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Meet Zubin Billimoria of Sukham Aayu in Highland Park & Studio City

 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ayurvedic Practitioner, Zubin Billimoria.

Zubin, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My journey in Ayurveda began in 2011-2012 when, with a constant lingering anxiousness about my Life’s Purpose in a high-flying corporate career of 2 decades, I began reading about Ayurveda as a means of immersing myself into something completely new. I had lived in the US for more than a decade by then, with this constant sense of dissonance with American ideas of food, nutrition and medicine.

I felt deeply that much of what was advised/ recommended in the US under good nutrition, as ‘good for you’, what society indulged in en-masse in their collective aspirations for good health…. seemed to totally disagree with age-old traditions and recommendations of food & lifestyle in India – a country where the Science & Wisdom of Life is embedded into its food, culture and social norms, a place that has the most intense flavors and diverse traditions of food and yet adheres to common threads, common foundational principles irrespective of the place and region, a country whose knowledge has withstood the test of time in continuum for millenia. And I often wondered, ‘How does what I know, what is imbibed in me, get explained? Why does this (not) reconcile with conclusions of nutritional sciences drawn in the west after millions in research? Or is it (the western approach) all just short-sighted marketing? And after all that, how do I explain this divide, & build a bridge, for my friends and family who know only the western paradigm?

Of course, such questions are usually grossly insufficient to drastically change one’s path in life; so there had to be more to my decision to pursue Ayurveda…

I had, by then, had my own transformation from debilitating illness for which I was told I’d be on medication, very probably, for the rest of my life. Years of crippling social anxiety disorder, then chronic debilitating depression – all due to underlying trauma – had gnawed at my personality and my soul for more than a decade. Keeping up with demanding jobs & extreme levels of stress & travel, going through major life changes moving continents & jobs, facing up to discrimination in the workplace, the insecurities of being on work visas, the loss of a brother, the responsibility of caring for my aging parents in India from 10000 miles away…. had all taken a huge toll on my sense of self and my desire for Life itself. I felt constantly empty on the inside, wondering if there was supposed to be more to life, knowing something needed to change but not knowing what and how.

15 years prior, I had watched my mother go through a radical transformation of health thanks to Ayurveda – from a woman with ten years of acute debilitating pain & fatigue due to acute Unstable Angina (also called Angina Pectoris) & Rheumatoid Arthritis, a person dying a slow painful death every day… she went to being a vibrant, healthy, and… most importantly… ‘joyful’ person in a span of months. Years later, I decided to make a trip to India to see the same Ayurvedic Doctor who had treated my mom.

I had, then, not slept for five months, my body hurting as if beaten by sticks all over every time I lay myself in bed. When I did manage to fall asleep with pills, I would wake twice through the night, drenched in sweats. Beyond this, often, the other symptoms I expressed to doctors were met with a perplexed, bewildered look. Pain meds, allergy meds, and psychotropic drugs had become a way of life. My emotions were all over the place, my breathing had been rapid, deep, left-sided and hot for years. I remember breaking down in front of this lady, the Ayurvedic Doctor, who sat there attentively, compassionately listening to my every word; all the pain, the sorrow of 2 decades pouring out from the depths of my heart. ‘I have come to you as a last resort’, I said, ” If you can’t help me, I would have no hope…”. 10 days later I slept an 8-hour long night, woke up refreshed as a flower, no anxiety on my chest, no thoughts of despair, and new hope for life. It took a few months to stabilize, of course – first came the sleep, then the pain was gone… 4 months into treatment I woke up feeling a fresh cool waft of air through my right nostril, and time stood still for me – it was a moment of clarity, a moment of calm like I hadn’t had since my teenage years of yoga practice. I knew I was on my path to recovery.

So… coming back to the US, I immersed myself into Ayurvedic Studies. Then I watched a short snippet of Dr. Vasant Lad on YouTube. I was immediately drawn to him as the person under whom I needed to study. His traditional methods, his axiomatic absolute brilliance in the classics not just of Ayurveda but of the religious texts from which Ayurved borrows heavily, coupled with his simplicity and humility – just drew me to him. It so happens, we must have been destined to click. On my first day in class, on finishing his third session that day, he walked directly to me and said, “It is for people like you that I opened this Institute. You should come here and study under me”. It is said in India, that it takes years to find a Guru but even more time to convince him to accept you as a Disciple. At that moment – standing dumbfounded by his statement – I knew how blessed I was to have a true Seer, a Master at his art, commanding me to study under him. I knew then, I had found my Guru in Life.

