We are our nature: a conversation with Kathryn Templeton
October 2, 2013
By Corina Bernstein
“WE ARE OUR NATURE and there is value in that nature.” ~Kathryn Templeton
When Kathryn Templeton appeared at Devanadi to teach our first session of the Himalayan Institute’s Ayurveda Yoga Specialist (AYS) program, I fell immediately in love. I think many of us did. Kathryn radiated empathy and faith in us, and passion for her work that was irresistible in its thoughtful, simple honesty. She generously and humorously shone her love on us for four weekends in Minneapolis and we all blossomed, basking in her lessons of self-care and the importance of understanding and having empathy for our basic natures (prakriti) and how they inform who we are in this world.
Coming back for another round of the AYS program, beginning at Devanadi the second weekend in October, Kathryn is continuing her efforts to make this system and its tools accessible to a broader audience (and especially into the hands of yoga teachers). Now teaching her certification program in Pennsylvania, Texas, Ontario, Florida, South Carolina, Nova Scotia, Maryland, and Hawaii (in addition to Minneapolis), she will do the four AYS sessions over the upcoming 2013-14 school year in Linden Hills in South Minneapolis, hosted by Tanya Boigenzahn Sowards, owner of Devanadi School of Yoga & Wellness Studies. For more information and program details, please see the Himalayan Institute’s AYS page and the Devanadi program description.
I had the privilege of speaking with Kathryn last week via Skype, from her New Haven home, to chat about the AYS program, Ayurveda generally, and her upcoming season of AYS trainings. You can read the full conversation below.
“Dating back to 5000-8000 BC (depending who you talk to), Ayurveda is considered one of the oldest healing modalities in the world. Unlike most western/modern healing modalities, Ayurveda requires patients to manage most of their healing work, so can be a challenge to practice in our western context.” ~KT
The AYS program teaches students to harness the first line of defense of this system, which includes self-care routines and practices (called dinacharya), asana sequences, pranayama practices (breath work), and meditation. Powerful but deceptively simple and subtle, these practices create a buffer around us, so we are better able to keep balanced through life’s inevitable difficulties. As Kathryn put it, “When we have a proactive daily engagement with ourselves, where we’re cleansing out toxins and we’re nurturing ourselves in a very mindful way, we’re building resiliency and adaptability so we will weather whatever life brings us in that day with more bala (strength), more tenacity.”
Since completing the AYS certification program last year, in my ongoing journey of learning to take care of myself, Kathryn’s words and lessons play through my mind on a daily basis. Ayurvedic philosophy has fundamentally shifted the way I see myself and the world, and I am deeply grateful that I received these tools for my continued journey. Kathryn (and, consequently, Ayurveda) has been without question one of the most important and impactful teachers of my life.
Full conversation transcription:
CB: What is Ayurveda?
KT: It depends on the context (who is asking the question); in the yoga community, it is our sister science. How we use wise progression of asana sequences, pranayama, meditation, to create a particular healing effect for whatever is out of balance in our nature.
Ayur means “life” and veda means “knowledge” or “science”– life science that is part of the Vedic system that helps us have a tranquil and joyful life. The science of Ayurveda is difficult to practice in the West, because we don’t have the same paradigm. [Ayurveda] requires patients to manage most of their healing work, and that’s not how we operate in the West in recent times.
CB: Describe the relationship between yoga and Ayurveda.
KT: In Tantric yoga especially, but yoga generally, Ayurveda is used energetically through a Tantric model. Yoga is one of the tools that Ayurveda used to create this healthy mind and body. A yogi might have taken their practice further, working toward self-realization. Ayurveda supported the yogi in having ojas, agni, strength and health to be able to have a healthy mind and body, in order to live life to its fullest with the greatest ease and steadiness. Yoga and Ayurveda work along the same lines, but have differentiation in their end points: Ayurveda’s is to be tranquil and happy; yoga’s is self-realization.
CB: How does Ayurveda relate to other traditions of medicine?
KT: Ayurveda dates back to 5000-8000 BC, and is considered one of oldest healing modalities in the world. There are other healing modalities that date back very far as well—all of ancient traditions were generally elemental-based medical practices, based on the elements around us. That was the technology at hand. They have similar properties, with different pathways to get there. There are resonating qualities between these ancient healing arts. In the West, or modern times, technologies of healing are different, because we have a different life. As we became more modernized, our paradigms shifted from looking to nature, to thinking of answers with our heads and strategizing our answers. This is where a separation between the mind and body began in medicine.
As we became more modern, we used more strategies and concepts that moved us away from nature. We became more sophisticated at using pharmaceuticals, we came away from having a town doctor, and moved to specialization, which came with some fragmentation. It keeps us in a more fragmented way of looking at the body and mind, rather than working from a place of holistic integration. This happened especially since the end of the 1940’s and 50’s. Now I think we are moving back to a holistic presentation of medicine.
CB: What is the goal of the AYS program?
KT: The AYS program was designed because Panditji (the spiritual director of the Himalayan Institute) wants to be sure that an understanding of Ayurvedic medicine was accessible to more people. I was teaching a program called “The 3 Wisdom Traditions” (psychology, Ayurveda, and yoga) and how the three work together to create healing templates for us, and he wanted this information to be delivered more broadly. It is a goal of HI to be a teaching institute and offer as many people as are interested information about the tradition to feel healthy and tranquil and joyful.
