Ayurveda’s Nuanced Approach Supports Women’s Health: Adena Rose

Adena Rose, is a US-based Ayurvedic practitioner, focusing on women’s health and womb healing. “My passion is sharing Ayurveda to women for womb health, and sharing some of this ‘new’ key language, because Ayurveda offers a picture of the body that has more nuance, more details, and also more places and opportunity for healing and taking care of ourselves. I like to say the nuance allows for more of those ‘in-between places’ to shine through, the place that a western model doesn’t excel at supporting healing.”

Seeing herself as an enabler, taking Ayurvedic wisdom to people from across the world, Adena runs The Women’s School teaching natural healing for reproductive health, Ayurvedic diets and more. In this interview with the Center for Soft Power, Adena shares her story and practice of Ayurveda.

How did you learn about Ayurveda and what made you practice it professionally?

My family was, and is, of relatively humble means, and I was the first woman to graduate from college/university in my immediate family.  Near the end of university, I was exposed to yoga. The practices and the philosophy changed my life; my mood, my perspective, my relationship with spirituality, and how to take care of my body.  Through pursuing this practice more actively, I heard the word Ayurveda in relation to ‘food as medicine.’

I came across a story in an old Yoga Journal Magazine expounding upon how the food we eat affects our consciousness. Within the story, a forest dwelling holy man visited and feasted with a King, and ended up committing theft after the meal with him. When he returned home, and after letting the rich meal pass through his system, his regular, ‘sattvic’ or pious consciousness returned, and he was appalled at what he had done. He ran back to the King begging for forgiveness, and returning what was stolen. When he had asked about what was in the food he was served, he found that the ingredients came from a specific region where the merchants are particularly greedy. As he was very pure, his consciousness was affected by the mind of those who grew, harvested and sold and prepared his food. This blew my mind! Food, and healthy eating and cooking had always been something dear to me, and I understood the concept of ‘you are what you eat.’  But I had not considered food on the level of psychology, at least in a conscious way.

I just knew in my heart this was going to open up a whole new world to me, and that it was a key piece to healing on a personal as well as global level. I was immediately drawn to learning more about Ayurveda. At that time there were a few schools offering introductory courses and training in Ayurveda in the US, and I applied to the one closest to me, that I felt I could afford to complete. At that time, it was just a year-long intensive.

What is your approach towards healing?

My approach towards healing, within myself and others, is that it’s truly about shifting your focus on making healing practices easeful and part of your day-to-day life. Learn to listen and bravely act out the needs for bettering yourself and your body. This is a lot harder than it sounds, it takes looking at your life, your society, job, culture and questioning...everything. Why am I doing this? Is this serving me? What can I change? And encouraging women to come into their inner authority.  I am really reminding myself and others of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This is such a commonly known prayer, yet the truth in practicing it is very deep and complex.

Some of the practices I commonly teach and use are solidly from Ayurveda, and others are working within the perfectly powerful framework of the basic principles of Ayurveda, yet the medicines can be from different cultures, backgrounds, or literally places on Earth.

What made you focus on women’s wellness in particular and how can Ayurvedic-diet contribute towards it?

Honestly, I focus on women’s health, because I am in a woman’s body, and that’s the ‘playground’ in which I get to truly experiment on.  I know it well, I can learn it well, because I am living it. When I began to practice yoga, I had been on hormonal birth control for about 6 years. I realized that if I truly wanted to be healthy, naturally, I needed to be off this medication which controls the literally creative/life force in a woman’s body. How was I to know my true state of well-being in my body if it was under such oppression? And going off of this medication allowed deeper imbalances to show themselves, like severe menstrual pain and inflammation and irregularity of my cycles. And also, showed me what I really had to work with!

A woman’s womb health/reproductive health is a barometer for her overall health. Menstruation is another vital sign that reflects the state of our inner landscape. How our hormones are working, the state of our tissues, how we are receiving and assimilating nourishment, or not. this, of course, is western language, and Ayurveda has its own, perfectly complete way of understanding anatomy and physiology, though it is not the language most women are familiar with at first.

When I work with women, I bring in tools from all angles, depending on what I feel is the most relevant for the person in front of me. I certainly talk about food as medicine, but I focus on hands-on tools for ritual, and more mental/emotional healing, or the same tools in a different way for healing yeast infections, for example.

Sometimes (rarely) I’ll say something as straightforward as “cut out all dairy,” for example, with a long-standing skin issue like psoriasis or eczema.  Other times (often) I will discuss flower essences as story medicine positive affirmations, and educate women how to yoni steam. And alternatively many women have other rigid dogmas around food, which we may explore and soften when appropriate.

A regular pattern I see is women who are strict vegans, yet who have scant or even completely absent menstrual cycles, and infertility due to this depletion.  For one, an Ayurvedic diet is NOT necessarily even a vegetarian diet, and certainly not vegan.  It can be a big shift to start thinking about the quality and qualities of food, and away from this is ‘good’ or this is ‘bad’ belief systems.  This is one of my whole reasons for creating my online course, The Healing Diet.  It’s the course I wish I had found when I wanted to first study Ayurveda and food as medicine - I lay out the basic framework of Ayurveda, for learning (and unlearning) the basics of how to choose what to eat from looking at your body, your state of balance and imbalance, your digestive capacity, all based on Ayurvedic principles. Not dogma, or rigid principles, but how to SEE what is working in YOUR PERSONAL experiment with Ayurveda.

How does the practice of herbalism and Ayurveda come together?

