Heather Thurber and the Art of Ayurveda

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Heather Thurber at her studio at Breezy Pines Farm in West Tisbury. — Photo by Bella Bennett

Ayurveda: noun. 1. One of the world’s oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems. It was developed thousands of years ago in India. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing to attain this balance. 2. What Heather Thurber is doing — for women only — up there at Breezy Pines Farm, among other things.

“The plants have been the journey for me for most of my life,” said Breezy Pines Farm and Ayurveda Martha’s Vineyard proprietor Heather Thurber of West Tisbury, when I visited her recently. Heather grew up in Kansas, a member of a family that had farmed for six generations. She began studying plants when she was 9, alongside her grandmother in her apothecary kitchen. Plants and dirt, she said, are in her blood. Her grandmother inspired her to create her own plant infusions in medicines and teas. She’d enter 4-H contests as she got older, and in 1985 won a Kansas state award for her herbal and honey soaps.

Since then, by way of stints on organic farms in high school, and training with herbalists and apiarists, and gigs setting up medicinal gardens on organic farms, she’s come to make plant medicine a way to support herself. In May, she celebrated 15 years of living on Martha’s Vineyard. Her husband’s family property was a working horse farm when she first arrived, and so her original garden was only 12 feet square. These days, they work with about a quarter of an acre, and though for a while they sold produce at their own farm stand, and then just at the Farmers Market, Heather grows plants at Breezy Pines mostly for her medicine practices, and sells her soaps, teas, and medicines at the Farmer’s Market.

But what about Ayurveda?

I asked how Heather began her path to Ayurvedic treatments. She said it has been a love of hers since she had a treatment a long time ago. And she loves cooking and yoga as hobbies for self-healing, both of which Ayurvedic approaches incorporate. In 2012, after more than 9 years, she resigned from working for the Martha’s Vineyard public school system. All along, she had been taking courses online, and had earned a medical certificate in aromatherapy and a diploma as a holistic health practitioner, but what she really wanted was to go to massage school, so she began commuting full-time to Cape Cod Community College.

But what does that have to do with Ayurveda?

In 2013, while still a massage student, she was invited to go to a retreat at Kripalu, in western Massachusetts, her first time visiting the center for yoga and health. She tried two Ayurvedic body treatments, her first ones in 20 years, and says that she “immediately knew that was her calling.” She went home and hunted around for courses, and soon enough, the 2014 winter Kripalu catalog arrived. The director of the Ayurveda School there was offering an opportunity for advanced training. Because Heather already had massage training, and had been a community herbalist for 20 years, they let her into the advanced training. By January of this year, she’d graduated from the Ayurveda training, and massage school, too.

Heather’s gotten to know Eastern herbs — ashwagandha, brahmi, vetiver — and has created new medicated oils to use in her work. She’s been growing a lot of bee balm, verbena, and lemon balm, and often works with roots such dandelion and echinacea.

Ayurvedic treatments are given in a specific order, aiming to bring a patient from an “unbalanced state” to one of balance. Heather offers a line of Ayurvedic oils, a chakra oil set, balms, and medicated ghee, so people can go home and do this work with themselves. She is introducing a line of Ayurvedic teas and muscle-relieving balms for this summer.

And, by the way? Girls only. “Women,” she said, “do not take the time to nurture themselves because they are so busy mothering everyone else.”

At Breezy Pines Farm, find some time to take some time this summer.

One of the best deals Heather offers is her Panchakarma five-Ayurvedic-treatment package, available through ayurveda-mv.com. Look for Heather selling her soaps, herbs, and medicines at the West Tisbury Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays from June to October or online at breezypinesfarm-mv.com.