Living Well With Claire Ragozzino
Claire Ragozzino is the beautiful soul behind Vidya Living, a lifestyle brand that connects women to healing with the ancient power of Ayurveda. Her site guides women through the changing seasons, teaching harmony and alignment by way of yoga, nourishment, and daily ritual.
Today, Claire shares the story of her journey to Ayurveda, her daily self-care practices, and a few of the women who have inspired her work.
Tell us about your journey, what initially drew you to Ayurveda?
In my early teens, I suffered from ongoing digestive challenges. I wasn’t raised with the lifestyle I’ve adopted now. In fact, Hamburger Helper and fast food were a pretty standard part of my childhood diet. But by high school, I was tired of feeling terrible all the time and started to explore food as a pathway for healing. I got a juicer for my 16th birthday and spent an entire summer experimenting with raw cuisine, cleansing and reading every alternative medicine book I could get my hands on…one of which was Dr. Lad’s book Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Food and nutrition became a big focus for my healing journey.
By college, I became passionate about studying food culture, the Slow Food Movement and exploring the ways we connect socially around the table. I graduated college with a degree in International Affairs and a focus in sustainable development. I worked at the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, dreaming that one day I would spend my career shaping food policy. But after graduation, I traveled to India and all that changed. I had just become certified to teach yoga and applied for an anthropology research grant to study how the increase in western yoga tourism was impacting the way Indians perceived and practiced modern yoga. I had planned to come back to the states and take a job working at an NGO, but somewhere between my daily 4am yoga practice and being absorbed in a community that valued moving slowly and connecting with a deeper wisdom, my career direction changed.
I had taken a few classes on Ayurveda while in India, but it remained mostly foreign words and concepts to me I didn’t really know how to apply to my life. I was working as a raw food chef and culinary instructor then, but continued to study the principles of Ayurveda. It wasn’t until I began to integrate it into my life as a daily practice did it really start to take root and become much more than another dietary theory and more lists of rules to follow. Rather, it became a profound language that helped me understand myself and my dynamic relationship to the world around me.
Now, my path and practice has me combining Ayurveda, non-dual tantra and hatha yoga with modern plant-based nutrition. I’m focusing on both food as a pathway to healing, but also mental health and how language shapes the world we create for ourselves. I host retreats that invite our guests into an experience of embodied awareness through food, breath, movement and sound.
How do you nourish yourself daily (mind/body/spirit)? What’s your daily approach to wellness?
I have a teacher that says it takes two hours of focused self-care a day to come back to neutral. So I devote two hours a day to myself, though this doesn’t come in a strict or rigid format. There are some practices I do daily - like oil pulling and tongue scraping to clean my mouth, neti and nasya to clear my sinuses, dry skin brushing to move my lymphatic system, and abhyanga to support my nervous system. I drink a large glass of warm water with lemon in the morning, take my herbs, and sit down to do some kind of contemplative practice that allows me to check in with myself and clear the mind clutter. Some mornings I do more asana, some mornings it’s more pranayama or chanting mantra, I may write or do my more focused studies…from bed! I think being a woman calls for more fluidity to follow where our hearts are drawing us to in the moment.
I find nourishing myself can from aimless walks in nature, dancing in the kitchen while cooking, enjoying a glass of wine with friends and laughing until my belly hurts, or simply taking the space to be quiet and alone. I spent many years thinking my daily routines had to be the same rigid series of practices. But connecting with spirit comes in so many forms, and being “spiritual” doesn’t really look like anything.
Do you favor routines or go with the flow?
A little bit of both! To much “flow” and I can get a little ungrounded, but too much rigidity and life can lose its spice. I need routine to anchor me in, but I let the order it happens in and what tools I pick and pull from each day be fluid.
What are a few of your favorite Ayurvedic self-care rituals?
Abhyanga and Yoga Nidra.
Tell us a bit about yoga nidra & how this practice can be helpful for healing chronic fatigue.