Ayurveda includes herbalism, and herbalism can incorporate Ayurvedic understanding.  Herbalism, the use of herbs as medicine, is a very broad term.  Herbalism is often practiced in an allopathic way - in my meaning, that it’s a ‘this for that’ approach.  Ayurveda could be used that way as well, but it would be ‘incorrect.’ Within Ayurveda, the idea is to uproot the cause, and to see symptoms as signposts as to what is the cause of disease, and to utilize herbs and food to take away the cause, and bring balance. This is a subtle yet important difference, that I still feel like I am deconditioning myself to be aware of!

Food changes and herbs can be used in place of, or in addition to, pharmaceutical drugs to heal common maladies related to the way we are living our modern lives, but this is not the way it works best. Traditional herbal preparations and formulas are super effective and powerful yet they are not really meant to be used long term, perhaps that is not sustainable. It is certainly not ideal or sustainable for us in the US, as we have to ship most of those from India.  They work best, and ideally, as a strong medicine to help uproot the cause of imbalance, while one works with truly changing their diet and habits.

This is SO hard, and it is probably why Ayurveda is not super popular. I have clients who have said to me “Ayurveda is SO easy! Why doesn’t everyone do this?” And I remind them, Ayurveda is not easy, it is simple.  It is simple food, wholesome habits, simple self-care practices. Yet, making these changes is NOT easy! We have societal and cultural pressure, family expectations, personal pressure, and strong mental addictions. It’s not impossible to make changes, but one has to be conscious. One has to be inspired by a teacher, friend or practitioner, or through seeing results and have support. I feel like that is what I do most as a practitioner–education and support–and it is also what is most undervalued.

Do Ayurvedic diets and treatments work as effectively outside India, given the different climatic conditions, availability of foods etcetera?

Ayurveda can certainly be practiced outside of India, and personally, I continually work to learn how to respect and understand the places, the culture and the context of Ayurveda.  This wisdom has come physically through India, though spiritually rishis/seers whom one could argue are either Indian, or human, or even beyond human, in my understanding.  Though inarguably the wisdom has come to me through my human teachers, both Indian and non-Indian, both trained in India, and trained elsewhere, both outer, and inner guides.  I am eternally grateful to them, to those who came before me and decided to pursue this wisdom at great personal expense and experience, and I honor my lineage when I can. Trained mainly in the US (I have spent short stints in India for additional training and to experience the herbs and bodywork more sensorily - like eating fresh amla - can’t do that here in Vermont!)  my education is patchworked together.

We can order many traditional formulas to be shipped to the US, except for those which contain gems or metals (bhasmas).  ‘Ayurvedic’ herbs and substances that I regularly work with here are digestive spices, particularly ginger (which can be grown here), cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and fennel tea, ghee and shatavari ghee, and aloe vera (also can be grown in the US or closer countries). I feel that the traditional formulas like asavas and aristhams (fermented wine) as well as some of the popular formulas like yogaraj or kaishore guggulu, are usually very effective and important medicines, so I import those, or request clients to do so when needed.  All foodstuffs can be understood through the Ayurvedic lenses - one does not need to only eat lots of lentils, or rice to eat an Ayurvedic diet. This type of learning comes a bit later, usually, but truly, following the intelligence of Ayurveda can be done in any time or place.

There are certainly medical systems that can be likened to Ayurveda around the world, though many have either been lost or stolen/assimilated or actively destroyed through colonization. We are blessed to have the strength of India and the Indian people who have been able to preserve this system through texts, as well as living vaidyas through many human errors.

How can Ayurveda-based diets and healing approach be easily incorporated in everyday lifestyle, such that it complements the local food culture?

Small changes stick around longer. I feel like a good approach is to get a good book, work with a practitioner, and perhaps also take a class in the basic understandings of Ayurveda.

For Americans, there are a few big cultural food shifts that can easily be made, that will automatically support one in moving into following the Ayurvedic food ‘rules,’ and by doing so greatly improve agni/metabolism, and so overall health.  My favourite to focus on are: 1. Taking iced drinks or cold drinks out of one’s diet and drinking only room temperature or hot water and teas 2. Avoiding combining cheese with tomatoes, eggs or beans or meat (no cheese in your omelette or on a breakfast sandwich or tacos/burritos, rethinking pizza and lasagne) as these are particularly hard to digest combinations and 3. Avoiding fruit smoothies that include yogurt (or ice) and never blending banana and yogurt in particular.  Understanding the ‘why’ can be an important piece to making changes stick - again, that’s why I created my course The Healing Diet - I want to know why I am doing something!

Then simple habits like trying self-massage, trying a seasonal cleanse or other self-care practices can go a long way in cultivating discipline, which sounds like a very non-sexy word, but it’s a huge piece of balancing out the excess and ‘more more more’ culture that seems to be glorified around the world at this time. Many of our imbalances are diseases of excess, and healthy limits (and very basic understanding of anatomy and physiology that is missing in education, for that matter) are helpful for cleaning up toxicity in the body and the mind because they strengthen the connection to spirit.

Who are your primary students at The Wisdom School, and what are your plans for the future?

Most of my students and clients are from the United States, England, Italy and Australia, and they are of different racial backgrounds, including Indian.  As I focus on women’s reproductive health and fertility, so mostly I work with those who identify as women, and many are also beginning to study Ayurveda in a more professional way. We are drawn to Ayurveda as it feels so right, so true for us, and continue to discuss and meditate upon the internal struggles with cultural appropriation, inner authority, and shifting societal wars and shaming.

I aim to set up a scholarship for more women with Indian heritage from any country to be able to return to studying and remembering this science. It may be a strange twist of fate, but for some reason, I find myself, as a white woman, am regularly returning Indian women to their ancestral medicine. I hope I am doing some kind/any kind of healing for all of our ancestors, colonized and colonizing, in doing so.

Adena’s work and her classes can be accessed online on her website www.adenaroseayurveda.com. She can be connected through Instagram @adenaroseayurveda 

Images by Adena Rose