- by Anjula, LevitatingMonkey/blog
Natalia Perera of Saffron Rose: Restoring Sacredness to a Desacralized World
LM: You have practiced as an intern Ayurvedic doctor in Kerala, India – how did you first get involved in Ayurveda?
NP: My introduction to Ayurveda is very characteristic of how my life unfolds. I was young, straight out of university and in a well-paid public relations job. I had already started meditating regularly, which was a gift in my life born out of a bad relationship that had ended. So already with a vested interest in finding peace and wellbeing, my big luxury at the time was 3 or 4 private practices a week with my first Yoga teacher. One day, on the mat, I mentioned I wanted to go back to study Naturopathy.
He said: “There is a Naturopath on every corner these days, go study Ayurveda, it is much more in line with Yoga”. I remember thinking “Ayur what?”. But the next time I went to the Natural Therapies College to pick up a prospectus, there was this one paragraph written “First time offered in Australia, a diploma in Ayurvedic Medicine” and I knew I had to follow that path. Within a few weeks, I quit my job, moved out of my apartment because I could no longer afford my rent, moved back with my parents, and they said “What are you studying again?”. I walked into that first class, knowing only those few lines I had read in that prospectus, with no idea of what lay ahead of me, but my heart was so content. It has been an incredibly enriching journey ever since.
LM: How can people incorporate the principles of ayurveda into their daily lives?
NP: The most important aspect of Ayurveda is the invitation to get to know one’s self and unique system intimately. It honors the physical body, our humanness, with all its wisdom, and encourages us to listen attentively and meet our needs with loving care. As an extension of this, it recognizes that our body is an extension of the body of Nature – Mother Earth – and promotes a matriarchal or a body affirming system of spirituality, namely Tantra Yoga: being human is the same as being spiritual. This realization has important consequences as to how we choose to live. Ayurveda is also very practical so it offers us the 5 great elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether) and the 3 doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) so that we learn to see ourselves and our surroundings beyond form and can become our very own alchemists, using food, herbs, cleansing techniques and lifestyle choices. It is very empowering.
LM: Was there a particular person or event that really inspired you when you first got interested in the work of healing?
NP: I have been blessed with great teachers and healers. My first inspiration, fourteen years ago, was my psychotherapist and Gestalt counseling teacher, Maria Dolenc who taught me about emotional intelligence both personally and professionally, she was a great role model for me. Then my Yoga teacher Yogi Caru Candra had a profound impact on my journey. Both my husband and I would go to his classes as well as see him privately a few times a week. He was incredibly generous and gracious with his knowledge and in his teaching style. My practice was transformed so much so that since he left Sydney for New York, I have not found a teacher!
LM: You were initiated by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi in 2000, can you tell us more about this experience? What drew you to Amma Ji, your ongoing relationship with her, how has it benefited you in your day to day?
NP: I was visiting Poonthottam Ayurvedasram in Kerala, where I would return later to work as an intern. I thought I would leave myself a few days to travel before my return flight back to Sydney and asked my teacher, Dr Ravindranath, the founder of the hospital, where he would suggest I go. Being a highly spiritual Vaidya (healer in Sanskrit), rather than directing me to cultural places of interest, he directed me to Mata Amritanandamayi Devi’s Asram. So I took the boat on the spectacular backwaters of Kerala and landed like a tourist on her doorstep, not knowing who She was. That night, I happened to be in the dining area for dinner (which at the time, was simply a concrete slab on the ground) when Amma walked in very spontaneously. She was surrounded by only a few people so I had the opportunity to get very close to her. But as close as I was, it was still hard to see her face, she was radiant with so much light, that I found it difficult to focus on her features. I was captivated by her beauty, and an immense love in my heart was cultivated in her presence. This was the most important awakening in my life. A few months later, in 2000, she toured in Australia, and I took initiation from her, and she blessed me with my mantra. To have a personal mantra from a being like Amma is a rare blessing, the lineage we connect to is so important. I have used that mantra daily ever since in my Bhakti practices and with that, the guidance that comes from her is strong and clear. Over the years, she has directed me spiritually to study with the Persian Sufis, and with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, all the while I was still using her mantra. In my daily meditation, she has telepathically consoled me and given me answers when I have felt lost and in pain. I cannot express enough the gratitude I feel for her presence in my life.
LM: What lead you to specialize in Yogic and Nature based Psychotherapy in your practice?
NP: When I first opened my practice, I thought I would be doing pure Ayurveda, but I very quickly realized that as clients came through the door, sometimes with physical symptoms and sometimes not, I could feel the energetic or emotional cause under their pain. Perhaps because of my natural sensitivity, alongside the many years of practice on the mat and on the cushion, plus my own healing journey and personal investigations, I had an innate understanding of the spiritual body and its ability to heal the other bodies. So I made a decision to not use herbs and focus instead on the chakras, and incorporate more counseling techniques, massage and flower essences as well as Yogic practices such as meditation and breath work, all supported by Ayurvedic principles, nutrition and lifestyle practices. Anodea Judith’s book entitled Eastern Body, Western Mind had a big role to play in how I approach healing. Another great influence in my work has been Shamanic Healing techniques, which overlap a lot with Ayurveda: the fact that we are made whole, one with Nature, and that just as She is creative and sustainable, our systems are too. There is nothing that cannot be healed or used creatively to raise consciousness and help other beings.
