*Banyan Vine presents an exclusive interview with Dr. Sharada Hall. Sharada practices Ayurveda and Chinese medicine in Santa Fe, NM.
How were you first introduced to Ayurveda?
I was living in Northern California working at an organic farm right after I graduated from college. I studied political science in college and ended up doing something totally different after school. I learned a lot about western herbalism. Where I lived, there were a lot of women who were practicing herbal medicine. I was trying to get into that and learn about it. Then, I was at a New Age bookstore one day and I saw this book on Ayurveda and thought, 'Here's a combination of yoga and herbal medicine. This is something I'd really be interested in!' As far as I can remember I've been drawn towards Eastern philosophy and yoga. The book was The Yoga of Herbs. So, I bought it and brought it home and I spent a lot of time on the beach reading it. I just thought it was amazing. I went back to that same store two weeks later to buy another book on Ayurveda and there was a sign there saying that Dr. Lad was going to be in town at the San RafaelCommunity center giving a talk on Ayurveda. I thought that I should go hear him. I went to his talk and I got up the nerve to ask him some sort of question. My whole reality was totally blown away by him and what I realized was out there - this whole system of medicine. I got the information for his school and was pretty much sure then and there that I was moving. As soon as I met him, I knew that that was what I was supposed to do with my life.
I had to go through a few other confirmations which is actually a pretty cool story. I loved where I lived and wasn't sure I wanted to move to Albuquerque. Nobody had really heard of Ayurveda. This was 1990. At the time, it seemed like some totally random, weird thing to go do. Then, there was something in our local newspaper saying that there was going to be a guy in town doing medicine card readings. It was David Carson. I thought, 'I've never done anything like that. Maybe that would be a good way to help determine whether or not this is what I should do with my life.' So, I went to this reading with this Native American guy and did the whole spread. The question that I asked to the cards was, 'Should I move to Albuquerque?' He did the whole reading about my life with the bear and the drum and all this stuff. At the end of the reading he said, 'By the way, why are you thinking of moving to Albuquerque?' I said, 'To study traditional Indian medicine.' He said, 'Oh, at the Ayurvedic Institute with Dr. Lad?' I said, 'Yeah, how did you know?' Then he told me, 'I live in Albuquerque. My daughter, Sarah, is just starting there. Come, you can live with us and be friends with her. You should come.' So, I did! I moved to Albuquerque, I stayed with her and we became great friends.
How did your study of Ayurveda lead you to Chinese medicine?
First, after Ayurveda school I went to the American Sanskrit Institute because we didn't have Sanskrit as part of our program when I was there. Dr. Lad said, 'You need to learn Sanskrit in order to study the original text.' Vyass had come to teach a weekend workshop at the Institute, so I got to know him and I knew that if I was going to study Sanskrit, that that would be the place to go. Other equally bizarre, coincidental things happened that led me to go study Sanskrit. I was able to meet with Vyass' guru, Sri Bhramananda Sarasvati, who started that Institute, who was a Sanskrit scholar and who was also an Ayurvedic physician. We met before I ended up going to the ashram for the class and, after I realized my connection with him, I was sure that I was going. I ended up going to the Institute for a couple months and staying on at the ashram and studying Ayurveda there.
Dr. Lad and Wynn were always very clear in the fact that you are not qualified as a physician. You need to learn more. After school, we were all kind of out there flailing wondering how we could learn more. I couldn't really afford to stick around the Institute my whole life. So, I went to India and tried to figure out what to do there. I learned more, then came back. I was still practicing Ayurveda on my own, but Dr. Lad kept saying, 'You need to get a license in something.' Ayurveda is not a legal practice yet. You need to have something else as your primary license. I was not intending to call myself a physician or practice anywhere near him. I just wanted to learn more and to work with people. He kept stressing, 'Get a license, get a license.' I looked at polarity therapy but it wasn't comprehensive enough. I went through some other life tangents before finally, I got up the nerve to do it (Chinese medicine school). I knew Claudia (Welch) had done it and Will (Foster) had done it and I knew that an acupuncture license was the broadest scope of practice that I could have, especially in New Mexico. In the beginning, I had no interest in Chinese medicine beyond the license. I now certainly have a deeper appreciation for the Chinese pharmacopia and the power of needles. I respect and use all of that now, but it is not my first love. It was because of Dr. Lad's urging that I went. I am a D.O.M. first, so I can be within ten miles of the (Ayurvedic) Institute or I can be within 100 miles of the Institute. It doesn't matter because I am a D.O.M.. I said to Dr. Lad, 'How could I ever compete with you? What is that rule about?' I'm sure it's a tradition.
