Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar. Dr. Suhas, as he is called by clients and friends, is a classically trained Ayurvedic physician and a gold medalist from the prestigious Pune University. A Rigvedic Brahmin by tradition and an accomplished clinician by training adds tremendous value to his clients and students alike. He currently leads an Ayurvedic clinic offering panchakarma diet and lifestyle consultations, Vedic astrology, Vedic counseling, medical dietology, and herbal medicine.
With Sounds True, Dr. Suhas has released two audio programs—Effortless Weight Loss the Ayurvedic Way and a six-session audio learning series called Ayurvedic Wellness: The Art and Science of Vibrant Health, where he offers practical instruction in cornerstone principles of Ayurveda, including diet, exercise, breathing, and meditation [to] balance, heal, and transform your life.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Dr. Suhas and I spoke about Ayurvedic wisdom for long life—particularly in relationship to our diet—and the benefits of eating less as we age. We also talked about fasting and recommendations from Ayurveda for a regular, healthy 24-hour fast. We also talked about philosophical insights from Ayurveda that help promote resiliency and optimism—and, finally, Dr. Suhas’s vision for how Ayurveda can dramatically help us with our healthcare crisis in the West. Here’s my conversation with Dr. Suhas:
Dr. Suhas, I wanted to begin by asking you to comment on a comment that Deepak Chopra makes at the beginning of your new book, The Hot Belly Diet. Deepak writes, “The digestive tract is the most critical system in the body.” In introducing The Hot Belly Diet, these are Deepak Chopra’s words: “The digestive tract is the most critical system in the body.”
I thought to myself, “Is that really true? What about the circulatory system? The respiratory system? Why the digestive tract?”
Suhas Kshirsagar: Well, I think he’s right in saying that because the digestive system is responsible for everything that we metabolize and convert. He’s broadly referring to the terms of how we ingest and metabolize not only food, but every experience. Whether we like it or not, our digestive system is kind of the doorway for all the food to get in and convert itself into the nutrients that are required for the cells and tissues to stay alive.
So, it does go through the digestive system. In the ancient Ayurvedic texts, it is often referred [to] as “the sacred fire,” which is burning in the middle of you. That sacred fire is a constant process of metabolic furnace that is keeping you warm and alive—because the very first thing that happens when you are dead and gone is you are cold. To maintain the body temperature to even that level where everything can be sustained is one of the main functions of your digestive fire and digestive system.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, we always describe “diet” as what you take in from any field of perception—from any mode of intellect. Everything that you touch, that you see, that you smell, that you smell, [and] that you sense—what you take in and how you metabolize that. That’s what you create your body [with].
So, we are the metabolic end-product of what we perceive and how we perceive the world in and out to us. That’s exactly what he was referring to.
Even though my new book, The Hot Belly Diet, is about rekindling your metabolic fire and digestive agni, as we call it, it is also about rekindling your fire—your passion—for life. This is all about understanding that sense, that feeling light, feeling right, feeling radiant—having that desire to make the right, positive health choices should come from that quality of fire and the radiant light of knowledge. [This] will avoid the common mistakes that we make—what we call in Ayurveda “the pragyaparadh,” [or], “mistakes of intellect.”
In a broader spectrum, he is very much right in describing that.
TS: Now, let’s talk a little bit about the ways that we take things in that need to be digested that aren’t specifically related to what we eat. Because in this conversation, Dr. Suhas, we’re going to talk a lot about The Hot Belly Diet and what to eat and what not to eat and when to eat. Et cetera, et cetera.
But tell me about all the other ways we have the potential to take in healthy nutrients or not.
SK: I think—to break it down very simply—there are only three things that we require to stay alive. Number one is air. Without that, you cannot really go very far. Number two is water—that you can go without it for a few days, I would say. And food, which is the least important on the list—which you can stay alive for about a month or so without the food.
If you really pay attention to eating small and in the right proportions of food, you can live a healthier, happier, and longer life. So, in all the spiritual tradition, paying attention to eating smaller portions of the food and eating the right kind of food has always been an important thing.
They pay more attention to how you are looking at everything else—how you stay positive; how you become a little bit more optimistic in how you are ingesting the experience; what your makeup is, how you lead your life, and how you assimilate information; your upbringing; how you were raised; how you look at a given situation and create a metabolic response into your body. [This is] because, at the end of the day—even in medicine nowadays—we are realizing that the body’s internal state can constantly get altered by everything that you see through the gateways of perception, which [are] your senses.
And I think this is relating to this age-old Vedic wisdom that [it was] always understood that the way you perceive your world, you become. Whether you talk about cortisol, whether you talk about [the] endocrine system, whether you talk about all the different molecules of emotions that are affecting your system, it is always dependent upon the way you look at things—the way you perceive things. The way you manage your stresses. The way your outlook has become.
As the constant pursuit of enlightenment is constantly reshaping your past ideas—polishing your attitude a little bit—and trying to become a better human being, that is one of the most important goals. Even for Ayurvedic medicine, because health is a byproduct of enlightenment. Once you’re constantly on the track of trying to become a better human being, you’re more likely to stay healthy that way.
TS: OK. Now, I have a question about that, because that’s a very strong comment. “Health is a byproduct of enlightenment.” So, I’m imagining—and when you said it, I imagined someone like Ramana Maharshi—and I know you’re familiar, Dr. Suhas, with this great saint from India who died of cancer. He’s the first example that came to mind of supposedly a great, enlightened person who didn’t seem very healthy. How do you make sense of that?
SK: It’s funny that you ask this question, because I’m also a medical astrologer, and we all are going through different ages and different lifetimes of bringing our karma with us—whether we are doing the right things or the wrong things. So, we always have to burn some of our karmic journeys in our move toward the next phase of life.
