5 Journaling Tips for the Spiritual Traveller

Do you keep a journal when you travel? How is this journal different to other journals you may keep? Have you always wanted to create a really meaningful travel journal but are not sure where to start? In this blog we explore some tips to help you get started or take your travel journal to the next level!

As best-selling author, filmmaker, and tour leader Phil Cousineau reminds us in his companion book to the Art of Pilgrimage, The Art of Travel: Journal, “by honoring our travel experiences through writing stories, poems, songs or creating sketches or other artwork, we can transform virtually all our travels, whether around the world or around our backyard, and make them more meaningful.”

Grab a copy of Phil’s inspirational book (more links at end), read our tips, and enjoy your travel journaling!

travel journal in Ireland
One of our participants sharing her beautiful journal on a sacred journey to Ireland with writer Phil Cousineau

Choose your materials carefully

There are myriad journals and intuitive apps out there aimed specifically at the traveller, but when you’re embarking upon a more meaningful travel experience your choice of journal needs to reflect the aims of your own sacred journey. There are some practical considerations, of course – ensure the journal is big enough to capture your thoughts but not so big that it doesn’t fit in your day bag or becomes too heavy to carry after a full day of sightseeing. Beyond this, think about how you will be capturing your experiences – a journal with plain paper rather than lined, for instance, will allow you to sketch as well as write. A journal that has some form of pocket will give you a place to keep items of interest that you may to want to use in some form of collage on your return home. Think about how the journal feels to you – are you excited to write in it? Does it bring you pleasure when you open it? And what will you write or draw with? A good quality ink pen is always more pleasurable to write with than a cheap ballpoint. If you plan to sketch in your journal as well as write, do you have a good quality pencil or drawing pen?

journaling in cliffs of moher
One of our participants journaling on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland! Hard to think of a more inspirational place for journal writing

Consciously set aside time for journal writing

Enthusiastically buying a beautiful new journal is one thing, actually filling it with your own thoughts and stories is quite another. Travelling can be exhilarating and also quite tiring, so ensure you make a conscious decision to set aside a little quiet time every day for journaling. It doesn’t have to rigidly be at the same time every day although 15-30 minutes before breakfast could well be the right formula for you. As you set your intentions for your sacred journey, take a moment to visualize using your journal on a daily basis as part of a more meaningful travel experience.

Think about where you write or draw best

Where do ideas come to you? Do you need to be alone so you can think aloud or do you prefer the stimulation of a busy coffee shop for inspiration? You will need to be flexible when travelling and won’t always have the ideal writing space, but if you think carefully about what you need in the moment, your body and mind will guide you towards the place you need to be to best write or draw that day.

sacred site machu picchu
Our group on a sacred journey to Peru. After experiencing the wonder of Machu Picchu, take a few moments with your journal to note down the details of this sacred site.

Notice the small details

On sacred sites tours the organizational details are all taken care of leaving you more time to fully engage with the travel experience and focus on other kinds of details. Use all your senses – notice what you see around you, what you smell, hear, touch, or taste, and notice how you feel at certain moments. If you have a few minutes of quiet time at a café or restaurant take the opportunity to really look around you – let the experience seep into you. At sacred sites, be fully in the moment and follow the wisdom teachings or meditations, and afterwards take a few quiet minutes for yourself to digest and soak everything up. This is when you can take out your journal and see what comes. Note down the concrete details such as the day, where you are, what the weather is like, etc., and then let your body do the rest – write about what’s around you, what’s happening or happened, or about how you’re feeling in this moment. Draw what you see or what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye. Notice the people you meet – their physical appearance and also their energy – the more intangible elements of their character. How did they make you feel? How did they affect others or the natural world around them? What about the language they’re speaking – how does it sound to your ears? And the foods you’re eating – what colours are on your plate? What flavours do you experience when eating a particular dish – do others have the same reaction?

guatemala market
Noticing the details on a sacred journey to Mexico and Guatemala

Let go of perfectionism

You may have the most beautiful travel journal in the world but that doesn’t mean everything that goes in it has to be perfect. Embrace the inherent imperfections in all creative pursuits and just go for it! You can edit anything your write or draw later – what’s important right now is simply to put pen to paper and express what’s in your mind. The act of writing (or drawing), in itself, is a way for you to process the many incredible sites you have seen and the emotional experiences you have lived through on your spiritual travel adventure. Stay curious and open to what flows out of you as you start journaling. Try not to judge anything you write or draw – simply enjoy the process!

