She lights up every room with her smile and is one of Amsterdam’s most wanted lifestyle coaches. With her newly found company, startwithrasa.com, Ayurvedic lifestyle coach and yoga teacher Kim van der Veer, shares her knowledge through inspiring workshops and personal guidance. In this exclusive interview, Kim shares her story about how she led her own body back to health after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and the changes she made to create an all-over happier lifestyle.
“I think the turning point for me was when I was told that I couldn’t have children. I knew deep down that I was born to be a mother.”
It’s the beginning of a new calendar year. A time, which is usually known to stir up a variety of optimistic thoughts and emotions about making meaningful lifestyle changes. To be honest, our bodies are incredibly complex and sometimes, no matter how much we want it, creating a healthy life seems to be nearly impossible. It’s the first week of January and Kim agreed to meet me in a small local diner in Amsterdam. When I walked towards her, she just takes a spoon full of her breakfast. Ayurveda style of course, a combination of oatmeal, fresh fruits and accomplishing spices. “They only had this one with fruits, but I prefer to eat it without”, she smiled. “The combination of fruit and oatmeal is actually not that good for our digestive system.” I couldn’t agree more, as this is one of the things she explained during a workshop I participated in a few months ago. Kim regularly teaches yoga and gives introductions to the world of Ayurveda. She shared some details about her personal life, and her story caught my attention straight away. I could relate to her old ways and wanted to know more about the changes she made to become that lively person sitting in front of me.
Kim (32) lives with her husband Jochem and their daughter Miki (1,5) in Amsterdam. The couple met during their college years studying law, and have spent the last 10 years of their lives together. “Now that I think about it, it’s actually quite bizarre how many stages of our lives we have been together, in which, especially I, have gone through many different forms. He has seen me grow from student to lawyer to finding my passion as a yogi.” Kim says.
Talking to her, it’s hard for me to imagine she used to practice law. Her calming energy and friendly face make me feel some form of familiarity, as if we have known each other for years. Though with her work ethic and implacable drive, I realise that practicing law, is something she must have excelled in. “After I graduated, I started as a lawyer at a small boutique in Amsterdam. I’ve always had a huge drive, and despite the fact that I didn’t even really like it that much, I wanted to be the best.” She exclaims. “I started in tax law but was soon drawn by financial law. So, I did a postgraduate course after my studies.” From there, she went on to another office and finally, got hired at private bank Van Lanschot- Kempen on Amsterdam’s financial district, de Zuidas.
Being at the beginning of her career with an impeccable drive to succeed in every aspect of her life, there was very little standing in her way. “I was working 80 hours a week and felt inviolable, it never even crossed my mind that I could get sick.” She says. It came as quite a shock when, at the age of 25, she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. “My physical problems started with minor complaints. At first, I didn’t want to see what was going on, especially because Rheumatism is something that runs in our family. Of course, deep down, I knew something wasn’t right, but I put my head in the sand and just kept going like I always did.”
Eventually, she went to see a doctor and soon after, left the hospital with a large bag of medicines and the announcement she would probably have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. “At first, I got angry, but mostly just extremely sad. I felt weak, as if I had failed in life. I just wanted to be strong.” Sometimes the inflammation got so bad, she had to undergo acute surgery and was driven to the OR on the spot. Unable to admit to herself what was going on and to keep up appearances for her colleagues, she would be back at the office the next day. “Now, I know I should have taken some rest, but I simply didn’t want to see that back then. You see, within the companies I worked for, I was surrounded by a male-dominated culture. I was not at all a feminist, but I became one whilst working there. As a woman, I was always belittled. Back then, I was easily drawn into that female role. However, at some point, I got the feeling that I was seen as “less” than my male co-workers. I felt as if I wasn’t taken seriously at all because of the constantly belittling and sexist remarks, even though I was as educated, or sometimes ever higher, than most of my male colleagues.
“I was easily drawn into that female role. However, at some point, I got the feeling that I was seen as “less” than my male co-workers.”
While she takes another sip from her boiling hot fresh ginger thee, I wonder: Where does she find the strength to continue working 80 hours a week in such a diminishing environment, while her body has basically given up on her? When she puts her glass down, she continues: “It really was the urge to perform that gave me the strength to continue. I always had a mask on when I was at work and inevitably, I got completely burned out. I think there was about four years between my diagnosis and that final moment at the office. What broke me, was a call I got from my doctor. I had expressed my wish to become a mother, during a conversation we had a few days before; it was my biggest dream. When I received that phone call from my doctor, telling me I should be prepared that I might never have children of my own, I instantly left the dealing room, crying. At that moment, I didn’t care what other people were thinking or what would happen. I just grabbed my bag and left. “
Though it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to conceal her pain at that point, her husband, Jochem, has always been her rock through all of this. “He taught me what true love is and would say things like: “Honey, even if you become a nugget, I will lift you up and take you wherever you want to go.” It’s because of him I am sitting here. He has done so much and he is always there when I need him. I am his number one priority. Not just back then, but still. He supports me while I’m setting up my own company and does everything in his power to make me happy. I can’t imagine my life without him.”