Two years later, traveling alone with him in Pune, I expressed my concerns about the limitations of education and experience in the field. “I come from a corporate background, without the classical training often expected of an Ayurvedic Practitioner” I said. “I’m not sure if I have the compassion, the non-judgment, the empathy of a healer, Guruji”, I pleaded with him almost hoping he’d absolve me of the responsibility of what comes with an education in the field of service. “I think (long pause)….. you must practice”, he said, the emphasis as much on the ‘you’ as on ‘must’. “The pain you have gone through In Life”, he continued, “will transform into the reservoir of your empathy and compassion. You have the blessings of the Goddess (Saraswati) herself”. It was spoken with much tenderness and generosity of spirit, and yet it was unmistakably a command I knew I needed to follow and fulfill. Months later, I embarked on my practice, on the sheer buoyance of his words.

To the western American mind, this may seem unthinkable because the West has been taught to believe that every decision of ‘my’ life should be ‘mine’, and based on a SWAT analysis of career paths, financial considerations and so on… But there are moments in life when you’d rather lose your own ego, your ‘I’, for in doing so, there is an inexplicable sense of peace and faith in Life. It is a respite from ego because the adventure of learning starts with the knowledge of one’s mortality, of one’s inconsequential-ness, seeking is always a process of expansion that annihilates self.

My life-partner was a huge help in this journey. We transformed a part of the house we had put on Airbnb for some time into my office, therapy room, and apothecary. My first ‘official patient’ was a young man who flew down from Denver on his mother’s recommendation to see me for post-MRSA treatment and life-long eczema. His mother and I studied together in our school days, and we hadn’t met in 20+ years…(laughs)…Friends started referring friends, and word spread. The blessings of all my teachers from here and India, the joy when they heard about my practice… it all keeps bringing in new people, crossing paths to leave an indelible mark on most of those lives…By the way, that young man is totally free of his eczema and life-threatening allergies today!

Then one day, I received a call from a Dr. Joel Warsh. I had met him at one of Dr. Lad’s intensive programs. As an integrative pediatrician, he wanted to structure an integrated clinic with various modalities of healing. We met over brunch and then started an unexpected journey I had never anticipated. He touched my life with a presence of positivity and aspiration I had not felt in years. I set up my own web-site, he recommended more people, and the practice expanded further. Today, I have a full and fulfilling practice. I see complicated chronic cases; people of all ages and from all walks of life – often struggling to come out of their pain, whether physical or emotional.

I feel it is imperative to name a few people like Drs. Parla Jayagopal (CA), Dr. Majusha Vinjamury (CA), Drs. Subhash Ranade, Mahesh Sabde, & Abhijit Jinde (of IAA, Pune, India), and my own Dr. S.Patwardhan & homeopath Dr. F. Talati (all from India), without whose influences in my life, I wouldn’t be able to be of service today.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Quite unlike my corporate career, and the struggles most entrepreneurs have in setting up their businesses, my foray into practicing Ayurveda was rather smooth. At the risk of sounding cliche’d, it was as if this is what Life had meant for me to do. It seems that each time I shied away from it, the path became easier, almost inviting me to walk on it.

It wasn’t going to be easy to move onto a new field… & one so radically different… moving from Business Management to Alternative medicine & healthcare is almost unheard of – that too after 20 years of experience in management jobs that paid really well and secured a solid retirement. It wasn’t easy to believe that I could even foray into completely uncharted waters of reinventing myself in my 40s, in a field that needs a certain level of expertise and comes with high risks in a libelous society – all said and done, we’re talking about people’s health in your hands, not some technical data system or a business project… now the risks are not just financials but someone’s health and your reputation. Most Indian doctors who practice in the US have six years of education and ten years of experience under their belt, and they still struggled – at least until a few years ago – to make ends meet. So, leaving a high-paying executive position where you stayed at the Marriotts or Hiltons, with company paid dinners, wasn’t going to be easy. Re-inventing myself was not going to be easy.

Another aspect was the sheer amount of work it takes for Ayurvedic consultations and ayurvedic body treatments. There are hot oils, and herbal pouches to be made, and rice to be cooked, and so on. I had gotten used to decision making over phone and e-mails; the only physical work I did was cooking for joy, and going to the gym… (laughs)… But there was a bigger issue around physical treatment needs in Ayurveda. I came from a culture where manual labor like massage therapy were considered menial, not worthy of the ones with higher aspirations of social standing. So it took some time to put my head around the fact that this was part of the package if I wanted to serve people.

