Ayurveda and Herbal Magic - An Interview with Alanis Morissette

Kari Jansen is a master herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner who combines her passion for plants, herbal medicine, and bodywork with Ayurvedic healing methods. Applying the integration of that knowledge to creating an exquisite collection of organic body care products, Kari is the owner of the online-based company Poppy and Someday

Hi, Kari. After years of studying and practicing massage and herbal healing, where did you receive your training in the art Ayurvedic healing?

KARI: I trained at the Ayurvedic Institute of America in the San Francisco Bay Area (now called Ayuvidya College of America). They would bring in Indian teachers once a week to teach a class from differing perspectives. It was very traditional, including yoga philosophy in the curriculum. They focused on the seven dhatus, which are the seven tissue layers of the body: plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, and reproductive fluids.

Then we moved on to the three gunas, which are the three primal qualities in nature: sattva, rajas, and tamas. These subtle energies are the foundation of life. An easy way to tune into the gunas is to think in terms of color and energy:

  • Sattvic energy is neutral or balanced and relates to white, purity, and harmony.
  • Rajasic energy is positive and relates to red, action, and passion.
  • Tamasic energy is negative and relates to black, darkness, and heaviness.

And of course another foundation of the training was learning about the doshas.

ALANIS: Would you describe what the doshas are to someone who is brand new to Ayurveda?

KARI: First of all, there is no word in the English language that is a comparable word for dosha. There are a lot of subtleties, but essentially the doshas are the three elements in Ayurveda that make up our bodies and life energies—vata, pitta, kapha.

VATA: Vata is air and space. It’s the tiny hummingbird flitting around. It’s subtle. It’s your light. It’s dry. It’s cold. It’s mobile. It moves back and forth. It’s the person who is talking to you and floats off; and you’re thinking, where did you go? It’s the person who starts to straighten something up and soon you realize they’ve cleaned the whole house. Any time we travel, it affects vata, and we need to balance it or bring it back into place. It’s the first dosha—moving the other two doshas because it governs movement.

PITTA: Pitta is fire and water. It’s fiery. It’s hot. It’s sharp. It’s warm liquid. It’s inflammation. Its movement is penetrating. It’s the person who walks in the room and captures your attention; they’re the leaders. They can be sharp, sometimes to the point where it hurts. But you want to follow them. You want to hear what they have to say.

KAPHA: Kapha is water and earth. It’s thick and wet. It’s soft and cool. It’s sweetness. It’s steady and sturdy. Kapha is like the earth momma. It’s the person who talks and moves slowly. It’s the person who will hug you and make you feel cared for.

Each of us is all three because you can’t have one without the other. You have all of these qualities and properties inside you and around you. But for most of us, when we came into this world, there was a combination of two doshas that was strongest—a primary and a secondary. And then there are some people who are tri-doshic—they have a balance of all three.

On a day-to-day basis, the key is to balance whatever dosha you feel is off balance in you at the moment. The way I describe it is that it’s like getting inside your body and feeling what’s happening. Am I little bit hot and sharp? Is a lot of anger coming out? That’s pitta. What can I do to cool down? Maybe I should step back, take a walk. Maybe I could eat some cucumber or aloe vera and cool down this fire a little bit.

Or… I’m sitting on the couch and not doing anything. I’m feeling kind of sorry for myself and depressed. I feel a bit cold. That’s kapha. Maybe I need to drink some ginger tea. Maybe I can move my body to stimulate my lymph system.

Or maybe I’m feeling scattered and all over the place. I’m talking really fast and feeling a little anxious. This is vata. Maybe I should take a nice oil bath and ground down that air energy.

ALANIS: You describe water as being an aspect of both pitta and kapha. How does the element of water differ between the two?

KARI: Although it’s the same water, it’s changed by what it’s mixed with—either earth (kapha) or fire (pitta). Water with pitta is going to be warm, rushing water. Water with kapha is going be cooling, slow flowing water. It will tend to be thicker with an oily-slimy quality.  

