The concept of holistic health acknowledges that a human being is-and must be related to as-body, mind, and spirit. This concept has become an increasingly popular topic of conversation in Western culture over the last two decades. I began my personal journey to understand and embody it in the late 1960s and have been involved in public education on the subject since the mid-1970s. What I have noticed over the years is the frequent mistaking of “alternative” healing for “holistic” healing. Alternative simply means a method not ordinarily used in conventional treatment. A doctor may add herbal or vitamin therapy to a patient’s treatment, thereby making it more gentle and less toxic (which is wonderful and needed) but still fail to take into consideration the patient’s state of mind and lifestyle, which are inevitably contributing to the present manifestation of “disease.”
Doctors may, through “alternative” treatment, be able to alter the body’s chemistry and eliminate the symptoms of disease, but have they righted the imbalance in the body, mind, and spirit? It that imbalance is not addressed, we are not aligned with who we really are, and disease in one form or another will manifest once again.
So when we speak about healing or good health, we must look deeper and more fully at ourselves and at our methods of treatment that we generally do in this “make it easy, make it quick, and if at all possible make it something someone else can do for me” society.
The Vedas are the oldest and most complete body of knowledge to address the who, what, and why of human existence. They have covered the “how to” (using the current vernacular) through healing and attunement methods, coming from the understanding that we are body, mind, and spirit, innately and unalterably dependent on the rest of creation.
In Ayurveda: A Life of Balance, Maya introduces the Ayurvedic diet with universal flavor and shows how to awaken ahamkara (the memory of who we really are) through the proper use of wholesome foods. By understanding our individual body types, and by using foods that best support and enhance each type, we are employing a powerful and essential method of attunement.
I am truly grateful to Maya and the handful of other Vedic scholars who continue to devote their lives to sharing this knowledge with the rest of the world-a world that is in great need and that, we hope, may finally be ready.
I met Maya almost two decades ago in the early morning light at Carl Shurz Park overlooking the East River in Manhattan. She was then a famous designer with a plush Madison Avenue store selling to the likes of Jackie Onassis. I was still a photographer working primarily for Time Magazine and NBC. Our friendship grew quickly. We spent endless hours discussing the overwhelming foreseeable plights of our planet. Maya is a great visionary whose spiritual fortitude was later to rescue her from her devastating war with cancer. (Her cancer was diagnosed as terminal, and she was given the vague possibility of six months to live).
Maya became reclusive during that time and I traveled to various hospitals to bring her native Indian foods. They were all that she needed from the outside world. She confided that she chose to be reclusive since sympathy can kill someone faster than cancer. Her recovery was miraculous.
Maya returned to her life profoundly transformed and effected great changes in her personal lifestyle. She spent many years journeying and studying the sciences of holistic health, while successfully aiding numerous other cancer patients. Among her first studies was macrobiotics; later she studied the sciences of Ayurveda and yoga.
She has always carried the deep markings of a staunch Brahmin background. It was remarkable to watch her inherit the role of her true destiny. After the death of her beloved father, who was also her early teacher, Maya chose the life of a spiritual renunciate and embarked on the scholarly study of the Vedas, the original Hindu scriptures. Although we have since gone to different states and different pursuits, our shared vision has remained intact.
Like a pure white lily that is rooted in the mud of extensive personal experience, Maya is indeed that shining yogi. Her true work has only just begun. And I take great joy in watching the petals of her wisdom open to their full glory.
Ayurveda: A Life of Balance will bring benefit to everyone who is conscious of personal health and our global environment.
Ayurveda A Life of Balance
Forced by cancer to reexamine and redirect her life, Maya Tiwari left a highly successful New York design career and returned to her native India to study Ayurvedic medicine. Her book, a profound but practical testament to the healing power of balanced living, shows how Ayurveda’s ancient principles of health can help you achieve the highest levels of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
The traditional form of medicine in India for more than five thousand years, Ayurveda relies primarily on the proper use of foods and herbs to maintain or restore the body’s natural state of balance. While Ayurvedic healing has in recent years become increasingly well known in the West, Maya Tiwari is the first author to provide us with a comprehensive working guide to Ayurveda as a way of life.
She expands the traditional number of body types (and their respective dietary requirements) from seven to ten and discusses the psychospiritual nature of the types-an area that no other Western author addresses. A comprehensive questionnaire enable you to determine your own body type, and extensive charts identify the attributes of specific foods and their place in your diet. Seasonal menus and recipes (all vegetarian) are keyed to each of the body types, allowing you to choose the foods and spices that are ideally suited to your constitution. When we eat seasonal, fresh foods according to Ayurvedic wisdom, we attune with our most essential natures and awaken ahamkara, the memory of who we really are.
