Practitioner Profile: Hilary Garavaltis
Banyan Botanicals presents an exclusive interview with Hilary Garavaltis, Dean of the KripaluSchool of Ayurveda at KripaluCenter for Yoga and Health
How did you first learn of Ayurveda?
Probably like a lot of people, I picked up a book and started reading about it. I think the first book I read was Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. I had been a meditator and I had done yoga for many years in college just like everybody else had, but what I read about Ayurveda just clicked. It made so much sense. A little spark went off, but I put that book aside and went on with my life. Then, when that book came around again, it was like a bolt of lightening. I just had to learn this! At the time, there were not many schools besides Dr. Lad's school (which I investigated), but I am from the East coast and I have a family and a business and we could not move. Luckily, I found the New England School of Ayurvedic medicine that had started up a few years prior to my awakening to Ayurveda. It was a weekend program. It was in Boston, in a place that I could get to. So, I started my studies there and met some of my teachers. After that had got me going, I decided to go on and study with some of these teachers individually. It just became a passion at that point. I was still working. We had our own business and I would continue to do that. So, I would go and study for a week or a month wherever I could with individual teachers. I also was lucky enough to go to India and study for a month with a variety of teachers who pushed me even further. After that experience, I came home and decided to get out there in the community and start to talk about Ayurveda. I began to do some lifestyle consulting in our local community. I live in a very rural area in Massachusets and it was a struggle to get people to listen and understand. I knew I wasn't going to be making a living at it.
How did this lead you to the Kripalu center?
Kripalu is about an hour south from where I was living, in the same county. It was not a place that I had a whole lot of familiarity with outside of the whole tumult with the guru, but someone said, 'you know, you should go and see what they are doing there at least.' So, I called and they were thrilled that there was somebody local that could do Ayurvedic consultations there. One of the people in the department that I was under was very excited about Ayurveda specifically and really wanted it to happen there in a big way. So, she and I started collaborating and creating some areas that we could expand into gradually. We began training our staff. I was trained by John Douillard in massage technique which I taught to their massage therapist. We began slowly incorporating these things into our healing arts department and they became very, very popular. It became obvious at that point that we needed to do more. People began asking for more Ayurveda.
I approached the New England School of Ayurveda, which at that point had stopped functioning as an operating school. I wanted to find out if they wanted to continue and if maybe they wanted to work together at Kripalu, but they didn't have the energy or where with all to continue for whatever reason. So, we said, 'Alright then, we will do it ourselves.' At that time, I was continuing to train the therapists with the goal that we could offer pachakarma there if we could find the right person to come and oversee that. Along the way, we did find a vaidja, Dr.Shekkar Annamabotla, who is from the Pennsylvania area. Running the program in a week or five day format was something he could come up and do. He was willing to work and live at Kripalu.
Training enough staff took us about two years to offer panchakarma. We offer about twelve panchakarma sessions a year. It's a beautiful program. It is residential. People are there all the time and we prepare the food. They are not forced to go out and fend for themselves in the world. The philosophy of panchakarma is that it is a very quiet, inward process of transformation. We want to manage the doshas so that they move into the places that they are supposed to move. When we are exposed to the elements, exposed to society, or out there having to drive somewhere, that experience comes to a halt and the benefits of panchakarma cannot be attained.
We spend a lot of time educating people throughout the week. Many people who come to do panchakarma do not necessarily know a lot about Ayurveda, so we want to educate them as much as possible. We end up giving them a take-home plan to continue the process. The panchkarma does not end at five days. We have set up a preliminary 21-day program. People come to Kripalu over a two week span, making changes in their diets, taking herbal supplements and internally oleating. Then they have the treatments: basti, virechana and nasya at the clinic. During their time here we teach a cooking, digestion and nutrition class. We teach an Ayurveda 101, talking about the doshas and getting them to understand about diet and routine and how it impacts them. By the time our panchkarma clients leave us they are quite well educated so they can go home and continue what we feel they need to continue whether it be dietary guidelines or herbs recommendations. We emphasize the fact that they are a part of healing process and that they need to do the work in order to get results.
We have gradually grown and adapted with our program and it is now at the point where we like it very much. Our clients do yoga and mediation with us as well. We work one on one if a person requires that. The program is very individualized. It is very exciting.
Can you describe how this led to the development of the school of Ayurveda?
We then moved in to developing the school of Ayurveda, by bringing in teachers. At Kripalu, this is our business. We bring teachers in from all over the world. Unlike reinventing the wheel, we were fortunate to have the infrastructure and the model in place to be able to do this easily. It was just a matter of talking to these wonderful teachers and hoping that they would come and join us.