ALANIS: Your work is very self-empowering for people. What is your basic approach?

KARI: I want to help you see things so that you can help yourself, to make it easy and not to use so much language that you leave a session confused. I go to the basics: Are you hot? Cold? Wet? Dry? Whatever qualities are discovered, you can benefit by going with the opposite. For example, if you’re cold, warm yourself up with ginger. If you’re wet and damp with a lot of mucous, dry yourself with a sauna, if you can. Or drink bitters and take turmeric. When I work with someone who’s really dried out—maybe even from doing something relatively healthy like cleansing and drinking a lot of juice—I’ll often recommend foods that are grounding and that contain good fats and oils. I think keeping it super simple is important.

ALANIS: Do you approach the emotional body in a similar way?

KARI: Yes. Specific emotions relate to specific organs of the body. Anger is in the liver, resentment in the spleen, and grief in the lungs. Also, the organs are connected with the doshas. Lung, heart, and large intestines are connected to vata. Pitta is connected to the stomach—the stomach fire, breaking things down, and transforming. Kapha is your lymph system, your flowing vitality. In Sanskrit, that life energy is called ojas.

ALANIS: In addition to hands-on Ayurvedic bodywork, do you also offer consultations without the bodywork?

KARI: I do, but I really like to see what the body says. My true comfort zone is the massage and working with the body. I always sit with the pulse and find out what’s coming up and out. You can feel, for example, if too much pitta is coming out or if the pulse is too dry. I observe how a person is speaking, their facial expressions, and their body gestures. The different attributes of vata, pitta, and kapha are also carried along through your lymph system, so if you have an over-abundance of some energy—too much of this or that—it starts to come out. I can see it and feel it when I start to move the lymph system and the gunas (the seven tissues).

At the end of a session, I write down what I’ve found, but again, not too much. I don’t want to overwhelm but instead give people the essence: This is what your body is telling me. These are likely the best foods for you right now. This is the type of movement that would probably benefit you the most right now, etc.

I could simply talk with people, but I really want to go deeper than that. Many times, I’ve seen people who were saying one thing with their words but their body was saying something very different. For instance, after spending time with their pulse and doing massage, I might find a deep-seated cold. At first, it seemed like they were really hot, like they had a lot of pitta, but it was caused from the deep cold that needed to be unlocked.

Also, I think it’s often important to massage the stomach and get things moving. A lot of massage therapists don’t do that, but Ayurveda emphasizes digestion, cleaning out the colon, and releasing the liver and spleen. So, essentially, I really love the hands-on bodywork for having the greatest impact.

ALANIS: Are there common imbalances that you’re seeing in your clients these days?

KARI: A lot of people are coming to me who have deep cold coming up, but they don’t know that’s the case. It’s often from dehydration stemming from not having strong circulation. Both kapha and vata are cold. So I use a lot of hot rocks and warm oils to move through the layers of cold—to melt the cold and get the energy flowing again.

ALANIS: In Ayurveda, is there an equivalent to moxibustion, the heat therapy in Chinese medicine?

KARI: There is a really cool treatment, it’s an herbal bolous treatment—called pinda bolous in Ayurveda. You use a poultice bag—which can be made very simply with a piece of cut cloth—that’s filled with a cup of medicated rice. The rice is blended with heating herbs that help the body to sweat. I like to use ginger, calamus, manjistha, and licorice. Sometimes I include St. John’s Wort. Once I have the appropriate mixture, I put the bolous in a steamer to get it really heated up and then firmly apply it where it’s needed—pressing and moving it and driving the heat into the body. It’s really great for the joints, for easing arthritic conditions, and basically shaking things up and getting them moving.