In a broader sense, enlightenment is almost liberation from the need to take rebirth and go through this cycle of life and birth over and over again. So, many enlightened sages have to go through the suffering that their body has to go through within the same lifetime while they stay enlightened—and body as a carpet goes through the changes, and the suffering that it inflicts upon [it] in terms of your diseases.
We have seen many enlightened saints—I’m not talking about some of them who were apparently making mistakes [that] were contributing to their diseases. But in spite of that, they were always going through these shifts and transformations, which their karmic journey has brought together to certain things.
But, one differentiating point is: even when these people go through some of these physical challenges, I would say—I’ve seen a very different spark of life and spiritual wisdom in their living and in their outlook. Even when they’re dying and slowly going through the degenerative process of the bodily decay [as it progresses]. We have witnessed many masters who have gone through those things.
The body is the first thing [that] is important. It is very interesting for you to ask this question, because the motto of Ayurveda—and it’s a Sanskrit motto—which says, “Ayurveda Amritanam.” The motto of Ayurveda is, “Ayurveda for immortality.” And why would someone create a medical science which would actually talk about immortality?
So, it is a science [that] always tells us, “You have to do what you have to do for your body.” But the pursuit should always be in an enlightened manner so that you can be connecting yourself with your immortal self, where you are never born and are never gone. Once you are there, then whatever happens to the body, you can simply witness as it is going on as if you are watching a procession or something like that.
So, many of these enlightened masters—I won’t say have disconnected [themselves], but have reached to a level where they are in their enlightened pursuit and they are looking at their body as a mere procession, which is going through the chores of pain and suffering and diseases and sickness. [It’s] because even aging is a disease described in Ayurveda. [There’s the] 100 percent mortality rate that we have.
But it’s how evolved we are—how easily we are on the evolutionary track—and how minimal suffering we let affect us. I think that’s one of the few signs that we always need to tap into.
TS: When you say aging is considered a disease, are you saying that the aging process is not a requirement of human life for all of us?
SK: Well, as I said, it can be slowed down. But as I said, the first breath that you take takes you to the last breath eventually, at some point. Your full-time job is to improve the quality and quantity in between the two breaths.
All the age-old techniques—whether you talk about meditation, whether you talk about pranayama, where you talk about increasing the gap between the two breaths—it’s almost as if you’re born with a specific number of breaths. As we can increase the gap in between them—if you can slow down your heart rate, pulse rate, respiratory rate, even the metabolic rate—you’re going to live longer and healthier and happier.
So, a relaxation response to everything can cultivate that. This has been proven by modern medicine over and over and over again. When you’re under stress, this whole fight-or-flight response that you get into—all the hormonal regulation you get into. Your heart beats like a flutter. The brain starts aging; the heart starts getting affected. All of these things are the signs of premature aging. And if you want to really reverse—and I’m not saying that we are going to retard the aging process, which is biologically impossible to completely stop—but you can slow down the aging process.
And that’s the whole purpose of the whole Ayurvedic concept of refinement and rejuvenation. Whether you want to keep the cells and tissues healthier; whether you want to maintain the clarity of your senses as long as you can—because it doesn’t matter how many wrinkles you have on your skin. What matters the most is whether your senses tend to be very clear, even when you’re [in your] 70s, 80s, and 90s. If you see those people who are in their 90s and who can carry on the perfect conversation—give a nice, long talk about given topic in a very interesting, engaging way—and can remember, recall, and retain any information that happened 40, 50, 60 years ago, that is a reversal of aging.
TS: Now, you said something interesting: that eating less, basically—eating these small portions—would help us if we’re interested in a long, healthy life. It seems like that’s now pretty clearly proven. Is that true?
SK: That is absolutely true, because I think we created a whole science based upon nutrition where it was almost coming from a scarcity mentality—that you need to have this, you need to have that. You need to eat this much of this, that much of that.
But we are realizing it, painfully enough, that people are dying due to over-nutrition in our country. We are having a situation where most of the people are overfed and under-nourished. When we start eating less, the channels are opened. You feel lightness. You feel clarity. Those people who live close to 100 years—one of the common denominators of their secret of living longer is that they’re eating less. And most of the calories that they are eating [are] well before three o’clock in the afternoon. There’s a lot of science and research [that] is done—it’s not only important what you eat, but when, where, how, and why you eat [are] also very important.
So, you are absolutely right. Actually eating less is more healthy than eating too much. It’s an interesting paradox, where half of the world is dying because of undernourishment and the rest of the half of the world is dying due to over-nourishment. We need to really draw a line where we have to select some really healthy, natural, vibrant, small portions of food and eat those.
One of the premises of The Hot Belly Diet is, “Follow the routines of nature.” If you are living in accordance with the laws of nature, you are perfectly safe and healthy. Instead of really looking at the man-made science, pay attention to the god-made nature outside.
When the sun is waking up in the morning, your digestive fire is waking up at that time. So, you don’t want to have a huge, heavy breakfast at that time. You’re just waking up after seven, eight hours of sleep. The sunlight is tender outside. You want to eat something light and warm and easily digestible—maybe like a small bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with some nuts and ghee and berries and things like that.
Then, when the sun is prominent in the middle of the day, that’s when you want to have your main lunch—when your digestive fire is really awake. That’s the major portion of the calories that you will take for that day.
And in the evening, when the sunlight is fading, you should be having a lighter dinner. That should be at least three to four hours before you sleep in the evening, so that you digest that food really well before you sleep.
It’s as simple as that. If you follow this, then it becomes rather easy. So, eating less, eating light, and eating right is a simple Ayurvedic principle, which will probably improve and increase your longevity.