So, the challenges were more internal rather than external business challenges. It was to face the fears of stepping on the path, and following through seriously… not in some ‘on-the-side hobby’ or extra income’ kind of way!

In the US, what is practiced in the name of Ayurveda is often minimal herbalism. If I practiced, I wanted to bring the full force of Ayurveda to my community. That, however, also meant immersing into countless hours of study including that of western medicine so as to build a bridge between the two worlds.

But its all worked out for the better. I was blessed to have excellent Gurus, professors, and professional colleagues who encouraged, and gently nudged a little further, every time we spoke.

Sukham Aayu – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I prefer to call my work a ‘Practice’ rather than a business or a company. Its primary focus remains the service of people, and – not to sound corny – the eradication of pain. The collective pain of the world can only be eased one person at a time, and whatever little contribution I can make, I consider it my good fortune.

So, what does an Ayurvedic practitioner do? Ayurveda is the 5500+ years old science of health, nutrition, and therapeutics (using food, medicine & body treatments of various kinds), passed down by the sages and seers from India. It is an amazing science designed from this concept that the human body, as a microcosm of the Universe, must follow the principles of the larger Universe around us. So, while modern/ western medicine begins with the study of the human biological body, progressing deeper into individual physiological systems and then into the cellular structure and all its chemical reactions… Ayurveda begins with a study of the Universal Principles of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water & earth) that transform into 3 ‘doshas’ (the ‘humors’ called vaata, pitta, kapha) governing our bodies. So, while western medicine, also called allopathy, focuses on the ‘pathos’ (disease) & the suppression of symptoms, Ayurved focusses on the individual constitution to influence underlying dynamics and rebalance the body’s metabolic fire called Agni – a phenomenon amazingly similar to what we now know as the Human Microbiome – in a way that leaves no ‘space’ for disease to exist in its ecosystem. While western medicine considers the brain to be the seat of the mind, Ayurveda considers the two to be very distinct, with the ‘mind’ being closely related to the energetic fields of ‘praana’ and its imbalance being stimulated from within or outside of the physical body.

By the way, did you know that all ancient Ayurveda is composed in a poetry form? You can recite it, sing it, making it easy for memorization! What an advanced society it must have been to write medicine in meter, as musicians write music.

The greatest challenge that western medicine & nutrition faces today – as I see it – is the actual definition of ‘good health’ and the lifestyle and nutrition that goes into it. We have trends and fads and blogs and influencing industries with expensive marketing campaigns that seem to fill, & feed off, this void. On the other hand, Ayurved is a sea of knowledge that comprehensively covers this from every aspect imaginable – genetics, daily lifestyle, seasonal living, influence of different food groups on the human body and the doshas, influence of various topographies and weathers, and so on… This creates an infinite combination of variables that Ayurved then streamlines into healthy living, and for its therapeutics. But, most pathology (illness) can usually be tied together with the underlying substratums of ‘doshas’ – a philosophy that lacks any equivalent in western medicine.

So as an Ayurvedic Practitioner, I delve deep into my client’s lifestyle, life history, parental history, food/ work/ and even sexual habits (sometimes), to understand their life – and hence their pathology. This gives an indication of the underlying ’cause & dynamics’ of how the disease is constantly regenerating itself in the body. Seeing their pulse gives me another aspect and an intuitive sense of what’s going on, beyond the symptoms, beyond what the client has to describe, beyond the ‘labels of diagnoses’ that most patients have been given by their doctors.

To say that I have come to ‘specialize’ in any way in this field, would be an aberration of the truth – for it takes decades to specialize in any subject, particularly one so vast and comprehensive as Ayurved. That said, I do believe I have a special ability to get great results in certain areas…

First, many of my clients are individuals with chronic imbalances for which, often, they haven’t received a proper diagnosis. Like this young woman who came with shoulder & arm pain and immobility which led to a 4-month sabbatical. She had been to neurologists and orthopedics with no viable diagnosis. Within weeks she was totally out of pain, had complete mobility, and feeling strong enough to live her daily life and handle a stressful job, She had also been struggling with childhood abuse, taking a toll on her current relationship – 5 months later, I receive this text from her saying she’s ‘never been happier in her relationship and… feeling healed’. Or this young man, 26 yrs old, who burped continuously (I called him my ‘burping boy’) 6-8 times a minute, & this had gone on for years with no solution after ultrasounds & endoscopy and colonoscopies (to check for obstructions). Four months of Ayurveda later, he is in perfect health, with a new job and a promotion.

