18 Nov Applying Jyotisha in Ayurveda
A Conversation with Dr. Claudia Welch – by Juliana Swanson
Juliana Swanson: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. Do you prefer I call you “Dr. Welch” or “Claudia”?
Dr. Claudia Welch: Let’s go with, “Claudia” for the rest of this, shall we? And I’ll call you, “Dr. Reverend Juliana.” Or, I guess that’s a little cumbersome. How about “Claudia” and “Juliana” with implied respect ?
Juliana: Perfect! I understand that you studied intermediate and advanced courses in Vedic astrology (Jyotish/Jyotisha) with Hart DeFouw. Have you found Jyotisha to be an important element of your work as a health care practitioner and teacher of Ayurveda?
Claudia: It has indeed. And, by the way, I consider it one of the highlights of my education to have had the opportunity to study with Mr. DeFouw. Jyotish is actually not something I teach or write about much. And I don’t offer—or feel qualified to give—Jyotisha readings. It is more of a personal guide through the sometimes complex or strange aspects of life and medicine-my own and my patients’.
Juliana: How so?
Claudia: When I had a busy private practice, I incorporated Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and found those two systems to address most disorders quite effectively. The Jyotish would often come in when I would hit a dead end or a mystery.
Juliana: Jyotisha to the rescue! Can you give some examples?
Claudia: Yes, I have examples. First, here’s something that would happen on occasion: There’s a patient who’s been responding beautifully to various remedies over the course of a few years. All of a sudden she starts receiving either no benefits from her herbs or, worse, begins to have weird side effects from them. I say, “weird,” because they would be completely unexpected kinds of side effects. Some would be expected…you know, someone takes too much valerian and feels too groggy. This wasn’t like that. This would be like someone taking too much valerian and getting a weird pain in his second toe. Things like that. I’m making that valerian/toe example up, but it is just to illustrate what I mean by unexpected side effects.
So, this woman would all of a sudden start getting weird side effects from remedies that had been working just as expected throughout our therapeutic relationship — for years.
When this would happen, I would look to the patient’s chart, when possible. And, I swear—I’m making this statistic up for effect, but it reflects my overall impression from my experiences—9 or 10 times out of 10, the patient would have just gone into some dasha or bhukti involving Ketu. Usually Ketu in, or clearly affecting, the 6th house.
That was such a routine finding for me that I would be more perplexed or shocked if there wasn’t a Ketu component like this, in these kinds of cases.
Juliana: So what would you do?
Claudia: So, I would look and see how long the Ketu period was going to last, and I would adjust my treatment strategy accordingly. First of all, I would let the patient in on the situation (if the patient were at all receptive to this sort of thing). I would say a little about Ketu, and that it would be unlikely, while in this period, to have predictable results with medications, herbs or remedies, and that we would need to closely watch the patient’s reactions. When possible, I am inclined to take patients off all herbs and remedies for a while, when they get into a period like this. I prefer to treat with lifestyle and diet anyway, but especially when Ketu is involved.
Juliana: How was this kind of advice received?
Claudia: My experience was that it was pretty helpful. She would be comforted that there was areason that she was all of a sudden having strange reactions to things, and would have a sense of how long she might need to expect this to go on. You know, it’s often nice for people to name something. If we understand stuff it can take some of the fear out of the thing.
Juliana: And you have another example?
Claudia: Yeah. I would also turn to Jyotish when patients had stubborn maladies that should be easily cured but weren’t. Or they don’t seem to have an obvious cause in lifestyle and diet. For example, a young woman with a generally healthy constitution, good lifestyle and appropriate diet suddenly develops a strong or tenacious condition. It’s not like it was “sudden” following a drinking binge or falling off a wall. No. Sudden, like there’s no perceptible precipitating cause of the problem.
If I had the time, and her birth data, I would look at her chart to see, lo and behold, it would make perfect sense. One patient had just entered a bhukti or dasha that involved Mars, debilitated in the 8th house; she all of a sudden contracted a yeast infection that she couldn’t get rid of—something usually pretty straight forward. But the situation in her chart was so strong that, while she might be able to resolve this one malady, she may have a strong tendency to contract other local, irritable conditions for as long as Mars will be highlighted. So, instead of suggesting that she would be all better if she just took x, y, z for a week, I gave her x, y, z plus a longer-term formula to have a cooling, anti-inflammatory effect on 8th house regions.
Juliana: I see. Are there any other examples of using Jyotisha in your health care practice?
Claudia: A third common thing I would turn to Jyotisha to explain: the phenomenon of—I guess you could say, “clustering” of similar disorders. For example, I may never have even heard of, much less treated, polycythemia vera. And, in one week, I would have three patients come in with it.
