Joseph is an ayurveda nutritionist and consultant and has taught in India and the USA for many years. He currently lives in Berlin where he gives workshops about “The Art of Sacred Cooking & Dining”. His next workshop is this weekend, July 19th and 20th. More workshops will follow in september and october. He will also do workshops in Italy, Prague and Vienna this autumn.
Joseph, how did you get interested in Ayurveda?
I started as a Chinese medicine doctor. The notion of holistic health struck me at a very young age. As a teenager I grew up in a very alternative hippie world, in the West 30 years ago. Holistic philosophy was what I felt was connected to the way I saw the world, how to help people. I went in Chinese medicine, because that was the most practical thing in the 1980s. Ayurveda wasn’t really available yet in the West.
In my late twenties my partner was working for one of the first ayurvedic practitioners in the States, in San Francisco. I did a cleanse for my own healing, and about this time in the early 90s some books also have been published really making Ayurveda part of the philosophy of living, by Deepak Chopra and my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad. And that really struck me!
I’ve always been into natural medicine, exploring holistic medicine. Living in California, you are exposed to everything, and natural medicine would be practiced just like regular medicine: somebody comes to you and you do something for or to them as opposed of them being empowered to understanding themselves and to live a life around certain principles. Ayurveda is this kind of missing piece that really connects, this evolutionary step for all these holistic systems starting in the 1960s.
What’s the advantage of Ayurveda?
Unique about Ayurveda is that it looks at one part of our being, the food/body part and then the yoga and the tantra connect us with the spirit and the mind aspects. So all three of them weave together, but ayurveda is the foundation of knowing your true self. We come into this world with a body. We might not be enlightened or conscious, but we got a body, so this is the foundation that everything else is built upon: yoga, increasing the awareness, the tantric realm… Ayurveda is the foundation that everything rests on.
The main wonderful benefit of it is that it teaches people their own individual nature. This is very different from most other systems that once you identify yourself with these ways you can use these universal principles! Once people understand their place within nature and their environment, everything flows, obligations, emotions, relationships, spirituality, everything about their life, Ayurveda gives them a good guideline for their unique nature.
So you just learn about your ayurvedic body type and then everything flows?
Yeah, it’s about waking up your intuition, understanding, re-connecting to these rhythms that we all have been disconnected in modern life, especially living in the cities, we have lost connection to nature and lost connection to naturally feel what they should do: changes we need to make with the seasons, feeling the energies that are different during the different times during the day. People are moving by the clock instead of with natural rhythms. So ayurveda is just about waking this intuition again that is in our bodies, but is disturbed and lies dormant from modern living.
What should city people do with all the possibilities and disadvantages urban live today brings about?
Well, obviously we don’t need to give up modern life with all the exciting, wonderful possibilities to live life, but we want to consider some of these aspects of living and evaluate our lives and prioritize, and see if we want to prioritize harmony, health, balance in us, how does that relate to how we are living.
Where do we need to make changes? Evaluate that lifestyle that you have and then juxtapose that up against what ayurveda says are good rhythms and make changes where you can, where you are having problems. Is it the timings of your eating, the inconsistency of your routines?
And then it’s just about figuring out the proportion of what dosha balancing things it is you have to do to create an equilibrium, and that’s different for everyone. But it can layout the complete flavor, the complete palate of possibilities and then you get to choose where you need more balance. You need to figure out what aspect of your life is deficient. Do I have emotional or mental issues? Do I need to meditate more? Do I need to eat better?
Or all of them, haha!
Yeah, they all weave together, but it’s a bit by bit thing. It’s about waking up your intuition. And the more you pay attention to this in the beginning, the more you evolve, and connect your emotions and your thinking mind to higher states of consciousness.
Then the physical stuff is not ruling you, this vata pitta kapha level starts to lose its identity grip on you as you work on your growth. In the beginning you say, oh, I’m a pitta person, I got to create pitta strategies to keep in balance – after all your body is your vehicle for higher consciousness. It is the foundation. You got the body, you gotta work with it. You honour it. I got that body, I got that set, and then the identity starts to lose grip on you and than you get into higher aspects of self. In yoga you talk about sattva, rajas and tamas, this moving into a more sattvic state of being. These doshas lose grip on you.
In my life, I’ve been identifying mostly with a pitta person, but now as I get older I don’t identify as much as a fire person, this is about transcending the body. Before you transcend anything you better know it. Know yourself on this foundational level, your unique blue print. You got to know this before you can transcend it to reach higher levels of consciousness.