TS: So, there’s some connection between the light of the sun and my digestive fire?
SK: That’s correct. Because that is the representation of liver and your digestive fire, which correlate to the sunlight.
Sun is the giver of life. Our metabolic fire or agni—or digestive fire—is all correlated with the relation with sunlight.
TS: What about people who say, “You know, you’re supposed to have a really big breakfast. Start the day off right by having this breakfast like a king!” That kind of idea.
SK: Again, that’s something where we always want to make sure that you are not really taxing yourself eating too much food. Those are the people—when they probably eat a huge breakfast and they’re not that hungry for lunch, they are often skipping their lunch or eating something super-light for lunch. Then, they are ravenously hungry for later in the evening.
I think that’s a common mistake and is a common advice which is given to people. That is something which I see in my practice [that] doesn’t work, because people come back home and eat that huge, big meal in the night. They are sleeping with that big meal in their belly. When they are having that food in their belly, their heart rate, pulse rate, respiratory rate—everything—slows down because they’re sleeping for seven, eight, nine hours. That food remains in their system not being digested.
They wake up feeling dull, heavy, and groggy. You try to put another big meal on top of that. So, you’re actually mixing undigested food with the fresh, new food because someone tells you that you have to eat a big breakfast at that time. Your body is not ready to digest that food at that time.
So, I think it’s one of the things which I do with my clients—and many of them who have the success stories of awakening their digestive fire have seen a huge benefit of having a lighter breakfast than having the huge, big breakfast in the morning.
TS: OK. So, to go a little further into this question of when I should be eating—because I’m quite curious about this—one of the things that you emphasize in your work is that it’s better to let yourself get hungry between meals than to eat like six small meals during the course of the day—which I’ve heard other nutrition experts recommend. “Never let yourself get too hungry, because then you’ll eat the wrong thing.” That kind of thing.
But you’re suggesting something different, which is there’s value in letting the digestive fire heat up. Can you help me understand that?
SK: Yes. Hunger is an interesting word. Having a sense of good hunger is considered to be a sign of good health from all Ayurvedic points of view and all of the wisdom traditions. They actually talk a lot about that need of the body to feel that hungry.
And I’m not talking about any false hunger or blood sugar fluctuations. I’m talking about genuinely feeling need to receive the food. When you feel that, that’s almost a sign or a signal that the body’s trying to send you that, “I’m ready to receive some food. And if you give me the right kind of food at this time, I should be able to metabolize and convert [it] into the proper nutrients and the cells and tissues you want.”
But when you don’t give the body the fuel at that time, and you don’t really allow the body to get hungry enough, that’s when it’s very, very diluted amounts and you’re constantly supplying. It’s almost like fueling your car every two hours when you don’t need it.
And then those excess calories are going to get packed into somewhere because the body is never going to register that this is the food that I need to digest and burn—but, “This is what I am receiving when I am not needing it, so I’m going to stack it somewhere.” That’s the problem, and that’s the reason why people actually train themselves afterwards to get hungry every two hours because of that cycle.
So, one of the premises of The Hot Belly Diet is to avoid any snacking in between the meals. When you have your breakfast, just don’t eat anything until you are ready for lunch. From lunch to dinner, don’t eat anything. Avoid any snacking. You do it for maybe 30 days [and] you will reset your metabolic fire, where you are getting hungry at the right time. The in-between cravings that you used to get will be minimized. You will have much more stable blood sugar levels. You will not get hungry. It’s the way we train our body.
And we are not trains. Everybody talks about [the] Paleo Diet and everybody talks about the human evolution. We were not eating six times a day a hundred years ago. Nobody ate six times a day a hundred years ago. Everybody used to eat a meal and then wait until they can get to the next meal—or something like that. I think even the days of hunter-gatherers—having a degree of ketosis, having a degree of hunger, was good enough to start burning the unwanted fat in their [bodies].
It’s an interesting concept. You would appreciate this, because—especially in this country—we do not have a culture or a tradition where we use fasting as a spiritual process of clearing our hearts and ideas and notions. So, when you fast—there’s a Sanskrit term for fasting called upavāsa. Upavāsa means “staying close to yourself” or “your godly self” or “your divine self.”
So, there’s a very interesting spiritual awakening that happens. And in all—whether it’s the Jewish tradition, whether you look at the Muslim tradition, whether you look at even the Catholic Lent or the 40-day fasting that you talk about—ancient cultures used to have that concept. In India, it’s going overboard nowadays—with fasting days for Hanuman, for Shiva, for Ganesha. Almost seven days a week people are fasting in some ways.
But I think it’s an interesting concept, if you learn to enjoy your hunger as a sign of good health. Slowly, you are training and taming that thing. So, rather hunger and having the desire to eat that food—whether you are feeling light where your tongue is light and clear. You’re having that energy to function throughout the day.
There are many signs that we talk about in medicine that actually make a lot of sense—that to enjoy a sense of hunger and giving the meal at that time when you are hungry. The simple analogy that I use with my patients is [that] hunger is more like—when you look at the fuel gauge in your car. When it goes to the emergency level, that’s when you feel suddenly in a panic mode. So, we don’t want it to go to all the way to the emergency level. When it comes to maybe one or two, that’s when you should start eating the food. And when you are maybe six or seven, that’s when it should stop. You should not really eat all the way until you are stuffed.
So, you should not go all the way down where you are feeling light-headed and dizzy and weak. And you should not be stuffing yourself too much. If you start eating the right foods in the right amount between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I think there will be less and less fluctuations.
