Today in our “Malavara meets the Expert”, I chat to my old friend Kate Smith Jamison. Kate is a qualified Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner and has her own studio in Belfast. She travels all over the world to train and teach and is hosting her teacher, the renowned Shiva Rea at a Retreat in Ireland next year.
Read on to learn more as we chat Ayurveda, careers, families and health…
You retrained as a Yoga practitioner after a successful Banking career. What drove you to that decision? I had practiced yoga since 2000 when I first started working at Goldman Sachs. To start with I was more connected to the physical practice in the sense that it helped me feel more embodied and took me out of a very busy head. Over the years this evolved into a practice that was as much a means to strengthening and relaxing my body as it was to bring more resilience and peace into my mind and spirit. It most definitely extended my career working on a noisy, dynamic trading floor for sometimes over 12 hours a day! As time went by my time off work going on exhausting party-focused holidays was replaced by yoga retreats, and the ability for these ancient practices to take me out of stressful situations lead me to starting my first teacher training in 2009. As I dived deeper into classical yoga philosophy and expanded my knowledge of how it can evolve and support through all stages of our life, I knew this was something I wanted to be able to teach others to help them improve their lives in the same way as it had improved mine.
How did you start practicing Ayurveda? As I continued on my yoga teacher training journey, my Vinyasa Krama yoga teacher was studying Ayurveda and as he started to weave it into our training it become apparent to me that the only way to be a fully rounded practitioner and yoga teacher was to compliment my yoga training with the study of Ayurveda. At the core of Ayurveda’s powerful yet simple elemental system is a deeper understanding and acceptance of who we are as psychosomatic beings, and then advising us how best to live in harmony with our own individual nature and within nature. Ayurveda effectively helps to harmonise the microcosm within the macrocosm through our food choices, our day-to-day lifestyle and our physical/mental/spiritual practices. My teacher Shiva Rea’s Prana Flow yoga practices are rooted in Krishnamacharya’s Vinyasa Krama, and they also further embody Ayurvedic principles by offering practices that focus on each element. They are a wonderful way to introduce yogis to Ayurveda and which I offer both to my one-to-one students, and in Yoga & Ayurveda workshops.
Do you have to be a yogi to understand Ayurveda? Yoga lead me to Ayurveda and as Ayurveda is based on the same Sankhya philosophy as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras I came to Ayurveda with a natural grounding of understanding. However, according Dr Vasant Lad “Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences. In India, it is traditional to study Ayurveda before taking up the practice of yoga, because Ayurveda is the science of the body and only when the body has become fit is the individual considered ready to study the spiritual science of yoga”
This resonates strongly with me because Ayurveda sees an appropriate yoga practice as one of its most powerful tools for healing the mind. Developing a personal yoga practice really is the key to unlocking its potential in transforming our bodies and minds, and that was optimized for me – and now for my clients/students - by understanding myself through the lens of Ayurveda to better advise on the most appropriate yoga practices for me to keep me balanced wherever I happen to be in my life. Furthermore, following Ayurveda’s advice on food and your daily routine/lifestyle was an imperative collaboration along with the appropriate yoga practices. If you are not paying attention to what you eat and do, most of your days, then no amount of yoga is going to help bring you into your full balance and potential.
If I were new to Ayurveda, what would you suggest doing? First have an Ayurvedic consultation to get an idea of your body type in Ayurvedic terms. You will discover your basic constitution – your prakruti – which never changes, and your current constitution – or vikruti – that is affected by where we live, what we do with our days, our relationships, the seasons and most importantly the food we eat. Ayurveda classifies our body types or constitutions by the doshas – vata (space and air elements), pitta (80% fire, 20% water) or kapha (water and earth). Knowing your dominant dosha at any given time and understanding which dosha might be in excess if we are feeling a certain physical, mental or emotional imbalance, Ayurveda then equips you with the means to redress that imbalance and bring your body, mind and spirit into harmony once again via a combination of food recommendations, tweaks to daily routine, herbal supplements, massage and yoga practices.
