In 1992, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet two primary teachers, who greatly influenced the trajectory of my life. I was an eager twenty-two-year-old searching for deeper meaning and purpose, fueled by spiritual books such as the teachings of Ramana Maharishi, Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and Ram Dass’ Be Here Now.
On a summer day in early July 1992, I arrived at the Mt. Madonna Center in Watsonville, California, an intentional community inspired by the teachings and presence of Baba Hari Dass (Babaji). On my first day there, I met a young man, who was attending an Ayurvedic intensive with an Ayurvedic physician, Dr. Vasant Lad. I had recently seen one of Dr. Lad’s books, The Yoga of Herbs, that a friend of mine was reading earlier that year. Dr. Lad was to teach a class that afternoon, so I went to sit in and listen to him speak. I was captivated by his lecture on the ancient art of Marma, Ayurvedic acupressure. His lecture elegantly and poetically wove discussion about Ayurveda with spiritual teachings rooted in yoga philosophy. At that point, I had no idea that he would become a pivotal teacher in my life, but I remember how personal and connective he was with his students.
Babaji was to arrive the following morning for free Saturday meditation classes, as he did every Saturday. I took dinner that evening in the main community building, met some of the members of the community, and eventually retired to my campsite for the evening. I awoke before dawn eager to meet Babaji, and although I had not yet met him, I had a strong sense that I would become his student of Yoga. As I made my way into the main hall around 6:30 am, several students quietly sat in half circle around him. He was a humble monk who had taken a vow of silence and always sat with his students on the floor. He greeted people as they entered the hall using a gesture or nod of his head, and he wrote on a small chalk board, in casual discussion with those who sat around him. When I arrived, he motioned for me to come closer, and he asked me my name, where I was from, and a few other practical questions. I then asked if he would take me as his student of Yoga, and he nodded yes in reply. That is where my journey of Yoga and Ayurveda began.
I lived for the next several years at Mt. Madonna Center and eventually moved to Santa Cruz, near Babaji’s in-town facility, the Pacific Cultural Center and Ashtanga Yoga Institute, where he held weekly Satsang on Sundays and Bhagavad Gita class every Thursday. During 1992 and 1998, I lived in and around the community, traveled on pilgrimage to India, taught yoga at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute, and worked locally in Home Health for the developmentally disabled.
During my time living in Santa Cruz, I studied herbal medicine at the American School of Herbalism with Michael Tierra, Christopher Hobs, Roy Upton and other teachers. Aside from Yoga, I had a love for medicinal herbs, Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and therapeutic and Ayurvedic massage. During this period, I was struggling with some health challenges of my own, which had lingered since returning from India in 1995. At this point, I met a senior student of Dr. Vasant Lad named Jaisri Lambert. She became my Ayurvedic doctor and mentor, teacher of Ayurvedic massage, and inspired me to continue my studies in Ayurveda with Dr. Lad.
In 1998, I moved to Albuquerque, NM, to further my studies with Dr. Lad at the Ayurvedic Institute. There I remained until 2001, attending regular classes, raising a family, studying massage therapy, and eventually training and working at the Panchakarma Department at the Institute. I knew I eventually wanted to develop an Ayurvedic practice of my own and began searching for a place that was alternatively minded, surrounded by nature, and most importantly, receptive to Ayurveda. I chose Asheville, North Carolina. There wasn’t an Ayurvedic clinic here yet, and the few local yoga centers and the community at large were very receptive. Several local and regional yoga centers and herbal training programs welcomed me onto their faculty to teach Ayurveda and Yoga philosophy. In those early years, out of a class of 20-30 students, less than a third of them had heard of Ayurveda. Back then, Asheville was fertile ground for Ayurveda, so I began plowing the earth and planting seeds of Ayurveda everywhere I could. I started a small school to teach basic principles of Ayurveda to anyone who wanted to learn more about this ancient science and gain practical knowledge for self-care and self-healing.
As my clinical practice developed, I continued to teach and write my book Ayurvedic Herbology East & West, A practical Guide to Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine. Over the next decade, a few other practitioners of Ayurveda gradually moved to town, and we all became friends as our Ayurveda community started to grow. For 6 years, after the publication of my book, I served as the Dean of Education and lead instructor for the Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor Program here in Asheville. Several of my fellow Ayurveda colleagues served on the faculty, and the school became a success, attracting students from all over the region and the country. Even though a successful program, when Covid-19 first began to spread, we made the hard decision to finish the remainder of the academic year online, and then close the doors to the school permanently. Those years of teaching students from the ground up, was a gift. I was honored to be able to inspire a new wave of Ayurvedic students and practitioners. After the school closed, rather than trying to create a teaching platform online, I decided to primarily focus on my first love, my clinical practice, working directly with patients and clients. And I began to deepen my knowledge and studies in Jyotisha (Vedic Astrology). As the initial phases of the Covid shutdown lightened, people really needed a sanctuary to come to rejuvenate and heal; the clinic flourished in this capacity.
Today, many years after I arrived here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, if I ask a group of students, “who has heard of Ayurveda prior to this class?” pretty much every hand goes up. As Ayurveda continues to grow in our community and throughout the world, I am meeting more and more people interested in learning about Ayurveda, either for their own personal healing and growth and/or as a profession.
When I moved away from Albuquerque two decades ago, saying farewell to the high desert mountains and my friends in the local Ayurveda community, I had no idea that someday Dr. Lad and the Ayurvedic Institute would eventually relocate to Asheville, NC. Not only to Asheville, but just a few doors down from the first location of my clinic, Blue Lotus Ayurveda. The Ayurvedic Institute & AyurPrana have taken up ownership of the Asheville Yoga Center, which will also serve as the Institute’s main campus. This coming spring of 2022, The Ayurvedic Institute will begin their 2022 academic year right here. I could never have imagined that when I decided to move here, that someday my teacher would eventually come here too.
I am honored to continue to serve him as a member of the Ayurvedic Institute faculty, hopefully for many years to come. I am also deeply committed to maintaining my private practice at Blue Lotus Ayurveda and Panchakarma Clinic. I am eternally grateful for our local community that has supported my practice for the past two decades and look forward to many more years of serving our clients and patients, as well as the students of the Ayurvedic Institute.