What is an Ayurveda Practitioner? A conversation with Liese van Dam

by Francesca Ferraroni

At Delight Academy, Liese van Dam teaches advanced principles in the second year of the Ayurveda Practitioner Training as well as the upcoming 10-day nutrition course in October 2020. Next to teaching, Liese also works as an Ayurveda Practitioner and currently gives online consultations.

I recently had a chat with Liese to find out what inspired her to begin walking the path of Ayurveda and learn more about the life of an Ayurveda Practitioner.

Liese, could you tell us how Ayurveda came into your life?
I first got exposed to Ayurveda during my yoga teacher training. I had already studied aromatherapy, massage, and nutrition, and I was eager to dive deeper into alternative healing methods. I immediately realised that if I wanted to deepen my yoga practice, I had to study Ayurveda as well. I spent four years living in an Ashram, mainly in the USA, but also in India. I travelled a lot with that organisation and I had the possibility to explore Ayurveda by attending seminars, cooking in the Ashram, and reading the books available there. 

When I returned to the Netherlands, I decided to start studying to become an Ayurveda Practitioner with Coen van der Kroon. Ayurveda was like an ocean that I wanted to take in! It was incredibly inspiring. While studying with Coen,  it became clear to me that I wanted to become an Ayurveda Practitioner. I started to give nutritional consultations and over the years have built my own practice. 

I also have been teaching for the APS Program at the Delight Academy since 2017. I really enjoy the combination of both teaching and practising as it helps me to develop as a Practitioner.

Can you describe in a few words what Ayurveda means to you?
Ayurveda means a lot to me. I love how its principles can be used universally. I like to approach it with a soft and relaxed attitude in order to develop rhythms that support my body, mind, and spirit. Ayurveda has had a great impact on my health and on my balance as a person both physically, mentally, and spiritually. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and pranayama allowed me to experience a deeper part of myself. Looking back, it is difficult to say what my life would have been like without Ayurveda, but I do believe it greatly contributed to my physical and emotional wellbeing.  

Could you explain to those who are not familiar with the profession exactly what an Ayurveda Practitioner does?
An Ayurveda Practitioner applies a holistic approach to the body-mind system, looking at the whole person; including diet, lifestyle, and their environment. Thanks to a comprehensive consultation, the Practitioner can define what is needed to restore or maintain balance.

Working together with the client, we look at their personal health, diet, and lifestyle to understand where to implement changes that could support them. The advice and therapies given will vary from person to person, as Ayurveda focuses on an individualized approach. With some people, it could mean physical treatments and herbal supplements, whereas for others it could focus mostly on dietary and lifestyle advice. I like to work with the clients to identify what could really work best for them, either because they feel a stronger affinity with a specific treatment or because it might best fit their current situation.

What therapies are available to the Ayurveda Practitioner to support the healing of a client?
There is a wide range of therapies available - it is up to the Practitioner to understand which ones to choose in each specific case. Alongside dietary and lifestyle advice, the Practitioner can also provide massages, Marma therapy (activation of vital energy points on the body), herbal stamps, and other specialized treatments. Yoga asanas, meditation, and pranayama are also some of the tools that can be integrated as part of the therapy.

In which situations can seeing an Ayurveda Practitioner greatly benefit a client?
Many! Especially nowadays, when lifestyle and nutrition are very erratic and many chronic diseases have developed as a consequence. There is a huge need for preventative medicine and Ayurveda is extremely detailed in its preventative approach.
I am always very happy when I see clients choosing to implement Ayurvedic principles in their lives as a way to maintain health before any major issue has even developed.

Next to prevention, Ayurveda can help with a wide range of health-related problems. For example, in the case of digestive, respiratory, or menstrual complaints, Ayurveda has wonderful remedies.  In cases of diabetes (early stages), we can really support a client with diet and lifestyle changes. Also, Ayurveda can be a great additional support in more serious conditions, for instance in preparing for and recovering from surgery. In very difficult or serious cases, I refer clients to experienced Ayurvedic physicians.

The active role of the client is crucial in the therapeutic process in Ayurveda. This approach empowers people and makes them understand that they are in charge of their own health - that’s when deep healing can happen!

What do you enjoy the most about being an Ayurveda Practitioner?
I love the connection with nature! It’s wonderful to be able to use the wisdom of herbs and other treatments to help a client in the healing process. I also love the fact that I get to work with people and to be able to support them.

What would be your advice to someone who considers becoming an Ayurveda Practitioner?
Well, first of all: it is a great job! Beyond working with people, being an Ayurveda Practitioner is really a combination of two main aspects. One is related to feeling, intuition, and soft approaches like massage, yoga, meditation and spiritual practices. The second major aspect of becoming an Ayurveda Practitioner is to learn the theory behind it. This includes philosophy, anatomy, physiology, pathology, and herbology. Often people just think of the first aspect, but you do need a combination of both to become a Practitioner, and it is a lifelong learning process.

Finally, could you share three books that you believe are worth reading?
Actually, I have four books! The first one is the
Ashtanga Hridayam by Vagbhata. This is the basis of Ayurveda and a must-read for any student wishing to become a Practitioner. My other recommendations are:

Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Robert E. Svoboda. He beautifully applies the knowledge of ancient texts to modern times. Food as Medicine: The Theory and Practice of Food by Todd Caldecott. A very complete book, including some biochemical aspects, as well as a perspective of Ayurveda on meat that we don’t often find in other books.

My last suggestion is Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Claudia Welch. A wonderful book about the connection between diet and lifestyle to female health.