Books are wonderful teachers and cultural artifacts. It’s humbling to think about how the author has poured his or her mind, heart and soul into the pages, and how this soulful gift has then been wrapped in a protective cover that offers a glance into the book’s personality. In this series, I want to introduce you to the books that have shaped my mind, heart and soul on a wellness journey that span over more than a decade. I am dividing this topic into a 3 part series that focuses on 3 different areas of life: self-development, work and relationships. For this post, I have chosen 3 books that are written by 3 very different people specializing in different things: an immunologist, a Wiccan priestess and a Ayurveda practitioner. Collectively, these books provide insights and guidance regarding health, spirituality and personal growth. For me, these books serve as inspiration – it’s not the word of God, and often not the word of science either – it’s philosophy: ideas and systems of thought that we can interact with and further develop ourselves. It’s stories and poetry, practical knowledge and folklore. There are, of course, many other equally good books, these just happen to be the ones I’ve found myself returning to over the years.
The Self-Healing Human (Holistic Wellness Publications, 2003)
by Sanna Ehdin
My own journey of self-development began around 15 years ago, when I was still a teen, looking for answers to the big questions with the open and highly receptive mind of the adolescent. The Self-Healing Human, written by the swedish immunologist Sanna Ehdin, was the first book I ever read on alternative medicine. Back then, healthy foods and lifestyles were not a part of mainstream culture in the same way that it is today, and the packaging of the information was a bit different. Ehdin’s book is the work of an academic. The author completed her Ph.D in immunology at Lund university in Sweden in 1988 and further developed her research in California. The Self-Healing Human is a guide to all the research that has been done on alternative medicine in the last 30 years or so, as well as an introduction to the battle between scholarly western medicine and other healing systems, and a course in medicine covering the digestive system, vitamins and minerals, and the connection between our physical health, thoughts and emotions.
With this book, Ehdin truly opened a new world for me. I realized that I could improve or destroy my health through the food I ate, and the thoughts and emotions I let through my system, and I was fascinated to learn about how all the different nutritional components in food work together in highly sophisticated ways to nurture the complex ecosystem of the human body. I think it is a good idea to begin the journey of self-development with getting to know your body. It is the physical manifestation of our persona and we often view it as our identity. Even if this is not true from a spiritual point of view, it is our day-to-day experience and we live in a day-to-day reality, so why not embrace the body, nurture it and take care of it? There is a great difference though, between having a healthy body and having the perfect body according to some beauty ideal in the social media sphere. Unless you’re overweight there is absolutely no reason to go on a diet. Understanding how your body works and becoming attuned to it’s needs in terms of food and exercise is only the start, not the end goal. The body is the instrument through which your soul operates, not the soul itself.
The first edition of The self-healing human is informative and academic, while the new version is more of an easy-to read guide to the latest trends in alternative health and lifestyle, and some of the ideas the author promotes are based on her own experience rather than actual research. It also contains promotion of her own brand of alternative healthcare products. I’m not saying that this necessarily is a bad thing, but it is two different approaches to the subject, and the reader should be aware that some of the ideas presented in Sanna Ehdin’s latest book have been strongly opposed by medical doctors (such as detoxing with baking soda and curing illnesses through bathing in special soap). Still, the original book offers a strong foundation for a medical understanding on how the body works, while also providing an introduction to the important research that has been done in the field of alternative medicine.
True Magick: A Beginners Guide (Llewellyn Publications, 2nd edition, 2006)
by Amber K
While Ehdin’s book offers an introduction to the world of alternative health, Amber K’s True Magick serves as a guide to the universe of alternative religion. The art of magic precedes the modern scientific era and dates back to the dawn of mankind. From the hunter-gatherer cultures of the stone age through medieval society, magic was an important part of human life that extended into religion, medicine and politics. Wars were waged or not waged based on the outcome of divination and astrology. Everything, from diseases to the weather and the harvest, was thought to be controlled by higher powers invoked, pleased or controlled through rituals, spells and offerings.
