Ayurveda is Holistic Medicine: An Interview with Tanja Bungardt-Price

Ananda Ayurveda

Since some people have never heard of Ayurveda, I sat down with Tanja Bungardt-Price to find out more about it. The term itself comes from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge).

Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, ​Tanja is a NAMA-certified Ayurvedic practitioner, a professional member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), an Ayurvedic educator and a certified yoga teacher.

How would you define or describe Ayurveda in a sentence or two?

It’s the ancient Indian holistic medical science that helps you balance body, mind and spirit using the knowledge of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether/space), which manifest–in our bodies–as the three doshas (in Ayurvedic medicine, a dosha is each of three energies – vata, pitta, kapha –believed to circulate in the body and govern physiological activity).

How and when were you first introduced to Ayurveda?

I was first interested while taking my YTT in Chicago at Moksha Yoga Center. The training takes about two years. We had a broader introduction to it. Daren Friesen, who is the owner/trainer, goes to India every year to practice Ashtanga in Mysore and goes to all the Ayurvedic practitioners and doctors. It connected with me, and I got interested. Therefore, I went to Mysore myself to explore.

In Ayurveda, the mind and body are connected. Nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.

What basic principles of Ayurveda make it different from modern western medicine?

In Ayurveda, the mind and body are connected. Nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.

Really, the biggest difference is that Ayurveda focuses on balancing body, mind and spirit. They are so deeply connected, that if one is out of balance, we need to look at all. Ayurvedic practitioners seek the root cause of a health issue and try to address the root cause instead of telling the patient to just take medicine or have surgery. For example, heart trouble may come from sadness. Most seem to understand sadness may lead to heart disease.

Powerful Ayurvedic herbs

Diet, digestive power, restful sleep and tuning in to your body play important roles in Ayurveda but modern life causes us to lose focus on these areas. How do you get clients to prioritize these areas?

Frequently, when people come to me, they’ve already done some research on Ayurveda. That’s a sign that they’re ready to do more than just take a pill. An initial Ayurveda visit with me takes two+ hours. The client already knows it’s going to be more intense and in-depth than going to a western doctor who may not have as much time.

I prepare them to talk about many things without overwhelming them. It’s key to start slowly and make a big impact. For example, putting essential oil on marma points may have the most significant impact for someone with asthma.

Sometimes, a “fix” can be fairly simple. For example, a pitta (fire and water elements) should avoid drinking kombucha because it increases pitta (too much fire is not good).

Other times, root causes are more complex. For example, a surgeon may remove a patient’s gall bladder without explaining what it does and how to adjust the diet once the gall bladder is gone. I need to dig into the root cause of why their gall bladder was removed in the first place. Was there a trauma or some other incident? So I educate them on the root cause, the diet and emotional component connected with the loss of the gallbladder (Manipura Chakra).

Once I’ve made a big impact and the client is sold on Ayurveda, they’re more open to other changes. I focus on education, teaching them the connection between what they’re eating and how they feel.

Let’s talk about doshas for a minute. Many who hear about Ayurveda want to take a dosha quiz. Is it fair to say that your dosha is your base constitution?

Yes, though it’s not that simple. Constitution at the moment of conception, your prakrti, won’t change.  Your current dosha balance or vikrti changes constantly. Really, many people are out of balance for a really long time.

Some of the confusion arises because the word dosha is used to describe both prakrti and vikrti.

If you do take a dosha quiz, fill it out based on a time when you were healthy and happy. Don’t answer it based on what’s going on in the moment.

We’re in a society of multi-taskers, and our brain no longer knows how to do one thing at a time.

Knowing your dosha based on a time when you were healthy and happy isn’t the whole story either, is it?

No. It surprises me how many people are anxious and have insomnia – a hard time falling and staying asleep. Most of the imbalances I see are vata. We’re in a society of multi-taskers, and our brain no longer knows how to do one thing at a time. People get bored. We can no longer sit still. We watch the television and play on our iPhones at the same time.

By multitasking, we’re constantly vata-aggravating ourselves. Many people can’t meditate because the brain can’t sit there and be still. Being instead of doing is hard in our society. With what’s going on right now (with COVID-19), the whole world is vata imbalanced.

Can you tell me a little bit about the five elements and imbalances in the doshas?

(Laughing) Here comes some horrible stereo-typing!

Vata as your constitution involves air and ether (space). If that’s dominant, you show the qualities of cold, lightness, dryness, and mobility. Vatas often have long narrow arms and are flexible. They are enthusiastic, artful and creative when balanced. Think of gymnasts and dancers.

A pitta constitution involves fire and water. Pitta is about transformation – absorbing knowledge and transforming. Transforming food into nutrients and sensory intakes into knowledge. They often have a medium/athletic build, a strong jaw and intense eyes. Think of doctors, lawyers and other leaders.

The kapha constitution involves earth and water. Kaphas are strong, stable, grounded, nourishing and loving. They have a larger build, and their movements are slower. They have an amazing immune system. Think of nurses, teachers, chefs and other nurturing roles.

