Dr. Marc Halpern on the Healing Power of Ayurveda
Levitating Monkey: Having started your career as a Doctor of Chiropractic in 1987, what lead you to the field of Ayurvedic Medicine in 1991? Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): I went into Chiropractic as a part of
Levitating Monkey: Having started your career as a Doctor of Chiropractic in 1987, what lead you to the field of Ayurvedic Medicine in 1991?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): I went into Chiropractic as a part of my search to understand the cause of disease and suffering and how to end it. I came to learn that there were deeper causes of disease than the chiropractic subluxation. At first, I began to work with body energy as well as chiropractic to remove blockages in the flow of energy and help patients. While most of my patient made remarkable recoveries, I came upon one patient who, though he had recovered from a disabling back injury, left my office and between visits a week later, had a heart attack. I wondered how that could happen when he left my office with the energy flowing well through his spine and subtle body. As I reflected, I realized he had to keep coming in for maintenance every couple of weeks to restore the proper balance and flow. That was when I realized that something deeper was causing his energy to become disturbed. I wasn’t treating the cause of his suffering, just a more subtle symptom. Both the subluxation and the blocked energy were symptoms. I then started a journey to understand the cause. This journey led me to study several forms of alternative medicine including homeopathy, Chinese medicine, herbalism and something I’d never heard of before….. Ayurveda. When I began to study Ayurveda, I not only found all of the answers that I was looking for, the study of Ayurveda opened a door into my heart helping me to remember what I already knew intuitively. As I studied, I wasn’t really learning, I was remembering. I quickly came to realize that I would be spending the rest of my life in service to that knowledge. The cause of disease and suffering I came to realize was forgetting one’s own true nature as spirit, and with that, the interconnectedness of all creation. Once we forget, we become caught up in the drama of separation and the mind starts to move. This causes the inner wisdom to fail and we take actions that are out of harmony with nature. We begin to misuse our senses, over and under indulging in different behaviors. The end result is disease. Healing is the process of returning to harmony with nature, to oneness with creation. While the above story describes my intellectual journey, my journey into Ayurveda was also a personal journey to heal myself. I had been crippled in 1987, at the time of my graduation, by a Lyme related autoimmune disease. That illness started a 7 year journey to heal myself. It was through Ayurveda that I was able to rebuild my immune system and restore my health. The complete story is told in my book, Healing Your Life; Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda.
Levitating Monkey: What were the reasons for you to seek out Dr. David Frawley as a teacher in the field of the Vedic sciences?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): In 1991, after I completed my study of Ayurveda as a part of a post-graduate program I was in to become a specialist in Holistic Medicine, I wanted to know more. I began to inquire as to who was the best person to study Ayurveda with. There were only a few teachers of Ayurveda in the country at the time. The teachings of David Frawley resonated with me and I contacted him. His way of thinking and communicating closely matched the way my mind worked. I sold my Chiropractic practice and began to immerse myself full time in the study and practice of Ayurveda. At that time I did not know where my studies would lead. I simply knew that I had to immerse myself in this knowledge, both for my own healing and eventually to bring that knowledge to others.
Levitating Monkey: How did your studies with Dr. Frawley and several teachers from India , most notably Dr. Subhash Ranade lead you to realize that there needed to be a profession for Ayurvedic Medicine in the United States?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): After studying with Dr. Frawley for some time and beginning an Ayurvedic practice, Dr. Frawley introduced me to Dr. Subhash Ranade. Dr. Ranade had tremendous clinical experience and my interest was mainly on the clinical side. As a result, I began to sponsor him to come to America and he would stay at my home. Each time, he brought me classical texts to study from and we explored those texts.
My teachers and I had often lamented that it was a shame that there was no real profession for Ayurveda here in the United States. Ayurveda was such an important science and it was unfathomable to me that so few knew about it. One day, I was sitting in meditation when I had a vision. The vision was both auditory and visual. Two hands holding a lotus flower materialized before me. A voice spoke to me and told me that I was to build a profession for Ayurveda and that this would begin with a school to train practitioners. I was told it would lead to starting a National and State association for practitioners. Basically, I was instructed / inspired to build the infrastructure for the profession. When I told this to my teachers, they were very supportive and Dr. Frawley suggested that I begin with writing a curriculum. Everything began to unfold from there.
Levitating Monkey: As an Ayurveda practitioner for more than 20 years, what do you think about the future of Ayurveda in America?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): It’s been near quarter of a century since I first began to study and practice. During this time, I have watched Ayurveda grow in the West. Today, it is well known and highly respected within the alternative health community. Awareness has spread to the mainstream as well though there is still a long way to go before it reaches its full potential. The future is very exciting. There is no question that Ayurveda will continue to expand in awareness and influence. I have no doubt that it will become the predominant form of alternative medicine in the United States. Ayurveda is the only system of medicine that truly understands the cause of disease and works toward healing individuals physically, emotionally, and at the level of consciousness. It is the most important system of individualized medicine understanding that each person and each disease is completely unique, and as a result, each person’s path toward healing is also unique. I find that as the public learns about Ayurveda, a common reaction is ” I have been looking for a practitioner like this my whole life. It just makes sense”.
Levitating Monkey: As the head of California College of Ayurveda, what makes the Ayurvedic education you teach unique?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): Ayurveda is a remarkable body of knowledge that was written in the classical texts between 1500BC and 1500AD. I think one of the things that what has made the California College of Ayurveda so successful is our ability to organize this knowledge and communicate it in a manner that Western students can understand today. I think another component of what has made the college so successful is that everyone involved in running the college is driven by a mission and purpose to transform the health and well-being of society. Through Ayurveda we are working to transform consciousness. We are working to create a world where living in harmony is a priority. This mission drives us to produce the finest quality Ayurvedic education. This is the reason why we collaborate with UC David Medical School on research. This is the reason why we partner with Organic India to create a hands-on herbal medicine garden for students to learn in. This is the reason why the practitioners in our clinic see patients every day. This is why our teachers and staff come to work. Together, we create the California College of Ayurveda.
