Issue: Spring 2012
Department: My Story
Story: Carina Chatlani
I always knew I would be involved in a career incorporating medicine and science. However, the winding path that led me there presented itself when I was 15. After living in the U.S. for 14 years, my father sent me to a school near London. Just when I finally had gotten used to life in the U.K., news about a hit-and-run accident involving my grandfather in Mumbai sent shockwaves of surprise and chaos. The circumstances surrounding his death, followed by my father’s sudden decision to transfer me mid-semester to a remote boarding school in the Himalayan foothills, was at once life-altering, empowering and enlightening.
From the beginning, my grandfather and I had a bond. He was a very influential man who epitomized elegance and wisdom. However, he could put anybody at ease with a few simple words. He was an Indian diplomat in Rome, Italy at the time I was born, and had my parents name me “Carina” because the Italian name had struck a chord. His responsibilities involved mixing with all kinds of officials, heads of state, and royals including Queen Elizabeth. However, he always found time to go to Los Angeles during the holiday season, and we would travel overseas to see him for several weeks at a time. When I was little, he called me his “vanishing cream,” as I made his troubles disappear. He also often told me, “You are one with a true heart,” which still inspires the work I do in healing and wellness.
After rushing to India to be by my grandfather’s bedside, I realized our family was wrapped up in a mess of complicated bureaucracy and hospital operations glitches. Once at the hospital, I was reminded that I was raised in a culture where children were not supposed to influence adult decisions. Day after day of sitting by his bedside, of watching him get care but not enough of it, I strongly believed his case was not handled with the right amount of focus or urgency. By day 15, the doctors discussed removing him from life support and pulling the plug.
Even in my 15 years of life, the idea of a doctor purposely pulling the plug on a patient made no sense, especially as I strongly believed my grandfather may have pulled through with the right amount of attention. However, what I did understand was that the doctors and the older members of our family were about to make this final decision for him, without his consent. The more I voiced my disagreement, the more resistance I got from the adults. Though I realize my parents and relatives made one of the most difficult decisions of their lives, I found the voice I needed to express myself in a way that would add weight to the way I find solutions for healing people and for running my business.
Next thing I knew, we were at my grandfather’s cremation. Once again, I wanted to be there for my grandfather, but according to tradition children were not allowed to be present. Once again denied access and a voice, I made two major life decisions that day: I would devote my entire adult life to healing, no matter what obstacles I ran into perfecting my practice, and that I would have a voice, not just for myself, but also for patients who couldn’t not speak for themselves.
While all of this was happening, my dad planned to uproot me again and send me mid-semester to Woodstock, an exclusive American-missionary run boarding school in the Himalayan foothills. Though I could look back and regret not appreciating the experience as much as I should have from a teenager’s perspective, the experience unfolded into a road map. Each unexpected event and detour played a role in directing me down an essential part of the path. I now realize the way I lived this experience helped me build the character and discipline needed to run a business focused on physical and emotional healing.
Years before I arrived at Woodstock, the Dalai Lama and his congregation of monks set up a foundation, school, museum and residence in the mountain station town of Mussoorie, where it is located. It was a normal sight to see monks going about their business and mixing with others in the community, including a very international student body consisting of the sons and daughters of diplomats, government and high ranking members of various nations’ armed forces. The monks visited the school often. On several of those occasions, I was at the dispensary (equivalent to the nurse’s office in U.S. schools). It was my second home as the mix of high altitude and low attitude made me get sick more than I had either in Los Angeles or London.
I found myself with giardia or dysentery, and strange skin and scalp conditions. The monks volunteered their natural remedies, sourced from plants and herbs grown in fields not far from their monastery. They would administer them along with some rituals, methods and mantras. Though the initial treatments were off-putting because the smells of the herbs required getting used to, receiving treatment from them was very inspiring because they brought life to the healing process for me. When I found their remedies worked and I would be back to myself in 24 hours or less, the scientific side of me really wanted to explore what happened.
I started asking the monks questions, and soon after that, I asked them to take me to the fields where they grew their herbs and plants. I spent weekends and breaks going down to the local bazaar and asking the monks which combinations of plants would work together most effectively. From there, plants and their powers benefitting humans became a passion for me, especially as all the new knowledge I picked up came from a place of complete healing and compassion.
Ongoing dialogues with the monks about the healing powers and capabilities of different plants, in turn led me to take a diverse docket of classes covering everything from physics and chemistry to spirituality that allowed me to build upon the knowledge I was getting from outside the school. I was developing the abilities to analyze, ask even more questions that led to more classes.
The bedrock of my awakening in Mussoorie was neem, which I fast discovered is an amazing overall anti-biotic, anti-parasitic and all purpose remedy that really merits it the reputation of being designated “the village pharmacy” by the monks. It contains chemical components that can cure eczema, rashes, psoriasis, bug bites and many other skin conditions as well as act as a bug repellant. It also works as a pesticide, which is right in line with organic farming. Who knew it benefitted so many everyday situations! While neem’s natural scent is intense, what we’ve done with the Body Bistro products is blend neem with other active plant elements and extracts such as coconut and sesame oils so the final products smell as nice as they make the user feel.
Though I spent a very short period of time there in terms of my overall education (including UCLA for pre-med and science), it made the greatest impact on my life. Once I found my voice, it was up to me to ask questions. From there, it empowered me to answer other people’s concerns about their health.
Carina Chatlani is the founder of BODY BISTRO Ayurvedic Apothecary, Asana Spa, Radiant Blessings and MindSet Spa. Though Chatlani travels the world as a public speaker, educator, author and consultant on organic and natural health, she carves out time for numerous philanthropic endeavors, including the HEAL OUR HOME Foundation, UNICEF, Heal the Bay, TreePeople, AIDS Project Los Angeles and Look Good Feel Better Cancer Foundation For more information, visit www.carinachatlani.com and www.bodybistro.com.