Indian Ayurveda doctor brings holistic health to Balinese people
By Santosh Digal
Bali: Doctor Sujatha Kuttappa Kekada is a certified Ayurvedic doctor from India who has dedicated her life to improving people’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, especially in Indonesia’s Bali island.
Along with her husband, she founded Amrtasiddhi (gaining immortality), an Ayurveda and yoga health center, at Ubud in Bali.
After completing her degree in Karnataka state in southern India, she worked as an Ayurvedic doctor in neighboring Kerala. She has also practiced as a consultant in Europe and Asia. Her knowledge of Ayurveda combined with her warm, intuitive and caring attitude has facilitated deep healing for many people.
Santosh Digal, Special Correspondent of Matters India, spoke to her recently. Excerpts:
MATTERS INDIA: Please tell us about yourself.
SUJATHA KUTTAPPA KEKADA: I was born in Madhya Pradesh state (central India). My dad was in army and mom a home maker. I have one younger brother who is an engineer. I am originally from Coorg in Karnataka. My family moved back to Karnataka when I was two and half years. I grew up in Kudremukh, a beautiful small town in Chikkamagalur district until I want to study Ayurvedic medicine in Koppa (Sri Aroor Laxminarayana Rao Memorial Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital).
Do you come from a family of doctors or Ayurvedic medicine?
I am the first Ayurvedic Doctor in my family.
Why then did you study Ayurvedic medicine? Who inspired you? Why didn’t you opt for Allopathic medicine?
From the beginning biology was my favorite subject. I had natural affinity to plants, gardening and healing. I felt so connected to them. As I was finishing my pre-university studies, I wanted to study medicine, as it’s very normal in India to think of becoming allopathic doctor. That was my first focus too. Later through a good advice from a friend of my father and my father, I wrote a scholarship exam for Ayurvedic medical seat and as a magic I got selected. I was fascinated by the science. More surprisingly it also included anatomy and physiology same as an MBBS student would study. So, it brought together the approach of both worlds to understand human body and to treat it holistically through natural medicine.
During my college time, I was inspired by two lecturers from Kerala. That prompted me to do my internship in that state and dive into the science and learn more the practical application such as panchakarma treatments, medicine preparation. I am thankful to my teacher and mentor Vaidya Raveendranath from Poonthottam Ayurveda Ashram, Palakkad, Kerala. He is still now my role model and inspiration.
What is the specialty or distinctive or unique feature about Ayurvedic?
Ayurveda fascinates me every day. It is so deep and profound. It covers everything. It amuses me especially when I hear about some researchers showing the connection between gut and mind/ emotion or the new finding of importance of different diets for different group of people. Nothing is new, all those are already been explained and given importance in Ayurveda 5,000 years ago.
Unique features of Ayurveda are that it treats body mind and spirit. It is not about quick fix for a symptom. It’s about taking ownership of one’s health and, living harmoniously, accepting and understanding oneself, giving importance to mind, body and spirit.
Preventing disease is Ayurveda’s primary focus. Sure we all get sick out of balance, then Ayurveda works as a medical system to cure the unhealthy condition by correcting the root cause of the disease through supporting the body to heal on its own, through proper nutrition, life style, external treatments, and natural medicines without creating lifelong dependency on medication.
Where all have you worked before coming to Bali?
I have worked at reputed institute like Psychiatry Hospital “MANASA” in Shivamoga, Karnataka. Later on worked in Poonthottam Ayurveda Asharama in Kerala where I met my future husband Frank Paepcke, (who came to the Ayurveda ashram to study Yoga and Ayurveda). We got married in 2003 and moved to London. There I started giving workshops on Ayurveda in different yoga schools and started seeing patients in our house. In 2004 my husband and I moved to Bali to work as a consultant to set up an Ayurveda program for health resort. After two years, we quit that job and started our own small clinic, where both played all the roles as we served our patients.
How popular is Ayurvedic medicine in Bali?
