Updated: Jun 21, 2022
I've been frequently asked this question and in my opinion, the answer is not that simple. I believe that Ayurveda is still best learned when directly from a great practitioner in a gurukul fashion, meaning in a close relationship to your instructors for some time. Even if for short periods. My best pieces of training and accelerated learning experiences happened during my immersive training in Ecuador, my visits to The Ayurvedic Institute for Summer Intensives with Dr. Vasant Lad in New Mexico, and during some online training with Arjun Das, David Crow, and John Douillard (yes, online! you can also have extremely effective learning experiences sitting online with your teacher).
My best example of the eventual complexity of getting proper training is the way I learned Shirodhara. This iconic ayurvedic treatment looks as simple as "pouring oil to the forehead" of a client, but this is one of the most sophisticated and detailed treatments to perform. It requires full attention and presence from the therapist at all times. It requires mastering the heat and the consistent flow of the oil while preserving the silence in the space and holding space for transformation. Shirodhara is a profound treatment that deeply addresses our nervous system and the subtle energetic anatomy of the human body. It requires a certain set of qualities and a deep level of commitment to the practice from the practitioner.
The Shirodhara protocol that I use in my practice today results from a great quality hydrotherapy course while in massage school to become licensed in 2011, after an extensive Ayurveda course in Ecuador in 2009 (where I learned the basic principles and how to perform Abhyanga and Marma therapy), but mostly from the generous sharing from a loving therapist named Hope Piza, herself having learned from Dr. Lad and his team while working at The Ayurveda Institute in New Mexico. I'm deeply grateful to Hope, who shared and coached me through all the hands-on details of Shirodhara and topic basti therapies. I later also took a couple of online courses with K.P Khalsa and Melanie Sachs, both particularly helpful in simplifying certain steps of my sessions and knowing what to do to clean my materials or how to properly waste used oils.
I believe that Ayurveda is more about why you learn it in the first place and from whom you learn. During my path, and especially in the beginning when I had little understanding, I met extraordinary and ordinary people. Therefore, I recommend keeping your intuition finely tuned to be able to discern along the path. I tended to trust that everyone working with Ayurveda was good by default, but I did have a few disappointing experiences along the path. A great part of my knowledge can easily be attributed to people like Hope or teachers like Dr. Lad, John Douillard, David Crow, and Arjun Das, here presented in order of appearance in my learning path, one leading to the following, all consistently and generously sharing content online or offering their courses at reasonable value.
I highly recommend those wishing to learn Ayurveda and Ayurvedic Bodywork, to look closely at the work of the following teachers (through their books, websites, online and live courses, etc):
Arjun Das guides people to Kerala every year for Panchakarma and ayurvedic studies; as a Jyotish specialist, his work has a deep focus on the relationship between herbs and the electromagnetic fields generated by celestial bodies and their impact on people and plants. From Arjun I learned how to ground in the ayurvedic principles even when the plants or tools are missing in a given environment. He is my go-to Jyotish practitioner and a great friend;
Cate Stillman makes Ayurveda easy to understand for Western minds before you move to more advanced training. Her book Body Thrive and her course Modern Ayurveda through The Ayurveda Experience are amazing shortcuts to get started on basic principles of Ayurveda as she translates in a few words something that could eventually take months to grasp;
Claudia Welch and Robert Svoboda teach basic and advanced Ayurveda with great depth. Some of their online courses count for later certification with NAMA. Claudia's work is great especially for those wanting to learn more about Ayurveda for women's wellness, and Svoboda is the kind of teacher you want to keep following to learn and be reminded of in-depth Ayurveda concepts and philosophy. From Claudia, I've learned to keep good company daily so I don't get sidetracked from my path. Even when "good company" simply means having a good book in my hands for a couple of hours, or connecting with the medicine and teachings of a plant through a cup of herbal tea;
David Crow is, in my opinion, the best herbalist we can learn from in America. He is the founder of Floracopeia and offers courses online through his own website or The Shift Network. His work is fascinating as is truly committed to conservation and regenerative practices to work and use herbal medicine. From him I have learned how to relate to plants not as "a thing for us to get", but as beings to be honored and invited to our homes and bodies through deep connection and reverence;
John Douillard here is where to go if you need scientific explanation and evidence to explain why Ayurveda works. Great for my Western mind when I got started! I've been following Douillard's LifeSpa website for over 12 years. From him I learned how to care for my kids' wellness, clearly reducing the length of colds and certainly avoiding several minor daily life imbalances along the road. His website seems almost infinite now and is a vast source for many health topics from an Ayurvedic perspective.
K.P. Khalsa is another great herbalist and therapist with plenty of online publications and frequent live training. He has excellent courses teaching ayurvedic treatments including Shirodhara and Face massage.
Melanie Sachs This is where to start if you are already trained as a massage therapist and specifically looking to learn ayurvedic treatments protocols. Melanie is an ayurvedic spa specialist from whom I learned and perfected my therapeutic protocols. Her books are very detailed and a great source of information for massage therapists. Some of her courses (Abhyanga, Kansa, Shirodhara) are available through The Ayurveda Experience.
Vasant Lad This is the teacher in my path that I feel comfortable referring to as guru. I have traveled to New Mexico twice to experience his Summer Intensives at The Ayurvedic Institute and can say that those trips were deeply transformative at many levels. The video library inside the Institute's website is a valuable tool for hours of free learning and I also highly recommend his audiobook Ayurveda, published by Sounds True.
Suhas Kshirsagar is the author of the must-read book "Change your schedule, change your life" and the audible book "Ayurvedic Wellness" published by Sounds True.
Watch The Doctor from India, "a meditative and immersive portrait of the life and work of Dr. Vasant Lad, the holistic health pioneer who first brought the ancient medical practice of Ayurveda from India to the west in the late 1970s".
Ayurveda is a vast ocean of knowledge. Each therapist or practitioner will have a different background and when choosing a teacher I recommend looking for those who you feel inspired by and according to the topics that you are most interested in learning.
Carol Jamault is a Certified Health & Life Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and Registered Yoga Instructor (RYT-200). She supports her clients in stress management and self-care through an integrative approach to wellness by providing bodywork services, consultations, curated information, and products to restore balance, improve individual wellness, and boost vitality. Carol has been studying alternative healing, ethnobotany, circadian medicine, and Ayurveda since 2001. She is the founder of Hridayam Bodywork & Apothecary. Meet Carol for ayurvedic massage treatments and coaching at Clinic Libessart in Coral Gables (Florida, USA).
Carol is now also offering live hands-on training on Abhyanga, and Shirodhara for therapists. You can access the event schedule here to join her lectures, to sign up for courses, or to reach out for more information on private training.