As Phil Cousineau encourages us in The Art of Travel: Journal:

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
If not here, then where? How will you remember your travels?
As a blur or as a vision? As an unreal dream or as real as rain?

If you need any more encouragement remember what my first newspaper editor, Roger Turner, told me, ‘It ain’t real till it’s ink’.

Make it ink, make it real, make it now.

Write on.”

travel journal
Could this be the perfect travel journal? Spotted on the Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau. Thanks to participant Chris Franek for capturing this marvel! Will you be joining Phil for a travel and writing adventure soon?

We would love to hear about (or see) your travel journals! Do you have any more tips or tricks to share? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page, and happy journaling!

If this blog has inspired your creative juices and you’re looking for more journaling inspiration visit our website – most of our tours include time for journaling and creativity. Phil Cousineau also leads sacred sites tours and writers’ retreats for us – sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about his upcoming tours! For reading inspiration, try The Art of Pilgrimage or Stoking the Creative Fires. Phil also wrote an introduction for Jim Currie’s The Mindful Traveler: A Guide to Journaling and Transformative Travel. A great read! If you’re looking for paper journals, the Moleskin range offers lots of good options, Muji has some simple, well-crafted pieces, and your local, independent bookstore is sure to have some great items. If you’re looking for an App to keep more concrete details in check, a good one to try out is Day One Journal.


~ Sacred Earth Journeys

The Mysteries of Palenque & Tikal

Have you ever wondered how telluric energy is captured or why some sacred sites are considered more important than others? In this blog, best-selling author and leading researcher of ancient knowledge, Freddy Silva discusses the sites of Palenque, Mexico and Tikal, Guatemala and why they still hold so much transformative power today.

This blog interview is the second in our mini-series exploring these two sacred sites. In our last blog feature Maya Master Teacher Miguel Angel Vergara shared wisdom about both Palenque and Tikal. You can visit these two sites with Miguel Angel and Freddy in January 2017 as they lead the journey, “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”.

Palenque Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico

Sacred Earth Journeys: Palenque is the home of many of the Classic Maya teachers. Can you give us some details and talk about the importance of one of these teachers: Pakal?

Freddy Silva: The 7th century ruler Pakal is my particular favourite because so much exists of his story here, specifically the lid of his sarcophagus which reveals much about the secrets of initiation once practiced in specific temples at Palenque. To have been considered a truly great ruler one had to have experienced the Otherworld whilst alive, and taught others such Mysteries of enlightenment through methods similar to shamanism. Palenque drew people here on a personal quest to become better humans in their lifetime, whether laypeople or royalty, and part of the site was used for discovering the “great inner human”. And you can tell by the aura that remains.

Pakal Maya Ruler
K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/A. Stromnitsky)

SEJ: What are some of the other reasons that Palenque is such an important Maya site?

FS: As one of the best preserved temple cities it offers a glimpse of how ancient cultures replicated the elements of nature and the heavens within the blueprint of the buildings, if not the entire site. It is a cosmological city where people come to seek their connection (or lack of) to the bigger picture, and in doing so discover their place in this life. It is a place that acts as a mirror of the stars and the self. And since it largely escaped the atrocities that taint many of the sites to the north, the original intent is still palpable. That’s a rare thing in these days of mass tourism. The fact that it also takes a considerable effort to reach means that it exists for those who are on a deeper quest to further their inner potential, to become “as a god, as a bright star”.

Palenque in Mexico jungle
Palenque surrounded by pristine jungle

SEJ: Can you explain Tikal’s role in capturing telluric energy, and how this process works?

FS: From my research into the world’s sacred sites, there exists a spiritual technology that is hard-wired into the structures, and the blueprint is pretty consistent around the globe. Before each structure was built, certain masters of the spiritual arts (known as augurs in Greece) would go to the site and locate hotspots of energy. Or they would draw such energy to the site; I hope to teach our group how to do this next January. The design of the buildings would then anchor and amplify that telluric force, and anyone who interacted with it would get a good zap up the spine and give their body’s electrical system a boost. This was done for healing, ritual, and out of body travelling. The pyramid structure is very useful for this because its terraces and angles help conduct this natural current towards the top, where exists a meeting place between the seen and unseen, and the umbilical cords linking the two are the serpents carved on the staircases.