We receive people from all over the world at our center in Bali. We are the first Panchakarma (five circles) center which provides Ayurveda in its authentic medical form not like a spa. There were two or three spas in Bali before we started Amrtasiddhi. Gradually their numbers are increasing.
What is the future of Ayurvedic medicine?
It is the future medicine! It has everything! It’s a complete science!
It is said that Ayurveda fascinates the Westerners more than Indians. Why is it so?
It has been like that as it is same with Yoga, but I see it is changing in India as the Indian government supports Ayurveda more. As we have a saying in India that “a plant in your back yard is not a medicine, its medicine when you buy it from a shop.” The same could be said in relation with Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is gaining more popularity in India. Over the years Ayurveda is getting more recognition abroad. However, many Indians are eager to embrace westernization and part of it includes a quick fix.
Why did you choose Bali for Ayurvedic medicine?
We loved Bali as we have worked here for two years. The other contributing factors are Hindu religion that is predominant and the friendliness of Balinese people. And it was middle ground for my husband and I are from different cultural backgrounds. Also the fact that Ubud is a tourist attraction for health, healing and Yoga, we thought Ayurveda would flourish well in Bali.
How many Ayurvedic centers are in Bali?
There are many spas. Dedicated Ayurvedic centers with doctors are few here, may be about four to five exist so far.
What is the specialty that you offer there? How does it differ from other Ayurvedic centers?
We focus on educating and empowering people to take health in their hand. We provide support to heal emotions of people which contribute a big part in health and illness. We give individualized attention. Physicians work very closely with the patient and it’s a team work. We focus on assigning one therapist to work with a client throughout the program which gives full attention of the therapist to form a bond and support their healing. We believe very strongly in individual based nutrition, food as medicine and the importance of yoga and meditation of healing.
Who are your regular clients?
We have people from all over the world. Majority of them are Australians and Europeans.
What else do you do in Bali?
When we opened the clinic in 2007, it was a little place with treatment and consultation room each, and another room for yoga and meditation. Both of us played the entire role in the clinic, like receptions, massage therapist, and medicine making.
A year later, we hired a therapist for two years, later we had three therapists. We started working together with neighboring hotels to accommodate people for panchakarma program, cooked food at our house and delivered to the patients in the hotel. We prepared oil and medicines in our house. In 2012 we finished building of our new clinic and started operating from there. Now our team has 35 staff.
Amrtasiddhi provides services to local Balinese for very low cost and if they cannot afford we provide it for free.
Do you intend to settle down in Bali for life?
No. but I will always come back to Bali time to time.
Are you proud of your Indian origin? How does it help you to live a meaningful life in Bali?
Yes, I’m very proud of being an Indian. I love my country and culture. My upbringing in India gave me the good foundation for me to find my passion and do what I love.
What have you brought from your Indian origin?
Spirituality, strong family bondage, love and support from my family; my mother’s skills in excellent cooking and home remedies have inspired me from early childhood that helped me to use food as medicine.
Can you explain what you said in a book on “Women in Bali” by Bruna Rotunno? You said: “Bali is the perfect place to practice Ayurvedic and create new medicinal formulas with the wealth of natural herbs in Bali. It reminds me of my homeland, India. There is a caring for children here that is supportive of mothers and we raise our children in a simple and healthy environment connecting growth and healing, on all levels.”
When I first came to Bali, I experienced very welcomed, and felt at home. We had our first child during the first year we were here, and had good support of Balinese people. I have never missed anything and I could still follow my passion. As a woman, I felt empowered here. And I could see lots of medicinal plants growing around, so it just came all naturally to me. Being in Bali is to connect my deepest desire to be the Ayurvedic physician in order to help and inspire people.
What are your other interests and passions?
Cooking, gardening, education, travelling, and learning other healing modalities and tools in relation with Ayurveda.
Your final word?
My bigger vision is to spread Ayurveda all around the world. I wish to establish Ayurveda centers in a few places in different parts of the world to heal people naturally and educate them how to look after themselves in best and easy way.