have it anymore.” Why do you think we do this?
- Human beings are often attracted to unhealthy behaviours because during their life they have been influenced by culture, friends and experience that has lead them to believe their present behavioural pattern will bring them more pleasure. It is only when behavioural patterns consistently do not produce the pleasure we seek then we begin to question our lives and seek out new, healthier behavioural patterns.
4) So, tell us about Ayurveda. What exactly is it? And what are the main principles?
- Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that originates from the sub-continent of India and its main purpose is to teach us a life of individualised balance. “Ayur” means longevity, and “Veda” means knowledge, so it technically translates as “the knowledge of how to preserve life.” From this description we can see that it covers a vast area of holistic medicine, and its facets and specialties are numerous just like modern medicine. The largest difference between Ayurveda and Modern Medicine is the use of holistic systems that connect the world together. It is through these holistic systems that all of the areas of life can be easily understood, knowing even complex connections like individual sensitivity to emotions or weather patterns and how to balance them. The fundamental principle revolves around “like increases like,” so if we want more grounded stability in our life then we should surround ourselves with grounded people, eat grounding foods, do grounding exercise and think grounded thoughts.
5) How and when did you discover Ayurveda, and how long have you been practicing?
- Although I’ve known about Ayurveda for longer than I can remember, my real passion for it developed at the age of 22 while studying Naturopathy. Before I had finished my Naturopathic Degree, I was teaching entry level Ayurveda at 3 different Naturopathic colleges on the Gold Coast. I knew the next stage to really advance with it was to study in India, so I completed different certificates with the Pune University and spent time working in Tarragan Hospital, one of the oldest free Ayurvedic hospitals in India.
Ayurveda’s main strength is in treatment of chronic disease
6) Talking of India, Ayurveda traces its origins to the Vedas – the most ancient books of Indian knowledge and wisdom. Indian medicine itself has a long history – one of the oldest, organized systems of medicine that dates as far back as the 2nd millennium BC. You’re also known for quoting a lot of ancient philosophers… Where do you think all their knowledge came from – and why, for so long, have we chosen to ignore it?
- Ayurvedic lessons about nature and medicine were first spread by ancient rishis (knowers) and sages who were able to tap into higher knowledge about nature. These early teachers dedicated their lives to rigorous spiritual techniques that helped their minds be pure enough to receive facts and truths about how humans and our environment function. They collected this knowledge in writing, which became the Vedas (the oldest books we know of on the planet). They include the wisdom of astrology, sound, music, and medicine, in a coded language, so that only those motivated would understand. Many sections of this knowledge have been lost for thousands of years, and we have only recently pieced it together in a way that can be spread to educate and empower the residents of this earth.
7) There does seem to be a hint of Buddhist influence in Ayurveda, too, with the concept of ‘balance’ emphasized. Does this mean we can still have a cigarette every now and then, and the odd drunken night out and still be healthy?
- It’s true that Ayurveda grew up amongst both Hinduism and Buddhism with some of the most famous ancient authors being devotees to these beliefs. This does not mean that Ayurveda is a strict system with no allowance for a good time. In fact many practitioners will encourage that you continue practices that are enjoyable to you, only that you be aware of how much long term benefit they give you and adjust accordingly if a practice such as drinking with friends is no longer giving you long term benefit.
8) I’ve read that Ayurveda is based upon the physics of the ‘five elements’ that compose the universe (including the human body), and that it also stresses a balance of three elemental energies, or doshas that must exist in equal quantities for the body to be healthy. Is this correct? Can you tell us more about this?
- Ayurveda uses systems such as the 5 elements (building blocks of life: ether/air/fire/water/earth), and 3 doshas (functional principles of reality: Vata/Pitta/Kapha) to diagnose individuality and balance in our environment. Although the balance between these elements can be used to assess the potential for disease before it manifests, they do not need to be in equal quantities to maintain health. Each individual may be expressing the more positive aspects of their individual balance of the elements, and as such not produce disease. It is only through accumulating an excess of improperly functioning dosha that a disease occurs. It is our role as an Ayurvedic practitioners to encourage the most functional expressions of their unique talents based upon their dominant dosha, while also implementing opposing elements and doshas to balance weaknesses.