Tikal in Guatemala
The sacred site of Tikal, Guatemala

SEJ: What do we know about Tikal’s purpose, and what activities took place here?

FS: Tikal is one of the earliest “navel” places, linked as it is by a perfect isosceles triangle with Palenque and Copan. These temple cities would have formed a triad of teaching centres. Collect all three and you earn a degree in complete Mysteries teachings, so to speak! A similar concept was at play in Egypt. Tikal’s role was primarily in using the telluric forces anchored here to elevate the individual to hear the inner voice, or an instruction from the gods, if you prefer. It’s not by accident that one of its earliest names is Place of the Hidden Voices. Thus, much of the site deals with connecting the individual to the subtlety of nature, the intangible, the Force: hence why it was subconsciously used in the early Star Wars saga. Funny how this power still exists, in its original state, that it can permeate modern culture.

Freddy Silva tour leader Mexico
Best-selling author Freddy Silva sharing ancient Mysteries with our group in Mexico

SEJ: What are you personally most looking forward to about visiting Tikal?

FS: It’s a bit of a homecoming for me. So much of what I do is teach people about the ancient Mysteries, and that requires a lot of mental activity. Tikal is a timely reminder to shut up and hear the cosmos, to see the unseen and be reminded of that greatness that lives inside us and that we often neglect due to the demands of modern society. This is your chance to forget and plug in. Enjoy the ride!


To experience the power of Tikal and Palenque for yourself register now for our 2017 journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”. Read full itinerary details and more information about these 2 sacred sites on our website.

~Sacred Earth Journeys

Discover the Secrets of Palenque & Tikal

Palenque in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala are two of the most important Mayan sacred sites. Here, Maya Master Teacher and wisdom keeper Miguel Angel Vergara explains the significance of each site, its importance for the Maya, and what we, as seekers, can experience there today. Miguel Angel, with best-selling author Freddy Silva, will be leading a transformative journey to Mexico and Guatemala in early 2017, travelling to both these sacred sites as well as other key power places. Will you join them?

Palenque in Mexico
Miguel Angel at the sacred site of Palenque, Mexico

Sacred Earth Journeys: Palenque is the home of many of the Classic Maya teachers. Can you give us some details and talk about the importance of two of these teachers: Kinich Hanab Pakal and Lady Zac Kuuk?

Miguel Angel: Palenque was connected at a high level with the Royal Art, and in my understanding this was because one of the great teachers was born there, Pakal Votan. At the same time, you find the Sacred Feminine there with Lady Zac Kuuk, bringing us the idea that at that time Palenque was a place that called to it the Ancient Teachers with the Wisdom of the Stars to apply the Royal Art. There were other teachers: there was a dynasty of kings that was discovered by the scholars and you can find that information in the book Forest of Kings written by Linda Schele and David Freidel. From a scholar’s point of view there were many of these Royal people who learned in Palenque how to transmit the Sacred Wisdom through Art, the Royal Art.

Nah Chan Kan, which is the original name of Palenque, means “The Place of the Stellar Serpent”. This symbol is the key to understanding that these people received their initiation in the Cosmic Wisdom. So, it is my understanding that Palenque was connected with this Royalty of Priests and Priestesses, in this case, Pakal Votan as an avatar, a messenger who brought wisdom to the Maya and, on the other hand, Lady Zac Kuuk who brought through the Priestesses the connection with Mother Nature.

Palenque travel
A few of our journey participants at Palenque

SEJ: What are some of the other reasons that Palenque is such an important Maya site?

Miguel Angel: One reason Palenque was so important is because it was ruled by Pakal Votan and Lady Zac Kuuk, in partnership, bringing balance. This attracted many people to Palenque.

Palenque was an important centre for many other Maya sites. We have one of them on our upcoming journey, one of the most beautiful, Yaxchilan. Yaxchilan was the place where the Maya women, the Priestesses, became Prophets. The Maya women were the ones who travelled into Space to bring back the Maya Prophecies. There are many other sites in the area that looked to Palenque as the Cosmic University of the Royal Art. Today hundreds of them are being found in the area. Remember there were big universities, like Palenque, that were supported by many surrounding schools.

