Sonja Shah Williams spent an idyllic childhood in Yorkshire in the UK, deeply rooted in Indian traditions. She believes “we must accept our place within the natural world and honour the importance of mutual respect between animals, plants and flowers.”
As an Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, Sonja teaches through her work that “Ayurveda is THE system of medicine that brings balance through our interconnectedness with nature. The healing power of plants and their flowers is simply amazing.”
Her book by DK Books, ‘Ayurveda: a little book of self-care’ (available at Ayurveda: An Ancient System of Holistic Health to Bring Balance and Wellness to Your Life (A Little Book of Self Care): Amazon.co.uk: Shah-Williams, Sonja: 9780241443651: Books) offers a taste of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda. She has collated a collection of tried and tested Ayurvedic practices and remedies including foods, oils, yoga, and meditation to aid sleep, increase energy, boost immunity, relieve digestive problems, improve relationships and more.
In this interview with CSP she speaks about her interest and belief in Ayurveda.
As an Indian living in a multicultural society how does Ayurveda connect you to India?
I have known of Ayurveda all my life due to our regular vacations back to India. All our relatives and others we know in India see Ayurvedic, as well as allopathic doctors, and my interest in what would later become my profession began at a young age. My mother also follows many Ayurvedic principles, as most Indian people do, even though they don’t even refer to them as Ayurvedic. Ayurveda is very much part of the Indian psyche.
Do Indians need to learn Ayurveda separately or is part of their culinary traditions. Could you speak about your family?
As I mentioned, Indian people have many key rituals, both culinary and otherwise, that follow the basic laws of Nature and the universe, therefore unless they decide to study Ayurveda formally, at university, most simply live life seasonally. In India, vegetables and other foods are always available seasonally, and many people have a routine that fits with their circadian rhythm, such as going to bed by 10pm and rising early.
How did you integrate your father’s knowledge with your mother’s?
It was a wonderful mix. I am very similar to my late father, whom I loved and admired greatly. He was more or less the first Indian GP in Bradford, Yorkshire, in the North of England, where I grew up. Most of his patients were fellow Indians, and he not only helped them medically, but also got to know them and their families enough to support them in other ways. I remember one couple who were having marital difficulties, and my father virtually counselled them enough to help them work through their issues. They stayed together as a result! My mother is hugely disciplined in her life and also principled. She is a great one for routine (key to balance in Ayurveda) and cooks Gujarati food, which is as close to Ayurvedic nutrition principles as one can get. When I was growing up, she cooked every meal fresh, and used only wholesome foods, in including pulses, vegetables, ghee and whole milk, which she has always done. When we, her three children were ill, with say a cold, she made us ‘yellow doodh’ (yellow milk) which was hot milk boiled with turmeric and other spices. This is a perfect Ayurvedic immune boosting and healing recipe, with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. So both parents, in their different ways, were able to look after our health.
Living in Yorkshire how did you experience closeness to nature? Does being amidst the beauty of nature inspire one to eat more mindfully?
Yorkshire is a beautiful, rugged county where much of the landscape has remained untouched. As a child I spent many hours in the garden which was full of roses and other lovely flowers, and also walking in fields and on the famous Moors, where one connects with the spirituality of life at a deep level. It is a very honest environment, not showy. I felt very much part of it, which of course I now realise makes sense … we are 'of Nature' as human beings. I think that when we understand that all living things require the same energetic principles to thrive, we understand that we should eat foods that are pure, created as Nature intended, in their most natural state.
How can we bring India's varied culinary tradition to a Britain raised on stereotypes of Indian food?
It is happening, but everything takes time. When I was a child, 'Indian food’ was sampled by English people only in restaurants. Ironically, these were run by Bangladeshi people, not Indians, and also modified to suit the British palette. Nowadays one can go to fantastic regional Indian restaurants, certainly in big cities such as London, and also many English people with Indian friends are able to sample true, home cooked food. I very often cook Indian meals for non-Indian family and friends, and they realise it is entirely different from the food they have been eating often for years, in restaurants.
Are Indians in the UK associated with good food habits. Are there influences who speak about Ayurveda?
I wouldn’t say that’s strictly the case. Certainly, home cooked food is still as wholesome, but many of the Ayurvedic principles have diluted amongst Indians in the UK, due to moving from India many years ago and having to adapt to a very different life. Ayurveda is still relatively unknown in the UK, even Indian people who know of Ayurveda don’t actually know the principles as much as their families do back in India.
What according to you is the attraction of Ayurveda to the youth of today.
Ayurveda is the answer to most modern-day imbalances, and I am certainly very keen to bring its message to a wider audience, especially to younger people. This is the stage of life when good life habits can be set, and benefit us for the rest of our lives. It’s very much about prevention of imbalances that might lead to disease.
(Follow Sonja on her website: anala.co.uk, Follow her https://www.instagram.com/analaayurvedichealth)