There [was] interesting research not long ago that came out where most of the Americans reached for a snack when they were actually thirsty. So, we have become so dumb and disconnected that we can’t even differentiate between thirst and hunger.
If, at the same time, people feel the desire to have snacks, they [can] drink a cup of warm water or water at room temperature [and] it will take away that craving. It will take away that craving. It will stabilize your blood sugar level. It will hydrate that actively. This is an excellent way for you to actually increase the gap between the need to eat a lot of food.
I think—slowly—it is coming to more and more understanding that eating less and eating right—and at the right time—is one of the most important solutions for not only losing weight, but keeping it that way.
TS: And why are you recommending warm water or room-temperature water, not cold water?
SK: I call that “a comparison between holy waters and unholy waters.” [Laughs.] We are surrounded with a lot of unholy waters—where caffeinated beverages, sugary sodas, fruit juices, energy drinks. These are all unholy waters. From my point of view, a neutral-pH, plain water is [some] of the most holy water you can drink.
So, it’s plain water. Again, if that is ice cold, that is not good because it weakens and reduces your digestive temperature and dilutes the digestive juices. [It] probably makes it difficult for you to digest.
If it is warmer, it is hot water, then it actually rekindles your digestive fire. It improves circulation. It improves your diuresis. It eliminates all the impurities much more easily. And if you’re drinking even spice-infused herbal waters—like cumin, coriander, fennel, ginger tea, or something like that—or plain slices of ginger in hot water with lemon—then it kindles your digestive fire. It resets your metabolic temperature and probably improves the functioning of the liver, kidneys, and the blood circulation altogether.
Hot water has cleansing action. Many of the patients or the clients I see on an everyday basis—when they’re overweight, their guts are very sludgy. They’re having this tissue sludge—what we call ama. This ama is residual impurities that are stuck in their system because they’re not digesting their food. They’re feeling bloated; they’re heavy; they’re dull; they feel gassy; and, sometimes retain impurities.
So, when they start drinking hot water, it starts cleansing things more easily. When you have a greasy pan and you want to clean [it], you try to pour some ice cold water on it, it won’t go away. But if you take that greasy pan and hold it under hot water for a few minutes, the grease will come out. That’s exactly what it does to your system.
It has the age-old medical concept of vasodilatation. When you’re drinking hot water, it improves the circulation. It dilates the vessels. It improves the urinary output. It cleanses your digestive system. It actually rekindles your metabolic fires and everything—especially the cellular fires. That’s the reason why I advise—especially on The Hot Belly Diet program—to drink hot water or herbally infused spice water, as I call it.
TS: You mentioned fasting and the benefits of fasting. And I’d be curious to know what an Ayurvedic-recommended approach to fasting would be. How many days; what do I do? Do I still come to work? Do I not go to work?
SK: I think the interesting thing is when people fast for 24 hours or something, that [it] is a very weakening kind of feeling. They have never done that, and suddenly they do that. You can’t really do it for very long. You have to slowly train yourself.
So, the way I start with—number one is, the best way to fast would be to say no to snacking in between your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I think everybody can do that! That’s not difficult. If at all you cannot do that, at least select the least amount of the right kind of snacks, which is only fruits in-between the meals. So, it’s a gentle fasting.
The second step—if at all you have graduated from this level of having no snack between breakfast, lunch, and dinner—is [to] try to take an early evening dinner. So, you are done eating by seven o’clock in the evening on an everyday basis. And you don’t take breakfast until seven o’clock in the morning. You have almost a 12-hour fasting on an everyday basis, which is very good. If you’re able to fast for twelve hours every day, that’s a huge benefit medically for your system.
The third thing is: many times, I advise people that if you want to select maybe one day a week. What you do is you have your normal breakfast on a given day. Then you have a little bit of a late lunch. Maybe one o’clock or one-thirty, you have your lunch. And then you skip your dinner. You skip your dinner that day and then the next morning, you skip your breakfast and have an early lunch around noon.
So, from today’s lunch until [the] next day’s lunch, you’re having almost a 24-hour fasting—and you won’t even realize that you are doing any fasting.
So, intermittent fasting [done this way] maybe once or twice a week will help you really maintain your weight very, very easily and effectively. Intermittent fasting—there’s a lot of research done on this.
You can also do something [that] we call “the light juice fast,” where you create a blended juice of original fruits and vegetables. You drink that [in] a couple of drinks every morning and evening. You can have a soupy kitchari diet—where you’re making a very light, soupy meal once or twice a day and drink hot water throughout the day.
But whatever you do, it’s something that you have to learn to do on a regular basis. So, it’s not that you do it in a jerky manner where you suddenly fast for three days or seven days, and then you start eating whatever you want afterwards. You start training yourself for the mindset that you are enjoying the fast and are feeling good without having any crash in your energy during those days when you’re fasting.
Does it make sense? Or am I making it too complicated?
TS: No. I think you’re inspiring me! Is your recommendation, though, that this 24-hour period is the right amount of time to be fasting on a weekly basis or whatever?
SK: Yes, because even thought it feels [like] 24 hours, if I tell you from today [at] seven o’clock until tomorrow [at] seven o’clock, don’t eat anything, that is too much. But if you’re having two meals and you’re still making 24 hours—half of which you’re sleeping in the night—it’s not that taxing. It’s not that taxing.
TS: But you’re not recommending the “10-day fast” and the spiritual visions that you’ll see as part of it. Et cetera, et cetera.
SK: No, no. We’re talking about common people here, Tami. We’re talking about everyone who is going out [to] work and make a living. They have enough energy to do that.
Anything—as I said—too much, too extreme, would work for a short time but it’s not good to sustain. I think one of the biggest challenges—especially with people who struggle with weight—is the yo-yoing. The rollercoaster that goes up and down constantly.