9) What’s the Ayurvedic stance on food? Raw? Cooked? Vegan? Little and often? Can we eat meat? Should we steer clear of acidic foods? How, according to Ayurvedic tradition, can we eat well?
- The fundamental principle from traditional Ayurveda is that everything can be used as medicine, and it is just about knowing the time and place to apply the perfect balancing force. Therefore, Ayurvedic Nutrition is very flexible and will use raw, cooked, vegan or meat depending on what balancing force is required. The best example of this is the acid and alkaline debate that is common amongst modern nutritionists. Although many will talk about the benefits and detoxifying effects of alkalising foods, not many talk about the nourishing and building effects of acid forming foods which are needed at certain times such as a cold and dry winter. Balanced Nutrition is quite a complex subject and the simplest rule is to eat locally, seasonally and without any processing so there is far less likelihood of aggravating your body. For a more comprehensive article on this subject you could check out my article: “a balanced diet” at kimmana.com.
10) What’s your view on fasting? (You do not advocate excess fasting, for example. Has this got something to do with the notion of keeping oneself in balance?) What exactly is a balanced diet?
- If we use the 5 element system of Ayurveda then fasting is a necessary building block of life in the category of the ‘ether’ element. The remaining 4 elements cover the other areas of necessary nutrition (such as ‘air’ being oxygen, ‘fire’ being spices and herbs, etc), and each should be applied in a manner that creates balance for the individual. For some, fasting may only be required between meals each day and at least 4 hours before bed, while for others, weeks of prescribed fasting may be perfectly balancing.
11) Digestion is an important topic in Ayurveda, isn’t it? Why is this? You say this is the root of all disease – how so?
- The process of digestion is such an important topic in holistic medicine because it is one of the crossroad systems in the body where everything is coming in and out of the body. To really encompass the importance of what digestion entails we must go beyond the digestive tract and be aware of all the high metabolic places in our body such as the liver, pancreas, small intestine, etc! This broader view of digestion extends to all parts of our body and includes every cell. How we are digesting life defines whether we easily absorb what is beneficial from life then remove the waste products not needed. Great digestion means that even toxic substances can be made harmless, while poor digestion means that even beneficial foods can become poison.
12) More and more people are hearing about Ayurveda now. Do you think the practice of Ayurveda is starting to be taken more seriously worldwide (as opposed to just in Asia, where it originated?)
- Ayurveda is a serious and ancient form of medicine, like Western medicine, which treats diseases and saves lives with complex pharmacy and surgery. Like Western medicine, it is a system subject to strengths and weaknesses. And like any philosophy, religion or other teaching, we can choose guidelines and lessons to apply in combination with other carefully selected guidelines.
Some people might find it easy to interpret the 5 elements system within Ayurveda as a religion. Connection with the elements unites us with our environment, with spirit, and with all of creation. Ultimately Ayurveda honours the principle of individualism and connecting the individual with something larger than ourselves: the great mystery of nature.
Ayurveda’s main strength is in treatment of chronic disease because it seeks the source of a problem to eliminate symptoms, not starting with the symptoms themselves. Treatment is subtle, with small doses over long periods.
Western medicine’s strength is in emergency medicine because of the immediacy and intensity of the treatment. A holistic treatment searches deeper for the many different causes that have contributed to the problem over time. Then a more long term and gentle treatment process is created which addresses these causes with balancing procedures that have far less likelihood of side effects. Both Western medicine and holistic medicine are great; it’s just a matter of knowing their strengths and weaknesses, then using the right form of healing for that individual at that time.
13) You offer tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle – including adhering to a daily routine, not eating after dark, and going to bed by 9pm every night. Can you tell us more? And why are all these so important?
- There are some fundamental rules that apply to lifestyle medicine, which is one of the most important yet overlooked tools in the treatment of chronic disease. There are lifestyle choices, such as what we do and how we feel throughout the day, which have the most influence upon our health. Then there are the cycles of nature, which influence our digestive processes, sleep rhythms and daily routine. Making choices that suit individual needs in balance with the natural cycles of the day are important for a healthy lifestyle. It is proven that the majority of people who live to be over 100 years old go to bed early, and get up early, following the rhythm of the day.