Levitating Monkey: I read a piece where you said that “…the most important qualities for a practitioner to possess are humility and compassion. Knowledge can be easily learned by anyone. Humility is the restraint of the ego. Humility leads to non-judgment. Non judgment leads to compassion. These traits allow knowledge to grow into wisdom and are the foundation of a true healer and teacher.” So true, but so hard to retain day to day…how do you keep this theme front and center while educating students?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): Humility and compassion are at the forefront of “creating sacred space” Sacred space is the space that is filled with the Divine. It is the space of love, and also the space in which healing occurs. And finally, it is the space in which true knowledge exists. How do we keep this front and center? Of course we talk about this intellectually but this too is limited. The real way we do this is by incorporating the sacred into everything we do, every day. Each class at the college begins with meditation and chanting. Each class ends with meditation and chanting. From the very first class, students are learning to practice aspects of Ayurveda on themselves. The exercises that students do are not only practical but are filled with self-reflection. Compassion toward oneself must be present to have compassion for others. The ego believes it is great, that it can do anything. Students quickly learn how difficult it is to change their own lifestyles, their own consciousness. This challenge brings humility. With proper support from their teachers, humility is cultivated into compassion. Once a person is humble and compassionate, sacred space becomes easy to create. The practitioner -patient relationship must exist within a sacred space. In this space, there is non-judgment and non attachment. The witness is present and the space is filled with compassion and love.
Levitating Monkey: How do yoga and ayurveda work together toward healing?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): Ayurveda is the healing side of Yoga. Yoga is the spiritual side of Ayurveda. The purpose of Ayurveda is to keep a person healthy so that they can do their spiritual work in this world. Our spiritual work is our journey back to wholeness, oneness. This is Yoga. I am not talking about the yoga of the yoga studio but the yoga of consciousness. Yoga is the journey of returning to the awareness of our true nature as spirit. It is the awareness of our interconnectedness with all existence and the realization that we are all one. The journey to knowing this is fraught with challenges. The ego, ignorant of this realization, take actions that are disharmonious. When this happens, we misuse our senses and cause disease and suffering. Ayurveda exists to take care of us, to nurture us. It exists to restore our strength so that we can continue our journey.
Yoga is not a healing tool. Healing however, happens as a side effect of Yoga. As we make progress on the yogic path we create more unity. As a result, we feel better physically and emotionally. The tools of Yoga such as meditation, asana and pranayama facilitate our personal transformation but they are also the tools of Ayurveda. They can be used to bring balance to the doshas. This is the nature of classical yoga therapy. Classical yoga therapy is the integration of Ayurveda and Yoga.
Levitating Monkey: How can people incorporate ayurveda into their daily lives? (Top 3 Tips)
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): There are so many ways I like to see people incorporate Ayurveda. Here are three simple tips.
- Create a healthy morning routine : Wake up each morning and have a cup of warm water with fresh squeezed lemon. Drink slowly. After this, take five minutes to sit on the toilet. Do this daily and eventually you will have the urge to go in the morning. This is part of a healthy rhythm with nature.
- Wake up early around the sunrise: This is in rhythm with the movement of the sun. A half hour or and hour before sunrise is even better for those with more of a pitta or kapha nature respectively. If you do this, you will be able to have a slower, more relaxed morning which you can then fill with nurturing practices such as meditation, yoga and self massage.
- Go to bed before 10:00: If you wake up early, this will be no problem. When people are in a pattern of going to be very late it is difficult to get up early so a person sleeps in. Naturally, this makes it difficult to go to bed early and the cycle perpetuates itself. So, start by waking up early even if it is difficult. After a few days, you will find that it will be easy to fall asleep early.
Levitating Monkey: Could you describe what an Ayurvedic practitioner learns from feeling a patient’s pulse?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): Taking the pulse is one of the iconic images of the practitioner of Ayurveda. An ayurvedic practitioner is able to feel the dance of the five elements and in doing so, come to understand the qualities of the patient’s constitution, and the nature of any imbalances that are present. This information is then combined with a results of the rest of the evaluation allowing the Ayurvedic practitioner to develop the most accurate treatment plan.
Levitating Monkey: As we gear up for Spring, what can we do to stay balanced and healthy?
Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva): During the spring, fluids begin to flow in the body and there is often more mucus, swelling and allergies. This is a time when the kapha dosha increases and often becomes aggravated. It is important during this time to eat more lightly and to make sure that digestion is optimal. Digestion is often improved as we increase the quantity of warm spices that are used in each meal. Some people like to do a spring cleanse. This is the best time of year to do a cleanse. It’s important to remember though that cleanses are not for everyone. If your body is weak or your mind is unstable, doing a cleanse is contraindicated. If you do a cleanse, it is very important to gradually return to a normal diet. Working with an Ayurvedic practitioner during your cleanse is strongly advised.
About Dr. Marc Halpern (Dr. Shiva):
Dr. Marc Halpern, D.C.,C.A.S.,P.K.S., (Ayurvedacharya) is one of the pioneers of Ayurveda in the West and is considered to be a preeminent practitioner and teacher of Ayurveda in the United States. He is one of the few Westerners ever recognized in both the United States and in India as an authority on the subject of Ayurveda Medicine and was awarded the All India Award for Best Ayurvedic Physician. A pillar in the development of the profession in the United States, he is the co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association for which he served as Chairman of the National Committee on Ayurvedic Education. He is also a co-founder of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine and the National Council on Ayurvedic Education. To learn more, visit his website.