So, once they create a mindset—once they start eating mindfully, once they start fasting mindfully, once they start drinking mindfully—all of those things are going to become a part of their thinking.
I use these two interesting terms in my book, which [are] shreyas and preyas. Shreyas is something that is actually good for your body, but you may not like it. And preyas is something which you really like, but may not be good for you. So, you may love the taste of melting ice cream on your tongue and you love ice cream, but it may not be good for you.
(I’m just giving an example. I’m not saying that ice cream is totally bad for everyone.)
But I think that it’s just an example—you may crave for something at the sensorial level, but it may not be the right thing for you. And the other thing is [something] that may not be liked by your senses, but it’s ultimately good for you.
So, how can you start making those changes, which initially feel that you don’t like [them], but slowly you start liking those things which you didn’t like in the first place? Mark Twain said something very interesting one time. He said that, “I’ve figured out a very simple way to be healthy. I should be eating what I don’t want to eat and do what I’d rather not do. I’d be healthy automatically.”
To a certain extent, this is true because every time you exercise, every time you fast, every time you take castor oil, and every time you go to any strenuous situation beyond your comfort level, you may not like it—but you start feeling fabulous. And how can you start adopting those things where you start feeling, “Oh, I miss my kale! I miss my hot water.” Or, “I miss my yoga class.” Those things—which were initially difficult for you, but now you start liking it so much it effortlessly becomes a part of the way you live your life. You start missing your meditation. You start missing your yoga class. You start missing your community events that you do, and things like that.
So, start liking things [that] are really good for you. It’s a cellular memory that you need to reprogram yourself. All of those things—you have to hold their hands, take them around the block one time, two times, three times, until it gets really ingrained in them. And that information that gets stored at the cellular level should guide them from inside out.
And if that doesn’t, then nobody can help them.
TS: Will I have a changed relationship to cravings? Will those cravings not occur? Or do you have some recommendation on what I do, for example, when I crave ice cream and hot fudge—but it’s pretty clear that it’s not good for me?
SK: As a simple rule, it is that—you’re craving for a specific food or a specific taste. And there are certain things that we always talk about. Deepak [Chopra] recently published a book called What Are You Hungry For? And there’s always an emotional component—why you crave something sweet or something salty.
So, it’s actually sitting and letting yourself be still by looking at that thing that you really love and crave. Can you be satisfied with just a bite? Can you be satisfied with just looking at something or smelling certain foods that you really enjoy? Or having a very small bite of something. Or really ask yourself, “Do I really want that?” Or, “What is the right amount for me to have that at a given time and what is going on in my mind at this moment? Why [is it] making me crave for something like at ten o’clock at night?” Whether it’s lack of love in [one’s] life or it’s some stressful reaction to certain things.
And it’s quite common that you would be able to decode that. Once you do that, it might make it very easy. Even if you end up in grabbing a bite of your favorite ice cream or something, I think we should be able to do that without any fear or guilt or prejudice, and enjoy that moment and that food with a little bit of blessing so that it doesn’t really create an unhealthy feeling in your body, as such.
TS: Now, Dr. Suhas, we’ve been talking a lot about how to eat the right foods, when to eat the right foods. And when we were talking about the science of Ayurveda previously, you mentioned this word “immortality.” And I want to circle back to that, because I’d like to understand in Ayurveda what the connection is between caring so much about our physical body—and our physical health—and this idea of the possibility of some type of “immortality.” You must be talking about spiritual immortality of some kind.
Help me understand this. It seems paradoxical to me.
SK: I think you know it very well, but it is the feel of consciousness. It is the ocean of consciousness from where everything comes in and everything gets merged into. We talk a lot about this in quantum physics and quantum biology and quantum mechanics.
Where, when we look at any cells or tissues in your body [and] you’re dissected [deeply] enough—whether you look at your beautiful nose, it’s a cluster of tissues coming together. Those clusters of tissues are certain cells coming together. Those cells are nothing but certain atoms and subatomic particles, which are moving at an electrifying speed. So, what you call the frozen sculpture of your body—at a quantum mechanical level—is certain particles which are moving at an electrifying speed.
So, the understanding of your body as something frozen with 150 pounds in the given scheme of things with clear edges and boundaries is exactly not the Vedic paradigm [of] how it looks at the body.
It is important for us to actually look at what are the most important things and what are the ways that we look at immortality. So, once you connect yourself with something which is never born and something which is never gone—which is your deeper self—Ayurveda is not only a mind-body medicine, it’s a mind, body, and spirit medicine.
So, all the techniques and everything [are] to tap into your astral or causal body, from where everything originated—and the field of intelligence from where everything else is originating. Everything that functions in our body is [an] infinite field of intelligence that is pervading through, in, and out of us.
We are constantly in communication and in exchange with the universe, with nature. We are exchanging gases. We are ingesting every little experience, food, air, water. And that is keeping us [surviving and thriving] very well, as the exchange that is going on constantly.
So, once we realize that we [have] a miniature universe within us, then this fear of death simply goes away. Then we don’t identify with ourselves as this lifetime—with this survival instinct that you have. But you were there before you were gone, and you will still be attracting, and will merge with the elements of nature long after you are gone—whether you are cremated and burned to ashes, or you are buried deep down in the ground. It’s the recycling plan. In Vedic terms, we call it “the field of the trinity,” where something new is created, it stays alive for some time, it perishes, and from that destruction, the reconstruction begins.
