Summer of Ayurveda—Week 2: Movement with Kate Schwabacher
Welcome to Summer of Ayurveda, a 25 day Instagram series offering you an Ayurvedic approach to summer’s biggest topics. Each week we will cover a new theme, hosted by some of the best Ayurvedic Instagramers. Follow us on Instagram @banyanbotanicals for inspired daily posts!
We are so excited to kick off our second week of Summer of Ayurveda with our guest host, Kate Schwabacher! This week, we'll explore Movement and Ayurveda.
I spoke with Kate recently about how her relationship to movement has shaped her life and it’s clear that she lives and breathes her practice fully, for balance, health, and wellness. Kate has loved movement for so long that her list of trainings is extensive! She has studied under some of the biggest names in Ayurveda and Yoga—Scott Blossom, Elise Browning Miller, and at Mount Madonna Institute of Ayurveda.
Kate holds a deep wealth of Ayurvedic and Movement knowledge. Read on to learn more about her experience and perspective!
How did you first learn of Ayurveda?
I was at university in St. Andrews, Scotland and I was overindulging, one could say, in the student lifestyle when I developed psoriasis, a chronic skin condition. My yoga teacher at the time, Colleen Taylor, recommended Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Dr. Robert Svoboda. It was the first I’d heard of Ayurveda and the lessons that book offered changed my life (and helped 99% of my psoriasis heal). Little did I know then that my future teacher, Scott Blossom, would be one of Dr. Svoboda’s primary students.
When you first heard of Ayurveda, what made you want to learn more?
I loved the practicality of the system. My mind loves things that are logical and self-empowering. Learning that I could heal my body in ways that made sense, had beneficial side effects, and could be done independently was exciting. I think the other thing that made me want to learn more was that I saw immediate results from the changes I made; who knew having dried fruit for dessert could wreak such havoc on digestion?!
Was there a moment when the concepts of Ayurveda really “clicked”? When it all made sense to you without having to research every answer to every question? When was it and what was it like?
For me the clicking process was gradual, over years, I would say. I think it was the result of learning the 20 gunas like dry, moist, hot, cold, light, heavy (though I may not have known there were twenty at the time) and watching how they played out in my life as I experimented with my diet & lifestyle habits. Seeing how “like increases like and opposites can act as medicine”, a fundamental tenant of Ayurveda, be brought to life in my own experience and then also seeing how dosage plays into that gave me what I consider the Ayurvedic “lens” to view life through.
How did you first begin to implement ayurvedic practices into your daily life?
I, like many people I believe, was practicing Ayurveda before I knew it was “Ayurveda” per say. I tried to eat mindfully and be aware of what foods helped me feel best. I practiced yoga regularly. I appreciated communing with nature. I think it’s really important for people to not feel like Ayurveda is some wagon that one gets on or off; simply being aware of how you’re feeling in a given moment and the way life affects you is Ayurveda.
That all said, when I first consciously integrated Ayurveda into my life it was by removing the most pitta-dosha aggravating foods and drinks that were setting off my psoriasis. Cutting back drastically on spicy & greasy foods, nightshades, alcohol, and coffee changed my life. I chose more green foods, milder spices, teas, and eventually a vegetarian diet. This did not happen overnight of course. But as I started to make dietary choices that were a better fit for me, the feel-good rewards were motivation to do it more often.
What is your favorite daily ayurvedic practice? Why?
It comes as no surprise that it’s my hatha yoga practice. Through mantra, breath practices, movement, and stillness I feel the state of my agni, what mahaguna (rajas, sattva, tamas) is dominant, and become aware of dosha that may have accumulated. I cater my yoga practice with those things in mind so that it’s truly therapeutic and fresh for each day rather than some rote exercise. By the time I finish, I feel more balanced and aware of what foods and practices will serve me best for that day. For me, my yoga practice is the root that all the other practices grow from.
Tell us about how you practice Movement in your daily life.
I, and my vata, love moving in rhythmic ways. In addition to my 6 days a week asana practice, I bike as my primary mode of transportation around the beautiful Berkeley-Oakland area. I love rolling through town enjoying the sky, clouds, flowers, trees, and architecture while I regulate my breath, break a light sweat, and occasionally practice balancing with no hands. Perhaps only second to yoga, I love hiking. Living in Berkeley means I have trails within a couple miles of home, such a treat. Yesterday I biked to a hike with a friend, making cheerful conversation with fellow cyclists on the way- how great is that! Moving daily gets me out of feeling like a mass used to process, store, & retrieve information, and helps me feel more embodied and connected to the natural world.
Have you studied Movement in depth? How?
After six years of tending to my own yoga practice, I did my first teacher training with a very experienced Hatha teacher, Yolanda Bain. Shortly after I finished my YTT I started studying with Mysore-style Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher Catherine Shaddix and eventually went on to assist and teach with her. Close to six years ago now, I started practicing Shadow Yoga with Scott Blossom, a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Consultant, and Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner. Other trainings I’ve received that have been most influential on me are teaching Yoga for Scoliosis with Elise Browning Miller and a youth yoga training with Cator Shachoy of the non-profit Youth Yoga Dharma. And of course, I should mention I studied Ayurveda, including Ayurvedic perspectives on exercise, at Mount Madonna Institute of Ayurveda.
How has your life changed since you began practicing Movement regularly/ with focus and intention?
Because I’ve been practicing yoga near daily for the whole of my adult life, I often wonder what life would be life if I hadn’t- I can hardly imagine! What I can say is that when I made the commitment to daily self-guided practice rather than just teacher-led classes, I matured, became a better listener, reduced the anxiety I experienced, and developed a deeper sense of compassion for all beings.
What is your “elevator pitch” for Ayurveda? How do you describe it to someone who has never heard of it before?
Ayurveda is the holistic medicine of India that emphasizes preventative care through diet, lifestyle, and herbs catered to an individual’s unique constitution. This helps the individual harmonize with Nature thereby promoting health, happiness, and longevity.
If there was one ayurvedic recommendation you could give to every person, what would it be?
Pay attention. Notice how you feel before, during, and after your movement practice. Try changing a little thing and notice how that influences how you feel.
Wow, it’s challenging to just keep it to one, but I think it’s that constant awareness that holds the most potential for transformation.
How would you like to continue including Ayurveda in your future?
Once you’ve put your Ayurvedic lenses on, it’s very hard to take them off. Seeing the world in terms of gunas, doshas, and mahagunas, informs decisions I make in how I care for myself every day and that will continue forever I imagine. I continue to learn more about Ayurveda from Scott Blossom all the time, and I study with Dr. Svoboda whenever he is in town teaching in addition to reading and rereading books on the subject. This winter, I am very excited to take a class, “Yoga for Women”, with Emma Balnaves, who holds a degree in Marma Shastra and studied Ayurveda in Kerala; I have no doubt it will broaden my understanding of how to use Yoga therapeutically for women’s health. I’m currently in school studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, another beautiful Eastern medicine, and as I go deeper in that system it spurs me to go deeper with the Ayurveda too.
Kate Schwabacher is a yoga teacher specializing in scoliosis, an Ayurveda consultant, and chinese medicine student in Berkeley, CA. Find recipes and more on her blog.