An Immersion into Well-Being at the Living Ayurveda Internship
When I received Banyan’s announcement email about the Living Ayurveda Internship (LAI) in early February of 2020, I promptly welled up with tears of relief. As an immersive program dedicated to the holistic stewardship of health and the environment through nature-based farming, herbalism, and Ayurveda, it was the opportunity I had been seeking for a long time.
Five years prior, I had graduated from The Ayurvedic Institute and dedicated myself to private practice in Brooklyn, eager to share an inheritance of traditional wisdom, inspired by my primary teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad.
But within a few years, circumstances intervened. Even though Ayurveda was what I needed most, I regretfully put my practice to the periphery in order to meet the demands of city living. When I finally came across the LAI announcement email I was tired to the bone—exhausted from my 7-day work weeks and epic commutes—in a stage of life when no amount of rest felt truly rejuvenative.
Soon after I discovered the internship, the inextricable pandemics of COVID-19 and racism began wreaking havoc, disproportionately on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Through the chaos, the healing potential of LAI grew stronger in my heart—not just for myself as a potential intern, but for the wider communities this work could positively impact.
As we entered months-long quarantine in New York and so many previous norms were upheaved, I started considering LAI as an urgent invitation out of unsustainable ways of living, into a life centering around mutual aid.
With George Floyd’s murder and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I saw LAI as fertile ground for the antiracist organizing and activism we have long needed to take root and grow within the greater Ayurvedic community. I appreciated LAI for offering an opportunity to immerse in an ethical experience of Ayurveda with the natural world as lead instructor.
I was eager to work diligently in support of the land, its medicine, and the other interns, and excited at the prospect of cultivating skills to nurture our environments and communities of origin. For me, this was a timely moment to wholly recommit to Ayurveda.
At its essence, Ayurveda encourages us to align with natural rhythms and make life-enhancing choices according to our individual and collective needs.
In alignment with this understanding, LAI incorporates the concept of Bioregional Ayurveda, the practice of applying Ayurvedic concepts to the local bioregion, and therefore cultivating a direct relationship with the climate, foods, and plants where we call home.
Bioregional Ayurveda prompts us to honor tradition while working in reciprocity with our local resources—people, plants, and places—reminding us that we are meant to be allies in every realm of existence, from simple moment to moment awareness to complex social movements on our streets.
The Living Ayurveda Internship is made by and for allies, conscientiously organized to inspire stewardship of self, land, community, and planet. It incorporates communal living, farm work, and a wide range of class topics like nature awareness, Vedic astrology, medicine making, and Ayurvedic cooking.
What follows are some of the takeaways which nurtured me beyond description.
Every aspect of the program—from the application questions, to the interview, to the introductory emails, to the arrival, and beyond—felt designed to establish us in deep inquiry for social and environmental betterment. We were continuously prompted to name and embody our deepest core values, and we were gifted living examples of this in each of our teachers.
Our very first meetings with Tyler Wauters, Banyan’s Plant Education and Farm Director, set a beautiful tone for the entirety of the program, as he offered thorough histories of the farm, its keystone species, and the ecosystem of which it is a part. He also shared nuanced introductions to the indigenous people, food, medicine, tools, and customs of the remarkably biodiverse Klamath-Siskiyou region, where the farm is located.
From the start we were warmly welcomed and woven into Banyan’s culture of multilayered consciousness, vision, transparency, empowerment, call to action, and commitment to growing with integrity.
Over the course of the program, we stayed together in a beautifully designed, spacious intern house nestled on the farm, where we lived, cooked, ate, and studied together. This house and the surrounding farm became a practice ground for how to be in right relationship with each other and with the world at large.
We made a daily routine of co-creating a safe space for living, growing, learning, and sharing—including navigating COVID with due care, as well as communal meal planning for diverse constitutional needs (not easy but certainly worthwhile).
We worked towards fluency in nonviolent communication and practiced recognizing and meeting our universal needs for connection, belonging, cooperation, inclusion, authenticity, trust, and play.
We were, and shall remain, partners in direct but kind accountability, for health in all its expressions. Living communally gifted us the opportunity to teach each other informal but profound and enduring lessons.
Working hands-on out on the farm, growing, tending, and harvesting herbs, was a major part of the internship. We learned from our ever-patient farm crew about the intense physical labor inherent in the process of cultivating a given herb, from seed to final harvest.
Take tulsi for example, just one of the many herbs we worked with. When given the opportunity to participate in the whole life cycle—from planting it out in the field, weeding, harvesting, and processing acres of this beautiful, aromatic plant—we gained a visceral appreciation of its true value.
If we are to consume plants as medicine, it is important to be in direct relationship with them in living form, while also acknowledging this access is a privilege. Throughout the program, we were encouraged to consider our tendencies towards consumption and appropriation, or creation and appreciation, as guided by nature and the experience of our mentors.
While the coursework was diverse, a common teaching was about the multi-generational work of tending—reverentially connecting to the peoples and practices that preceded us, and actively listening to discern what we can purposely offer in any given place.
As Vedic scripture counsels, we are not guaranteed the ability to experience and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We learn we must work in good faith, for the benefit of those here now and those yet to come, with equanimity, with purpose, and with self-surrender.
LAI provided a supportive container for reciprocity and collective transformation, with each individual called to contribute their respective experience, curiosity, commitment, humility, and presence as a valuable offering to each other and to the land.
Taking LAI into the World
As interns, we ourselves are seeds, and we are being scattered out in the world so we may propagate Bioregional Ayurveda, each in our own way, thus continually becoming and spreading the medicine we practice.
LAI has set an enriched and evolving standard for Ayurvedic education in the US, modeling how to serve as stewards of well-being, as taught by our common mother, Nature. What an honor it has been to participate in this powerful, joyful work.