“Ayurvedic Classics Provide Lenses To View Hormones”


Dr. Claudia Welch is an Ayurveda practitioner and author of several books, like The Four Qualities of Effective Physicians: Practical Ayurvedic Wisdom for Modern Physicians, and Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life: Achieving Optimal Health and Wellness through Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and Western Science. She has also served as a faculty at Kripalu School of Ayurveda, as well as at Southwest Acupuncture College.

Dr. Welch conducts various multimedia intensive courses like, “Foundations of Ayurveda” Parts I & II, with Dr. Robert Svoboda, and “Healthier Hormones”. She also lectures on the issues of Oriental and Ayurvedic medicines and women’s health. The depth of her knowledge places her in the list of one of the best educators in the field of Ayurveda. In an e-interaction with Pratyasha Nithin, Dr. Welch talks about her early life, her upcoming projects and Ayurvedic principles. The interview has been conducted with inputs from Nithin Sridhar.

Tell us about your early life and your introduction to Ayurveda.

I was introduced to Ayurveda before I knew what Ayurveda was. It is only now, 45 years later, looking back, that there is clarity about this.

When I was three years old, I met my Guruji’s guru. I do not remember much of anything else from that early age, but I remember him clearly. He was a mountain of a man. Shortly after this, I began to have a strong desire to know God. In 1974, he passed away. Later, when I was seven years old, some adult friends were going to India to visit the successor and I gave them a letter for him. I do not remember what I wrote, but it was clearly from a child, written in a child’s scrawl, and to this day, I treasure the reply which reached me before I met him in person. His letter addressed me as a human being rather than a child and has helped form my life.

One of the things he wrote to me in that letter was, “Keep good company. Good company makes a man great.” Throughout my studies of Ayurveda, from when I first learned of it as a teenager, to when I studied in India, to studying with mentors, to my fellow students, to later my patients, students and colleagues, I have found good company. The study and practice of Ayurveda, while not a religion, encourages physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual self-improvement, and I have found people drawn to Ayurveda strive towards these ends. And this, I find inspiring; renders the practice of Ayurveda more of an enlivened endeavuor rather than an intellectual exercise.

I was to meet my guru when he visited the US. I was eight years old then. My guru had actually been a Vaidya earlier in his life, though I did not know this at the time. Many of the themes, stories, concepts and truth that he shared in his teachings contextualised and enriched Ayurveda for me, without my knowing it at the time.

Which fields in Ayurveda interest you?

While all fields of Ayurveda interest me and perhaps would, equally, there are two areas my life and circumstance have drawn me to explore more deeply: the first is the connection between the heart, brain and body, and the second is women’s health.

Many of us are drawn to Ayurveda because we have heard it is a holistic system that recognises the connection between the body, mind and spirit. But when we search the Bṛhat Trayi—“The Three Great” classic texts of Ayurveda, there is very little clear description of how exactly the two are connected and by which means they affect each other. There are curious hints and gems, but can be difficult to piece together in a meaningful and clinically useful way. I became very interested in doing this.

The women’s health aspect became a focus for me for a couple of reasons. One was simply that the first college-level course I was ever asked to teach was obstetrics/gynaecology, and being perhaps an over-achiever, I poured energy into that class and organised my thinking about this more than I might have otherwise. At the time I taught that course, I had studied Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine for more than 10 years, but I did not find there a clear understanding of hormones. Hormones are a big part of the modern language and understanding related to a woman’s health. Understanding them seemed important to me, to be able to prepare the students for understanding and treating hormonal issues from an Eastern medical perspective. I also very much wanted to understand this for myself, to benefit my own patients. Modern conversations on women’s health are incomplete without an understanding of hormones. While our Ayurvedic classics do not name hormones, they provide beautiful lenses through which we can view the phenomenon of hormones quite elegantly.

I suppose both these topics became interesting to me, because I was curious about what was least clear to me. Exploring these topics until their puzzles were solved, patterns emerged, and murkiness became clear, was meaningful and practical to me and my patients, and has fascinated me.

What are the similarities and differences between Ayurveda and Chinese medicine?

I find it is rather like speaking French or Spanish. Both describe the same phenomenon, but with different words and concepts. However, many concepts and words cannot simply be translated word for word. For example, both Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”) and Ayurveda describe five “elements” that lend their qualities to everything that exist. But these five elements are not the same in the two systems. The labels of the five elements that are different. Their qualities and natures are different.

