This article is from Jasmine Hemsley’s website – https://www.jasminehemsley.com/friends-of-east-by-west/2022/6/8/paula-herbert
“My own mother had a tragic accident in 2012 and again my practices were a wonderful anchor at that time – as my world seemed to just fall apart on the outside, I was able to find some sense of stability and meaning inside (in spite of the enormous grief and pain of loss), as I continued to practise through this very challenging time in my life.”
Paula Herbert is a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic consultant and practitioner. She is passionate about passing on the wisdom teachings from yoga and Ayurveda as authentically as possible in the context of modern living.
Based in Dublin, Paula started practising yoga over 30 years ago. She runs a small studio by the sea in Blackrock, YogaVeda Living, with her husband, David, who also teaches yoga — the two have worked together since 2003.
At YogaVeda Living, Paula teaches postures, breathing practices, meditation techniques and Yoga Nidra. She runs an Ayurvedic clinic offering consultations, treatments and 9-day seasonal detox programmes. Paula offers a one-year mentoring course in yoga and Ayurveda, helping people to successfully integrate key principles from the two sister sciences into their everyday lives to experience greater health and happiness. She also teaches Ayurveda as part of YogaVeda Living’s Teacher Training programme to ensure that their yoga teachers are educated in the fundamental principles of Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle. Paula runs annual summer retreats in Portugal.
Specialising particularly in women’s health, Paula loves working with women of all ages in her clinic. Before moving into yoga teaching, she worked in the corporate world for 14 years and can really relate to the stresses that so many women are experiencing today, and the consequences of that stress on hormonal health.
She runs masterclasses in collaboration with a gynaecologist on teen health, fertility, and peri-menopausal and menopausal wellness, bringing together the best of modern medicine and science and the ancient wisdom of yoga and Ayurveda, with a mission to inform and empower women through all stages of life.
“[AYURVEDA] FEELS LIKE IT IS NEEDED MORE NOW THAN EVER BEFORE.”
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
For me, Ayurveda gently shines a light on our innate tendencies and inherent qualities in a way that enables us to be compassionate and less judgemental with ourselves, and as a result it helps us to connect with others at a much deeper level.
On a very practical level, it empowers us to take responsibility for own health and wellbeing through healthy nutrition and daily self-care routines.
It’s really a brilliant framework that connects us with all of nature and its rhythms. By applying it, we learn to appreciate our individual make-up while also developing our fundamental connection to everyone and everything in our environment.
When did you discover it? How long have you been practising it?
I trained as a polarity therapist over 22 years ago, and this healing modality is very much based on the five elements, and has its roots in Ayurveda. I have been teaching yoga for almost 20 years now and I was exposed to Ayurveda on several trips to India.
In 2009, I began to gain a deeper appreciation of Ayurveda through the practice of Pranayama (breathwork). I started to practise in the Swami Kuvalayananda lineage with O.P. Tiwari and later with his son, Sudhir, who travelled to Ireland and stayed with us several times over the years. He taught my husband and me specific practices to balance the Doshas and sparked an interest in me to learn more.
One night I had a dream (I know it might sound very corny but it is the truth!) that I needed to deepen my understanding of Ayurveda. As if by magic, a couple of weeks after this dream, I was sitting in a classroom in an Ayurvedic clinic in the west of Ireland (Satmya), starting a two-year diploma in Ayurvedic studies (the course was full when I checked it out, but I subsequently found out that a friend of mine had signed up for the same course. She spoke to the teacher who squeezed me in at the last minute — it was one of those life-defining moments that really felt as though it was meant to be!). Five years on from that and Ayurveda is a key part of how I live my life now.
What drew you to Ayurveda?
I had several Ayurvedic treatments on trips to India, and I loved how it is such a natural complement to yoga. It doesn’t really make sense to practise yoga without Ayurveda. It provides such deep wisdom on how to maintain health on all levels and it really prepares you for the more internal practices of yoga.
Has it helped you with anything major?
I started to really practise Ayurveda when my daughter was about two. We were in the process of a big house move at that time and it was a great support. The combination of yoga and Ayurveda definitely helped me to prioritise my self-care as a mother and as I wanted to be a positive role model for my own daughter, it was important for me to establish self-care routines in our house as a natural part of everyday life.
My own mother had a tragic accident in 2012 and again my practices were a wonderful anchor at that time – as my world seemed to just fall apart on the outside, I was able to find some sense of stability and meaning inside (in spite of the enormous grief and pain of loss), as I continued to practise through this very challenging time in my life.
I’m now 54 years old. It has been wonderful to have an established Ayurvedic routine moving through that transition into menopause. It is such a problematic time for so many women and thankfully I have been very blessed so far. I really put this down to my diet and lifestyle. I am now very passionate about sharing the benefits of yoga and Ayurveda for women through all cycles of life — from adolescence right through to later life.
Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?
Definitely part of my everyday life.
What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?
- Self-massage (Abhyanga) — I don’t do this every single day but I try to do it a few times a week, and I find it amazing. It’s particularly good for Vata types like me!
- Oil pulling — our oral hygiene is so important for our overall health and once you start this and feel the effects, it’s quite easy to integrate into a morning routine.