You have 2 small children and are running your own businesses. What diet do you manage to follow? I by and large follow a vegetarian sattvic/ pitta pacifying Ayurvedic diet with a lot of vegetables and dahl and we try to make it as seasonal, organic and as fresh as possible for all of us. Paying attention to nature’s flow throughout the year I find my appetite now moves with the seasons and so for example when kapha rises in springtime I go lighter, back off dairy and go slightly spicier to shift post-winter stagnation. Ultimately for me simply by following the seasons (and the unseasonal weather!) and Ayurveda’s advice on balancing the rising doshas that come with each season helps instruct all of us how to eat, with our digestion and elimination as the ultimate barometers of whether it is good for us. Sometimes it seems we are too busy reading or being told about what to eat than feeling in our bodies or looking out our windows! When did it all get so complicated?
You are also qualified in giving Ayurvedic treatments. What is your favourite Ayurvedic treatment? There are so many and honestly I love them all, but the one that stays with me is akshi tarpana. It is an eye treatment where a dough well is built around the eye and warm ghee is poured into the eye, nourishing the eye and effectively massaging the optic nerve. It feels like a direct line of calming vibes right into your mind and into your body and the most surprisingly relaxing treatments I have ever had that – a bit like another wonderful Ayurvedic treatment Shirodhara – without touching the body makes you feel like you have had a full body massage. It is treatment that works very well for excess pitta imbalances, because the eyes are governed by pitta dosha. Ayurvedic foot massage – also great for releasing heat from the body – is a close second for me.
Which daily ritual could you not live without? Movement, meditation and mantra - even just for 15 minutes – helps me to start the day with a conscious connection to my breath and offers a chance to FEEL where I am at before my thinking mind has to kick in for morning practicalities. I love to give an hour to this, but even a short practice helps me clearly set intentions, offer gratitude and start the day at peace (even if that peace can be swiftly tested on the school run!).
An additional absolute must for me is drinking 500mls of warm water to stimulate digestion and peristalsis and self massage with appropriate oil and sometimes essential oils depending on my vibe and season.
What advice would you have for anyone planning to attend his or her first wellness retreat? Practically, it’s a good idea to go on a slight detox beforehand if you are someone who drinks alcohol and/or coffee and who eats processed foods especially with a lot of refined sugar. A few days off these can be helpful as if your retreat cuts these out you might be spending your first few days experiencing headaches and feeling like the sound and light has been amplified to the power of ten! Philosophically, go on retreat with an open-mind and as little expectation as possible or at least perhaps expecting a little or a lot of the unexpected. Having both participated in and hosted retreats there will always be shifts and transformations on retreat, which may feel amazing or utterly tumultuous at the time, but are almost always for the better. Cultivating an attitude of compassion for yourself and others is very important in this regard.
Do you think Ayurveda will become as big as yoga? I think it should because honestly yoga makes less sense without it. Quite simply yoga without an understanding of Ayurveda makes yoga less effective in helping it achieve what it is meant to achieve, namely bringing us into a greater state of balance and peace within ourselves and within nature. Ayurveda helps yoga answer the ultimate question - who am I?
3 ways that you bring yoga into your daily life. Mantra – every morning and sometimes throughout the day as a means to set intention, invite in certain balancing qualities and excavate old patterns and memories that need clearing or healing; Pranayama – breathing techniques that aid the better flow of prana and that can calm, stimulate and balance accordingly; Yogasana – via predominately elementally focused Prana Flow and Vinyasa Krama practices appropriate to how I am feeling, the day of the week and season.
What 3 things will you not leave home without? Distilled water, my phone and essential oils to balance what might be up ahead for the day. Our sense of smell being connected to the earth element the right scent can instantly bring in a sense of balance depending on whether we need to ground, go-with-the-flow or focus.
Finally, if you were not a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner, what would you be? I always struggle with this kind of question when I am asked because I truly believe at any given time we are all exactly where we are supposed to be even if we are journeying through a challenging place. I also feel like practicing yoga and Ayurveda is now such a lifestyle for me – as natural as being a mother - and not something I view as a job.
That said, when I think about what I wanted to be when I was much younger, I remember I told my parents I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Maybe if I had stayed a more Western route that could have been my current profession.
Ultimately though I have always had a yearning for philosophy, particularly more mystic, ancient and esoteric paths, and I am increasingly of the view that Ayurveda – combined with yoga – is one of the greatest gifts we have to help heal our minds in a world where they are becoming more and more distracted, overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. My work now is clear. I want to continue learning and transmitting these ancient practices to help people learn how to self-heal and live longer happier lives in body, mind and spirit.