Yaxchilan in Mexico
The site of Yaxchilan where Maya women became Prophets

SEJ: Can you explain Tikal’s role in capturing telluric energy, and how this process works?

MA: Tikal is a place that has important characteristics in its pyramids. You can see the 9 levels in these pyramids, symbolically representing the Mother. The structure of the pyramids in Tikal looks like acupuncture needles that are receiving the Cosmic energy from the headdress in stone and then grounding it in the Earth. Especially in that area of Guatemala we see still today the Elders and Shamans practicing their ceremonies, connecting the two energies, burning the copal in the ground. This is a very important symbol showing us that they considered the Heart of the Earth to be connected to grounding the energies that came from the Cosmos. It is telling us that we receive from the Cosmos and we ground it here in Tikal.

Tikal means “The Place of the Hidden Voices”. Another of the terms of Tikal, connected with a spiritual meaning, is “This is the Place of the Twenty” which means this is the place of the Halach Uinik, the place of the truly-true man or woman who came here to ground the Cosmic energy into Mother Nature.

Tikal in Guatemala
The tops of the Tikal pyramids that resemble acupuncture needles to receive Cosmic energy

SEJ: What do we know about Tikal’s purpose, and what activities took place here?

MA: Many of these places have a connection to not only to ground the Cosmic energies but to ground in terms of sending it to the heart. It is a process: in the pyramids there are chambers that are dedicated to different levels of Priests or Priestesses where they received the messages before they ground them. It is like they are at the top of the pyramid, in meditation, and received the Cosmic energy, wrote the messages in their books, their codecies, interpreted it and shared it with the people, and then grounded it. It is like a sequence, you receive, keep, transmit, then send it to the Mother. It is like an interpretation of the Cosmic energies, transmuted or transformed into wisdom and released to fulfill the electromagnetic connection with the Mother. The Priests and Priestesses were trained to open their chakras to receive this wisdom. Remember Tikal has the tallest pyramid in the Maya world open to other dimension or levels in time and space. The highest pyramids of the Maya are connected with that Cosmic energy. At Tikal they were reaching to the Cosmos.

sacred site of Tikal
One of Tikal’s pyramids and plazas – are you ready to receive the messages here?

SEJ: What are you personally most looking forward to about visiting Tikal?

MA: For me, I have received a lot of connections in the Main Plaza of Tikal. I feel there are still secrets open there for the ones who want to listen, want to engage in that connection with the Ancient Ones. I feel the Spirit of the Ancient Ones in the Main Plaza between the pyramid of the Lord Cacao and the pyramid of the Sacred Feminine. For me this is the perfect balance in the Cosmos. So I think for me the main message would be that we are going to go to Tikal and hear the voices of the Ancient Ones who are giving us new messages for today.


To experience the power of Tikal and Palenque for yourself register now for our 2017 journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”. Read full itinerary details and more information about these 2 sacred sites on our website.

~Sacred Earth Journeys

3 Ways Ayurveda Can Transform Your Life

Ayurveda, a system of medicine developed in India more than 5000 years ago, can have an enormous impact on your overall health and sense of well-being. Here we look at 3 ways Ayurvedic principles can transform your life for the better.

Ayurveda ceremony in India
A ceremony at Vaidyagrama, an Ayurvedic healing village in Coimbatore, India

Discover a sense of true balance

In Ayurveda there is an emphasis on balancing the three interdependent mechanisms known as doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. When there is imbalance disease can prevail. In our busy lives it is easy to lose our connection to what our bodies are really craving and opt for foods and lifestyle choices that throw our bodies and minds even further out of balance. Working with an Ayurveda practitioner is the best way to determine where an imbalance lies and how to bring harmony back, but we can also help ourselves by bringing consciousness to what we are feeling in any given moment. Instead of reaching for that candy bar for an energy boost or checking Facebook on your phone, stop, breathe, and hear what your body is truly craving – trust that you will know and then act on what you need, be it a warming vegetable soup, a vibrant green salad, or simply 15 minutes of total rest.