When I would see clustering, I would be interested to go to Jyotisha to see what was currently happening in the heavens that would be having such a clear effect on earth this week. And maybe I would add some common herb or approach, to respond to this effect, that week.
Juliana: Jyotisha seems to be an important tool for an Ayurvedic practitioner. Is this true across the board, that it should be part of the learning in this field?
Claudia: Well, I truly don’t know what all Ayurvedic practitioners should do. I expect there are many who are very effective at their craft without knowing a stick of Jyotisha. But, for me, it has been helpful, for two reasons.
Claudia: First, as Sushruta tells us in the Sushruta Samhita, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, or if a particular subject is not covered in detail in the classical texts of Ayurveda, you should look to those of her sister sciences—Sanskrit, dance, yoga, Vastu Shastra, Tantra, Jyotisha, etc.
I have found this to be extremely helpful to fill in some gaps for me. For example, though we really like to think of Ayurveda as a medical paradigm that addresses the body, mind and spirit of the patient, actually the brhat trayi—the “three great” ancient Ayurvedic texts—mostly focus on and address the physical aspects of the human being. Sure, we learn that we get anxious if we’ve got too much Vata; irritable if we have too much Pitta; and will cry over Hallmark commercials if we have too much Kapha. However, I have found that to understand more deeply how the body and mind affect each other, and garner more
insights into the tendencies of the mind, it has been enormously helpful to go to Tantra and Jyotisha.
Juliana: As a healer, you have many tools to work with.
Claudia: Tools. Exactly. Jyotisha is simply another tool in the toolbox. You know, every job requires the right tools. If we don’t have the perfect tool, sometimes we can make do with the ones we have and get creative with them. I don’t see any problem with that. But if we have the right tool, we might be able to get the job done a bit more efficiently, or quickly.
Juliana: You mentioned that you practice both Ayurveda and TCM. How do you weave them together?
Claudia: I have found that some maladies can be explained more elegantly by one recognized pattern in one or the other of the systems of medicine. For example, one pattern might be most elegantly described using doshic theory, whereas another might be better explained using Zang Fu theory (organ theory in TCM). Similarly, it might be difficult to explain or diagnose a condition with either TCM or Ayurveda, but can be clearly explained using Jyotisha. I think it is often the case that, if we can get to an elegant diagnosis, we might be more able to treat the problem effectively.
But, of course, there are practitioners I’ve heard of who treat solely with water, or with three different remedies for anyone who ever comes to their practice and got tremendous results. My guru used to tell stories of such practitioners. It was his opinion that they got good results because they knew how to control their minds. Not because they had a tremendous education even in Ayurveda—what to say of Jyotisha. Because they had control of their minds and they did their spiritual practices.
So, I don’t think it is necessary for Ayurvedic practitioners to learn Jyotisha but, for those of us who haven’t controlled our minds, it can be a handy tool. And one that, for me at least, has added meaning and insight to my life, as well as my practice.
Juliana: Do you feel it is important for Jyotishis to study the Science of Life?
Claudia: I don’t necessarily feel it is important for anybody to do anything I find useful, but it would seem to me that it could be very valuable indeed.
Juliana: Valuable in what ways?
Claudia: Well, for example: Different grahas and bhavas and rashis are related to different tattvas (elements), and Ayurveda places a lot of emphasis on the tattvas, in terms of how they relate to and affect the doshas, prakritis and vikritis (individual constitutions and current conditions). Both systems are interested in shining light on the human condition, and both come at that from different directions—directions that, I feel, greatly enhance each other.
Juliana: Well said! OK now, shifting gears…I know you have been traveling a great deal during the past few years, lecturing and teaching at conferences and workshops throughout the US and internationally. Are you still going strong with this jam-packed schedule?
Claudia: No, thank the dear Lord. I have made a gargantuan, and largely successful, effort to reduce the amount of travel and the number of events I commit to teaching.
Juliana: Why was the effort so great or so important?
Claudia: I was traveling too much for my own good for a while and it took a while to turn that momentum around. I am very grateful that it did. Now I agree to teaching about five events per year where I need to travel. And I generally enjoy those events very much. It is a wonderful time to connect in person with people and there is some kind of inspiration that can descend in a group that doesn’t always when I am at home in my living room. Anyway, other than that handful of events, I am staying put as much as possible and working on some wonderful things and projects. I offer an online mentorship program for Ayurvedic practitioners; since I gave up my practice and am doing one-on-one consultations far less than I did when I had my practice, the mentorship program is a good way for me to keep that clinical part of my brain alive.
