From Agnihotra Homa to Ghee, Myra Lewin’s Discovery of Healing India

From Agnihotra Homa to Ghee, Myra Lewin’s Discovery of Healing India

Myra Lewin’s favourite asana is the Urdhva dhanurasana. She says that the opening in the front side of the spine is energizing and helps her open up to life. She also likes inversions because they reduce attachment by helping her see things from an additional perspective.

Myra has worn many hats - she is a ‘trained classical pianist turned amateur auto mechanic; a corporate accountant who can dissect a cadaver. An organic farmer, an alchemist and a yogini’.

A fast paced corporate career saw her staring at a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis at age 30, a debilitating condition deemed “incurable” by doctors. As Myra moved away from her career and towards Yoga, she says she saw the root cause of her disease -  “anger, over-exertion and a lack of connection to her spirit” disappear.

She came to Mysore to meet Pattabhi Jois to learn about Patanjali’s Yogasutras. During her stay she integrated ghee into her diet, which lent lubrication and digestive support. Thus, Ayurveda and Yoga became the foundation of her life. In 1999 Myra founded Hale Pule Ayurveda & Yoga - a home-based holistic educational and healing centre where people gather to connect to their true selves and to the power of nature.  She says “Ayurveda gave me answers to the why and how of living. Many things in life didn't make sense to me prior to coming to Ayurveda and Yoga. It gave me the tools to step into life and experience the joy of it fully.”

In this interview with CSP she talks about her fascination for the Agnihotra homa and her belief in India's knowledge systems. She says “Ayurveda brought me back to life by understanding how I, as a human being, am designed to work. Seeing myself as part of nature has made it much easier to heal ailments and wounds of the past so that I can live a full life each day. It is truly the Science of Living and once I came to realize I came to this life to live it, Ayurveda was the answer to good living.”

You speak about the Agnihotra homa? When did you first experience this homa and what does it mean to  you?

I have been practicing agnihotra consistently since 2007. It is a profoundly healing experience for the person doing it and for all of those in the home. It softens the heart and helps us to see solutions to our problems. It does this by bringing us into the rhythm of nature. I have experienced it in my home and also in India in Maheshwar at the goshala of Shree Vasant Pranjape. I have participated in many other homas but I find agnihotra to be the most powerful on a daily basis.

How did you first feel when you learnt these were a part of Ayurveda? 

I was surprised and so pleased. Since 1995 I had been to many homa performed by pundits and priests, but actually performing the homa myself was a life changing experience. It makes sense that it is a part of Ayurveda as it is all based in nature and relating to Surya, Prajapati and Agni.

Usually in India when homas are performed we serve certain foods. Do you follow that too?

In many areas there are traditional foods used, but with our homas we prefer to stay with sattvic foods prepared in a loving manner and sometimes may not follow tradition. If there is specific meaning that is understood such as the offering of certain grains then we follow this of course.

Is the preparation of food a kind of beautiful ritual like a homa? 

The preparation of food is meant to be a sacred ritual and an offering just like a homa. We are meant to be making the offering to the divine in all of nature for our nourishment and expressing appreciation for the opportunity for that connection and the experience of life.

How are they purifiers of our bodies? 

Having food that is sattvic offers the opportunity for purification. But the attitude of the consumer is also very important. When we are open hearted we will naturally choose sattvic foods that support purification as we are revealing ourselves as eternal beings. Rajasic and tamasic food takes us away from ourselves, drawing us outside and causing disturbance in the mind.

What role did Ayurveda cooking play during your own training and now at your programme?

 I learned Ayurveda cooking first from books and trying things, then from watching the cook at a small ashram in India where I spent time and from Dr.(s) Joshi in Nagpur. The real key to cooking from Ayurveda is to understand the principles and use them. Then one can create balance with food from anywhere in the world. In our programme we teach people to use their intuition in combination with the Ayurvedic principles from nature and amazing food is prepared. It's empowering for the chef and wonderful for the eater.

Do you refer to traditional Indian Ayurveda texts? Or are the vaidyas mediators in this education? I do refer to them but often the specific herbs or situation are not possible. So I look to the principle used and adapt it to present day situations.  Vaidyas with lifetime experience are always a good resource as they have studied the Sanskrit. i have learned a great deal from Vaidyagram and Dr. Ramkumar, particularly in their sincerity, generosity, and gentleness.

In your book Freedom in your relationship with Food....what does Freedom refer to. 

Freedom in our relationship with food comes when we align with nature rather than regarding the body and mind complex as something in conflict with nature. This means looking at ourselves in a holistic manner and understanding how our body interacts with food and our environment. This helps us to establish cause and effect with food choices and therefore tune into how what we do makes us feel. Then we can experience food as nourishment rather than just a necessity or entertainment. It is a different attitude toward food, ourselves, and life.

Is food a form of nourishment today or is it a kind of bondage? 

For some people it is a kind of bondage as their relationship with it is mechanical and lifeless. This comes with addictive foods and people not really knowing how to nourish themselves, or even how to easily allow themselves to be nourished. Not easily nourishing one’s self is when we have a closed mind and heart as this is detrimental to agni, the digestive capacity, which will reduce the nourishment possible from any foods.  The commercialization of food is also a big factor here. A  lot of the food available today is refined, low in prana, and not particularly nourishing (and this leads to overeating, dosha imbalance, and weak agni).

How did awareness of the nature of food change your own diet?  When I learned to look at food in terms of its qualities, the gurvadi gunas, and the five elements, or panchamahabhutas, it allowed me to see how we are just like the food. We are an expression of the same aspects of nature, prakruti. Then it became easy to see how food affects us and how our relationship with food was a reflection of our relationship with ourselves and all of life. Healing these relationships for myself has allowed me to experience a much richer life. This healing can come concurrently.

In your book Simple Ayurvedic Recipes do you present staple Ayurveda recipes or the lesser known ones. 

Both books, Freedom in Your Relationship with Food and Simple Ayurvedic Recipes were for people new to Ayurveda. They offer a transitional approach from a modern diet. We also have a small e-book of additional recipes Dine With Myra that takes you through a full week of 3 meals in a day. These are all meant to be simple, balancing for doshas, easy on agni, and sattvic so that we can all feel the best.

I have found in working with clients over many years that when we let only our tongue make decisions about food we can easily have a more rajasic diet that is disturbing for the body and mind. Many people think this is the body asking for the food, but it is usually the mind and attachment from the senses. This has a significant effect on our mental health. But understanding the relationship between nature and our human experience allows us to make simple sattvic choices and feel so much better in life mentally, emotionally and physically. This cultivates the connection to our spiritual being as well as optimal health and joy in life.

Are there certain herbs and spices which you can't do without in your cooking? 

I like to include some fresh ginger, coriander and cardamom whenever possible. But I love all of the spices and fresh herbs for the combinations and how they work together to bring balance to our systems. It reminds me of how I want to be in my relationships with other people. When you cook the spices they become friends and work together to make something with beautiful taste and effect. We can do the same in our relationships to experience love and beauty in life.

How is yoga essential for Ayurveda?

Yoga is practiced on a daily basis at Hale Pule including mantras, pranayama, meditation, asana. Yoga provides the tools for developing the spiritual connection required to keep ourselves in optimal health. At the root of all disease is this disconnection from our innermost self, or spiritual self. To have healing at the deepest level requires this connection and Yoga provides the tools and direction. Meditation is the most powerful tool. Learning and experiencing the stillness within ourselves opens our hearts to the healing process, the movement of prana.