The place is getting busier and we scoot over to the other side of the table where it’s a little more quiet. She orders a cappuccino and we switch the conversation to Ayurveda, a lifestyle she’s embraced over the past years. Kim: “If you have worked as a lawyer for 10 years, your mind has been set to only believe things that are factually or scientifically proven. That is the culture you’re surrounded by. Regardless, I wasn’t ready to accept that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. But honestly, after all the hospital visits I kind of ran out of options. So, I started taking yoga classes, not because I thought it would make me better, but more with an approach to find a way to make peace with my body. After the very first class, my husband instantly noticed me being more calm, and surprised me with a Delight Yoga membership the following week.”
“The essence of Ayurveda is the knowledge of life, in which all matters originate from consciousness. “
While continuing her work at the legal office full time, Kim started taking evening classes to learn more about the healing powers of Ayurveda. Kim: “Sometimes, I would do research while sitting in the offices bathroom, for hours.” Though her motive was purely because of the physical complaints, she found that becoming an Ayurveda practitioner would change a lot more than just her physical health. “The essence of Ayurveda is the knowledge of life, in which all matters originate from consciousness. It teaches you to go back to that essence. Yoga and Ayurveda have the same goal; to create freedom so that you are no longer lived by your thoughts.” Kim explains. “Yoga, however, does that from the mind. It actually teaches you to go back to the basis with meditation and poses, to go from thinking to feeling. Ayurveda targets it the other way around. Ayurveda believes that, to be able to do that, you need a healthy body first. Ultimately, you create a healthy mind from there.”
Ayurveda is the foundation of yoga; the two go hand in hand. “Ultimately, it’s about being happy. To get the most out of your life.” Kim explains. She has seen her symptoms diminish step by step throughout her journey. Of course, the medicines also had a part in her recovery, although at some point, she started to gradually reduce them. “I remember my doctor checking my blood and saying: “Look at how well the medication is working for you!” I just thought; no dude, I’m not even taking them anymore! I wasn’t afraid to stop my medication without my doctor’s approval. I mean, the worst thing that could happen was that it might take a couple of weeks to rebuild if things wouldn’t go as I hoped.”
As unreal as it may sound, what seemed to be impossible, has been achieved. Kim’s test results now show she has remained a healthy body ever since. Mainly because she had permanently changed her ways of living, devoting her time to become a coach for others through inspirational workshops and training, Kim felt she was ready for that one unreachable desire that never left her mind. Kim: “I have always known I was born to be a mother. I finally felt good again after that burnout and life was laughing at me. I wasn’t taking any medication anymore at that time, however, Jochem was still a bit anxious, so we decided to take a year. Completely unexpected, I got pregnant on the very first try. Jochem was in New York at the time and I wanted to tell him in person, not over the phone. I was pregnant “alone” for 3 days without anyone knowing it. That was so special, I can’t even describe how I felt. I was convinced that this child had to be so incredibly strong. And she truly is! Besides, motherhood is even more fulfilling than I ever could have dreamed. Freedom is really one of my core values and, to be honest, I was not prepared for the influence that having a child would have on my freedom. However, Miki has given me a completely different kind of freedom and of course, that unconditional love and the bond you have with each other; that connection is so deep, it’s indescribable.”
With her new found happiness, Kim’s main goal today, is to help others to live life to the fullest. As a profound lifestyle coach, she focusses on making Ayurveda understandable and accessible to everyone and to inspire people to also choose a more conscious lifestyle. “I know this makes me sound like the typical tree-hugging type, but it really is a different form of happiness; it is a balance.” The truth is, good health is incredibly complex, and there are lots of tiny tweaks you can make in order to help you live longer, with more energy, focus, and happiness. “Ayurveda means, changing your lifestyle. However, that doesn’t mean that there are any restrictions or that things are ‘not allowed’, as many people do think. As long as your body is in balance, you can eat anything you want, you just have to remain aware of life.” Kim says. “I am the happiest I’ve ever been and there isn’t a bone in my body that would want to go back to my old lifestyle.” Which I believe sums up her story quite well. Cause, eventually, isn’t that what we all want?
Do you want to learn more about the subject or are you interested in taking a workshop with Kim? Head over to www.startwithrasa.com to subscribe to one of her classes.
Credits: Photography by Esther Steenvoorden