A poster on a telephone pole caught the eye of a young spa apprentice back in 1983. Andrea Olivera, Toronto’s resident Ayurvedic Spa virtuoso, was then only 16 and beginning her journey apprenticing in the beauty world at Yonge and Summerhill. The poster that caught her eye was an invitation to hear about Indian Astrology at the 100th Monkey Bookstore. She ripped off the telephone number and showed up one day to find a group of scholarly looking people sitting around talking about astrology. As she recalls: “I was shy and didn’t want to join them as I felt intimidated by their knowledge and this second language [Sanskrit] used to present the information”.
The group was led by Hart de Fouw – a master of Jyotisha Vedic Astrology – and the American author and Ayurvedic scholar, Dr. Robert Svoboda, who was sitting and speaking with him among a group of others. This group would eventually go on to become her “Jyotisha brothers and sisters” but for that day, she left thinking that she would come back when she knew what they were talking about!
Around that time, one of Andrea’s clients kept inviting her to meet her Indian astrologer, an older Indian gentleman purported to be the teacher of all those practicing Jyotisha. His name was Mantri. She didn’t pursue the invitation but it was quite by chance some months later that she happened to begin a conversation with him in Rosedale park. The auspicious meeting led to her becoming his student and mentee for many years and it was through this connection that she met Dr Robert Svoboda again.
A student of Mantriji’s, Svoboda visited Toronto regularly and Andrea took classes with him over the years and they became friends. She began organizing Svoboda’s lectures, client bookings and hosting him whenever he was here visiting. He is like an elder brother to her and she cites his teachings, books and guidance as having helped her tremendously in both her personal and spiritual life. Books that have left a lasting impression are the two Jyotish handbooks co-written with Hart de Fouw: Light on Life (an introduction to Indian Astrology that can be appreciated and understood by those with very little knowledge of astrology) and Light on Relationships (an approach to horoscope compatibility analysis that bridges the best from both Western and Indian astrological traditions). His seminal book Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution was her Ayurveda bible for years and is a great starting place for anyone interested in learning more about Ayurveda.
Originally interested in becoming a doctor of Allopathy, Svoboda travelled to Africa at age 18 and ended up joining a tribe which was his first exposure to alternative healing methods. He travelled to England and then Nepal soon after where he was first introduced to Ayurveda. He lost interest in returning to the United States to study modern medicine and studied Ayurvedic medicine at the University in Pune for six years graduating in 1980 with permission to practice in India (the first Westerner to be granted this honour). He never did practice in India and has said that “good doctors are often forced to see 200-300 people per day”.
When asked what his feelings are on the subject of the relevancy and potential for Ayurveda in the West, he is quite hopeful: “The potential is good. People need to detoxify, eat properly and have cathartic purification. With health it’s important to act proactively instead of waiting for the last minute and hoping to be saved by something”.
Dr Svoboda has been on a four year sabbatical from lecturing so it is very exciting news for Toronto that he is coming in July to visit friends and share his diverse knowledge and expertise with the community. While he is here he will be giving a lecture at Andrea’s spa Ayurveda Rituals, presenting ideas for how – through Indian classical alchemy, Ayurveda, Jyotisha and Vastu – we can craft our own individual strategies for transmutation. His latest book Vastu [which literally means a dwelling or house] looks at the concept of Feng Shui from the Indian tradition and explores how life is breathed into space, our abode and dwelling and what architecture, the landscape and our homes can and do say about us.
Please join us for what will be an educative, uplifting and inspiring evening.
1081 Bathurst Street, in the annex
Friday 11th July at 6:30PM
Preregister and prepay (416) 504-6049