In Chinese medicine, the focus is very precise, like the way needles are applied to the acupuncture points. In Ayurveda, the focus is broader, with a big emphasis on warming oils and inducing a healing sweat. Ayurveda is all about the oils—internally and externally. Even though our society got caught up in the idea that oils are fattening and bad, the right oils are deeply nourishing. They’re gentle. They’re anti-inflammatory. They alleviate dryness and constipation. I love oil therapy and use it often, sometimes dripping warm oil up and down the back. And there’s also shirodhara, the classic Ayurvedic therapy where oil is very slowly poured over the forehead. It’s one of the many steps in panchakarma—which is the master healing and rejuvenation program of Ayurveda.

ALANIS: Now that you’ve been practicing for almost a decade, what aspects of Ayurveda are you most excited about?

KARI: After I had done my initial Ayurvedic training, I quickly started to incorporate herbal healing practices and remedies. The plant world started speaking to me, and I really loved that. Then I had a baby. Once my son was old enough for me to put more attention back on my work, I realized that there were still some missing pieces for me. I wanted to find a way to make Ayurveda more accessible to people in our culture. India is a very different culture. You’re not going to put a leech on somebody here and have it be okay or do some of the purging therapies.

In 2011, I met DeAnna Batdorff, the founder of the Dhyana Center in Sebastopol, California, another school of Ayurveda. DeAnna studied very traditionally and some of her teachers include Dr. Vasant Lad and Michael Tierra. Her specialization is the lymph system I’ve been referring to. That is a first layer underneath our skin. If we don’t move or release lymph, it goes deeper into the next layer, which is the blood. If we ignore our body and energy, the stagnation can reach all the way down to our reproductive and nervous systems.

I started connecting the dots—seeing how the therapeutic touch I’ve trained in fit powerfully with DeAnna’s focus on the lymph system. I had taken some pulse reading classes in earlier trainings, but it didn’t really make sense to me until I dove into DeAnna’s pulse therapy. Then I really got into the blood song that you can “hear” or sense with people. Although you have to use your brain to assess, you have to really let go and use your heart. You have to open up different channels and see what comes to you. Studying with DeAnna, all of sudden pieces started falling into place, and I finally understood the interconnectivity of many aspects of the body-mind and the healing techniques that can support them.


ALANIS: Speaking of interconnectivity, what role does community play in your work and your life in general?

KARI: About a year ago, I went to a wonderful event in Topanga called the Mercado Sagrado, a two-day festival celebrating the spirit of nature. I brought my products to sell there and it opened up a gateway to a world of beautiful, powerful women. It was there that I met Amy Woodruff, the founder of the Spirit Weavers Gathering, which is a beautiful ceremonial gathering of women that happens over fives days in a 200-acre redwood forest in Mendocino County. I teach classes there. I like to have everybody creating with their hands, making sage bundles with various herbs and talking about the healing properties of the herbs. I also run the herbal wellness area where women and their children can come for first aid or if they feel like they’re coming down with something. I feel like I’m finding a crew of supportive women … and some men too.

Closer to home, my roommate, Stefani Padilla, has been leading full and new moon ceremonies for about a year where she brings women together to raise awareness and talk about what’s happening on the planet right now. She has a product line too—hand-crafted hair care products. In fact, people call her a hair shaman.

ALANIS: Do you also teach about Ayurveda or other healing modalities at Spirit Weavers and other gatherings?

KARI: I teach a lymph breast massage where the women sit together in a circle. In a really safe and sacred space, I invite everyone remove their shirts. “Let’s find out what is happening. How does your body feel? What happens when we use different techniques and tools to help simulate the lymph system?”

We can see on our bodies how open or closed they are. Our breasts are our heart center. It’s a part of our remarkable bodies that we often hide, so it’s really special to me to support healing and opening by teaching self-care techniques we can all do at home to help keep the lymph system going and our breasts flowing.

ALANIS: I imagine that women focusing together on their breasts must bring up a lot of different thoughts and feelings for those gathered.

KARI: It really does. Women will say things like, “Ugh, mine look ugly, and yet it feels so good to have them just open.” Young or mature, large or small, natural or with implants—we are all so uniquely beautiful. And regarding implants, doing the lymph breast massage is a great way to work on and alleviate the scar tissue from it. It’s just amazing to be in a sacred place with women where the emphasis is support without judgment.

