Five-Time Canadian Olympic Medalist’s Daughter Discovers Science of Health in Ayurveda
This interview has appeared in Soft Power, and is being re-published here with permission from Girija and the author Aparna Sridhar.
Girija Edwards, an Ayurveda Educator in Canada is very proud of her late father Dr Philip Aron Edwards, who was born in 1907 at Georgetown, British Guiana. He graduated from McGill Medical School in 1936, and received a graduate diploma in medicine in 1945, specializing in tropical diseases.
Apart from being a doctor, he was the first black athlete from McGill to compete in the Olympics and the first Canadian Olympian to win five Olympic medals, racking up five bronzes over three Olympiads — in 1928 at Amsterdam Games, 1932 at Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin. The Phil Edwards Memorial Trophy has been established after him to be presented annually to Canada’s most outstanding track athlete.
Girija, 69, says her family has the ‘athletic gene’ in them. She herself trail runs for 30 km at a time and does mountain hiking for days. When CSP contacted her first, she had just finished a 4-hour trail up the snowline and back, at an elevation of 2000 feet with her daughter. She has four beautiful children, all of them working now and one 6-year-old grandchild.
One thinks her athletic prowess is natural given that she comes from good genetic line. “Aah, yes, but why then did my older sister die at age 36 from a brain aneurysm and my other older sister is now obese and not well, and why did my dear father, die at age 64?” She says her good health was mainly due to her knowledge of Yoga and its practice. “Then Ayurveda came along and took it to another level for me. I also had all my children at home naturally and easily with the help of Yoga and Ayurveda. My older sisters never bore children. Clearly I attribute this all new phenomenal strength to the skill of the vaidyas at Vaidyagrama.”
Girija did one year of theoretical Ayurvedic studies at Mount Madonna School for Arts and Sciences, California, USA before studying Ayurveda and Yoga with her teacher, the late Baba Hari Dass between 1973 to 2018. Her spiritual name Girija was given to her by Baba Hari Dass.
She studied with Dr Robert Svoboda, Dr Trivedi and as an Ayurveda therapist under Dr Shiva Kumar at an Ayurvedic Clinic in Vancouver BC. Canada. She is also a qualified Yoga instructor from the Yoga school of Swami Sivananda, Divine Light Society, in Val Morin, Quebec.
Additionally she has studied herbal medicine and about local medicinal plants from the indigenous people of the West Coast of British Columbia, “many of whom still live with the land and nature,” says Girija.
Her mother, now 96 years old, is from the Isle of Wight, England, and was a social worker who worked for world peace through civil disobedience and an activist for inter-racial marriages and it was because of her that Ashtanga Yoga had been in Girija’s life since she was a child. Until 1982 when her engagement with Ayurveda began, she had been studying alternative Western medicine and also helped in the operation of a natural food store, the first of its kind in Vancouver. At the time she also worked at a very prominent Fasting Clinic in southern California, Hidden Valley Health Ranch and with well-known naturopathic doctors, including Dr Bernard Jensen.
“Once I was introduced to Ayurveda, everything fit together perfectly, from the smallest particle to the infinite universe, all made sense. I immediately saw the immensity of this profound science. I never looked back to any other source of healing system or way of life. Why should I, why should anyone? This was it. I dove into every Ayurveda book, there weren’t many at the time,” says Girija.
She started organising workshops for people at British Columbia with Dr Svboda and Dr Trivedi and Baba Hari Dass. Yet, “I was, and still am, shocked that Ayurveda has had little traction in the West. I approached the University of British Columbia to try and work at a Master’s program to interpret Ayurveda from a western biological framework. I was determined to get this science of the Vedas recognized by western doctors, who only seemed to be going backwards in their thinking of health.”
Girija’s first trip to Vaidyagrama took place in 2010. She went there on the recommendation of her mentor and friend of 35 years, Dr Robert Svoboda. “I had studied the basics of Ayurveda system of medicine and taught the basics of Ayurveda at Yoga retreats and colleges, as well as worked in a clinic as an Ayurvedic therapist for two years. This prepared me for what to expect when arriving at Vaidyagrama Clinic.”
However what she did not foresee was the real outcome of experiencing Ayurveda in its natural settings. She had come to receive Panchakarma treatment and spent 30 days at the clinic and then continued her rejuvenation regime at home in Canada for another three months. She was still working full time as a Marine Engineer with the British Columbia Ferry Corporation but maintained her schedule.
“The Panchakarma Rejuvenation Program was done as described by the original texts of Ayurveda from the Charka Samhita. This practical experience of Ayurveda is what dramatically changed me. Till then, I knew Ayurveda, only from theory. Now the practical experience woke me up. My whole inner world, indeed was awakened,” says Girija.
“The vaidyas at the clinic are trained in the most traditional and purest way that Ayurveda is meant to be. It is the Science of Life. Therefore they are helping human beings, all life forms, communities, the planet, everything to blossom to its fullest potential. This is Vaidyagrama. I feel privileged, humbled and honoured to be part of this great offering from Vaidyagrama and their team.”
It is important to understand that Girija went to the clinic not as a person with any illness. “I was quite healthy in fact. I also understood from my theoretical knowledge that being healthy was a good way to begin Panchakarma. After the program my transformation went from healthy to super healthy. I had clairvoyance, greater endurance, mental peace within. (I did not experience those higher levels of Samadhi written in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) but I did recognize a very tranquil mental frame of mind with no disturbances or emotional turmoil. I was aware of certain emotional distresses before the treatment but did not tackle them before going to Vaidyagrama.”
As an example of her inner peaceful state she shares the challenges of her trip going back home. “It takes 51 hours to travel home from India. Hours of waiting in crowded airports, 10 hours of Indian buses, (I missed my train) ferries and subways, all to get home. All these factors were potentially stressful and tiring. Yet, I felt only peace, strength, and invigoration. I felt in another dimension, but it felt normal. I realized this is the way we should be all the time. It was a dream state of peace and tranquillity. And I had more physical strength than usual. This was one of many such experiences. I still feel at peace and feel strong at 69 years old,” says Girija.
She says the doctors at Vaidyagrama gave her body an opportunity to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. “Through the great knowledge of the Vedas, which also trains physicians how to treat themselves as healers, it is a win-win situation.”