They have used these different terms—and I don’t want to bother you with so many Sanskrit terms, but they call it utpatti-sthiti-laya. “Utpatti” means something new is created. “Sthiti” means it stays alive or it maintains itself. And “laya” means it perishes. They have used these terms in the context of so many things—that is, one into three and three into one. You can call it Brahman, Vishnu, and Mahesh. You can call them as Lakshmi, Durga, [and] Saraswati. You can call them vatta, pitta, [and] kapha. You can call them solid, liquid, and gases. You can call them as past, present, and future. You can call them as the as the Christian holy trinity of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. You can call them as sattva, rajas, [and] tamas.
So, it’s the same recycling of these three things—which is matter, energy, and consciousness recycling itself. That connection of the universe that we are identifying in our body is the ultimate goal of realization. Once you have realized that you are a part of this universe, then the fear goes away and you start living in accordance with the laws of nature very easily.
That’s the very premise of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is a consciousness-based approach to health and well-being.
TS: Now, you mentioned in passing, Dr. Suhas—as we were talking previously about this idea of immortality—that you’re a “medical astrologer.” I thought that was really interesting. What’s a medical astrologer?
SK: Medical astrology simply means that you can be an astrologer and you can find out someone’s date of birth, place of birth, and time of birth. You can enter that information and cast a horoscope—where the planets were in the sky.
There’s an Ayurvedic science that’s called Jyotish—jyoti isha—which means “divine light.” It’s a science of casting a horoscope. And once you place the planets—and these planets are certain qualities of qualitative aspects. Like, we talk about [how] the five basic elements have certain qualities to them. You talk about [how] certain doshas have certain qualities to them. Now, you talk about certain planets, the stars, and the constellations, which also have certain qualities to them.
So, there are different ways of looking at the qualities and helping the person to go beyond the qualities. So, from Saguna, try to transcend them towards Nirguna.
So, as a medical astrologer, when I look at my patients, I look at their body type, I look at their medical history, I look at their signs and symptoms—what is affecting them. But when I look at their horoscope, it gives me a bigger spectrum of how their life has been—how they’ve started their journey; where they were born and raised up; how it has structured their life; whether their parents were together at that time; how was their childhood; how was their education; what are the good and bad things they did in the earlier part of life; what was their education; how was life; how their mindset got created; where they are in the grand scheme of things.
So, it really helps me understand that person really well. And [I] apply that to how I might be able to help them better with my understanding. They might have a fighting nature because of Mars. They might have a solar predominance, which makes them a leader and inclined to spiritual qualities. They might have a stronger Jupiter.
Again, understanding their qualities—understanding the strength in their horoscope—and blending that with my medical understanding of their disease and their condition gives me a lot of different tools to help them better.
Does it make sense?
TS: It does, and as you’re speaking, what I’m feeling is how—because you were born and raised in India—you just have such a different worldview, I think, than certainly the Western doctors—most of them—that I’ve come into contact with, it seems. I’m curious to know: from your perspective, what from your upbringing in India do you think has informed you differently than, let’s say, a Western doctor who looks at issues of nutrition and diet?
SK: Number one is that I was born and raised in a Vedic family of priests—of Brahmins, they call it. I was initiated very early in my life to follow some of the Vedic principles. And we did go to schools and medical colleges and did everything like a normal child does. But there were all these rituals and different festivals and observances that we always went through as a way of living.
And even at that time, it really didn’t make any specific scientific correlations that were that important—and why different festivals and different rituals fall into different times of the year and why we [did] that—until I started learning about [the] human body and nutrition and Western diagnostics and the tools and everything.
I did my MD in Ayurvedic internal medicine from a very prestigious university in India. I did my PhD in Ayurvedic medicine. And many of these things—when we started learning what you were born and raised with, and what you are learning—create a kind of synthesis. That synthesis actually helped me clarify a lot of things that I was unknowingly doing. And now, I started making a lot of sense.
The most important shift happened [when] the founder of the transcendental meditation group—His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—invited me and my wife, Dr. Maneesha, to join his worldwide TM [Transcendental Meditation] movement. So, we went and started working with him and for him in Holland. He made us travel all around the globe—to about 39 different countries—where we interacted with numerous physicians and healthcare settings, setting up Ayurvedic clinics, talking about meditation, talking about yoga, talking about Ayurvedic and the Vedic way of living, the quality of sound (mantra)—all the different things that were very [much] part of Ayurvedic culture.
Then, we started comparing them and probing them with the Western style of living, the Western mindset of thinking, the objective way of looking at things—with the subject of understanding what I had from my own faith and religious background and everything. Together, that created that perfect blend of East and West, which I was able to go around and talk about more confidently.
I think that’s what I would say was a blessing in my life.
TS: Do you have a vision, Dr. Suhas, for Ayurveda in the West? What would be your kind of dream unfolding of Ayurvedic medicine in the Western world?
SK: I think that, slowly, where the healthcare system is going—we are having a healthcare reform and there is the overhaul that is going on. It’s not truly related with what is going on, but this question is not about health yet. It’s mostly about insurance and the reforms—who is going to get money from where.
But I think [that], slowly, it’s going to boil down to the core crux of the issue, which is about health—and how [we are] going to educate our own people to be healthy. I think that’s when Ayurveda can become a true template. It’s very simple. It doesn’t really belong to any country, I said, because it was there for thousands of years.
So, I think simple ways of abiding laws of nature—eating well; living close in the harmony of the elements of nature; finding some right blend of emotions, understanding, and human relationships.
And I think, slowly, everything that we are seeing is very Ayurvedic in nature to me. Whether we talk about green living, interacting with the elements of nature, sustainable living, organic culture, people going off the grid—that is all very, very Ayurvedic in nature. So, my vision is that once we really start having a discussion about health, we will need so many people to go out and start teaching and training and talking [to] people about what Ayurveda is and how [it can] be embraced to be a template for your own individualized well-being.