Both systems provide us lenses through which we can visualise or comprehend the complex reality of creation and physiology. Many of these lenses are different. A few are exactly the same. The main lens that is perfectly translatable between the two systems, is the principle of duality. In TCM, this is called, “yin” and “yang.” In Ayurveda, “bṛṃhaṇa” and, “laṅghana”. Once defined in both systems the same way, each system goes on to explain different aspects of duality in complementary ways.

I find the two systems to be quite complementary in general. For example, sometimes a particular physiological or pathological phenomenon can be more elegantly visualised or understood using the TCM model of five elements, and sometimes, the Ayurvedic five element model lends itself to the task more readily.

What are the three common unhealthy habits? 

I would suggest the following: The feeling that nothing is ever enough. This illusion leads us to drive ourselves until something falls apart. It causes chronic stress. Chronically high levels of stress hormones irrigating our organs and tissues contribute to disorders in just about every organ and system we can think of.

Eating too much processed food. This includes packaged biscuits, snacks, frozen, canned food; foods that contain lots of preservatives, additives and names of substances that we certainly cannot identify.

Inappropriate exercise, that is, either too much or too little, or engaging in exercise that injures us.

The solutions for all of these often involve dedication to increase self-awareness: awareness of how our thoughts, diet and actions affect our bodies, minds and spirits. If we are under the illusion that nothing is ever enough, this requires an honest exploration of our beliefs about why we are here and who we are and if we are living in alignment with what we know about this. In my experience, this requires we peep inside ourselves more often and more deeply, and that we develop the courage to act accordingly.

Ayurveda gives us the practice of, “dinacaryā”, a daily routine that can greatly assist with all three of these challenges. People may find my ebook Dinacaryā: Changing Lives Through Daily Living regarding a proper dinacaryā helpful in this regard.

In one of your articles, you talk about how the excess use of electronic media is causing behavioural problems. Please explain.

I believe that when we increase our awareness about how our actions affect us and when we become better attuned to our internal terrain, we can better identify ourselves when our use of electronics is too high. Limiting the use of electronic devices depends on the person and his or her motivational context. For example, if I am sad and lonely –and that is my motivation for spending too much time on electronics, and I look into myself and see this to be true, then my solution may involve actions to change my life, like spending time in good company more often, etc. Whereas, if I am over-using electronics because I am simply tired, maybe my solution would not be to seek out company but to seek out solitude in nature or to take a nap.

Increased self-awareness and courage to act on what we discover are life-changing elements.

How can women improve their lifestyle?

Once again, self-awareness is key. Each of us has our unique set of responsibilities in life and different illusions under which we labour. If we are possessed by the idea that we are never enough or never done, we will wear ourselves out. We also become more clear about what we do want and why we are here. I find a daily practice of introspection and meditation to help greatly increase awareness of our internal beliefs that are driving our motivations that are driving our actions. Once aware, the only question is if we have the courage to act on that clarity.

What is a normal menstruation according to Ayurveda? 

A normal menstruation is one that is regular, roughly 28 days, from start of the period to the start of the next period, a few days of moderate bleeding followed by a couple days of lighter bleeding, a bright, fresh look to the blood, and no physical or emotional pain or discomfort.

A woman will experience pain if she has stagnation of prāṇa or blood in the uterus. She will experience depression or anxiety, depending on her vikṛti. It is not the period that is causing the depression or anxiety. It is her imbalances that are manifesting in these ways. The causes and regiments that caused her problems and that can help resolve them are better explored on a personal basis between the woman and the practitioner because the reasons vary for different women.

Tell us about your upcoming projects and courses.

We recently posted two intensive online courses on Ayurveda, and one more relaxed course exploring our relationship to the qualities represented by each of the nine planets of Jyotiṣa, on my website. The Foundations of Ayurveda Parts I and II courses were the culmination of three years’ efforts. They are co-taught by Dr. Robert Svoboda and me. Students can register for any of those courses anytime, as they are on-going. I also have an online course, Healthier Hormones. When students register for this, they receive six pre-recorded and packed lectures on women’s health and hormones and join a global group of (mostly) women that are all working to better their lives and health. It is an incredibly supportive group. We have been running this for five years and women take it over and over. While anyone can register and join anytime, once a year we offer a group launch, where people can join at the same time, so they can support each other through the lectures. We plan to have the same this month.

My second book, The Four Qualities of Effective Physicians: Practical Ayurvedic Wisdom for Modern Physicians just came out in paperback. Mentorships and live events are going on.