I know from my own personal experience how big the impact of quitting tobacco, meat, coffee and alcohol can be! The quality of your mind changes, the things you can suddenly perceive on a very subtle level…
Yes, especially in this city life we are becoming less sensitive because of all the stimuli around us or we move to a rhythm that is not our own by drinking coffee or whatever. Or we are getting caught up in the energy field of the city rhythm and the pace of people living generally unhealthy. It’s a challenge to take a step back: What is my rhythm, how can I stick to that instead of being sucked into some other rhythm? And see how these things affect you. See, if you are around a lot of people that are drinking, smoking, partying, this an energy field that you are wrapped in. If you step outside of it, then you can start to become sensitive and find out what is right for you. When you make this leap in your mind, this, oh, this is not serving me properly. And then the mind becomes clear and you can start making choices. We have to prioritize: Do we want to be surrounded by people that inspire us to live a healthy life or are we in a situation where we need to compromise. And the more you thrive towards health and consciousness, the more bad environments – be it your work or relationships – become intolerable. You just can’t do it. It doesn’t line up with your truth.
A very common conflict among yogis and alternative healers today is the quest for higher consciousness on the one hand and the need for some kind of material stability on the other…
Living in the world we live in today, that’s always a struggle. We live in a certain world in which we have limited options to live free and to express ourselves. That’s why we need to start creating networks in our communities that are beyond money-based economy, that are based on sharing, on co-operation, not on money.
This is the important work everyone needs to do in our communities that we gain control, relative control of our lives, and not being sucked into this fear and anxiety in this world. Most people are sucked outside of themselves in a fear energy field that keeps them from their inner selves and that’s the game: it’s about trying to suck you out of yourself, so you are afraid of money issues and don’t realize that this game is bullshit in the first place. The power rests in you. The power rests in the people, not that system that’s outside of you. When you remember that knowledge, this system will break down more and more.
So this is always the first piece: regain control of our health, and Ayurveda gives us the knowledge we need and lays the foundation for reaching our conscious selves, and the second thing is trying to create the things in our community. We don’t need to worry about it on the national level, we just try to make the things in our local community. And this is the best you can do: being concerned with our own growth, the growth of our circle of friends and promoting or trying to create a different way of living that is not just money based.
We are living in a very transient time, where a lot of possibilities are happening to break out of this system, so hopefully that will happen in our lifetime. But for now it’s not, so obviously we have to make money to survive, but the more we connect with our own heart, the more we connect with what our true purpose is and this ability to care for ourselves will effortlessly unfold the good karma of our actions, the ability to make a living.
There’s two types of imbalances in our lives: there’s physical problems and there’s karmic problems. Karmic problems from actions we’ve done in this lifetime or past lifetimes that we don’t know. So today we are still living with past karma that makes us struggle in our life. It’s the big picture. Some of it is mysterious…
I think it’s actually a quite good system: it keeps you hopeful, and it also explains why you are still sitting in the shit sometimes…
Exactly! It’s all in the now and not worrying about what happened and what might happen. You can only change the now.
When and why did you go to India?
I was doing ayurveda in America for years before I went to India. I went to India to get a big vacation from the West six years ago. My daughter went to university and I wanted to take myself completely out of the Western energy field and into the Indian energy field, not having to worry to make enough money, living a little bit easier, and just getting a feeling for being in the land where Ayurveda and yoga came from.
Living in India is so different from the West. I have troubles explaining it to anybody who has never been there.
Well, I give you my explanation: where we are living we have a very narrow, a tunnel vision of reality. Only a certain spectrum of live is taking place. And in India, it’s the full spectrum, for better or for worse, from very nasty, barbaric to very spiritual and enlightened, and so when you are in that full spectrum it’s very paradoxical.
India is a very paradoxical culture. It’s very different, especially from Germany; Germany is the opposite of India. In the West, things are either black or they are white. In India they are black, white and all the shades in between. They have all these amazing goddesses and worship the goddesses in rituals, but women are treated like shit. Then you have an environment, a sacred landscape that connects to their myths of creation. People will make pilgrimages to the Ganga, they kiss the bridge before they walk over the bridge and when they walk over the bridge and they throw all their trash in the river. A person can be the most irritating, dishonest, cheating person one minute and the most beautiful, spiritual and philosophical the next one.
All the paradoxes of existence exist there. When we go there, just from being in this energy field, it stirs the paradoxes within us that don’t get to express themselves within the limited spectrum of reality in the West. So if we go there we are naturally like oh my god! And it stirs up shit within you and it allows for different aspects of yourself that can come out of you and that would either be temporary confusion or liberation and transformation.
And so you started to teach in Rishikesh…?
Yeah, six years ago I came there. I wasn’t planning to teach there, I was planning to study some more and I was trying to find a good programme to work with. But many things that I found were commercialized and lacked substance. I was used to very high standard from my Indian teacher in America, Dr. Vasant Lad, and so I could discern very quickly what was genuine, what was substantial, and most programmes in India didn’t fit that category. So after engaging in different programmes, I just realized that I would do my thing there. One day I went to an Ayurvedic doctor and took a massage and I was like oh my god, I can do this a hundred times better! And that was actually what inspired me to teaching Ayurveda in Rishikesh and Dharamsala.
Thank you very much!