So we wanted to get this information to yoga practitioners and teachers who already had some of these tools—so they can have this extra boon to their practice, to use Ayurveda in a very systematic understanding as it applies to you as a constitutional element of the divine. How can I use my asana, pranayama and meditation to help me balance my constitution?
So I designed the AYS program with Hilary Garivaltis (president of NAMA, Dean of school of Ayurveda at Kripalu) to align with some of the requirements at NAMA. It was given birth to by HI, and then likeminded studios who are interested in bringing this knowledge to their communities have done so. I had found ayurveda useful in my work dealing with trauma, and wanted to share it with people; Dr. Lad encouraged me to “come out of my cave” and share these tools with people before they come into trauma, to proactively help them to deal more successfully with these experiences.
When we have a proactive daily engagement with ourselves, where we’re cleansing out toxins and we’re nurturing ourselves in a very mindful way, we’re building resiliency and adaptability so we will weather whatever life brings us in that day with more bala (strength), more tenacity. Absolutely things will happen… but I started to notice that the way I would be displaced from my natural day’s rhythm as a result of these things would last for days and days. With the dinacharya/daily practice, there is a buffer, you see experiences and you feel them, but you’re not as dysregulated by them, because you have a reserve, you can move through it with less reactivity.
CB: How did you come to Ayurveda?
KT: I was introduced to Ayurveda before I knew it was Ayurveda. I was working at a VA hospital in New Haven with combat VA’s from Vietnam as a clinical therapist. I was reading a book on the ancient art of anointing the body with oil. With trauma, you want to avoid connection with the body, especially if it’s a physical trauma, because it’s painful. So I brought this into my drama and movement therapy. I moved into introducing oiling, and I got the alpha male to try it, a bright man with a deep spiritual practice of his own… he started doing it at night, and sleeping with it, and got a benefit—he could fall asleep without sleep medication sometimes, which was big. Some of the other men started trying it and also received a benefit. Then Rod Stryker did a course on the koshas. I connected with the psychology aspects and alignments and I started at Kripalu that year.
CB: Can you share a way that Ayurveda has been powerful in your own journey?
KT: When I was losing my father, to Alzheimer’s, he was pretty communicative through most of his illness… I was at hospice with him, we had brought him there to give him some comfort at the end. I had worked in hospice with helping loved ones breathing through death with the dying family member or loved one. There is a sense of being with someone. It’s an option. I was trying these practices with my dad, and oiling his feet. And I decided one night to spend the night with him in hospice. I realized while I was there that I was meditating, and realized that I was staying there for me, not for him. I wasn’t ready to lose him, though a lot of him had already left, you could still feel the prana in him. I did abyhanga that night, I had been using my dinacharya every day to help with emotional attachment when I would see him. I decided to work more with attachment with myself. I had some herbs from ayurvedic school, and used them to make a tea. And it helped me sleep that night. So the next day, my mom and brother and I talked about the tea and foot oiling, and they started using some of the practices I had shared with them. We talked about their attachment to my dad, taking care of ourselves, and I told them a story from Dr. Douillard in Ayurvedic school. That when someone dies, it is their last great act of love. Because through grief you fill your own heart with love for yourself, and thereby be more present with that person who died, because you share that same love with them; and you have not located that love you shared in them, but in you, and it’s a wonderful gift. We talked about that story, decided to leave the room for about 5 minutes, and when we came back my father had died.
CB: Could you discuss Ayurveda from a spiritual and psychological perspective?
KT: My initial introduction was to understanding how to have some self-appreciation, ideas of accepting yourself are so important. They are so easy to talk about, but we get so identified with who people think we should be instead of who we are. Something I love about Ayurveda is…. well, people beat themselves up a lot, I’ve observed in individual psychotherapy, they take things personally. Explaining the basic idea of what a constitution is, and how that informs what they’re like and how they act in the world is so powerful. We are our nature, and there is value in that nature, and we can’t take it personally. We may not understand natures that are very different from our own. Learning this creates such empathy for who we are.
I had a student, a woman who came up to me and expressed how relieved she was to understand her kaphic nature, that she didn’t need to change it, or be different from who she was. She could then articulate to her family why she loved who she was, and how she was different. Whether or not they could understand, she could express it. It helps us to embrace our bodies, minds, our dharma, our nature, with more ease.
The yoga community has the audience, especially if we are teaching pranayama with the asana. Pranayama is the mirror of the mind, it helps us internalize, and is the thread that unites our mind with body, sews our two selves together again. When the breath is calm, the mind is calmer, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax. We know breath is one of the tools we can use to internalize.
Our asana, pranayama and meditation practice help us to keep the elements in balance for our prakruti. Our mind is healed by these practices as are our bodies. It is the synergistic relationship between the two (union of mind and body) that heals us. Ayurveda offers us other practices including yoga to help us each day; abyhanga, netti, nasya, diet and lifestyle according to season, herbs and mantra. Together yoga and Ayurveda help us stay balanced, open to the divine wisdom that is constant, and at ease, in our daily lives.
-AYS Training Manual [Kathryn Templeton]
Corina has been looking at the world through a camera lens since the tender age of six, when she received her first brownie camera. Her love affair with photography has been going strong for 24 years, though she graduated from her brownie a number of years ago. Corina has photographed extensively nationally and internationally, from the Red River Valley to Tel Aviv, documenting events and travels through images that capture an essence of the people, places, and stories she encounters. Her studies in literature and photography at the University of Minnesota, Morris strengthened her skills in the art of storytelling through images. Corina currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and specializes in yoga, music, and editorial photography.