LM: How do you adjust your yogic teaching to the needs of individual clients?
NP: That is Fabio’s specialty – apart from being a loving partner in my life – he is a naturally gifted Yogi and charismatic teacher. He has this incredible practical intelligence about him that guides him creatively. For instance, he has developed, “Freedom Yoga” where each student gets a private consultation with him first and he designs a unique practice that suits their needs. Then in a group class environment, each student brings their own practice onto their mat while Fabio guides, and adjusts them personally. It is respectful, intimate and empowering for students to develop and deepen their Yoga. They get into their ‘zone’, in their bodies, and have their practice reviewed and re-designed as they evolve. He is also very passionate about Yoga in Nature, where rather than being on a mat, you are immersed in Nature and use the elements, trees and rock formations as your base. He ran a Himalayan trekking retreat last year in this fashion which was an incredible experience for all the participants doing asanas, pranayma and meditation in a stunning setting at high altitudes, the photos of which are on the Saffron Rose website. He is taking another group on a different Himalayan trek in September this year, if anybody is interested, there are still a few spaces left. For more information, click on saffronrose.com/sr/retreats-india-yoga
LM: How does yoga work with the ego?
NP: I have found that there is a lot of talk of ego in spiritual circles but not much of it has been made practical or put into context. The development of our ego is a healthy necessity in our spiritual evolution; we cannot surrender what we don’t have. We need to know who we are before we bow sincerely to another, and our self-esteem can only be strong when we have healthy boundaries in place in our relationships. I would go as far as to say that it is dangerous for us to follow a particular spiritual path without having first done the emotional groundwork. I have witnessed too many despicable cases of power and sexual abuse in various organizations that parade under the name of Yoga or “spiritual’. The ego gets a bad rap but it is only a problem when we get stuck there and don’t move beyond it to awaken empathy and compassion in our heart.
Another important point to make about the ego is that it is related to the formation of our personality, a topic well researched by psychologists. For us Yogis, the personality is a dysfunction for we are striving to know our true Self or Higher Self. Yoga aims to break down our personality structure so that we can see who we are underneath. But when we get on that mat, we are not educated or prepared for this, as disciples were by their gurus in ancient times. Back then, you either were a Yogi and knew what kind of life you were in for, or you were a householder, mostly by choice. Of course it is a good thing that today Yoga has been made more accessible for everyone, but here is the cost: by the time we come to Yoga in our Western society, we have already built an entire life on top of our false personality. So after years of practice, when this crashes, taking with it, all our relationships, our health, our careers, our mortgages etc… it is a painful loss. We need to have much inner strength, faith in the philosophy and the loving guidance and support of a wise teacher. When I think of the ego, I like to think of the Zen Buddhist Koan that asks “How do you stop the drop of water from drying out?”, the answer to which is: “You put it into the ocean”. At the end of the day, we need to remember that life is a compassionate process and it is that beautiful.
LM: What is your favorite asana?
NP: I cannot say I have ever had a favorite asana, but there is one that brings back memories that make me smile. When I was in Hanumanasana, my teacher Yogi Caru would purposefully keep me there longer by making random conversation that would make me laugh.
LM: Tell us about your career as a holistic health counselor. How did you break into the field?
NP: I must admit I never planned on this career! My great dream from the time I was a very young girl was to work for a humanitarian organization. So I studied Psychology at university alongside Political Science and actually did my Masters in International Relations, hoping to work either for an UN body or a NGO. But I never got a single job that I went for. Even when I had worked as a volunteer for UNICEF in Sydney, they told me I lacked enough experience when I applied for one of their positions. So it was out of a sense of frustration but also an interest in healing myself after a series of bad relationships that I went back to study natural therapies and started my practice. There was for a long time, a sense of insecurity as to how I am going to make a living from this and when am I going to finally find my Life Purpose where I would feel fulfilled.
One day, a client who was very successful in her corporate career asked me to review her CV and give her some feedback on it. I remember reading it, shocked that my own CV was written in much the same way, and I thought “I cannot even blame it on my CV or presentation skills that I have not gotten my dream job”. That day, I resigned myself to the fact that with my unconventional career choices, I am completely unemployable and hence need to make my own way in life. Only in recent years, have I found much joy in what I do, and know that it works for many reasons; practically, it works around a family with young children, spiritually I am able to express myself freely and professionally, I am beginning to see the humanitarian impact of my work. I feel truly blessed.
Mother & Child Journey
LM: With all the great work you do, from: your consultations, holistic counseling, intuitive life coaching, meditation, a personalized Yoga (Asana) practice, Yogic cleanses, nutritional advice, food or herbal remedy, Australian bush flower essences, or an energetic healing massage…how do you recharge your batteries, get back to self after a long day?
