Holistic Chicago: Meeting Ayurveda’s Monica

Despite being an environmentally friendly, recycling Chicago resident, I have recently become more conscious and aware of the lifestyle that we are living. During my pregnancy, I’ve taken notice of the toxins that our bodies experience both externally and internally. From household, furniture and beauty fumes, preservatives in foods, unhealthy clothing, internal stress and general lifestyle choices that we make on a daily basis, I’ve come to realize that my life is somewhat toxic.

I began clearing out my closet from clothes that are not of natural fibers (ciao, PVC pants), my fridge (bye bye dream whip), beauty products and generally trying to reduce as much toxicity in my house as possible. Soon I learnt that I also needed to clear out my life internally… so I’ve stopped taking in anything that has several unnatural ingredients, started exploring a more holistic way of life and adding treatments that reduce stress in our life. I stumbled upon Chinese and Ayurvedic Indian medicine, which are both practiced in union with western medicine in their respective countries. The Chinese and Indian cultures, for example, recommend yoga or tai chi, eating raw and having massages regularly for lymphatic drainage and health. I ended up finding Hamsa Ayurveda in Chicago and went in for a consultation with founder and Ayurvedic Healer (Doctor) that has guided me for a cleaner lifestyle. In addition, I picked up an Ayurvedic treatment to help relax me while pregnant and waiting for child.

I was so happy to learn about this center and immediately felt like I’d stepped into California and it’s clean lifestyle, here in Chicago. It’s easy to add some sunshine in your life through holistic healing. Monica answered a few questions that I had that I’m sure many of you are also curious about. Here’s getting to know Ayurveda and Monica Yearwood, the gentle and inspiring founder and healer at Hamsa Center.

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Who is Monica?

That’s a big question! I identify myself as someone who is a good listener. I try to hear the heartbeat of a person when they speak to me (what drives them, what are they interested in), and that in general gets people to talk to me more.

My personal relationships tend to be very exploratory… my friendships are usually with people who are concerned with cultivating inner peace, loyalty to the self, and harmonious external relationships while they realize their unique purpose. I tend to be most attracted to people and relationships that emphasize mutual support, personal honesty, and encouragement. I am a big encourager of other people, and I like to receive the same from those who are closest to me.

I feel most at home in nature. Sometimes I struggle with feelings of being disconencted from nature because of living in the city. My favorite places that I have lived have been smaller towns that were much more laid back and steeped in opportunities to kayak, swim in the ocean, or climb mountains.

What was it like growing up in Chicago?

I grew up in the suburbs. In general I felt pretty disconnected from my surroundings for most of my childhood and teen years. I wanted to move to colorado or some similar outdoorsy environment. I also struggled through school, and was diagnosed with a.d.d. when I was 14. I just felt really bored in school and I didn’t know how to be who I was in that infrastructure…especially at that time, teachers didn’t (in general) recognize how to relate to kids that didn’t fit in the mold…and hence, labels of all kinds (I think ones that have the great potential to be extremely damaging) were given to kids that just didn’t understand how to channel their gifts into a system that was predetermined for them.

I had a really great family and numerous opportunities, but I didn’t know how to utilize those opportunities while remaining true to myself. I probably would have benefited from going to an alternative school system of some kind that emphasized creativity and the arts, but the experience of living with that diagnosis and navigating through it informed many of my choices as an adult and has given me a broader understanding of some of the challenges my clients face

How and when did you start appreciating the art of Ayurveda?

In high school I started to study Eastern philosophy and learned how to meditate. In college I was drawn to eastern religion and philosophy and met my first spiritual teacher (she was originally my math tutor). she would take me to yoga retreats and other health related retreats at her home. Regardless I was still dealing with periods of depression and not really feeling an alignment with my purpose. When I was in my early twenties I decided to really dedicate myself to the practice of yoga under the tutelage Julian Mankowski. I drove to her Kundalini yoga class every Saturday morning and replicated what she taught during the week. I decided to go back to college and went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi university in Fairfield Iowa and that is where I met Ayurveda. It really just felt like it was everything (cleansing, meditation, herbs, nutrition) that I was interested in, and loved, in one package.

What is Ayurveda and what are the health benefits?

Ayurveda is a lifestyle practice and medical system from india that is over 5,000 years old. as a lifestyle, it teaches that there are observable cycles in nature (such as the sun cycle, moon cycle, earth cycle) and that by living in alignment with these cycles (via diet, herbs and daily activities) we maintain our physical and mental health.

When we detour from these cycles we foster disease processes of all kinds. as a medical system, it teaches that each person is different and so is their disease pathogenesis. These differences are construed by the persons individual mind/body type called doshic constitution and other provoking factors (trauma, diet, destiny, stress levels). It uses cleansing programs (such as fasting or other detox methods), herbs, diet, meditation, yoga to treat imbalance. The health benefits of Ayurveda are emotional, physical and mental. It emphasizes dharma (individual purpose) so there is a strong element of psychological contentment that is viewed as fundamental to a healthy lifestyle.