This book has served as a standard introduction to the craft in wiccan and pagan circles for nearly 30 years and it is respected by important figures in the creation of the Wiccan religion such as Raymond Buckland. I’ve never considered myself a witch or a pagan, but because religion and spirituality is one of my passions, I am happy to study many different traditions. Wicca, paganism and other spiritual paths and practices that builds on ancient ideas (such as astrology and yoga) has become an integral part of spiritual life in the modern west. As a historian, I find this highly intriguing. When there no longer exists a great story that control our society in the way that Christianity and science used to do, we turn to this: the oldest form of spiritual practice on the planet. Maybe it connects us to our roots, maybe it’s more holistic, creative and fun than other stories out there. Paganism do offer something that more intellectual religious paths don’t: a truly mystic, emotional, physical and earthbound spiritual experience. The pagan’s reverence for nature and understanding of the dual masculine and feminine forces in the universe bridges the gap between humanity and nature, man and woman, mind and soul.
Amber K’s True Magick: A Beginner’s Guide is as much a course in self-development as it is an introduction to modern magic. The priestess view magic as a spiritual path where the goal is for you to take charge of your own life and realize that you can change things, to connect with the holy source and to expand your spiritual awareness. You don’t really have to be interested in magic, or Wicca, to enjoy this book. Many of the tools used by wiccans and witches are good spiritual exercises for anyone. This includes meditation, visualization, prayer, learning how to focus your mind and practice intent. Also, creating a shrine or an altar and gather some tools that help you connect with a higher force (such as candles, incense and crystals) is not a bad idea even if you’re not interested in casting spells. Its creative and fun, and physical objects aids our mental focus.
Amber K has been around for sometime and her book is based on much experience and research. Besides being a priestess and co-founder of the Ladywood tradition of Wicca she works as Executive Director of the Ardantane Pagan Learning Center. Her mind is critical and she encourage her readers to be critical as well. The second edition of this book contains information, and tips for further reading, on most paths that belong to the giant web of ideas known as “New age”. Amber K touches on everything from chakras and auras to shamanism, Wicca, ceremonial magic, self-help and psychology, as well as discussing the intersections of modern physics and the ancient magical worldview. On top of this, True Magic takes the reader on a journey through the global history of magic, from prehistoric times to the birth of Wicca in postwar England.
Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017)
by Acharya Shunya
I became interested in Ayurveda when I began to practice yoga 5 years ago but I didn’t really find any good literature on the topic until recently. Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom is not only a clear and straight-forward guide to Ayurvedic knowledge and practice, it also contains beautiful stories about the author’s childhood in India, and her journey to become a healer in the Vedic tradition as a disciple to her revered teacher and grandfather, Baba. Acharya Shunya resides in California where she created the wisdom school Vedika Global and serves as the president of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. The poetic language in Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom is truly spiritually uplifting, and it is nice to read a book about a non-western healing tradition which has not been filtered through western academic thinking and language. In this book we get to know the ancient healing system of India through stories rather than through technical explanations. In Ayurveda, we find a reverence for nature that is so highly sought after in the ultra-technological west which for so long have regarded nature as a dead tool rather than a part of the living, organic world. In the stories about her childhood in a small Indian village, Acharya Shunya paints a world where every tree, flower and raindrop has a soul and a consciousness.
The Ayurvedic approach to health is very different from that of the contemporary wellness movement in the West, not only because it is built on a different understanding of how the body functions.Understanding that there are other options on “the truth” about health out there is good for our critical thinking. It keeps the mind challenged and open. This ancient healing system takes into account aspects of food that the health-conscious westerner does not necessarily consider, like temperature. For this reason, cold food and food that is hard to process, like smoothies and raw vegetables, is not considered very healthy. And for reasons both spiritual and medical, mixing yoghurt with fruits is a big no-no. Cow’s milk is an important ingredient in the Ayurvedic diet and skincare, and seeing as the cow is considered a holy animal in India, going vegan would create some unbalance there…
The author provides simple instructions for daily hygiene routines and on what foods to eat in order to keep the body and the doshas balanced throughout the 4 seasons. The biggest problem is that Ayurveda was developed in a specific part of the world, with a special flora and a special climate. Living far north is not ideal for practicing Ayurveda, as the author of Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom acknowledges. Many of the ingredients for the recipes both for skincare and food can’t be found easily where I live, for example, and if I do find them I wonder how long they have been transported and how much of the nutrition and freshness that is still left. But as a whole this book gives an interesting introduction to Ayurveda, explaining the system of the doshas, the different qualities of food, the role of spices, the use of mantras, and the beautiful habit of daily scalp and footmassage with warm oil.