The more complex an illness is from the western perspective, the more starkly contrasting the results are with Ayurveda. As in pain management… where the West truly struggles with opioids and risk of opioid addiction… including chronic fatigue & myalgias of which no specific diagnoses exist. Similarly, auto-immune issues, and issues around mental health – you get phenomenal results!

What does a 68 years old, frail woman with a massive heart blockage do, if she cannot undergo a bypass? Exhaustion, depletion and weight loss become a way of life. Five months later, this female patient has gained weight, feels the ‘best I have in years’, her herpes attacks are minimal or manageable without fatigue, she goes about with a whole day of cooking, gardening and socializing, her bp is constant, her collar bone that protruded due to RA (rheumatoid arthritis) has settled back in, which by all & any standards is a phenomenal recovery – but most importantly, she is joyful and hopeful about the upcoming decades of her life.

I have a 69 year old male, brought to me by his daughter much against the wishes of their family… he had had Parkinson’s tremors for four years, unable to dress by himself or hold a cup of coffee with his right hand…. 5-7 months in treatment, his tremor was completely gone, and he could lead as close to a normal life as one can at 69. When he came to me, he had been a life long smoker with ten cigarettes a day, ten months later he enjoys an occasional smoke once every few weeks!

Another 2 cases of female patients aged 65 and 75 respectively who came to me for chronic, unbearable fatigue less than a year ago – I could see their pain through their tears on the first appointment. Both are pain free today in a period of months, one has gone off her CBD oil & gabapentin; the 75 yo restarted ballroom dancing once a week. When she came to me recently after a gap of 4 months, she had forgotten her first visit was for chronic pain!!

As I mention these examples, I realize I may indeed be ‘specializing’ in working with Seniors very soon… LOL.. it is something I’ve always desired, so let’s see…

Coming back to the original question…. about specialization…

Second, there are the clients who know ‘something is wrong’ but all their reports are normal they’ve been told its ‘in their head’. One of the phenomenal aspects of Ayurveda is its understanding of how ‘disease’ manifests in the first place. So, often, when the doshas have just started going out of balance when ‘disease’ per se has not set in and manifested, there is no diagnosis from a western perspective, but the body knows – through its own inherent intelligence it knows – that something is wrong. Ayurveda knows exactly what to target and how to bring the person back to balanced health. I have a 70yo client who came to me with a rare issue – now called Morgellan’s disease – mind you, this is not my diagnosis, this is what she said were her symptoms. Opinion of the western medical establishment largely bends towards this having no real symptomatic basis, of it being a psychiatric issue. But for the patient, this is very much real and the suffering is real. So whose responsibility does it become to help such people, if not that of the medical/ healthcare community? Ayurveda’s explanation, however, is lucid and clear. It took five months of diligent treatment, but this lady is free of it today. The husband hugged me in gratitude, tears in his eyes, as they stepped out of the door the day of their last visit.

A third demographic that gets exceptional help from Ayurveda is people who are going to a multitude of ‘specialists’ – suffering for years with constant medication. So let’s say you have RA or gout, and you have a liver-related problem like high liver enzymes or recurring hepatitis – you’d see a Rheumatologist and a Gastroenterologist or Nephrologist, And add to it, you have bouts of temper…. for which you need a Psychiatrist. But for me, as an ayurved-ologist (laughs) the underlying issue in both cases is a singular one – increased pitta. Because I see the overarching picture of the ‘person’ rather than the individual ‘disease’, I can gather the common underlying denominator of ‘pitta’ and rebalance it – actually eliminating the disease rather than constantly suppressing its symptoms. Another example is a combination of degenerative arthritis, coupled with arythmia, hypertension, anxiety, and let’s say, a constant foreboding fear (of nothing in particular) – I can rebalance the common underlying factor of ‘vaata’ to calm all these challenges.

Of course, this sounds straightforward and easy in theory; but actually doing this takes experience, skill, and intuition, The kinds of interventions such cases need – from a lifestyle perspective, from a perspective of breaking through people’s misconceptions about food, nutrition, exercise… it all takes time… time, that you can have for your client only if you have a ‘sense of purpose’. And neither doctors nor specialists have that time on hand, even if they have a sense of purpose. More importantly, these subjects are just not matters of importance in their diagnoses and therapeutics.