The cycles of nature influence our digestive processes, sleep rhythms and daily routine
14) Some of them (such as being in bed for 9pm!) are difficult to maintain (or even attempt!) as a traveller. What can we do to keep ourselves healthy the Ayurvedic way, bearing in mind that most of us reading this will often be on the move?
- In order to keep ourselves healthy while travelling in accordance with Ayurvedic principles, we must be aware of unbalancing forces coming toward us such as lots of movement, change, or late nights. These issues that can imbalance travellers mainly fall under the principle of the Vata dosha. There is a time and place for everything in moderation, as long as these factors aren’t excessively aggravated. If we aren’t able to balance these with lifestyle choices, the next option is with food and herbal medicine.
15) Is it really possible to use the fundamentals of Ayurveda as a lifestyle? If so, how rigidly do you stick to it? Do you ever indulge in a bucket of Sam Song? What’s a typical daily routine for you?
- Haha, although I have never tasted Sam Song, I am not a rigid crone that clings to one belief system. I am a flexitarian in both diet and life, allowing each new day to guide me in the most beneficial choices. Some days there may be benefit from enjoying a cocktail with friends or eating that unbalancing meal because connecting with family is more balancing and important for pleasure and happiness.
16) What kind of problems do you see from your clients time and time again? What can you treat, and how do you treat them? With therapies/herbs? Do you also use prayer/meditation as well as physical techniques and products?
- The most common problems I treat seem to be digestive problems and allergies.
I will treat these using a huge range of different modalities depending on the individuals needs. These range from lifestyle medicine and coaching, dietary and herbal guidance, manual movement therapies like massage, yoga, steam and exercise, vibrational medicine technology, and mental focus points that could be considered prayer or meditation.
In addition, Ayurveda has been treating illnesses like cancer, allergies, and heart disease for thousands of years. What we see today is an increase in these illnesses due to modern lifestyle influences like toxins and stress. Lifestyle is the most important factor in our health. It is how our bodies interact with and relate to our environment, and our choices can either support or weaken our body’s natural healing capability.
17) Tell us more about Ayurvedic products. There’ve been reports that they’ve not been tested in clinical trials, and that scientific evidence for the benefits has not been proven. I’ve also read about Rasa Shastra, which is the practice of adding metals, minerals or gems to herbs, and which may also be the source of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Is this true?
- There is a lot of controversy about Ayurvedic products around the world and there is just reason for this. The main concern is that there are more than a million different products and formulas that have been released over the thousands of years of practice. Although many of these have been through thousands of years of clinical trials, there are also many that haven’t and may be grounded in superstition. These should be avoided unless repeated use has shown its efficacy. Throughout the world there is an abundance of Ayurvedic medicines that have proven to be effective in modern clinical trials and the number of new trials is always increasing. There are certain medicines that contain metals, minerals and gems, which are some of the most potent and effective medicines in the Ayurvedic pharmacy. It is unfortunate that they have been the subject of the most controversy because the west sees some of these substances as poisonous. To truly understand this process we can see similarities in Western medicine where certain substances that are known to be poisons in certain doses are still used because at a lower dose they give effective results. The metals used in Ayurveda have also been through a form of processing that makes them less harmful to the individual and more likely to perform its purposeful function in the body. I am still yet to see even one clinic trial that shows a properly made bhasma that contains mercury, that, when correctly prescribed, produces high levels of mercury in a human. I have seen many clinical trials showing the effectiveness of these medicines with blood tests showing that the rise of metals is minimal and creates positive bodily function.
18) Finally, what might we expect from a session with you?
- The first thing I will perform is extensive listening and questioning that leads to a clear understanding of what makes you an individual and why your condition has arisen. I then do testing with your blood, iris or energy systems to back up my conclusions before beginning treatment. It is then through education and understanding of your condition and body type you gain more control, so I emphasise a lot education and empowerment. I would then prescribe a multitude of different treatment possibilities that are results driven and evidence based. Over time we would then work together to fine tune your treatment plan to make it realistic and achievable in your present lifestyle.
Further information about Ayurveda can be found on Kimmana’s website www.kimmana.com.
Interview by Karen Farini, Deputy Editor