Tiwari brings every feature of Ayurveda back to its true source-the health of the spirit. She shows wholesome foods and spiritual practices (known as sadhanas) of the hearth, home, garden, and community connect us with our primal memory of a time when human beings lived in harmony with all of nature. Performed with awareness and gratitude, sadhanas enhance the nourishing and healing properties of food and act as a catalyst to our innate capacity for self-healing.
“A very complete and authoritative manual on the Vedic principles of health and nutrition, written by a well-respected authority in the field. It will be of great benefit to the layperson and professional alike.”
“Here is a very special person who has journeyed through cancer, has healed herself, and now teaches others how to cross over the dark passages to light and life. This deeply personal and spiritual offering is a necessity to everyone who seeks to know the ancient secrets of healing from the Ayurvedas.”
Maya Tiwari was born and raised in a traditional Hindu home in British Guiana (now Guyana). After her recovery from cancer, she returned to her native roots in the Vedas, and became a devout student of Ayurveda and Vedanta. Now a veteran teacher of the centuries-old healing art, Maya gives seminars throughout the United States. She is a coauthor of Diet for Natural Beauty.
The pervasive forces of protection are always at work. How else can a city like New York-my oasis of comfort for two decades-survive all the abuse, misuse, corruption, and decay rendered upon her? For years, I was washed clean by her pink northern lights at dusk. Her rivers absorbed my pain and the enormous collective pain of all her inhabitants. To live there was to know beyond a doubt that a power greater than the sum of humans exists and protects us, in spite of ourselves. Cosmic intelligence seeps through impenetrable walls; signs and symbols of life speak clearly, if only we would listen.
For many years I lived in Greenwich Village, across from a very small square. Each day as I walked past the park, the pigeons scurried about for scraps of bread fed them by the homeless and elderly. One day as I walked by all the pigeons flew away. That was the day I discovered that I had cancer. The journey that ensued took me through the darkly shadowed valley of my innermost self.
My purpose in writing this personal story is to share my discoveries as a seeker. Cancer has been my greatest teacher. Like a compass, it has guided me toward the path I have since been treading. It has given back to me my “memory,” and the ability to make wholesome choices and to examine my motives. In short, it has taught me how to be alert to the significance of my being here.
I believe that no recovery is by chance. Mine was the result of a deliberate choice to live, to make peace with myself and to dissolve my cancer, which I had created inside of me. Before this resolve set in, I went through a dark period of fear followed by a longer stage of having blind faith in several well-recognized physicians and established medical institutions. Soon after being reassured that my condition was benign, I learned it was not. It had migrated throughout the body and taken firm root in my liver; a malignant mass had also formed next to my kidneys. The pace of my physical failing was simply accelerated by the many rounds of radiation therapy. An array of baffled physician began offering me various comfortable ways to exit the planet.
While in the warm, false embrace of morphine following my tenth surgical operation, I understood that I would most assuredly die unless I ran from what was then the fifth medical facility. The raw truth had impacted and, for the first time in my life, I felt lost. Years of anger and frustration, along with pin, surfaced. Anger at allowing myself to be thrown against those cold walls with no reprieve; frustration with those scientific chaps who had no regard for the cause of my condition; pain from realizing I had no choice but to audit my life and my agenda for it.
I knew that I would come face to face with my reasons for trying to kill myself at such a young age. Examining every detail of my past with a microscope was crucial to my new agenda-my recovery agenda. My biggest discovery in the process was that the real battles had begun long before my cancer surfaced. During this period of soul searching, I had to be extremely honest with myself and have consistency with my disciplines. I recognized that my cancer was born of me and because of me. I was the problem, and yet invariably also the solution.
Solitude was essential to the primal probing of my innermost self. That winter, I isolated myself for three months in a small cabin in the undifferentiated white of the Vermont winter. If I was going to die, I had to set certain things right with myself. As I kept the wood fires burning, I ceaselessly emptied myself of fears, pain, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Days ran into nights unnoticed because of the tears. I understood how death had become an unconscious solution to my grief, and how all my actions had been channeled to that end. I saw how well I had manipulated my life, and how its successes had been founded on an enormous myth of my own construction.
I was guilty of tampering with the subtle forces of my primal self. I had been brought up in a traditional Hindu home in British Guiana, three generations removed from mother India. By the age of fifteen, I had decided to recarve my life to fit an image of my own choosing. This action was rooted in the false belief that I had the power to live separately from the circumstances of a painful childhood, that could totally replace the family, the tradition, the lineage, and all the beauty and anguish that were an intrinsic part of my personal heritage, in sum, I had created a second life.
What I had not counted on was the factor of memory: the unerasable record of layer upon layer of both resolved and unresolved past impressions. The truths too painful to deal with; the unrealistic expectations of myself; the childhood agonies I had run from; the loose ends of family ties; the primal anger that stemmed from generations of being uprooted all these were stored intact. They became the fodder for my recovery.