In most areas of western medicine, there isn’t an exact evaluation & recognition of ’cause’. So it often happens that the dynamic within the body keeps producing a certain result that shows up as symptoms, you suppress those symptoms but the dynamic still continues. In effect, we’re asking the body to ‘not let us know there’s an imbalance of some sort’, the disease keeps building and strengthening and moving deeper into our bodies. In Ayurved, it is expected of me to find (like the proverbial needle in the haystack) this correlation, and reverse it – and hence, eradicate the core imbalance causing the symptoms. I can speak for a couple of hours with examples of this, but we may not have the time or forum for it.

Finally, of late, with the recent awareness about Ayurveda and with more and more people shying away from western medicine except in emergencies, I find two new demographics emerging –

One, people who come in for a ‘wellness’ consult to just check out their health & learn what foods & lifestyle they should adopt to suit their Prakruti (fundamental constitution) or young couples coming to ensure they are in good health before they conceive…

Second, parents of young kids, sometimes babies, with asthma, allergies, ADHD, etc.; problems that are becoming more and more rampant in society. Whether it is more environmental & social triggers or more rampant labeling could be a subject for conversation, but empirically at least it does exist…

What sets me apart? Perhaps the fact that I am one of a handful of practitioners/healers who has seen the ups and downs of life and experienced it in all its shades, and as such, has a keen understanding of the subtleties of this profound Science of Life. My knowledge of Ayurved comes as much from my personal suffering, pain, and illnesses, as from the books taught in Universities at the doctorate level – my intuition for the subject far exceeds my qualifications. I have come a long way from an economically ‘lower-middle-class-family’ of India, traveled the world, had some achievements in far and distant lands, and observed and experienced life for all its light & darkness. That makes for something when you are guiding people on their path, perhaps?

I am deeply attuned to people’s pain – something I have to keep acutely aware of because it can interfere with my listening & thinking (diagnostics) which is what I am supposed to do without being lost in their story, in their pain. My clients usually know that I feel what they feel.

Or perhaps, it is the valuable insights into western food & lifestyle that I have gathered over these 20 years through my travels, social interactions, and as a gay man, which allow me to zone in on a client’s primary fulcrums of health & illness. I can break through commonly held western beliefs about good health, relationships, food and nutrition and so on, that are often barriers to healthy, joyful living.

Perhaps, it could just be the fact that I always have ample time for my clients. My appointments have a rough time-slot but if a client needs to speak (as in cases of emotional matters) I will make the extra time for appropriate cases.

What am I most proud of in my work? That I get to wake up every day with the knowledge that I am making a very personal difference to people’s lives. I solve complex diagnostic puzzles that are like complex engineering in a fluid environment that doesn’t follow the laws of physics and math, and then see them through ‘therapeutics’ that are equally challenging – and I do this all, counseling people of radically different cultural mindsets. There are days I secretly enjoy my dexterity at taking a mystic eastern subject and building a bridge to the western mind.

It is humbling that complete strangers put their lives, their health, and their emotions into my hands and seek my advice and my guidance… and then, are no longer strangers. There is no greater reward than a client telling you that you have eased their pain and looking deep into your eyes, they tell you they are grateful.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
‘Success’ is over-rated. It is a western construct, at least in the traditional sense. You will notice that western (greek/ roman/ American) history is all about Victors; that of the east is strewn with Seekers, they seek triumphs of ‘Consciousness’.

There was, of course, a time I was deeply desirous of ‘success’, measured by the money I made, the promotions I got, the hotels I stayed at, the business class flights I flew, the airline points I accumulated – and don’t get me wrong, that is all important in life… The Vedas state that Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (material wealth), Kaama (Fulfilment of desires) & Moksha (Ultimate liberation) are the four pillars of life, and it is emphatically stated that Moksha (liberation) cannot be achieved – with some exceptions of elevated souls meant for the larger purpose of humanity – without actually experiencing, being bound to, and then letting go of the prior two. Righteousness, of course, remains the foundational core over which all our karmas (actions) need to be built for Artha & Kaama. And yet, these are not the measure of one’s life, they are only the means.

So, in my new outlook today, I tend to see Life just for what it is. There are no successes, no failures… we are on a path, and our individual paths connect with those of others – for a miniscule moment in the history of time – and we repay our debts of service and money, our debts of karma from the infinite past.

My long term goal is to run a practice sustainable enough to be able to manage a separate charitable/ not-for-profit practice for people who cannot afford the costs of managing health and illness. If, in addition, I can bring Ayurveda to Seniors, that would be the culmination of my service.

Whatever pain I am able to ‘heal’ in the upcoming decades of my Life, that would be a positive-sum to the ledgers of my Life. That is where I draw the boundaries on my understanding and evaluation of ‘Success’.

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