- Taking herbs to naturally and gently support female hormonal health has been a great support for me over the last few years.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
In spite of the complexity of Ayurveda, there are so many very small, simple, practical, intuitive steps that we can take on a daily basis, and we can see very positive results within a relatively short period of time.
I felt the benefits of Ayurveda very quickly and this motivated me to keep learning — what I didn’t expect was the profound effect that it would have on my yoga practice, my work and my whole life!
I was already a student of Pranayama for several years and I had a regular Ashtanga practice since 2003, but I found that as I learnt more about my constitution, it felt natural to soften my whole approach to yoga. (We even ended up rebranding — we used to be Ashtanga Yoga Dublin — we are now YogaVeda Living. As our own practice of Ayurveda deepened, we decided to bring more of it into our yoga teaching, and it felt more aligned and more fulfilling to work with students (when they are open to it) to help them bring more balance into all aspects of their lives.)
Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?
It was a gradual thing for me. I began with some very simple lifestyle changes and started to cook the most basic Ayurvedic recipes. I bought some Ayurvedic cookbooks on a trip to Kerala back in 2003, and it slowly grew from there. I guess for me, it was a slow process. It is not something that can be rushed – it needs to really take root and integrate little by little, and it is still evolving for me: I still have a long way to go and hope that I will continue to learn more about Ayurveda for as long as I am here, and it will keep revealing more to me in the process.
Do your children/family eat an Ayurvedic diet? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or do they just think of it as home cooking?
Not exclusively — we tend to have a balance between Western cooking and Ayurvedic meals these days. We all have dal a few times a week and this is just normal cooking for us, even though it is rooted in Ayurveda. We use ghee for cooking, even if we are eating Western dishes.
I have gone through some periods when we seemed to have mainly Ayurvedic food – I remember back when my daughter was only about three years of age and she would seriously complain about dinner. “Oh no, not mung dal again” became a bit of a mantra in our house for a while!
What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
There are so many — it’s hard to pick one. If I was to pick an ingredient, I think it would have to be ginger: I use it every day, and it just has so many positive health benefits. Being a Vata type, it is a must-have for me.
How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routines?
- I begin my day with tongue scraping, eye exercises and oil pulling (sesame) before my yoga practices.
- I now personally practise a combination of yin yoga some days and more dynamic practice on other days but Yoga Nidra and meditation are key components of my daily routine. They work wonders to keep my constitution in balance.
- I do Abhyanga (self-massage), usually with a Vata pacifying oil. I oil my scalp with amla hair oil. (I do this at least twice a week — sometimes more.)
- I take Ayurvedic herbs before breakfast every day.
- I get out walking in nature (usually every morning). We live just 10km from Dublin city centre, and we are very lucky as we are close to both the sea and the woods. We have a 7-year-old mini-schnauzer (Shantih) who loves going on walks just about anywhere.
- We cook all of our food from scratch each day and use mainly organic ingredients. We have pretty routine times for our three meals, and really try to have our last meal by 7pm.
- I have a lovely copper foot bath that I had shipped over from Egypt so on the days that I haven’t done an Abhyanga, I will sometimes do a foot massage that evening to wind down before bed (Mahanarayan oil is my favourite for this), followed by a foot soak in hot water which feels so amazing.
- I am usually in bed by 10pm (10:30pm at the latest).
What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?
I think we need to go back to the education system. I would love to see young children spending lots more time out in nature rather than sitting in classrooms from such a young age. Kids (just like adults) are generally very disconnected from the outdoors, and spend way too much time on screens and devices, at a time when their nervous systems are still developing.
It would be wonderful to see children in schools planting and growing food, connecting with the soil and the earth, learning to prepare and cook seasonal foods, eating that food without the distraction of TV, iPads and mobile phones.
I would also love to see meditation and relaxation practices on the curriculum in schools as well as self-care practices to ease the stresses of modern-day living. We are seeing a huge increase in mental illness among our young people and I believe that these steps would help to address the underlying causes – poor diet with too much sugar and processed foods, lack of exercise and fresh air, over-stimulation of the senses through the excessive use of screens/devices, and a lack of education on self-care techniques that help to balance the body and mind in times of stress.
Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?
I think the answer to that one is yes, as it forms such a huge part of my work and my family and close friends know how committed I am to holistic health in all aspects of my life.
I am also working with a very experienced gynaecologist to bring together the most up to date medical and scientific research with the ancient wisdom of yoga and Ayurveda. We believe this synergistic approach is really effective. We provide education for adolescents on teen gynae health, in both school settings and in workshops (attended by teens and their mothers). We cover fertility and we also run masterclasses in peri-menopausal/menopausal/postmenopausal health. Our mission is to educate and provide information on the natural and medical options available, so that women feel empowered and comfortable in open discussions about all matters relating to their hormonal health and wellbeing.
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try or you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
It would have to be tongue scraping because it is so accessible, easy and quick (it’s that low hanging fruit!).
Anything else you’d like to add?
As a Western woman, it is simply amazing to me that I am here in Dublin, practising this ancient wisdom from India, and that it is just as applicable today as it was thousands of years ago. In fact with everything that is going on in our world at the moment, it feels like it is needed more now than ever before.