Ayurveda consultation
Ayurveda practitioner Vaidya Madhu working with a patient in Nepal

Trust your experiences & gain control of your own healing

In Ayurveda the practitioner and patient work together in an active partnership to understand the root causes of symptoms, with the practitioner fully respecting the patient’s individual experiences. This can be a welcome change to the predominately one-size-fits-all approach taken in much Western medicine. Even if you’re not lucky enough to currently be working with an Ayurveda practitioner, you can borrow this principle and start fully trusting your own experiences. Do you always experience a headache after eating certain foods or being in certain social situations? Do you often feel angry or irritable in cold weather but your partner seems energized by it? Your experience is unique to you and the steps you need to take to create balance in your body will be different to everyone else’s. That OTC painkiller might market itself as good for everyone, but to achieve optimum health for you, you need a more tailored approach, which starts with listening to and trusting your own experiences.

Ayurvedic medicine
Ayurvedic plant medicine

Honour the work of your body & mind

The Newari people of Nepal practice a 45-day post-partum regimen to restore a woman’s vital energy after the work of giving birth and during Panchakarma programs at the Vaidyagrama Ayurveda Healing Village in India patients are asked to take a break from treatment during menstruation in favour of full rest. In North American, it can be hard for women to take the time they need to fully recover from childbirth or take adequate rest during other times when their bodies are working extra hard such as menstruation or peri-menopause. Cultural expectations often contradict what a woman’s body is telling her, which can result in a loss of vital energy and distressing symptoms. Even if you are not be able to take all the time your body needs, you can still choose to honour the work your mind and body are doing during these key moments by resting as fully as you can. You have the power, for instance, to turn down social engagements and skip your regular gym workout for 2-3 days during your period while you rest and eat nourishing foods.

Ayurveda gardens
The lush healing gardens at Vaidyagrama, India

By listening to and trusting your own body and unique experiences you are already moving closer to a healthier state. When you provide your whole self with what it really needs you will experience an increased sense of well-being and a decrease in physical, emotional, and mental suffering. The very best way to understand sources of imbalance and develop an enduring respect for nature’s rhythms and cycles is to work with an Ayurveda practitioner.

In 2016-2017 we have two transformative Ayurveda retreats on offer led by experienced and gifted Ayurveda practitioners. The Ayurveda Health & Healing Retreat in India focuses on Panchakarma (PK) Healing Programs for Your Optimum Physical & Spiritual Health. On this retreat you will travel with Jaisri M. Lambert to the Vaidyagrama Healing Village for personalized programs with a team of Ayurveda specialists. Or you can travel to Nepal with Todd Caldecott and special guest Vaidya Madhu for an Ayurveda Immersion Program in the richly biodiverse Kathmandu Valley. Visit our website or contact us to find out which program is right for you!

For more information about Ayurveda you can read our feature-length interview with Todd Caldecott, or bring your own questions to ask him in person in Nepal!


~ Sacred Earth Journeys


The Art & Science of Ayurveda: An Interview with Todd Caldecott

In this blog interview, Todd Caldecott, clinical herbalist, Ayurveda practitioner, and author of the book Food As Medicine, explains exactly what Ayurveda is and why it is vital for our health now and for future generations. He also shares a delicious summertime Ayurveda recipe at the end of the interview for you to try at home! In February 2017 Todd will be leading the “Ayurveda in Nepal Immersion Program” – an amazing experiential adventure into the art and science of Ayurveda in the wonderfully biodiverse Himalayan region of Nepal. Full details on our website.

SEJ: What is Ayurveda and why is knowledge of Ayurveda important for our health and well-being?

Todd Caldecott: Ayurveda is an ancient system of healing that developed in India more than 5000 years ago, and is the oldest continuously practiced system of medicine in the world. Unlike most systems of traditional medicine that rely on a set of folk practices, Ayurveda is a highly sophisticated medical system. It maintains a rigorous approach that includes several branches of practice that correspond to similar disciplines in Western medicine, including internal medicine, surgery, and obstetrics. Ayurveda also includes aspects which are for the most part unknown or poorly developed in modern medicine, such as rasayana chikitsa tantra, a form of preventative medicine that includes anti-aging and longevity enhancement.