Juliana: You enjoy the online venue?
Claudia: Yes, it is really wonderful. Though the online experience loses the benefit of face-to-face, five-elements-present reality, it can still be heart-to-heart, and is so much easier for students to attend and afford, and so much easier for us to have the ability to work together when I am less willing to travel as much. Also, it’s easier on the environment, since everybody doesn’t have to use a bunch of fossil fuel to haul themselves around the planet. And I can work in my pajamas from my living room.
Juliana: I would say that working in your pajamas in your living room is a clear definition of freedom! And speaking of that freedom, you also have an online course offering. Can you tell us about it?
Claudia: Yes, I also have an online course hosted by Cate Stillman called “Healthier Hormones,” but it is about so much more than hormones. I wish every woman in the world could take that course. Many do. There is now a community of (by far) mostly women around the world who support each other in leading healthy lives. They get blown away by how so many maladies—hormonal and otherwise—get sorted out on their own, in response. It is a wonderful community to be part of. [You can learn about this course, Dr. Welch’s mentorship program, schedule and other information at www.DrClaudiaWelch.com]
Juliana: What’s unique about the approach to health in this course?
Claudia: Couple of things. First, the approach to hormones and understanding them is fairly unique I think. I find that this information is accessible, and often kind of exciting, to many women, from MDs to people who’ve never heard the word “Ayurveda.” It’s not a repeat of the information in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, but it is complementary.
Also, the course really highlights the fact—well, in my opinion it’s a fact—that we regularly ask the wrong questions. We’re asking, “How do I fix my migraines?,” “What can I take to make my digestion work better?”, “How can I lose or gain weight?” These are the wrong questions. The right ones are more in the ball park of, “How can I improve my life?” “What am I doing that is out of integrity?” “How can I have the courage to change that?” And we look at some really, deeply interesting stuff around concepts like daily routine—dinacharya—that are usually a big yawn.
Juliana: This sounds quite simply like the true holistic approach to wellness.
Claudia: Turns out that, when we change our lives, many—most? Sometimes all—of our discomforts, disorders, diseases improve dramatically, or disappear.
I think this is an area where a skilled Jyotishi can assist a lot. Sometimes it takes courage to live the life we really know in our hearts we want to—and should be—living. But it’s too scary to take the steps in that direction. It can be really helpful to sit down with a gifted Jyotishi and gain some insight into the factors that are motivating us to make the choices we make, and how we might live more in integrity.
In fact, I hadn’t thought of this in exactly this way before but, it might be that we often ask the wrong questions of a Jyotishi in a similar way that we ask the wrong questions—(In my opinion, wrong)—questions of a physician. If we go, asking the small questions like, “What should I do about my job?”, but ignore the bigger picture of what we are really here to do, what are the obstructions, and how we can set about dissolving them or just getting on with doing what we are really here to do, we may not get the most benefit. I would sure love to have a conversation with you about that sometime, Juliana. It would be so interesting to hear what you think are the most useful questions to ask a Jyotishi.
Juliana: Sounds like a really important question, and I gladly accept the invitation to consider this more in depth and hash it out together one of these days. And in the meantime, for this conversation, can you please say more about the big-picture/little-picture in this work?
Claudia: It’s not that it is never right to address the migraines or the job issue, but it is good to, at least concurrently, I think, zoom out and look at the larger issue—the context in which we are living, and how healthy that is. And a skilled Jyotishi or Ayurvedic consultant can help us gain insight into how to make that context a better one, and find the courage to make the necessary changes.
Juliana: Courage is a big piece?
Claudia: It is interesting. It has been interesting to me for a long time, that it doesn’t necessarily take courage to keep going…to keep trudging along on a path we don’t like, don’t feel good in, don’t even believe it. That just takes either an overblown sense of responsibility, or fear, or both. Fear that if we stop the trudging, our lives will fall apart…or our kids’ lives…or our spouses’ or parents’ lives. Or something else—out there—will fall apart.
It is so ironic that what really takes courage is to begin to live the lives we want to be living. Somehow that feels like jumping off a cliff. And it sort of is, but the thing is, like an old Chuang Tzu story illustrates, the jump off the cliff is into a bottomless pit. It is bottomless. We’re not going to crash-land into anything. We just go on falling.
Juliana: So taking the risk of jumping is really about flying free?
