Interview with Dr Jani

“The most important philosophy to adopt in life is, 'A happy soul is a healthy body!'"

What does Ayurveda mean to you?

Put it like this — Ayurveda, the science of life, or the science of healthy living, has been at the core of my life’s philosophy. It has moulded my life into its various dimensions — in health and in sickness! My whole life since I was born has been built on the sound foundations of Ayurveda, and more essentially the spiritual pillars of the Vedas. I firmly believe that the inner strength, the youthfulness and the good health I have enjoyed, restored or maintained has all been due to revisiting the wisdom of Ayurveda every day, making it a way of life!

What drew you to Ayurveda?

In India, every family traditionally uses Ayurvedic herbs and massage oils for minor ailments as well as to build a healthy  body with strong immunity and strength. As a child, I can remember my mother rubbing Haritaki and Amla, the myrobalan, and other herbs with a little water on a stone plate and giving us a few drops of this. Now I know that this traditional Ayurvedic recipe builds healthy immunity, heals skin, strengthens the eyesight, detoxifies the blood, and removes parasites from the gut.

Growing up in East Africa in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I remember my father waking us up early and teaching us yoga, and giving us pure Chyawanprash, the Amla (Indian gooseberry) preserve with 30 rejuvenating herbs and spices in the morning, and mum giving everyone Haldi Doodh (i.e. Golden Milk) for good growth since I was 5 years old!

My great-grandmother was a highly respected barefoot doctor in the village area, being called to do complicated deliveries, and she had a good knowledge of local Ayurvedic herbs, so she was the local doctor!

My mother’s brother, my godfather, was trained in both modern and Ayurvedic medicine in the ‘50s. Over the years I grew up to understand Ayurveda from him.

Then I met my would-be wife Asmita and my love affair with her became a love affair with Ayurveda! Asmita had just joined the  Ayurvedic medicine college. While training in modern medicine in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, I started learning Ayurveda from Asmita’s Ayurvedic professors and personal study with her.

It was my childhood dream to become a surgeon and get my FRCS in the UK, so I came to England in December 1979 and became a surgeon and urologist. Around 1985-87, when our children started school, we set up the first Ayurvedic and Panchakarma Clinic in Hove.

Has it helped you with anything major?

In 1988-89, I felt very stressed out and experienced chronic fatigue from my stressful professional training and work as a urologist in the British hospitals. That is when I went to India and started proper Ayurvedic treatment – Panchakarma, took pure Chyawanprash, Ashwagandha and Brahmi, and practised yoga daily. Ayurveda recommends yoga and meditation to maintain healthy mind and body, and soon I found myself restored to good health.

In 1998, I started having prostate problems and again I used Ayurvedic medicine to delay my prostatectomy for 7 years!

Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?

A very integrated part of my life — following the Dinacharya (daily healthy routine), and trying to maintain the balance of my Doshas, which I have mastered!

What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?

1. The most important philosophy to adopt in life is, “A happy soul is a healthy body!”

Understanding my life on the basis of the unique simple method of understanding my body type — or Prakriti, my blueprint — in terms of my Doshas and Gunas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and Sattva, Rajas and Tamas — purity, drive, and negative). Purity of thought gives good health.

Being mindful of our personal natural characteristics, listening to our body. Most diseases are actually due to stress or Vata Vyadhi — the nervous energy — and maintaining healthy Vata through meditiation, yoga, a Kapha-Pitta diet, and rejuvenating herbs like ashwagandha, ginger and brahmi can keep us healthy in body mind and emotions.

Daily wellbeing is achieved by regular daily routine or Dinacharya as described by Ayurveda. Following the natural law and biorhythms of the body in sync with the environment keeps the body functioning normally. Grounding of mind in the Self through meditation, Pranayama, yoga and self-study of spiritual philosophy generates an amazing inner spiritual energy and strength.

2. Good digestion and  detoxification of Ama, to generate Ojas, the essence of immunity and energy in the body.  Diet and exercise are the vital pivot - we are what we eat according to Ayurveda. Our diet is our medicine. I love delicious vegetarian Indian foods, a variety with all six Tastes — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent — covers all varieties of foods to give us full essential nutrition!

And  “Yoga moksha pravartakaha” — yoga leads to liberation from misery!

3. Once we have learned a few selected herbs and foods to rebalance, digest, detox and rejuvenate, we can live 100 years of healthy fulfilling life. So my advice form personal experience  is to learn a few selected rejuvenating herbs and foods and make them part of our daily routine.

Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?

The Ayurvedic way of life is an ingrained part of my life, that kicks in more profusely whenever the health issues summon!

Do your children/family eat an Ayurvedic diet? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or do they just think of it as home cooking?

We are blessed with Asmita, who has always cooked the healthiest, most delicious Indian Gujarati meals, snacks and all. Indian cooking is derived from Ayurvedic principles and who better than Asmita, an Ayurvedic doctor, to make these healthy meals? We also have our naughty escapes and treats with rich bhajiyas and deep-fried puri!

What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?  

My favourite is Chyawanprash, the 5,000-year-old rejuvenating tonic that was specially formulated for the old sage Chyavana by the celestial twin physicians Ashwini Kumaras.

How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routines?

When I wake up I start the day with gratitude, the Ayurvedic Shloka of, “May all be happy and free from misery.” Once you live the Ayurvedic way, it becomes a habit. I invariably wake up at 6 a.m. since my childhood, do my masala chai, yoga stretches, meditation, then get ready. Following a regular healthy daily routine, eating at the right time, resting when needed, sleeping at the right hours, taking A BREAK WHEN THINGS GET A BIT STRESSFUL, dedicating time to spiritual practice, and working with enthusiasm. We are not perfect — far from it. Just ordinary humans like everyone else. That said, whenever I have found myself not being able to follow the Ayurvedic way of life, I have invariably suffered form ill health and my wellbeing has gone down.

What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?

We have built a weird counterproductive culture of consumerism and high cost of living with a broken family framework. I wish we would restore a simpler way of life with more integrated families for support systems, with a focus on helping those in difficulty — a better citizens’ code like we used to learn at school, CIVICS!

We need to invest in good community centres where people can come and enjoy free activities — food, dance, just sharing jokes and enjoying not-paid-for gyms! Young and old can talk and share experiences, and there can be Ayurvedic health mentors – vegetarian cookery classes for children and youngsters to learn how to cook healthy vegetarian meals, to help the environment.

Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?

While we have a vast circle of people who are aware of  Ayurveda, most of the Indians ignore their own heritage, and our western friends are very keen on learning but struggle with adopting this new lifestyle… but there is a huge shift in the paradigm now compared to when we started in the ‘80s and ‘90s!  Everyone knows about Ayurveda now!

Even when I mention it to my patients during my consultations, it is so heartwarming to hear, “oh yes, I have heard of it” or “I take ashwagandha and do yoga to help my anxiety” …a good start!

What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try or you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?

Everyone would benefit from taking up yoga, which slowly leads to the science of healthy living and Ayurveda. The most important and powerful driving force for personal life change is FOOD! I strongly believe that we could bring a massive change in the health of society if everyone started learning how to cook healthy meals and learn about the Dosha properties and how to combine foods with the six Tastes – that would automatically help people to create delicious nutrition with digestive herbs. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Almost every other young person I see in surgery or meet in my daily life is on antidepressants and/or suffering from anxiety and depression. I firmly believe that the way the world is going today is leading to anxiety and depression in young and old people. Ayurveda is becoming the beacon showing the path to more socially fruitful, fulfilling, relaxed and enjoyable, peaceful living without distress.

Remember — a happy soul is a healthy body, and a healthy individual makes a healthy society!

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