PNA Spotlight: Kerry Harling, Ayurveda Practitioner
This month the PNA Spotlight focuses on Kerry Harling, an Ayurveda practioner and a member of the PNA in Integrative Medicine. Ms. Harling has a B.S. in Neuroscience, a Masters in Education, and has studied at The Kripalu School For Ayurveda and the world renowned Ayurveda Institute. She is the CEO of The Holistic Highway, where she helps her clients achieve optimal health through customized health services and programs. She also has a practice at The University Of Pittsburgh’s Center For Integrative Medicine, runs the Ayurveda Sanctuary nationally, is a registered practitioner with the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), member of Yoga Alliance, and the owner of the TEDx Talk, "Context Is Everything." You can learn more on her website: https://theholistichighway.com/kerry-harling-story/ She was kind enough to answer some questions from the PNA. Here are her answers:
What inspired you to choose your career path?
Just look around – we have reached a tipping point moment in our health. I see it on the streets, in our playgrounds, reflected in our statistics, and in my practice. We are a world of sick people. Obesity is a problem in all developed nations, as is diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. I see younger and younger children being medicated for anxiety, depression and an inability to focus. I hear the despair in my client’s voices as they complain of a losing battle with weight loss, insomnia, low sex drive and fatigue. More and more people in my practice have spent years on medications for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. And lastly, the incidence and prevalence rates of auto-immune diseases such as Hashimotos, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis have increased significantly over the last 30 years.
So, I asked myself, “What are we doing wrong?” We forgot to live right, to be part of nature. To eat seasonally and engage in a lifestyle that is individually right for us. We forgot to slow down and marvel at nature and we forgot to exercise the right way. We are out of balance! And that is easy to see why. The daily rigors of life today create tremendous stress on our bodies and take a serious toll on our health. This problem is compounded with unhealthy foods, sedentary careers, and a culture of medicine that treats the symptoms, not the underlying causes. And sometimes it takes a wake-up call - doesn’t it - and sadly, for many of us that wakeup call is an illness. You know, when the body says I can’t do this anymore and just throws in the towel.
In fact -my body threw in the towel.
I spent most of my life unhealthy and chronically fatigued...this always surprises people when I tell them this, considering my profession, but I spent years being diagnosed with a myriad of diseases including fibromyalgia, depression, Lyme disease, anxiety and chronic fatigue. I was taking numerous medications for all those diagnosed illnesses.
I would go to the doctor and be prescribed the latest drug for my latest symptoms. No one tried to understand the underlying cause of my health problems. As a single mother, working full time and with a rambunctious young son, I couldn’t afford to be sick. Life was stressful enough without constantly being sick and exhausted. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I was desperate. It was at this point in my life that I turned to an alternative health practitioner. I was diagnosed with mercury toxicity. Finally! I knew the cause of all my problems! I could finally be healthy once and for all!
Not so fast.
Five years of treatment left me mercury-free but I still was lacking the energy and vitality of a younger, healthier me. The reason for this is because I had only solved half the equation. I fixed the underlying cause of my problems, but I hadn’t changed my lifestyle to maintain my health. I was still living the same way I was my entire life. The same way that helped make me sick in the first place. I was out of balance.
It was at this time that I was introduced to Ayurveda. I learned I was fatigued because my agni (digestive fire) was too low and I had built up ama (toxins). So, I made some simple changes in my diet and lifestyle and just one month later - I found my vitality improving and gradually increased my energy. It was amazing!
I was absolutely astounded by the power of this simple yet effective method of health that I decided to make a major life change. I decided to study Ayurveda and made the decision to help others discover the incredible way this avenue of health can help improve their lives, like it did mine.
As my previous career was in education, I decided to give back in the best way I know how. By teaching others. This core principle is paramount in all the work I do at the Holistic Highway because it is not enough to give you a solution for a day, but give you the knowledge to achieve great health for your entire life
What is the primary focus of your work/research?
I am in general practice but am a globally recognized leader in the field of integrative medicine and the ancient science of health known as Ayurveda. I am passionate about raising awareness for the need for a change in contemporary medicine that focuses on patient empowerment and a health-based (rather than disease-based) medical system. I practice at The University of Pittsburgh Center for Integrative Medicine and remain a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine where I developed a personalized system to manage chronic disorders by incorporating fundamental changes in diet, behavior, and stress while focusing on genetics. This individualized program is so successful that many of my clients have achieved maximum healing and vitality after years of chronic problems.
What do you consider to be the future of your field?
I do see today that a lot of people are deeply disillusioned with the kind of quick-fix mentality you find in a lot of conventional medicine. And millions are turning to complementary and alternative forms of medicine, which tend to tap into a slower and gentler holistic forming of healing. It is clearly unique in this day and age to find a system of medicine that is more than five thousand years old and still one of the largest on the planet. Although Ayurveda is in its infancy here in the United States, it has more than three thousand physicians worldwide, making it one of the largest medical organizations in the world.
Perhaps the reason for Ayurveda’s longevity is its simple and clear definition of health; a state of a balanced mind, well-formed body and good elimination. When the metabolic constitutions are in balance, when the mind and body are in harmony, only then is optimal health achieved. That is what Ayurveda helps people attain and that is what I help my patients attain.
What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
Ayurveda is based upon the following principles:
- There is no one size fits all. There is no one drug that suits all people, no one diet, exercise regimen, supplement or lifestyle change.
Food is medicine. We can unlock the power of food to heal disease and achieve optimal health.
- Foods should change with the seasons. Each season is associated with different elements and foods that will strengthen your health.
- Like increases like and opposites balance. Take in the opposite qualities through the five senses. This brings balance.
- You are what you eat or are you what you digest? You may know the old saying, “you are what you eat,” but I’d like to add to that and say, “you are what you digest and absorb!”. In my practice, I frequently see people complaining of fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and depression. Often, they are eating a very clean diet, but they haven’t seen improvement because they aren’t able to digest and absorb all the great vitamins, and minerals they are consuming.
- Nutrition is anything we take in through the 5 senses. By using the input of all our senses, we create pathways whereby we ingest all the qualities of the world and form our perceptions. Our perceptions depend upon nurturing those senses which in turn nurtures our health.
- Health is holistic. The definition of health from the World Health Organization (WHO) is: “Health is a well-balanced mind, a well-formed body, and good elimination. When the doshas or metabolic constitutions are in balance, when the mind and body are in harmony – only then is optimal health achieved.”
What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
My ethos as a health professional is that health is NOT one size fits all. Each of us is unique, and as such require individualized treatment.
Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?
I got involved with the PNA as many of my clients have endocrine disorders and more and more of them have specific pituitary disorders. As I have worked successfully with my clients in supporting them in the management of their disease, I wanted to share that information. The best place to do that is through the national organization. I like how PNA makes information accessible, so partnering with PNA made a lot of sense. Also, many of my clients talked about going to PNA as the first step in getting information when newly diagnosed and how helpful the resources were. I am getting ready to do a webinar later this year for PNA and will be writing some blogs.