It teaches that digestion is the epicenter of the immune system, so a balanced digestion is often the result of living ayurvedically. Meditation and yoga are part of ayurveda, so the cultivation of inner peace and better stress management is a frequent benefit.

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Can Ayurveda act as an alternative to modern health therapy or is it more of a supplement?

I don’t see them as necessarily distinct from one another. One of the first things that the charaka samhita (an ancient ayurvedic text) emphasizes is that ayurveda needs to evolve with the needs of the modern person, and that to be a true ayurvedic vaidya (doctor) he or she should be familiar with all current methods of healing.

Ayurveda also teaches that as long as the effects of something are understood it can be used medicinally. This means that anything — as long as the effects are properly understood can be used medicinally. But this piece of valuable insight is often limited by the lack of our, be it health practitioner or doctor, understanding of what the effect is going to be. This is why we have negative side effects with some people who take an herb or a pharmaceutical medication while other people benefit from it.

Ayurveda has a saying, ‘one man’s medicine is another man’s poison.’ and this reflects itself in all things (diet, activity, medicine, herbs, etc). Ayurveda can benefit ‘modern medicine’ by widening the awareness that pathology is not always the same for each person, and nor should be the treatment. Understanding the cause and remidiating the cause before treatment is imperative. It is definitely not enough to put your hand in the dyke or layer it with a pill or a cream or anything else that suppresses the symptom. Yet, sometimes the quick acting effects of pharmaceuticals are lifesaving, or simply acts of compassion to alleviate suffering (physical or mental) as quickly as possible.

How big is the community in Chicago for Ayurveda, in your opinion in comparison with lets say San Francisco?

I would say it is pretty small across the board and smallest in Chicago and yet, a lot of people are practicing Ayurveda but they know it by a different name. Eating seasonally is Ayurveda and there are many restaurants that do that…one could argue that they have an Ayurvedic flair. Cleansing is a huge part of ayurveda and cleansing is a huge interest in pop culture these days…so are other practices such as yoga, meditation, herbology, living in alignment with your purpose, strengthening digestion, etc.

I think the challenge that many ayurvedic practitioners face is understanding how to reveal the heart of ayurveda to main stream in a language that is already understood without losing the efficacy of what makes it unique in the first place.

You’ve lived all over the US, what brings you back to Chicago?

Family

How has this city shaped your success or contributed to your growth?

Well its certainly made me a stronger person! I once had an ayurvedic pracitioner who, was probably the first ayurvedic practitioner in Chicago warn me that this town was a tough nut to crack. It was when I first moved here and of course if I had taken her seriously I probably wouldn’t have done what I have done… and yet, I don’t know if it is anymore Chicago than my own lack of experience, and what I have had to learn from experience— because a lot of what I am doing has not been done here in Chicago as yet and we’re building interest and awareness organically.

There’s a growing trend in embracing alternative health instead of medicine and pharma, what is your opinion?

Yes, that is true. There seems to be an increased desire for a holistic approach to almost everything. We can see changes in top down approaches everywhere from business structures to how people grocery shop. I think people want more balance, more community, and to support the actual fact of the matter that everything is interdependent. Our bodies are interdependent structures and so are our communities. I don’t think medicine or pharma is inherently evil, but the way it has been used as been very compartmentalized. We tend to have been seeing things as a dissection of parts and using medicine that way. Personally, I don’t think it is advantageous to ostracize pharma, but we could tweak the paradigm to a more holistic perspective. By understanding the effect or consequences of these medications, using them in conjunction with herbs, spices, diet, lifestyle, etc.

How early can you introduce Children to your holistic approach in life and ayurveda in general?

It can be introduced as early as the womb when the mother is pregnant, and actually even before then. There are practices for conceiving (such as cleansing that prepare the womb and sperm), there are practices for the mother after she has given birth (such as massage), there are practices for the baby (including a specific diet and baby massage).

Are you required to practice yoga and a specific diet to benefit from Ayurveda?

Yoga is a practice that facilitates self-integration. The word yoga means ‘to yoke.’ Many people believe yoga is physical postures but that actually only plays a small part. Anything that facilitates self-integration is essentially yoga. There are different paths or branches in yoga that will appeal to the mental tendencies of each person. For example, bhakti yoga is the practice of facilitating self-integration through the worship of an external god. Thus, Christians are bhakti yogis. Jnana yoga is the practice of facilitating self-integration through study and inquiry. Hatha yoga, which is what most people practice, is the practice of facilitating self-integration through physical postures. There are other paths too. But my point is, the word ‘yoga’ is actually very general and many people are practicing yoga without realizing it, while other people think they are practicing yoga and are not.

In short, yes practicing some method that enhances inner awareness, peace, and self-realization is foundational to an ayurvedic lifestyle.

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Entrepreneurship: How did you get about starting your entrepreneurial journey? How hard or easy was it?

I really got started on it because I couldn’t find a place to practice at that I felt really supported my vision. It has definitely been more difficult and rewarding then I anticipated.

What is your advice for someone that wants a career in alternative medicine?

Align with other practitioners when you can. Take care of yourself. Try to keep your clients happy, but understand its impossible to keep everyone happy.

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