ALANIS: How is your business being affected by this growing experience of community?

KARI: There are more opportunities for collaboration happening. One of my friends has a beautiful company making Ayurvedic potions, similar to what I do. With our different ways of seeing things, we’re putting our creativities together to see what we come up with. It’s inspiring.

ALANIS: How has motherhood affected your career? And how does your son feel about your work as a healing practitioner?

KARI: At this point, he just wants my attention! So sometimes I feel like he thinks that the products take away the attention that should be his. But then there are times, like when I take him to the Mercado and other events where I’m selling, and he sees people buying my products. He’s all proud, like “MY mom makes this!”—and that’s the best. But overall I’m trying to keep it in balance, where he knows that he is still number one, which is a hard thing when emails come in at night that I have to answer. But I wait until he goes to bed to respond to email.

I try different salves and oil blends on him to see if he likes them. And when he has a stomach ache these days, he’ll say, “Where are the fennel seeds, Mom?”  


ALANIS: Do you have a garden at home?

KARI: I do. And I love it! Although this last summer was quite a rough one with the sun burning us out. Hopefully, we’ll get our rain season this winter. I live in Laurel Canyon, so I have a whole backyard, a lot of space to grow. I like to grow a lot of the herbs, of course. I grow a lot of the mugwort. It’s very sacred. I grow a ton of lavender and sage. They grow well here and all three are drought-tolerant. I put a lot of emphasis on the drought-tolerant. But then I also grow roses. I have a ton of mint that grows wildly. I grow yarrow. And lots of aloe plants and other succulents. I grow some vegetables, like kale. And I have lime and lemon trees.

But mainly I like to grow a lot of the herbs. I’ll talk with them as I’m cutting them and making bundles to bring into my house, which is always smelling of vibrant herbs and flowers.

ALANIS: How do you make your blends? And does intuition come into play?

KARI: The blends begin from a place of logical questioning. I think about each separate oil and the potentials when brought together. And based on my studies, I’ll ask myself: What is this oil known for? What do I want this to do inside the body? And I keep up-to-date on researching the imbalances and ailments that can benefit from the different oils.

So I start the process from the perspective of my training and experience, and then that begins to merge with the more intuitive. When I’m working on new blends, I approach it in small batches. I sit with oils and ask: Do these want to be together? I let my intuition guide me. Do I see them together? I let them marinate together for a good week. Are they really happy together? Does it need a little more of this or that? And I’ll re-formulate accordingly.

I’ve also used sacred ritual to create blends. For example, after a particular sweat lodge ceremony, I laid down in the cool grass. Plants came to me from the four directions. They were some of my favorites again: rose, yarrow, mugwort, and sage. The placed themselves in their respective zones. Afterwards, I realized, “Oh, these are the four plants of the formulas I’ve been working on—heating and cooling oils. The mugwort and sage are some of the herbs I infuse in the heating oil, and the rose and yarrow are infused in the cooling oil. The herbs presented themselves to me as confirmation. It was a very cool experience.

ALANIS: From your product line, what is your favorite for overall well-being?

KARI: I really love the Sunshine Daydream Salve. It’s a calendula and lavender infused oil that can be used by everyone. It also contains organic essentials oils of ylang ylang and Roman chamomile. It’s grounding for your nervous system, anti-microbial, and anti-bacterial. It gets rid of yeast. And it’s just a really bright and happy blend.

ALANIS: How do environmental considerations figure into your work with plants?

KARI: Rosemary Gladstar, who founded the herbal school I attended—California School of Herbal Studies, is also one of the founders of United Plant Savers. They have an amazing mission, which is to protect native medicinal plants, to make sure that there is an abundant supply in the future. They mainly focus on the native plants of the U.S. and Canada. You can go to their site and find out what plants are at risk. Goldenseal and slippery elm are endangered. Black cohosh is getting over-harvested.