NP: Not only do I do all that work, I am also a mother of two young children! This is an important point for all practitioners: Love only heals. Understanding this has certain consequences in day to day life and work. I am repeatedly asked by my students how do I protect myself when I work so much and so intensely with people? I don’t believe in the need to protect, or anything that promotes fear and separated-ness.
What I believe in is the power of humans to embody Love, hence the absolute necessity of maintaining my own meditation practice so that I am connected spiritually all the time, and embody ‘Her’ (the Goddess) and do ‘Her’ work. It is not the personal energy of Natalia that gets used up. But as Natalia, I still need to maintain my body at a high frequency so that I can be the temple that holds this energy, and follow up on ‘Her’ instructions. So I make sure that apart from good sleep and a healthy diet, I regularly do some exercise which, depending on my energy levels of the day, can be a walk or a run, but always amongst trees and Nature (we do live in stunning surroundings amongst pristine beaches and National Parks), and I also practice Gabrielle Roth’s 5 rhythms dance. I am a big fan of her work.
LM: Can you describe a typical day (or week) of work for you.
NP: A typical week is pretty full! Fabio my husband, being a Yoga teacher works random hours, like some early mornings and some evenings but somehow we have found a balance that works so that we get to share a lot of the parenting, as well as time together as a family. Due to the nature of our work, we don’t have what other people call weekends. After my meditation, I do the morning routine with the children and take them to school. We have chosen to send them to a Steiner School, which is a 25 minute drive away, so I do a fair amount of driving in a day. The school requires quite a bit of parent involvement too, so there is always an activity or a festival that we help in or attend.
On the way back to work, I stop for my coffee (yes I really enjoy this vice of mine…), where I catch my breath, check my appointments and my ‘to do’ list, return phone calls, catch up on any unfinished readings etc…Some days are full with private clients, and I have some odd evening hours as I have to consider the time difference for my Skype clients in the US and in the UK. Some days I leave free to do administration, writing, organizing retreats or all the details that go into running a family.
I fit in a run in Nature, or do my dance practice in our studio. I teach one meditation class one evening a week and teach on a couple of Yoga teacher trainings so I am either preparing or delivering workshops here and there. We tend to share most breakfasts and dinners with our children, and it is noisy and messy, like every other family. Then it is reading time with them, and helping to put them to bed fairly early. As you can imagine, we are strict on routines, healthy food and lifestyle. Once they are in bed, we do more work, and read and I will eventually move back towards my meditation cushion around 21:30 before bed. We don’t tend to be very social… apart from work connections, we have only a few friends that we really enjoy spending time with, mostly like- minded families.
Q’ewar Social Project
LM: Can you share with us the work of The Q’ewar Project, your involvement and how folks can partake/volunteer?
NP: I came across the Q’ewar Project through the Steiner (Waldorf) school. I fell in love with their dolls. They are handmade with so much care and attention, using organic natural materials that they not only feel and smell good, but they also ooze love. So I read more about the project and was so impressed with their intention and creative way of helping the local indigenous women and children in Peru that I wrote to the directors and asked if I could help in any way. The founders Julio Herrera Burgos and Lucy Terrazas created this project, giving the local women an opportunity to use their artistic skills as a means of livelihood. For these women in Andahuaylillas (a small village close to Cusco), economic and social support is a big help as most of them suffer from various problems; poverty, domestic violence, poor education, alcoholism, sexism and so on. The salary they earn through the project not only improves their economic situation but also their independence. They are able to choose their own work hours around their family commitments and their working conditions are highly respectful. They are also provided with ample opportunity to continually develop their skills and heal themselves of their personal hardships. Some can come to work with their young babies while their older children go to the Steiner school that has been built on the same grounds. So I started to sell the dolls for them here in Sydney and support the project that way. I also have found the dolls very useful in my practice for the inner child work that I do with some clients, they even have healing power in them! When I visited the project in Peru last January, I was invited to stay there and meet some of the women. I found the directors to be very warm, wise and sincere. So it is a project that is close to my heart and I can say has a lot of integrity.
Fabio and I are running a Yoga retreat there that includes the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in October 2014, which is another way that we can visit them and support their cause. Anybody that is interested, please contact me or keep an eye out for details to come on the Saffron Rose website. Anybody interested to help, can help financially by buying or selling their dolls, making various donations (there are always practical things needed for the Kindergarten children), or visiting for a more hands on approach; they have accommodations for sincere volunteers. For more information, please check out the site
LM: What inspires you?
NP: What inspires me the most is my ability to connect to the Goddess and be of service to Her. And in that, I feel my own creativity getting stronger, fulfilling my innermost dream of being useful for women and children in this world.
LM: Do you have any parting words of wisdom to share with our readers?
NP: I would say follow the path of Love. It may take you through a perilous journey, and it may not always feel warm and fuzzy, and sometimes you may need to embody the strength of a warrior, but it will always lead you to the Sacred.