Claudia: Maybe. If we jump off the cliff, maybe, maybe something in our lives will fall apart. But my overwhelming experience is that the only things that fall apart are the things that ought to fall apart. The things we don’t really want anyway. Mostly, I’ve found that life just gets better. We see that things don’t get worse. They get better. And that gives us the courage to take another step. We don’t have to jump off the cliff one big time. We can take little steps towards a freer, better life and then see that things don’t fall apart. They improve. And that gives us the courage to take the next step. And then the next. Then the next. Pretty soon life is so much better and we would never choose to go back to the trudging.
So, anyway, yes, I’m traveling less. I kind of detoured there, but I suppose traveling too much was my version of trudging too much and jumping off that cliff, slowing down, staying put, living a simple life more, was, has been, feels like it still is my version of living the life I am meant to live. At least more so, and at least for now.
I would have to say that there have been many crossroads in my life where I’ve chosen to jump off the cliff. And I would have to say that I haven’t once regretted jumping. And I would never go back to not jumping. God willing.
Juliana: Your journey off the cliff is inspiring. And, speaking of inspiration, recently you went to Moscow and lectured at the first-ever Russian conference on Ayurveda with your friend and colleague Dr. Robert Svoboda. How fascinating! Please let us in on what that was like for you.
Claudia: It is fascinating. I’m rather glad you used the word, “fascinating” and not “exciting.” So often I hear, “Oh, you must be so excited to _________blank.” To go to Russia, to go somewhere else, to have a book published, etc. I almost never really find that excitement is either my experience, or what I aim for my experience to be, so I never quite know how to answer that question. It is like if I say, “no,” the asker is disappointed. But “yes,” would usually be a lie.
Juliana: I get it. So anyway, yes, how fascinating was it?
Claudia: Being with people in different parts of the world, and feeling how their part of the world affects our human interactions is indeed fascinating to me. Like, in some parts of the world, participants at a workshop are generally very polite, quiet and respectful, and passive even when they are
…er….here’s the word, “excited.” So it can be hard for me, in those situations, to get a read on where people are. In other places, like in South America, there is so much exuberant love that just spills out all over the place. There is no guesswork on my part. The love just flows and we move along.
Moscow, actually, and I didn’t think of this when I started answering this question, felt a little like a mix between those two examples I just gave. At first, there felt like there was a bit of a staid veil, but then it felt unbelievably comfortable and easy to puncture that a little and then it would just break open and lots of love would just begin to flow. And the love was right there. Very accessible. It was wonderful.
I was told this was the first Ayurvedic conference. I don’t know if that is true, but it was super.
Juliana: You and Dr. Svoboda taught together?
Claudia: I taught some alone and some, yes, with Dr. Robert Svoboda. Both experiences were good. Dr. Svoboda had not been to Russia before either, and he had made an exception to his self-imposed three-year sabbatical to do this, so I was grateful for that. It is a true pleasure to teach together.
We also spent about eight days together on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, in Siberia, with my husband and another friend of ours. Funny, right? To go voluntarily go to a place where people historically were sent as punishment. Anyway, it was particularly wonderful. There are certain places in the world that, I find, have a pretty strong feeling—a strong imprint on the matrix underlying the reality there—either for better or worse. There are said to be 13 shaman spirits on Olkhon Island. The main chief shaman spirit is said to reside in a rock formation that we could see from our hotel. We spent some time there and the effect was, I would say, transformative.
Juliana: It sounds heavenly actually.
Claudia: It was interesting to see how much closer to nature and to nature spirits the Russian people were, in general, than people in some other parts of the world. For example, we’d had a couple little logistical glitches that happened before we got to Olkhon and the tour guide who had arranged our trip actually considered canceling it, wondering if maybe the Olkhon shaman spirits didn’t want us to go there. I mean to say, this was a woman at a travel agency—a travel agency—having these concerns, and if she’d canceled our trip that would have been a financial loss for her. Now, we didn’t find out her thoughts until after our trip was over, but I was very impressed that she thought in that way, that she had that much respect for the spirit and spirit residents of Baikal.
Anyway, after the minor logistical glitches, we ended up having a remarkably gentle and wonderful time and experience on Olkhon, and were grateful to the main Shaman spirit there for being kind to us.
Juliana: Your 2011 book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life: Achieving Optimal Health and Wellness Through Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western Science is recommended reading for both laypersons and professionals. I myself could not put it down and re-read it a few times! How long did it take you to complete the book?
Claudia: It took me ten years. I am so grateful it is out there.
I haven’t had children in this lifetime. Authors often talk about their books being like their children. If that is the case, after my kid left the barn (to muddle a metaphor), I’ve been a pretty hands-off parent. I don’t feel a great deal of identification with it, but I really am so glad it is out there. I feel like it has really freed me up to do other work. If it wasn’t out there, I think I would feel compelled to go about, talking about what is in there.
