The challenges of being a female Ayurveda doctor in the UK
By Nika Jazaee
Varalakshmi Yanamandra is the founder and managing director of “Ayur Wellness and Pain Centre” in Birmingham. She comes from a small town in Southern India and since early childhood had dreamed of becoming a doctor but Ayurveda was never on her mind. Vara’s path towards starting her own therapy centre was riddled with obstacles at various stages. Vara talks here about the times when she was contemplating whether she would achieve anything at all in her life and about how she believes that women can become whatever they want just with the belief.
Where did you grow up and tell us about one of your strongest memories in life?
I grew up in a small town in Southern India. I had a happy childhood with a lot of friends and I used to love going out on school trips and stuff. My family used to be very traditional with its values and beliefs. I believe some of my ideas and ideologies are because of the influence from my family. I am a believer in God and I pray a lot. My father is the first entrepreneur in our family. He used to work as an employee when he took a bold step to start his own textile company. Because of his vast experience in the textile industry, he became very successful in a short period of time. But, due to an unfortunate accident, he had to take leave of absence from the business. The business started to struggle and suffered loses. My father had to work really hard to get back on his feet and support the family. I remember the days that I had to cycle to my college which is two miles away and the days when I wore the same dress even on weekends to college. After a lot of hard work we were able to lead a normal life.
During those dark days my father would smile and say “Always do your part and leave the rest to god! He will take care of everything”.
You always dreamed of becoming a doctor. Why?
I have had this amazing passion for science from my childhood. The human body and its mysteries have fascinated me to explore more. I used to spend a lot of time trying to find bacteria using my magnifying glasses. As part of my exploration, I spent considerable time at my family doctor’s clinic to understand it. I liked the way people respect a doctor. I thought that this is such a noble position in the society. It drew the passion in me to work hard and achieve good merits and to become the first doctor in our family.
Tell us more about what it means to work as an Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a blessing that destiny has bestowed upon me. It means an amazing opportunity to help and cure others from chronic suffering. I believe I am still a learner of Ayurveda. One day, I would love the opportunity of spreading the knowledge of Ayurveda to others.
You have said that there was a time when you questioned if you would achieve anything in life, what changed that?
When I came to the UK, I had no idea of how Ayurveda worked here. I tried to find a job as an Ayurveda practitioner and applied for many jobs online and I tried to contact different people in my profession. No one ever replied back to me and I felt really disappointed. After some months of despair and online research I found out that I could practice from home, so I have started to do consultations from my home. Even though there are many Ayurveda clinics in and around London. I have come across many people who don’t know about Ayurveda. I thought that people needed more awareness so I started a Facebook page and website with health tips and concepts. It generated a good response and people would talk to me and ask me tips. But, it didn’t quite convince them to invest in Ayurveda. I felt like my career was not moving any further and I couldn’t really cope with that fact! By the end of 2013, I found a job as an Ayurveda practitioner at a popular Ayurveda spa in London. I worked there at weekends while continuing my practice at home for more than a year, until I started my own business.
I believe nothing would have changed in my story if I had stopped trying.
Tell us about your biggest inspiration in life and why?
I have met some amazing people in my life who have inspired me to become a better person but my parents inspired me the most. They raised me with great values and beliefs. I have seen them be the same people even in good and bad times. The one thing they taught me was to never give up, no matter what. I learned to work hard and live my life to the full potential with what I have got. As a younger kid in my family, I was pampered more than my brother. I used to be the naughty one. My father used to be very strict with respect to education; he believed that education is the only way to success. He and my mom sacrificed a lot in order to ensure that I got the necessary support for my education.
Why do you want to help people and what makes you jump out of bed every day and do what you do?
I believe that we all have a purpose in this life. When I first came to the UK I couldn’t get around the health care system here. I worked at different places trying to find the satisfaction of being a doctor. But I was not really happy because therapy centres here base their business on relaxation rather than treatments. That’s when I decided to start a clinic which can actually treat and cure people of chronic health conditions. When I started the clinic I was so overwhelmed with responsibility and challenges. It took a while to get a grip around the business and slowly, it started to become stable. After a few months of running my business, I started to develop a severe pain in my knees. Sometimes, it became difficult for me to walk even for ten minutes without getting excruciating pain. My family became so worried that they didn’t want me to continue running the business. But, I believe it is more important now than ever to help people who are in agony like me because I know how terrifying it is to live with it. So I have decided to stop worrying about my pain and to continue helping other people.
I have decided to stop worrying about my pain and to continue helping other people.
You seem to have a very supportive husband, do you think it is more difficult for women to run their own businesses or succeed in their professional lives without that support?
Yes I am blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life. He has always supported me in my decisions. He believed in me even during times when I doubted myself. Actually, I believe women are more capable of running their own businesses and becoming successful in their professional lives. I think women can achieve anything they want and can overcome any obstacles as long as they believe in themselves!
Has being a woman been a benefit in working as an Ayurveda doctor, and how?
I think it is more challenging being a woman to practice Ayurveda. First of all, unlike conventional medicine, Ayurveda is not so popular in the UK. Most of the people who visit me don’t know what Ayurveda is. I have to make ground for Ayurveda as a viable option for their health. I have to go through the concepts of Ayurveda and explain to them that it is indeed a safe system of medicine. It took me a while but you learn and grow. Second of all, it is a male dominated profession and I don’t look like a typical doctor. Some of the questions I faced when I started were “You look too young to be a doctor. Are you sure! You can treat me?” and “You can do back manipulation for a male?” For quite some time I was annoyed. Slowly, I have learned how to be less intimidating and tried my best to treat them. It turned the things around and people slowly started to see me as more capable and talented despite my age, appearance and gender.