It’s not about someone telling you from a billboard, “Take Vitamin C!” or [to] do anything. But be mindful that you are a pitta type of a person; you are a vata type of a person; what you should be doing. If you are a kapha type of a person, what are the foods that you should stay away from? What are the three most important things that you should be doing—whether it’s yoga teachers blended together with Ayurvedic practitioners.
And these are barefoot doctors who are going to go out. These things can be taught and should be taught—maybe in the elementary schools. Maybe in the middle schools, because to be healthy—how to be healthy, how to be happy—is something that we all need to learn. And that has to be the core basis of our educational curriculum anywhere we go. Sometimes, when I see our students learning some of the things in the schools which they will never use in their lifetimes—whether it’s some aspects of advanced mathematics or US history or things like that—I’m not saying this is not important, but something that you will need 24/7 you will never learn. I think we hope that our parents are able to do that [or] our teachers are able to do that.
So, Ayurveda and yoga together can be a manual for a vibrant, healthy human life. The more and more people that are embracing this idea of meditation, yoga, mindful living, practicing Ayurvedic way of living—there’s a reason why it’s called “the science of life.” It is something that you really need to know—how you should lead your life. It’s a manual about how to live your life and how to be resilient in the good and bad things.
[After all], it’s absolutely perfect to have some good and bad times in anybody’s life. How do you deal with that? Who teaches us how to be resilient, how to be positive, how to be optimistic, how to be happy no [matter] what happens to you? Or how to be a little more careful in eating the right foods, which are actually good for you? Or making the right choices [that] are going to make you a healthy, happy person?
So, I think my vision for yoga and Ayurveda is: more and more people learning this; more and more people embracing this; more and more people trying to be healthy and get into their own preventive mindset—because we want these mega-infrastructures of healthcare to go out of business. If people simply start making spontaneous health choices, there’s no real need. The whole healthcare system is simply crumbling under the pressure of a sick population who simply don’t know what to do.
When they are very, very, very farther down the road, that’s when we are teaching them and telling them, “Oh, make this change. Make that change.” But I think that’s a bit too late. It should start right when the child is born. It’s the responsibility of the parents to live this way so that the child can actually watch and learn how life is to be led.
TS: Dr. Suhas, you briefly referred to vata, pitta, kapha—these different constitutional types. In my experience, one of the stumbling blocks that it seems people have in becoming familiar with Ayurveda and really applying it to their life is a difficulty in being able to identify which constitutional type with clarity and assurance.
So, it’s like, “Oh, this whole thing is too hard. It’s a science. I wasn’t that good at science in school, either. Now, I don’t know which type I am. I don’t know how to make sense of this.”
SK: Well, I tell many of my students [that], number one, you are a human being. You’re a human being and just try to understand that you are interacting with everything around you very clearly and positively. The second phase is to start paying great attention to your bodily features. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect because there are lots of genetics in them. You need a little bit of a trained eye to decode that because you might have—and especially in this country—we have a gene pool that is coming from European, Chinese, and so many different populations mixed and matched together.
And so, I think that sometimes you have a different type of hair, different kind of eyes, different kind of skin sets. So, there are some genetic things that sometimes confuse you. And sometimes there is an imbalance that has made your hair a little bit dry, the skin a bit more dry. You might be looking at the imbalance sometime and trying to understand, “Is this my body type?”
So, some of the quizzes and questionnaires may not exactly tell you the story. In a broader term, you are probably to simplify it and get a broader sense of understanding that you might have all the three doshas. Everybody has all the three doshas. Sometimes, the way your mind works—you need to pay attention to whether it has a vata-like behavior, whether it is a pitta-like behavior, or kapha-like behavior. Once you start following and start paying attention to some of those things, slowly you will start distilling these doshas much more easily.
It’s not that immediately afterward, looking at the quiz in 10 minutes, that you will be able to figure this out. But it’s a starting point. Even if you understand that, “I have a vata predominance,” or, “I have a pitta predominance,” that’s a good-enough way to get started with.
My advice to many of these people who go to these quizzes is to get the broader sense and then start refining it to yourself by paying attention and being mindful [about] how your mind reacts in a given situation. How does your body react? How do you respond to certain foods, and what does it tell you—whether the food was dry; whether the weather was dry; whether it was a hot climate or a hot food that you were eating, and how did your body respond to that? That will start telling you or teaching you more about yourself.
TS: OK, I just have two final questions for you, Dr. Suhas. Here’s the first one: You mentioned that the science of Ayurveda can help me become more resilient and optimistic about life. How can it help me with that?
SK: I think the most important thing is that, at the end of the day, you need to ask yourself a question: What are you here for? And what are you supposed to do? That’s the very basis of even Ayurvedic medicine.
There’s a wonderful quotation that we say: [Speaks phrase in Sanskrit.] “Whatever you want to attain in life—whether you want to do your rightful duty or conduct (called dharma); [or] whether you want to attain some wealth and money (artha); whether you want to enjoy your senses to their fullest (which is karma); or, whether you want to pursue enlightenment, health is the basis of everything.”
So, asking a question, “What is your dharma? What is your purpose in life?” The purpose in life is to do something good, to make a difference in someone else’s life. And it’s not about writing charity checks. It’s about making sure that every interaction that you have with every human being is a little bit more kind, a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more positive—so that you feel good about yourself.
Once you start creating that, you create almost a chain reaction of bringing back abundance in your life—because you are sharing that, you are creating that, you are feeling this. It starts following the energetic shift and change in everything that you attract.