I really do wish every woman would read this book—not to be all self-promoting about it. It’s just that we all need to be as informed as we can, to make choices about how we live our lives and how we go about the process of staying healthy, if that is important to us. And it is tough to be informed, even, or especially, in this Information Age. Information, alas, is not knowledge, and putting it all together can be daunting.
Juliana: Astrologer’s curiosity, did you choose a muhurta (astrological election) for the book launch, and if so, was it successful?
Claudia: The publisher picks the date for the launch. I didn’t have control over that, but I did pick the date and time to have the first conversation with the executive editor at Da Capo, the wonderful Renee Sedliar. We’d not talked before and this was the conversation. This was us getting to know each other and her making a decision about whether or not to champion this book—kind of a brave thing for her to do since I was a new author.
And it was, in my opinion, very successful. Renee and I got along beautifully, we never had even one little emotional or practical obstacle or glitch in the process from that conversation on. And she did get behind the book and sold it—not an easy thing to do—to the publisher’s sales department.
So. Hooray for muhurtas?
Juliana: Amen, and congratulations! Now, moving along to yet another topic, I am wondering if you generally advocate astrological remedies such as pujas (yagyas), gems (ratnas), and mantras.
Claudia: My guruji was very clear with me about this. He said that unless you were clearly told by your guru to give out mantras, that you should never do it, unless you would like to have the responsibility for that soul—at least to some extent—on your shoulders. And, even when disciples are told to do this or that, if they know anything, they would really, I mean really, hate the idea. It is just so much karmic responsibility.
Juliana: So no-go for you on recommending mantras.
Claudia: Right. There’s a story I often think of in this regard. I read David Crow’s book In Search of the Medicine Buddha some years ago. It was a fine book, but I don’t have a fine memory exactly, so I can’t say I remember too much about it. But there is a line that I do remember, and that has stayed with me. As I recall, it was from a vaidya in Nepal. He said, “The shepherd picks up his lunch pail and goes to heaven. The physician picks up his medicine bag and goes to hell.” I’m probably mangling the exact quote, but it was something like that flavor. And when I heard that—read that—I thought, “yes!”
The shepherd just has to keep his sheep alive, feed them and corral them here and there. Pretty minimal karma is incurred and, probably most of it pretty benign.
As a physician, one is often in the position of giving advice about how to live, eat, what herbs and remedies to take, guiding patients in one direction or another with perspectives, thoughts, outlooks and emotions. And then the physician takes on at least some responsibility for that patient’s actions. This can get kind of complicated, I imagine. And that is just the question of physical or emotional-mental health. Just think of how much more sticky matters can get when we’re talking about spiritual matters and treatments—like mantras.
Juliana: What do you offer as a “substitute”?
Claudia: Even with physical and emotional matters, I prefer, when possible, to offer education and let the patient chose whether to follow it or not, to minimize my own responsibility in the matter—(see how selfish I am ?). But, when it comes to mantras, I would say that I don’t see or foresee a situation or time when I would ever recommend a mantra for anyone. It is not that I think nobody else should do that. I don’t know what is right for others. But for me, God help me, I don’t foresee a situation wherein I would do that.
Juliana: And for other remedies?
Claudia: As far as upayas, yajnas or ratnas, I don’t do Jyotisha readings for anybody, as a rule, outside of family and friends and, even then, will counsel first that they take anything I say with a grain of salt. So I’m not often in a position where somebody will ask me about these forms of remedies; my preferred response when they do, is that it might be better to consult with a practicing, skilled Jyotishi for these things. With upayas, sometimes I might go so far as to say something like, “Well, in India, they might say to feed black crows or chant to Saturn on Saturdays for this sort of thing,” and let the person decide if that feels right to them. But I leave yajnas and ratna discussion to the pros.
Juliana: Do you have any events coming up?
Claudia: We’re running another round of Healthier Hormones classes with a free, live call on January 23, 2014. It’s a tremendously supportive, enriching group of people. [If you’re interested, you can go to Healthier Hormones course page] Also, I’m planning to co-teach with Scott Blossom, a wonderful shadow yoga teacher and Ayurveda /TCM practitioner in February in San Francisco, and I’m looking forward to facilitating other Ohio, Massachusetts, Hong Kong and Brazil, in 2014. And you can always see the other events on the schedule page on my website: www.DrClaudiaWelch.com. I’d love to see you…whoever you are reading this, wherever you are…
Juliana: Thank you, dear Claudia, for so generously sharing your great passion and wisdom. This has been truly illuminating.
Claudia: Thank you, Juliana. Thank you for this opportunity to be with you and to share these thoughts.