“You have so much fear. Why are you so afraid?” This was a statement and question coming from, up until moments before, a complete stranger. I wasn’t trembling, or showing any physical signs of fear (or so I thought). I had just been sitting in a chair across from her, listening.
The stranger in question was NYC’s most sought-after Ayurvedic practitioner, Dr. Pratima Raichur. And before unmasking me in 10 words over a cup of tea, she'd been describing the Ayurvedic principles and the three Doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—and the five energies that compose them—space, air, fire, water, and earth (see explanations here).
As I fumbled to form a guarded response—after all, on the spectrum of death and taxes, what do you reveal to someone you just met?—she comforted me with, “You can’t hide anything. Your skin is telling me.” Rather than feeling violated, I experienced a wave of relief from really being seen.
In her slow, thoughtful, buoyant voice, Dr. Raichur explained, “This is coming from 40 years of practice, otherwise I could not just judge a person like that. But your skin is very dry—your whole body is dry." (So much for moisturizing.) "You have too much air [Vata]. That’s because of anxiety. You’re indecisive and you fluctuate too much. That’s how I would describe you: six Vata, three Pitta, and two Kapha. Your structure is Pitta—you have a bigger forehead and a tapered face; your eyes are not too big or too small, and your nails are long. But everything from head to toe is dry. There is too much fluctuation because there is no rhythm—we need to establish a rhythm.”
She confirmed her diagnoses by taking a look at my hair, skin, nails, and tongue, and asking me simple questions about sleep, diet, and digestion. Then segued into asking, “Why are you here?” rhetorically. “Because you want to be happy.” And just as I was about to argue that it’s more complicated than that, I realize it wasn't, and it isn’t.
Maybe it was the tea, the candlelight, or the fact that there weren't any machines beeping (I was recently told by a nurse friend that an alarm goes off an average of 10,000 times a day on a single floor of an American hospital), but just being there felt healing, and Dr. Raichur is the type of person who can distill the complication, misery, and hurry of everyday life into meaningfully simple statements. In other words, when she tells you that your body is a temple, or that you are beautiful, it lands.
She talked me through a series of dietary changes I could make—"not too much salad" (bless her soul) "or caffeine" (I know, I know, I know), and "nothing too cold"—to help balance my Doshas, and gave me a series of vitamins to help with digestion, anxiety, and sleeplessness. She also offered me a beautifully rich oil and thick, but not greasy, face cream to soothe my skin. "But it starts with the thoughts," she said. "Change your mind, change your habits, change your life."
She continued, "We have forgotten how to be happy and what it is to be happy. That is why we have a problem. When I was very young, my mother would tell me before I went to sleep to always think good thoughts, because the walls are listening, and they are saying, 'So be it.' Whatever thoughts you are thinking, the universe says, ‘So be it.’ They will be fulfilled. So think positive. If you think negative, the universe is still listening. If you are fearful, that is what you will bring into your life. Never think of what you don't want to happen. What do you gain from that? If we can learn to stop thinking negatively, we can achieve complete happiness. Relief starts from within."
So, in addition to her dietary prescription, she offered me a mental one: "For a half of an hour, every day, observe your thoughts. Every time you think something negative, say to yourself, three times, 'Cancel, cancel, cancel.' You will hear how many times you say cancel and how many negative thoughts you have. And every hour, for two minutes, close your eyes and give thanks for everything you have, even for waking up that day. Think 'I am so happy. I am content. I am peaceful. I am blessed.' If you keep thinking that, you will experience overwhelming joy. And the joy will keep coming."
Dr. Raichur allowed me to record our conversation (first-time visits are $135; follow-ups are $75) for journalistic purposes, and when I am feeling unmoored, hard-hearted, stressed, fearful, or victimized, I often return to it, if only to hear the soothing tone of her voice, or to remind myself that not only do I have, but I am a soul. Even if your Dosha constitution is different than mine—and my own will fluctuate depending on any number of variables—those words and thoughts should be healing. I don't always remember to take the supplements when I'm supposed to, but sticking with warm water and warm foods has warmed my body to release a lot of tension. Hot Toddy? Doctor's orders. The beauty products, too, are lovely and well-recommended. Will I go to Dr. Raichur when I break a bone or accidentally consume nuts? Probably not. But it helps to know that I might be able to heal my dry skin for free, and that I could avoid a future of arthritis and osteoporosis (long-term results of prolonged Vata imbalance) by remembering to be grateful.
"Gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, and love: those are the four principles I remember," said Dr. Raichur, "That is what Ayurveda teaches you. If you have those things, you will be always healing. You will always be doing something good for someone else. And that will keep you healthy, happy, and beautiful."
Photo by Elizabeth Brockway.