The second most important concept of Ayurveda—in terms of finding true meaning for yourself—is when you are closing your eyes a few minutes every day, you are able to separate yourself and detach yourself from the entanglement of what life is doing to you. So, if you are able to step back and look [at] yourself out of the frame, that gives you a different perspective. That gives you that degree of just a little separation and detachment which allows you to maintain your inner equilibrium much more easily. We call it equanimity.
So, these are some very, very simple Ayurvedic techniques that—if you start practicing—you will go through a given situation—whether it’s a traffic jam or the tragic loss of a friend or something like that—you’ll be able to look at it [and] transcend that easily. It’s human to feel good or bad. But you cannot stay in that situation for very long.
So, Ayurveda is truly a spiritual science. It actually tells you to understand yourself and your human life, and ask the question, “Why is it happening to everyone else?” and what is happening to you. And what can you do to influence and expect how you’re contributing to it—and still separate yourself from the outcome of your actions to a certain extent.
All the Vedantic texts—all the Vedantic wisdom that we talk about—actually distills down to this concept of, “Be responsible for your own actions and don’t really be involved in [how] it comes back to you.”
Even that selfless, mindful activity is good enough—not only to maintain health, but try to give you that ability to make much bigger differences with your thoughts, with your actions, with your vision. You are able to influence people and slowly start making changes.
TS: And Dr. Suhas, one final question. I’m curious to know: of all of the Ayurvedic teachings—whether it’s about physical health or any of the philosophical insights of Ayurveda—what has the area been that’s been the most challenging for you as a person to actually stick to and put in place in your life? Has there been any area where you’ve had the greatest challenge?
SK: Well, I think—especially living in the West for some time now, I personally—and I see in my client population, as well—is the ability to organize your time. From an Ayurvedic point of view, you need time to meditate, you need time to do the oil massage for yourself, you need the time to do oil pulling, you need time to do the tongue scraping. You need time to fix a good meal for yourself. You need time to go and figure out what hour yoga class [will be] in a busy week. You need to figure out time to exercise. You need to figure out time to get seven, eight hours [of] good night’s sleep.
So, you can’t manifest time. There is so much pressure and so many things happening. So, the time is a limiting factor at times. This whole jet-set, fast-food thing—whether you don’t have enough time to fast properly; you don’t even have time to detoxify yourself properly. All of those things—I think that is what I feel is a bigger challenge.
And I don’t blame my patients, also, because they have a living to make. They have a commute to do. Reinforcing these changes—some days, they understand everything that I tell them intellectually, but when it comes to doing things—fixing the kitchari; fixing the meal; waiting for 30 minutes; even going out and buying from the farmer’s market or grocery stores—healthy, organic ingredients. All of those things are very, very time-consuming—even for them to come for panchakarma, to take about a week away from their schedules to receive detoxification [and] rejuvenation. It’s something that is very, very difficult.
And I think that is one of the biggest challenges—that we have created such a fast pace of life. We spend the quality of human life doing something [that], at the end of the day, doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. I see so many people who spend their health to get some wealth. And afterward, they would like to share their wealth with you to regain the health. Which isn’t always possible.
If you look closely, people have mortgages and they work for this one dead thing for 30 years. They’re working for a dead building for 30 years. It’s still going to be there long after you’re gone. If you’re not satisfied by one dead thing, then you will go and buy another dead condo someplace else and work for that dead thing. Then, you’ll have a dead car sitting in your front porch—then you will work for that thing. So, you have become a slave for these dead objects that dictate your life. You spend quality human life just working for them.
TS: I think you’ve identified the problem and the challenge of our culture—and it’s certainly a problem and a challenge I share. I’m wondering [if we can] end on a note of how to address that challenge of time.
SK: I think you need to prioritize. You need to really understand that one of the full-time responsibilities for me is to be healthy and happy. I’m doing this work to make myself healthy and happy. I’m doing something for me and my family—and what are the other ways that they can see me healthy and happy?
So, I should be able to probably prioritize some things. I should learn to say no to certain things. I should be able to organize my time and minimize unwanted distractions—reducing unwanted commutes; reducing unwanted entertaining ideas that will distract and take away my time.
Slowly start incorporating a few things slowly and steadily, because one of the common mistakes is that you want to do 10 things and want to lead an Ayurvedic lifestyle. I tell them that, “Yes, you add this two-minute self-massage in the morning.”
Then, in the evening, you start doing a few things differently. You start fixing one fresh meal every day, and start enjoying that in a sitting in a closed atmosphere where you’re not watching television or doing everything else.
So, slow, baby steps to start doing things and adding a few things. Slowly, you will start living and incorporating those things more and more into your lifestyle.
I think—on a positive note—it is very important that I am responsible for my own health and well-being. And I should be doing everything. I should be eating good foods. I should be shopping in the right place for it. I should be minimizing the unwanted clutter in my life in order to probably reduce the pressure on myself. More importantly, cultivate positive biological relationship with people—friends, families, and your own children—which will start bringing things back into a kind of feedback loop to nourish yourself properly.
So, I think Ayurveda is a manual for health and living—and our ability to actually start looking at everything that I do [that] makes me feel good, and how my body feels about it. Whether [I am] mindful enough to tap into those signals and rectify then and there itself. I think that is the key: then you will be on autopilot. You will be managing your own health and your individual levels.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar. [With Sounds True,] Dr. Suhas has created a new , six-session audio learning series called Ayurvedic Wellness: The Art and Science of Vibrant Health, as well as an audio program on Effortless Weight Loss the Ayurvedic Way.
Dr. Suhas, it’s been wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much.
SK: Thank you, Tami. Namaste.
TS: Namaste. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.