Tanja Bungardt-Price and Bill Price
Bill Price & Tanja Bungardt-Price, Ananda Ayurveda & Yoglish

Let’s talk about when you and your husband, Bill, started working with the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. When did you start as a lecturer there?

I’ve been in Tucson for five years. At one point, I rented a room at Rooted – the massage clinic in Tucson. The Weil Center was interested in people doing hands-on and energy work. They found out that I was NAMA  (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) board-certified and asked if I would do some lectures. I did it two times each year, for four years. We still enjoy participating in the annual Manual Extravaganza.

Are most students in the Integrative program studying to become medical doctors? Do you feel that they really embrace what they’re learning about Ayurveda? Will they use it with patients? Do they need more training to do that?

The number of students in the program has grown over the four years we’ve been doing the lectures.

Currently, I go to Banner once a month for a patient conference with all integrative practitioners and integrative doctors who work with Banner patients. We discuss a patient case each month, and we each discuss how we would treat it.

Integrative doctors are very interested in Ayurveda and integrate the knowledge they have of it. Those that have Ayurveda knowledge are humble about knowing when to refer to an Ayurvedic practitioner. Similarly, I know when it’s time to refer a client to a western doctor.

For me, it’s not an either/or. Western and eastern medicine working together and partnering together is best.

Currently, there are a handful of other universities in the country that offer integrative medicine programs, though not all offer Ayurveda.

Speaking of training, when did you decide to become NAMA certified?

Immediately upon graduation from Kanyakumari Ayurveda and Yoga Wellness Center. Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed in the United States. So, you’ll find many different ‘flavors’ of Ayurveda offered. Some are practicing after taking just a few classes. 

NAMA is working on getting licenses for certified practitioners. The test to become certified is very difficult. To become a NAMA-certified school is hard. The standards are high, and it is important to me to have a standard.

If a client moves away from Tucson and prefers face-to-face, I tell them to find a NAMA-certified practitioner. It’s a great time for integrative and holistic medicine to grow.

I also have a number of clients who come to me with no health insurance or who are frustrated with western medicine. With the training I have, I usually can help them.

Ayurveda therapy: Shirodhara
Shirodhara, a form of Ayurvedic therapy

You’re an Ayurveda instructor in several yoga teacher training programs in Tucson. What is the relationship between Ayurveda and yoga?

Ayurveda Helps a Yogi Stay Healthy & Balanced

They are sister sciences. Think of a yogi with a stomachache sitting and trying to meditate. You can’t find enlightenment while your stomach is hurting! Ayurveda comes in to help heal. In America, we’re all unbalanced, and we really need to use food to get balanced.

Yogic diet and Ayurvedic diets are different. The yogic diet is vegan and sattvic, for example, no onions or garlic. It’s pure prana. Ayurvedic food is medicine, so nothing is off-limits. We will use onion and garlic as an antibiotic. If you’re malnourished in Alaska, I probably would encourage you to have bone marrow soup or even meat. An ayurvedic diet helps a yogi stay healthy and balanced.

Yoga Aids Ayurvedic Healing

Ayurveda sometimes uses yoga to get in balance – pranayama, especially. For example, I may use Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril breathing) for a vata to calm the mind. Sheetali to cool a pitta’s acid reflux and anger. With a kapha, Kapalabhati (Skull-Shining breath) starts up the fires. There are poses to aid digestion, the six movements of the spine for back problems. And, of course, a kapha may need 10 sun salutations.

Yoga connects you to body, mind, & spirit. In the YTT, I help each person learn how different imbalances need different queues to help them. A vata who can’t balance because they aren’t rooted to mother earth. My queue is to feel your foot connect to mother earth, to grow roots, calm down and get stable. With a pitta, you have to teach to surrender instead of “winning” at tree pose.  A kapha can stand in tree pose all day but needs queues about lifting up to the sky. Their Earth and water pull them down.

People often are drawn to foods, exercise and even other people that aren’t good for them. For example, hot yoga classes typically are filled with pittas. Then, they wonder why they suffer from eczema! A vata needs more restorative yoga and more queues. They do well with a guided savasana, encouraging them to feel their body and sensations. You can’t leave a kapha in savasana too long, because they’ll fall asleep!

Ayurveda can teach you compassion and love for yourself, as well as others. It helps you learn what you need to do to stay in balance and helps you make the right decisions.

What else do you want the world to know?

Ayurveda is available for everyone! It makes you more compassionate to yourself and others. It helped me to understand myself better, my husband better and my dad better.

My dad is vata with vata imbalance. He can be a drama queen about very small things, but now that I understand his nature and imbalances, I understand that he’s more sensitive. He experiences things differently.

Body-shaming is awful. Understanding that we’re all happy and healthy doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Vata happy and healthy is long/thin, while kapha is happy and healthy at a larger weight.

Ayurveda can teach you compassion and love for yourself, as well as others. It helps you learn what you need to do to stay in balance and helps you make the right decisions.

Ayurveda: Ginger Infused Beverage

Tanja and Bill own and operate Ananda Ayurveda & Yogalish in Tucson, Arizona. More info at yogalish.com

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