Ayurveda is also different from Western medicine in that it uses an entirely different system of logic to understand health and disease, based not on quantitative distinctions such as the acquisition of data, but on qualitative impressions that are experienced subjectively. This is to say, when it comes to understanding the manifestation of health and disease, Ayurveda is concerned with the individual experience and reality of the patient, and not objective determinants like blood tests that are measured against a statistical average. While I don’t think that any physician of Ayurveda today, including myself, would ever ignore a patient’s lab work, most would probably never need to see it in order to develop an effective therapeutic strategy. According to the theory and practice of Ayurveda, all we need to understand the basis of disease is to discern the relative balance of three homeostatic mechanisms called tridosha. Although it sounds simple, and it is, it’s also very detailed, and it takes a great deal of experience to become a skilled practitioner of Ayurveda. After 20 years, I feel like I am just starting!

Ayurveda consultation
An Ayurveda consultation

Unlike the practice of Western medicine, which is the purview of experts that have spent years and huge sums of money to acquire their knowledge, there is a natural continuum between the practitioner of Ayurveda and the patient. Not just because the patient is an active co-participant in the therapeutic relationship, but because both practitioner and patient must yield to the same universal principle of life, and the natural way of things. What is called dharma by Hindus and Buddhists, in Ayurveda refers to the natural rhythms and cycles of life. From the rising and setting of the sun, to the passing of the seasons, from the creation of life, its fruition, and eventual demise, Ayurveda is concerned with our proper alignment to this dharma. Not just the domain of experts, Ayurveda is a subject which concerns everyone because it is an expression of our relationship with everything. Thus Ayurveda exists as a continuum from a highly skilled practitioner to the experienced hand of a grandma. The cultivation of Ayurveda is to remove impediments caused by a failure to perceive the natural way of life. […] In Ayurveda, all life is interconnected. I believe that our future survival on this planet necessitates a deeper awareness and appreciation for the delicate web of life. In Ayurveda we have a system of medicine and health care that is exactly that.

SEJ: What are doshas and what is their relationship to our overall health?

TC: As I mentioned earlier, the three doshas can be viewed as three interdependent mechanisms that function to maintain homeostatic balance in the body. Thus when any one of the three doshas becomes imbalanced, the body’s regulatory systems become dysfunctional, disorder prevails, and disease takes hold. But the doshas aren’t physical objects that can be measured: they are not some mysterious “fluid” or “gas” that has evaded Western physiologists. Trying to relate the concept of dosha to a material consideration is a mistake. Remember, Ayurveda isn’t concerned with absolutes – it seeks to understand the relative balance between things. A dosha is thus a pattern of interaction comprised of many different cellular and molecular aspects of physiology, none of which specifically relates to a given dosha, but function collectively to yield certain patterns, promoting distinct subjective changes that can be identified on the basis of their qualitative impact.

In Ayurveda there are three doshas called vata (flatus), pitta (bile), and kapha (phlegm). I hesitate to use their translated terms, just to save you from thinking that this is the literal definition, because while they can refer to these eliminatory products, they also mean so much more. For example, let’s talk about vata, which is the most important dosha. Vata literally means “to move”, and relates to the active, motive force of mind and body, and when it increases, it promotes the qualities of dry, light, and cold, experienced by the mind and body in both subtle and obvious ways. Other qualities expressed by vata include restlessness, emptiness, brittleness, and harshness.

Ayurveda medicines
Ayurveda medicines

If you are familiar with yoga, you may have heard a term called “prana”, used to refer to the life force of the body. In Ayurveda, vata is quite simply prana in a disturbed state. Thus when vata prevails there is a state of dysregulation that impedes all the qualities of life and nourishment, allowing for decay and degeneration to set in, increasing the dry, light, and cold qualities of vata. When vata is increased, the body, organs, and tissues become dry and empty, and begin to atrophy and diminish. Exhausted tissues and organs lose their tone, become weak, and start to fall with gravity. With the motive force of prana in a state of dysregulation, digestion becomes erratic, circulation is impaired, the body becomes cold, and the immune system starts to fall apart. In this way, vata represents the end-stage of a condition, the latter stage of life, and ego-dissolution. If you’re at all familiar with the Hindu concept of the Trimurti, of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, vata is represented by the latter. It is for this reason that Shiva is called the Great Yogi, his body besmeared with the ashes of the funeral pyre, meditating on the subject of death.