You mentioned that particularly in New Mexico D.O.M.s have a very broad scope of practice. How has this expanded your practice?
There are very few states where a D.O.M. can be someone's primary care provider. We can be somebody's primary care provider or we can provide insurance. We can touch anybody, prescribe anything. The whole thing with the language of being an Ayurvedic practitioner and "observing" this diagnosis and "suggesting" these herbs just felt like a real disservice to the medicine, to me. I wanted to say, no, I am actually diagnosing and prescribing things and I am able to do that now. I can prescribe any herb, any diet, touch people in a legal way. I can't give chiropractic adjustments, but I can give people injections. There is also an expanded prescriptive authority, which is only in New Mexico. If you get the additional training, which has only be offered once ever before, you can prescribe hormone replacement therapy, ozone IVs, UV light therapy and chrono therapy which is huge.
Chrono therapy is joint regeneration injections. Let's say someone has a ripped rotator cuff. It's about locating exactly where the tissue damage is, then you inject this concoction of vitamins and things which promotes connective tissue regeneration. This way the person doesn't need surgery. There's a vet doing it and a couple other people doing it in Santa Fe. It's really cutting edge, good stuff. It saves people from having hip surgery, knee surgery, all kinds of things. Those are the forming things within our expanded scope of practice that we can do. It's like totally opposite from traditional Western medicine. In a way, it's really modern medicine. The UV and the oxidative medicine are high-tech therapies. They are preventative, there are no side effects and they are non-toxic.
They are very beneficial therapies, but they are more invasive, just as Chinese medicine is more invasive than Ayurveda. There are bigger needles all around. There is some debate about whether or not there once was acupuncture used with the marmas in Ayurveda. But, as modern medicine develops we do see it going further down that road. We live in a way more toxic world. Diseases are more intense now. It can call for more radical therapies. So, to be able to filter someone's blood through a UV light machine and zap out all the hepatitis virus or AIDS virus or whatever they have going on is tremendous. If I can have the authority to do that, I'm going to take advantage of it.
How do Ayurveda and Chinese medicine complement each other in your practice?
When someone comes to me I usually do a traditional intake and give both an Ayurvedic and Chinese diagnosis. They get a sense of their prakriti and vikriti and they get a diet. I always like to explain to people the patterns that I see going on. Sometimes it's easier to explain in Ayurvedic terms and sometimes it's easier to explain in Chinese terms. Some things are just classic vata disorder and some are more complicated in terms of Ayurveda but they fit a real clean Chinese diagnosis. So, I usually give them both, which is probably more information than they want. They get an acupuncture treatment right away so they have an energetic shift or pain relief. They leave my office different than when they came in. They get a formula. Sometimes I make a formula mixing Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs. Sometimes it will be a Chinese patent formula and Triphala. Almost everyone gets Triphala, so just about everyone gets a combination of both.
You have a lot to offer!
I just really believe in educating people. It's probably too much information. They probably leave me with their heads spinning! I feel like they are more likely to follow the diet and lifestyle if they understand what's going on for them and why they are doing it. I give a lot of explanation to people. It's probably annoying to most people. I think people, in general, do not want to take as much responsibility for their health as Ayurveda requires. Those people wish I would just give them a pill and let them go.
In conclusion, is there a message that you can offer to aspiring practitioners?
I would say, if Ayurveda is really what you want to do with your life, then find a way to get more education. To legally practice Ayurveda, having an acupuncture license in New Mexico is the best way to go. It's a huge commitment. If you are comfortable "observing" and "suggesting", practicing Ayurveda without a license, then do that. Just be sure to find more education to back it up so that you feel comfortable doing what you are doing. There are a lot more opportunities to learn now, then when I graduated. There are other Ayurveda schools now and many more programs in India. It's an individual quest for everybody.
Please note: Articles appearing in the Banyan Vine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Banyan Botanicals. This information is intended to apprise qualified health practitioners of possible Ayurvedic approaches. It is not intended as medical advice.