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Finding Ayurveda: An Interview with Alan Marks

Finding Ayurveda: An Interview with Alan Marks

Alan Marks, former CEO of Maharishi Ayurveda, discovered Transcendental Meditation® as a teenager. And while Alan found the deep silence he experienced during his twice-a-day meditation life changing (despite his busy schedule of running two companies, he claims to this day he can count on only one hand the meditations he has missed), he was skeptical at first of going further. Further? In the early eighties, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM, began to bring out the knowledge of Ayurveda as a practice for better health to enhance the wellness of meditators — but Alan wasn’t so sure.

“I was dismissive to some extent of certain lifestyle changes,” Alan said recently. “I was a young man, and the idea of doing daily oil massages (abhyanga), going to bed by 10:00 p.m., not adding cheese to every meal I ate, avoiding cold foods (including ice cream!) — just was not 'alluring' to a college kid.” The knowledge of panchakarma, or PK — a powerful ayurvedic rejuvenation process — was also brought out around the same time. Alan smiles while remembering his lack of open-mindedness, at that time, toward Ayurveda and PK. He wasn’t having any of it — however, nature had other plans.

When Alan was in his twenties, his life and his entire outlook changed. Tragically, his younger sister was killed by a drunk driver, leaving Alan despondent. His sadness was so profound that the grieving felt impossible to deal with. And not only was Alan grappling to deal with the loss of his sister, but he was also profoundly saddened witnessing his parents’ grief.

“I wasn’t getting ahead of it the way I wanted,” he said.

Eventually, Alan realized that he needed something more and, based on the advice of friends who had experienced PK, decided to give panchakarma a shot.

Often lasting three, five, or seven days, panchakarma includes temporary diet change, massage, mild internal cleansing, and steam baths. And the time commitment is more than just the minutes of massage and the time spent on the steam table. Each of the individual treatments in PK is powerful, and the combined force can be so great that it becomes preferable not to do anything other than rest and receive the treatments. The impact, however, is long-lasting.

“The change was transformational,” Alan said of his first experience. “It was a powerful way for my body and my heart to deal with what I’d gone through.”

According to Ayurveda, the body metabolizes all of its experiences, with all five senses. “We don’t metabolize just the food we eat.”

“Think of it this way. When we smile at a friend, there is a biochemical change in our body, including our brain. This change is structured as a physical memory, not only in our brain, but in every cell of our body. Our cells are reproducing, and many, many — innumerable — changes are going on in our body concurrent with the smile. The biochemical correlate of the smile literally becomes posited as a subtle part of our body, of who we are. Now multiply this by the years and decades we have known and loved someone. When we have a significant other — whether a family member, or a friend — they’re literally part of who we are,” Alan explained. “They’re structured in our physiology. When they leave the earth, especially if they leave suddenly, it’s as though we are telling the sky to be a different color. That person is literally a part of us, part of our structure. It takes the body a long time to metabolize to that new reality. This is grieving: what has become part of us, is no longer, and our body must now change physically to become that new reality. It doesn’t happen overnight. There is a reason that, in most traditions, the grieving associated with the loss of a loved one takes a year, or more, for its completion. For example, in the Jewish tradition, the mourning process is considered one year.”

So, for Alan, the experience of going through PK made a huge difference in dealing with the loss of his sister. It enabled his heart and body to more quickly adapt to the painful reality that his mind was dictating. How?

PK includes shirodhara, which involves a steady stream of warm oil onto the forehead, and abhyanga, in which two trained technicians massage the body simultaneously with oil chosen specifically for the person on the table. The experience of each treatment is both nurturing and detoxifying. Our skin is the largest organ of our body. Being touched in the correct manner, through shirodhara or massage, is emotionally very settling and nurturing. When the skin and surface muscles are massaged, gently stimulated, the capillaries are made more flexible, and this movement releases ama (the metabolic by-product of incomplete metabolism — the ayurvedic equivalent of free radicals). The ama moves into the lymph system and then is released with gentle elimination therapies. “When these treatments remove toxins from the physiology and stimulate different energy points in the body, our body operates much more efficiently” Alan said. “It improves the cell-to-cell communication and allows the body to handle whatever’s coming our way more effectively.” He goes on to explain that it is like our car’s radiator if it has metal particles (ama) in the coolant. It just cannot cool efficiently, as the metal holds the heat longer and becomes lodged in the crevices. But remove the metal particles in the coolant, and the efficiency of the entire cooling system changes and, in turn, affects all parts of the engine.

Ayurvedic practitioners often recommend that people receive panchakarma treatments annually, twice a year, or even three times a year as the seasons change. The experience can be liberating. Many people report that they feel the benefits for months afterward and, although enjoyable to go through, the full effects may not be felt until after the treatment.

So, what is a good starting place with the practices of Ayurveda and panchakarma? Alan recommends getting to know your own makeup by taking the dosha quiz at and learning about your own underlying dosha makeup, or prakriti. From there, you can read about different diet types and herbal formulas that are beneficial for balancing yourself at any given time throughout the year. Alan emphasizes that although many in Ayurveda talk about knowing one’s dosha, or prakriti, understanding our vikriti at any given time is essential. Vikriti is our current state of balance or imbalance. Understanding how to recognize our vikriti allows us to truly personalize our own health and well being.

"When we understand our individual, underlying makeup and how this is affected by season and lifestyle, and by our vikriti, then we are able to address our health using lifestyle changes, including food and herbal preparations, to bring balance,” he added. “For example, the person who has predominant Pitta tendencies will notice that in the heat of the summer they are more likely to succumb to heat-related imbalance such as stomach acidity issues, skin issues and more emotional frustration.

“A person with predominant Vata may notice that in the fall, as the season starts getting cooler, they're more susceptible to circulation issues, feeling cold as though nothing warms them up, occasional constipation, and worry or spaciness,” Alan said. “And a Kapha-predominant individual may notice in the spring that they are much more susceptible to respiratory issues and allergens. Kapha-predominant individuals often struggle with congestion issues and weight gain due to their slower metabolism.” Alan added, “Ayurveda recognizes the unique individual differences in each person and the unique solutions required. This is why a one-size-fits-all solution will never work across the board for our diverse human race.”

vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda offers many herbal formulas that can be used with little-to-no understanding of Ayurveda. Both Worry Free and Stress Free Emotions, for example, can benefit most, as the names imply.

“Many of our vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda formulas will help you even if you know nothing about doshas, and they do not have side effects,” Alan said. “Our products are formulated and named to help those with no knowledge, some knowledge or a lot of knowledge of Ayurveda. Thus, the name ‘vpk’ (Vata, Pitta, Kapha). No matter your experience level with Ayurveda, you can read the indications listed on each of our herbal formulation bottles and see what dosha or vpk qualities (indicated by the dots under the ‘vpk’ on the bottles) the formula predominately balances.”

For Alan the journey started with Transcendental Meditation and continued on to add many, many aspects of Ayurveda. “This knowledge is an integral part of who I am; how I live my life and experience the world. It is so much richer and more powerful because of the opportunity I was given to learn and make this preventative and healing knowledge a part of my life. I would recommend it to anyone, no matter their path in life. It is truly empowering!”

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