It is an amazing faculty. We've been really graced with their time. Many of these teachers are so busy and for them to come teach here is a big gift. We are so appreciative. It is really what has made the program so successful. The teachers come to teach, in their style, a curriculum that is formatted for our students. It's an 18-month program. It's a full, full weekend. It is about 25 hours that gets crammed into these weekends but it works for the majority of our students. The majority of the students are working professionals. They may have decided to change a track but remain in the world that they are in for a while. Or, they may have families so that once a month may work for them. It's pretty intensive. It's pretty hard. We've had some students who have not been able to keep up with the curriculum because of their lives, but those who have stayed have gotten so much out of it.
It is our first year, and we are over the hump, so to speak. Our students have just completed their tenth month phase and they are feeling so confident. It is my hope to create a secondary level so that students will be able to continue their studies in a Masters and PhD program so that they can really do this work. We are also going to be joining this more with our yoga program so that there is an Ayurveda and yoga therapy curriculum.
Do the majority of your students come from your yoga training program?
I thought it would be that way, quite honestly. We certainly have a good percentage of our people who are yoga teachers, not all from Kripalu yoga. I was very surprised to see the variety of the students coming in. We've got health care professionals. We've got doctors and nurses. We have a variety of people already in the health care field who want to learn Ayurveda to augment what they do. Then, there is a certain amount of yoga teachers who are ready for the next phase. These are teachers who want to educate their students on the importance of a healthy lifestyle in addition to the practice of yoga. There is a real mix. I would also say there is a percentage of students who are here for their own self healing, to learn how to better take care of themselves and to learn these pieces. The majority want to be practitioners, either incorporating this into an existing practice or into their work, creating something that they can really expand into. There is a very interesting mix of people.
The program has been very successful. We were absolutely amazed at the number of applications that came in. The first year we had over eighty students. The second year we've had over three hundred inquiries. We are still accepting applications so I'm not sure where the numbers will end up being in January 2006 when class begins. We're pretty comfortable in the sixty-seventy student range right now. I think part of the reason for the high numbers is there's been a void in the Northeast as far as places to study. There's also been an incredible surge in interest in Ayurveda than there was seven years ago when I began my studies. That's just naturally happening. Plus, we're a yoga center, so we're really attracting people of that mindset anyway. Kripalu is the perfect place for this to happen.
Kripalu has been incredibly supportive in getting this program going and taking the risks involved this first year, but it exceeded our dreams for sure. We are very excited about moving it forward. We have lots of good energy and ideas around. It's exciting times. I am thrilled to be where I am. I am very fortunate. My own studies of Ayurveda continue and I know it will be a part of my life for a long time. I have found a niche that is working well for me as an administrator, helping to bring Ayurveda forward. I had to let go a little of my own consultation practice because of what I have to do for the school, but it all feels right. It all feels good and I am really happy to be where I am, doing what I am doing.
Kripalu yoga center and school has a strong underlying philosophy. How is this integrated into the school for Ayurveda?
They are so in alignment. I think that is what's so beautiful about it and why this school is flourishing. The philosophies are very similar. Kripalu philosophy is about internal transformation. The yoga that is in practice at Kripalu is very Ayurvedic. It's about balance and harmony. The meditation is the yoga. The alignment between the systems is really prominent in the underlying teachings that have permeated Kripalu for years. It is a very tridoshic style of yoga. It really aligns very beautifully with Ayurveda. We also want to begin to educate our teachers more in Ayurveda itself and to really integrate the yoga and Ayurveda training. They live in beautiful harmony here, for sure.
Any closing words to pass on to aspiring practitioners and students of
It comes to us all at different times. Anyone interested in Ayurveda should pick up a book or stop in at a lecture, when somebody comes around. Learn as much as you can. There are so many ways to share Ayurveda in our community. I encourage people who are getting into a practice to know that it isn't easy. We are not able to practice in the United States, the way we would in India, but there are still so many pieces that can be shared. I really encourage students to not be afraid of where things are right now in terms of the legal aspects of practicing. Just being able to share simple diet and lifestyle tips is really what Ayurveda is about. The more we can share that knowledge within our smaller circles, the more we can really heal our communities. It is part of our dharma to learn as much as we can and then to share. The process is different for everyone. All of our students are not going to share it in the same way. Some are really excited about diet and nutrition and others are really excited about the body work. Others really love to do the one on one. There are lots of ways to share this knowledge. That's all part of the individual exploration of it.
Hilary Garavaltis, DAy, studied at the New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine and holds a certificate from the RishikeshCollege of Ayurveda in Rishikesh, India.
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.