So I make sure I talk to the plants when I go to wild harvest something. And I make sure that when I buy herbs, I’m getting them from good sustainable sources. I don’t go looking for the cheapest sources. I get plants and seeds from the Sonoma County Herb Exchange. And I have several friends in Occidental, California who own farms—Ocean Song and Fox Hole Farm—and will grow things for me when needed. There are so many beautiful growers out there.

ALANIS: What are you personal self-care practices?  

KARI: It helps to have the women’s groups that I’m involved with now. The group support helps me to have perspective when things are a little crazy out there in the world. Regarding my body, I’m very particular about where my food is sourced—where it comes from, how it all happens. And I love my herbal-based products! I’ve formulated a nice salt scrub, which is something new that I’m so excited to get out. It gets the lymph system moving. And then I do a lot of the gua sha on myself, which is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment that stimulates blood flow by gently scraping the skin. I use a beautiful handmade wooden tool that gets really deep into the lymph system. I’m also trying to take more time to sit in my garden and do my grounding and meditating—which is not always easy as a mom! I’m very vata, too, so I can tend to overwork and over-do. When I hear myself giving a client advice, someone who also has a lot of vata, I think to myself, “Yeah, I need to be doing this too!”  


ALANIS: What do you love most about your work?

KARI: One of the best parts of my work is supporting people to focus on themselves for while. It’s easy to get busy and to find ourselves going through the motions, a little shut down from feeling what’s happening inside. But when somebody really gets deep into your tissues, you start to notice things! “Whoa, I felt that in my stomach.” People become more aware at the level of feeling that some part of their body is being ignored and needs some love. It could be their breasts, their feet, their hands, their lower back. They might realize, “I want to pay more attention to when I’m feeling sharp, a bit mean, and try to cool myself down.” Or, “I can see that I’ve been ungrounded and kind of disappearing, so I’m going to go sit on a rock outside. And I’m going to eat more root vegetables.” I really like to provide a space for people where they feel unhurried, where we can go deep together.

ALANIS: For somebody who is just starting out on a healing path, what would you recommend as first steps?

KARI: The two keys are: hydration and attention.

Most all of us are dehydrated, but that can easily be remedied with a small amount of salt in your water when you wake up in the morning. This nourishes your body and especially your kidneys. I mostly recommend using Celtic sea salt, the gray salt. It’s very nourishing and hydrating and good for everyday use. The pink salts (like Himalayan salt) and the land-based salts are more cleansing in nature.

One of the best ways to take in quality salt is with sole (pronounced solay). It’s essentially water that has been fully saturated with Celtic sea salt—or another high mineral content salt. Here’s how to make it:

Fill a glass jar (it must be a non-metal jar with a non-metal lid) about ¼ of the way with your quality salt. And then fill the jar to the top with water and cover. Let it sit over night. And then the next morning, just scoop off about a teaspoon of this mineral-infused water and mix it into a glass of pure water. Drink it on an empty stomach.   

If you don’t want to make sole, just put a pinch of the gray Celtic sea salt into a cup of warm water each morning. Celtic sea salt in its natural state is very alkaline, very hydrating, and high in nourishing minerals. If you have allergies or other signs of inflammation, salt water is extremely calming and soothing.

I have also seen first-hand how you can be drinking A LOT of water and not be well hydrated from it. It’s all about the salt. The salt drives the water into the tissues, where it needs to be. For so long, salt has been considered bad, but it’s the processed salt that can be damaging. Celtic sea salt is a healer.

About paying attention… Start to pay attention to the simple, elemental things:

Am I hot right now?

Am I hot most of the time?

Are my hands usually cold?

Do I feel dry?

Oh, I’ve had this damp cough all day.

What is happening—in my body, with my emotions, with my thoughts?

What foods am I eating that may be causing or aggravating this?

What activities are contributing to this?

What is the opposite that I can do for myself to restore balance—what food, beverage, movement, activity, form of expression?

It’s all about tuning in, going inside, and keeping it super simple.

ALANIS: Thank you so much, Kari.

KARI: Thank you! It’s been fun.


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