When we experience the qualities of vata, i.e. we feel too dry, too light, too cold, too restless, too stiff, too painful, too obstructed, and devoid of energy, we get a sense of this degenerative process. Obviously, the chronicity and severity of these various symptoms has a major impact on the success of any line of treatment, and so Ayurveda tells us to turn our attention to these qualities whenever they arise, learning how to keep them in check and restore homeostasis by applying the theory of tridosha. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

If the qualities of vata are increased, the corresponding opposite qualities are applied, such as countering dryness with moisture, lightness with heaviness, coldness with heat, restlessness with stability, etc. Practically speaking, this would inform a major change in diet and lifestyle habits, one that empirically generates an experience that opposes the imbalanced vata qualities. For example, warm oil massages, steam baths, the consumption of meat soups, and a regular routine are all useful ways to reduce vata. The beauty of this approach is that it uses the language of experience, not technology, to connect us to a solution. The practice of Ayurveda is expressed in a non-technical language that is easy to understand. Difficulties between the practitioner and patient are resolved because they speak a common language – the language of experience and feeling.

Ayurveda treatments
Preparing Ayurveda treatments

In this way, Ayurveda uses both halves of our brain. It is highly structured and analytical, and so accesses the rational left brain that is utilized exclusively by modern science. But it also uses the feeling/kinesthetic right brain to serve up connections not with numbers but with poetry and metaphor. It is said that there is an art to the practice of medicine, and it is a true statement for very good reason. Medicine exists to alleviate suffering, which itself is a subjective feeling, not an objective determinant. With the exception of a tiny minority of autistic people, none of us experiences life as a rational experience. We perhaps like to think we do, but of course we are just fooling ourselves. Consciously or not, we are totally caught up, “drunk” in the sensory experience of life. From the food we eat to our intimate relations, we are completely and utterly caught up in the feelings of life. It is why we live, and if anything, it is feeling that tells us who we are, connecting the mind and body as a poetic expression of life. Thus in the language of the three doshas, we have a way to explain and understand the totality of our experience.

SEJ: Why did you choose Nepal for this program?

TC: I have been studying Ayurveda for more than 20 years, and during this time, have spent time with many different teachers, in both India and North America. What has become clear to me is that there is a vast difference between the authentic tradition of Ayurveda and the system of college-trained physicians that comprises much of what is now called modern Ayurveda. For more than 5000 years Ayurveda has been practiced in India, passed down from teacher to disciple in an unbroken chain of knowledge and experience. The style and content of this traditional education, however, is very different from that obtained in a government-approved college, and time and again I have witnessed the practical differences between traditionally-trained and college-trained physicians. Of particular note is the Buddhist Bajracharya medical lineage of the Kathmandu Valley, which is now one of the oldest continuously practiced lineages of Ayurveda in the world, represented by the life and work of the late Vaidya Mana Bajracharya, and that of his son, Vaidya Madhu Bajra Bajracharya. Vaidya Mana and his son are hereditary Buddhist Vajrayana priests within the Newar community that have inhabited the Kathmandu Valley since before recorded history.

Todd Caldecott and Vaidya Madhu
Ayurveda practitioners Todd Caldecott & Vaidya Madhu

I first came into contact with this 800-year-old medical tradition through my colleague, Alan Tillotson, a practitioner for whom I have had a great deal of respect for many years. Alan met Vaidya Mana in Nepal during the early 1970s, when he was travelling and had taken quite ill, and ended up being restored to health by Dr. Mana. This was the beginning of a relationship that continued until Vaidya Mana’s death in 2001. Just before his death, Alan asked me to help him with the translation and editing of Dr. Mana’s work, a library that comprised over 45 separate treatises on medicine. In 2009 I travelled to Nepal to work with Vaidya Madhu, and we published the first book as Ayurveda in Nepal. During this time, I have also drawn upon the Bajracharya medical tradition in my own clinical practice, and for a decade now have had traditional medications prepared at Vaidya Madhu’s clinic couriered from Nepal to individual patients all over the world. Typically, I reserve such medications for very difficult or severe cases, and am continually impressed with their efficacy, and am both grateful and deeply appreciative of the great skill and knowledge it takes to prepare them correctly.