Nidra actually means sleep in Sanskrit. When following this meditation, it takes you past the dreaming stage and into a state of conscious deep sleep, where healing of the nervous system, heart and mind take place. Because Yoga Nidra activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, it also has profound effects on supporting digestion and countering stress-induced insomnia. Through consciously relaxing the effort of body and mind, we learn to address stress in our waking states with more ease and direct the flow of energy more intentionally. On a deeper level, we use Sankalpa Shakti in this meditation to process and transform karma in our lives and manifest our deeper desires. A regular practice can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. They say that 1-hour of Nidra is the equivalent of a full night’s sleep, so consider a short afternoon practice the most powerful power nap you can take! The best time to do this meditation is in the afternoon between lunch and dinner, though anytime you can make space for this practice the benefits will be well received. I offer a Yoga Nidra audio pack available to download here.
Favorite herbs for women?
Shatavari, Red Raspberry, Rose and Nettle.
What advice would you give someone just starting on the path to wellbeing?
Wellness isn’t about the trendy superfood dusts, how well you can do a handstand or even how much you meditate. Wellness is about taking personal responsibility over your thoughts, words and actions to align with the life you desire. It’s the everyday decisions you make to align with your needs and cultivate clear seeing of reality and the world around you. Because what you’re seeking isn’t beyond you, it’s not at the end of a long and arduous road…it’s already within you and around you at every given moment.
Sometimes, in that process, it’s about bumping against uncomfortable stories and conditionings about who we think we are or were taught to be. It’s about unraveling those stories and rewriting the ones that are aligned with truth. It’s not often sexy. And it’s not often clear cut. In fact, the path to wellbeing has many roads, and you may take many twists and turns along the way. But if your commitment is to be open to what is present and being loving with yourself along the way, you’re going to have one incredible of a journey in discovering the truth of who you are. So my advice…be kind to yourself, be discerning, question where your practices are taking you, and surround yourself with community who uplift and support you in where you’re heading.
How did you learn to trust and honor your body?
A lot of personal experimentation and trial and error. A favorite quote of mine says, “Sadhana (spiritual practice) consists of careful observation and deep surrender.” I think having a daily practice has allowed me to cultivate a deeper trust in myself and the decisions I’m making to honor my body, while surrendering the need to control every little detail along the way has gifted me grace to live a fuller, more contented life.
What keeps your heart open?
What makes you feel most alive?
Being in nature. Or really, being fully immersed and deeply present with whatever it is I’m doing.
How do you cultivate a sense of community?
Running an online business can feel isolating at times when most of your day is spent behind a computer screen! I’ve found it really important to create community in several different outlets. Through my work, I host retreats and events throughout the year that bring my online community together in person. At home, I make it a point to regularly host dinner parties, see friends for tea and Saturday markets, and more recently I’ve been participating in monthly beach clean-ups and volunteer events in the local community. I’m also a part of a few different online Ayurveda and meditation circles that meet weekly/monthly to support each other’s studies.
What are your favorite ways to unplug + advice for balancing our relationship with technology?
I recently downloaded Newsfeed Eradictor, which is this clever app that replaces your newsfeed with a rotating Alan Watts quote. I’m also exploring a program that blocks you from using specific unwanted sites during scheduled hours. I think these social sites are designed to be addicting and distracting, so I’m all for using technology to also reclaim our humanity if needed. Even if it means scheduling into your calendar time to unplug and go outside. Putting your feet on the earth and resting your eyes is essential when you spend long days on the computer.
3 women who have inspired your work:
1. Maya Tiwari, her feminine and embodied approach to Ayurveda.
2. Heidi Swanson, her site 101 Cookbooks was the first food blog I started reading back in 2008. I admire how a decade later she’s stayed committed to her mission of sharing healthful food and building community online. Not only has she inspired many meals in my kitchen, but her aesthetic and way of approaching cooking as a whole has certainly informed my own work on Vidya Living.
3. My mom, who has always reminded me that anything is possible with a little grit and devotion.
A few of your favorite books or other sources of inspiration right now:
Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis
A Path of Practice by Maya Tiwari
Sapiens by Yuval Harari