This division in myself, this second life, was the primary reason for my cancer. According to the Vedic scriptures, there are pursuits in life common to all human beings; dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. Dharma is one’s alignment with what is right as defined by the universal laws of nature; artha is the natural pursuit of wealth; kama is the natural pursuit of pleasures; and moksha is absolute freedom or liberation from all actions of artha, kama, and even dharma. The cycle of rebirth can only end through moksha, when direct knowledge of the self is known Moksha, freedom from human limitation, is considered the last accomplishment of human life. Although the pursuit of wealth and pleasure is admittedly a natural part of life, when the means defy the laws of universal dharma, that pursuit becomes a living hell. Dharma, the universal law of nature, is part of every society, every tradition, every religion, as it is part of every human being. By common sense, we are aware when we rub against the grain of what is right.
Through that Vermont winter, I cosseted myself in the warmth of a raging fire only to feel the desolate cold of my inner being. How many inner signals I must have missed to find myself confronted with this fatal situation. How wrong I was in trying to rewrite my destiny. For those few months, my nightmares became reality as I delved into all my unconscious agendas. Cancer, indeed, has a way of knocking us down in order to get us out of our own way.
According to the Vedas, the ancient sacred scriptures of India, six qualities are necessary to succeed in any venture: proper effort; perseverance; courage; knowledge of the given pursuit; skill and resources; and the capacity to overcome obstacles. While these qualities brought me great success in the material world, ironically I had neglected to apply them to my life as a human being. As a result, my shallow success inevitably had to collapse. I had tampered with universal forces and thus was deprived of their invincible protection.
Finally I reached the bottom and felt that to continue to live would be too brutal. Too tired to pursue answers to the great mysteries, I prayer to quietly slip away. In the agony of this prayer, a vision of my father appeared. I had severed all ties with my father and family twelve years earlier. As his image appeared to me my life began to turn inside out. The floodgates of cognition burst open, and memories of the past washed through my mind. All the closets were being emptied; all the monsters were pouring out. As I beheld his face-humbled by the years, seasoned with wisdom, quiet and compassionate-I was startled not to find the terrifying giant of my childhood. He seemed to know of my grief and was appearing to remind me of something I had forgotten since childhood. That something was karma. The word dropped like a bomb. The inescapable, the inevitable. What was death but a cosmic reaction to all actions in life, a notch in the wheel of life, and a guaranteed rebirth.
According to the Vedas, a human birth is not easy to achieve. Once the human body materializes, whether we understand it as due to karma or to natural selection, the factor of free will and the power of self-reflection come into play. The human birth is the only one endowed with the capacity to make choices. Each choice we make fuels the turning of the wheel of karma. Once we recognize this innate power, we must take responsibility for all our actions. I saw that to slip away silently would only compound my errors. I would then incur even more pain in the next life on the continuum of the life cycle. For death, according to the laws of karma, is but a brief silencing of memory.
The Atman, which is the immortal spirit in each of us, continues, as do the collective memories of all our lives, which serve as essential guides through all time. Our choices and actions determine the nature of our rebirths. We are fully accountable for the choice to die, like the choice to live. If death was not the absolute resolution, what was my big hurry to stop spinning the wheel of life? I had to act according to the dharma. I had no choice but to see this birth through to its proper conclusion. Cancer showed me the false notions of my ways and the truth of the saying, Dharma raksati raksatah: if you protect dharma, it will protect you.
One day after three months, I left Vermont with the full knowledge that I would live. From the day on I felt death’s grip loosen. Free of my old burdens, I had a lightness and a certain serenity. I took complete control of my life. Most of my recovery had in fact occurred during those few timeless months. Upon my returning to the world and having several tests, no sign of cancer was present in my blood. Prior to Vermont, the growth rate of my tumors had been rapid. Now only the tumor above one kidney remained, and it was about the same size as before. It was clear that my purging had arrested the disease, and that I was on the winning side.
Since the remaining tumor was inoperable, I was presented with a new set of options. A complete diet and lifestyle change was inevitable, but these changes would take a long time to finally rid my body of the tumor. Fears lingered, as I was still unable to trust that the intelligence of nature, my nature, would rid my body of all foreign matter as the connection to memory and my inner being strengthened. I looked into a course of chemotherapy treatment. Although I had lost faith in the scientific medical practices, I was still dependent on the scientists, with their obsession to achieve the end regardless of means. I understood that before my Vermont sojourn, I had been absent from my own healing process. Now I wanted to rid my body immediately of the tumor and confront the challenge of assuming full responsibility for my actions. At least I was going to be very present and involved in the curative process. To rid myself of my residual enemy, I sought and found a doctor of great reason and science with whom I could work.
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