Ayurveda in Nepal
Ayurveda in Nepal

As venerable and ancient as this tradition is, it risks being eclipsed by the same factors found all over the world that are similarly leading to a loss of traditional knowledge. I chose Nepal for this program, not just for the majesty of the Himalayas, nor the interesting diversity of its culture, but because I believe that this medical tradition is important to the future survival of the human race. Having an intimate experience of its power, I want to share this knowledge so we can preserve these ancient practices before they are lost forever. My eventual goal is to establish an international research centre in Nepal, to help train locals on the sustainable use of medicinal plants and traditional healing methods, and fulfill Vaidya Mana’s dream to protect the future of Ayurveda in Nepal.

SEJ: On this journey, participants will have an opportunity to meet with Dr. Sarita Shreshta, Nepal’s first Ayurvedic OB/GYN – what approach does an Ayurvedic OB/GYN take, and what can women, in general, take away from this approach?

TC: I know that apart from Dr Shreshta’s knowledge and training in Ayurveda, she grew up in a traditional Newari community in the Kathmandu Valley that has maintained traditional methods for pre- and post-partum care for hundreds of years. In particular, the Newari people practice a 45 day post-partum regimen, during which time the mother is prescribed special foods and medications, receives regular massage therapy, and is kept protected and away from everyone except her family until her vital energy is restored. Such practices reflect the huge burden of pregnancy and childbirth, and the toll it can take on a woman’s health. The practices advocated and used by Dr Shrestha represent the proper respect and honour that is commensurate with the miracle of birth, the sacrifice of motherhood, and the creation of family. As they say down south for very good reason, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Dr. Sarita Shreshta
Dr. Sarita Shreshta, Nepal’s first Ayurvedic OB/GYN (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Josh Greene)

SEJ: Do you have a favourite summer-time Ayurveda recipe you can share with us?

TC: Lassi is a favourite food of India, prepared from fresh yogurt, often mixed with various herbs and spices. Here in Vancouver, summer brings an increase in the qualities of hot, light, and dry, and this in turn increases both pitta and vata. While yogurt is generally good for vata, it is normally contraindicated in pitta conditions because sour-tasting foods increase pitta. But if you follow my recommendations below, with a couple of modifications we can turn it into a pleasant, cooling beverage that can be consumed to reduce heat and dryness. This beverage in various forms is particularly common in the northwest of India, into Afghanistan and Iran:

  • 1 cup fresh yogurt
  • 3 cups cool water
  • 2 tablespoons powdered jaggery
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink salt
  • 1 cup fresh rose petals, or 1/2 tsp rose water
  • 1 cup chopped mint

Let’s start with the fresh yogurt. Because the milk of the Holstein-Friesen cows that comprise 99% of the dairy industry herd contains a type of casein protein that is antigenic, I suggest using only Jersey, Guernsey, sheep or goat milk. Note as well that I suggest using “fresh” yogurt. Most yogurt found in stores is “old” yogurt, and is already quite sour and dry, whereas fresh yogurt is a thick liquid with a very mild sour taste. You can easily make your own yogurt by inoculating cooled, home-pasteurized milk with commercial yogurt, and letting it ferment for 2-3 hours at 110˚F/43˚C. After this, let it gradually cool to room temperature over the next 8 hours before refrigerating for storage.

Ok, got your yogurt now? Take this and blend it up with cool water, a little pink salt, and two tablespoons of jaggery or goor. The latter refers to a solidified cane juice product easily available in your local Indian grocery store. If you can’t find it, you can use muscovado, sucanat, or rapadura sugar. Blend well, and then add in a handful of fresh fragrant rose petals and a handful of chopped mint. If you can’t find rose petals, you can use 1/2 tsp of rose water. Blend for several minutes, strain well, and serve in a small glass. This is meant to be sipped slowly in the late afternoon, particularly when it seems too hot to eat much else.

Feel free to adjust the ingredients as desired. This is an example of a “sweet” lassi, but there are also “salt” lassis that are made with herbs such as cumin seed, coriander seed, ajwain, black pepper, and hing (asafetida), roasted in a pan and ground into a powder, before being blended with diluted fresh yogurt, pink salt, and one cup chopped fresh cilantro. Strained well and served at room temperature, this is a good remedy if your appetite and digestion becomes too weak.

If this interview has wetted your appetite for Ayurveda, visit the Sacred Earth Journeys website for full details of Todd’s Ayurveda in Nepal Immersion Program”, February 5-18, 2007.

~ Sacred Earth Journeys