Serving Up Joy

Ayurvedic ambassador and plant-based chef Radhi Devlukia-Shetty on her constant pursuit of a purposeful life.

STORY BY LINDSAY TUCKER

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ASHTON RAY HANSON

RADHI DEVLUKIA-SHETTY just got a DM from one of her 1.2 million Instagram followers. She reads it to me: “You’re in my city! My friends just ran into you at lunch!” We’ve just finished lunch at a trendy Denver vegan restaurant (she was “born vegetarian” and transitioned to veganism after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s New York Times bestseller Eating Animals) where we were approached by two 20-somethings. They’re hoping to snag a selfie with the 31-year-old Ayurvedic ambassador and plant-based chef whom they recognized from the Internet. “We’re huge fans of you and Jay,” the girls confess, leaning in close despite the pandemic to capture photographic evidence of this chance encounter with their Internet crush.

Jay is Devlukia-Shetty’s husband, Jay Shetty, a life coach, author of the best-selling Think Like a Monk, and host of the On Purpose Podcast. When they married five years ago, Jay was already well on his way to international fame as a media personality touting motivational messages of purpose and positivity. In the early stages of their marriage, Devlukia-Shetty says she was most known for being “Jay’s wife,” but she’s making a name for herself as a culinarian and Ayurvedic virtuoso offering recipes, clean-beauty rituals, and wellness tutorials through her social media channels and on her website. She created the latter during the pandemic as a way of sharing her purpose and legitimizing the work she’s putting out into the world.

Radhi and Jay Celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary in 2021 in Hawaii

You wouldn’t know it from her videos, where she’s silly, vibrant, and confident, but Devlukia-Shetty says that she only recently let the constant nag of imposter syndrome fall by the wayside so she could step into the true expression of her dharma: serving others by sharing her own gifts that she learned through her family heritage, nutrition and dietetics degrees, and Ayurvedic schooling.

Perhaps it was partially because she was bullied as a child, teased for the way that she looked, that she grew into an insecure adult: “I lacked self-awareness. I never felt I knew enough about anything to teach it,” she says. “I didn’t trust my own work or abilities. I always believed other people could do it better.”

That is, until a meditation teacher told her, “You know, we’re all just bridges.” “When I heard him say that, I thought, ‘That is so beautiful.’ I don’t need to be an expert or the best in anything—all I need to be is a bridge to share what I’ve been so fortunate to experience. Not as a complete expert, but hey, I’m on the bridge with you so you can be introduced to these concepts, and I can help lead you to an expert who knows more than I do.” Once she started living that philosophy, she says, she became comfortable sharing what she’d learned with her audience online—and offering practical tips for people to use it in their own lives.

Devlukia-Shetty’s most popular video is one that fans continuously reference when they stop her in the checkout line or on the street to tell her that she’s changed the way they drink water. According to Ayurveda, water should be consumed at room temperature while sitting down—and not within 30 minutes of a meal. When you drink standing up, Devlukia-Shetty says, gravity causes water to flush through the body without time to nourish the organs and tissues. But the tip from the video that has made the greatest impact on her audience? Drinking it at room temperature, preferably after it’s been boiled. Boiling water changes its composition and helps it reach the state of sukshma (penetrating), which makes it more hydrating, more cleansing, and aids in digestion. “Everybody’s like, ‘That has made such a difference!’” she says.

Finding Her Footing

Imposter syndrome is increasingly common in modern society (one study suggests it may be experienced by as much as 82 percent of the population), but Devlukia-Shetty is certainly not lacking in education in her areas of expertise. Growing up outside of London in an Indian home, she was exposed

to traditions that paved the way for her love affair with Ayurveda, in which she was certified in 2020. “A lot of the principles were already deeply rooted in how I was brought up—I just didn’t

realize it was called ‘Ayurveda,’” she says. “Whenever I would get ill, my mum used to give me [superfood immune-booster] ashwagandha in hot water, and now I understand why. In this way, Ayurveda opened up a whole new way of living and understanding how to relate to nature.”

At 18 years old, she studied nutrition at Nottingham University at the recommendation of her mother. “In my family, I’m the youngest child,” she says. “I was so used to any time I struggled in life, making big or small decisions— even making phone calls because I was too shy—everything was lovingly done for me by my family.” Choosing what she studied in school was just one of the decisions Devlukia-Shetty outsourced before finding her own voice.

She had always loved food and cooking, and so her mother’s suggestion seemed like an obvious choice. “But I never looked into what the career options were for that degree,” she admits. When she realized she wanted to work with patients in a hospital or other clinical environment, she discovered she’d have to get a second degree, in dietetics. She spent three more years on her schooling, during which time she started dating Jay, whom she’d met when she started taking his classes on meditation and the Bhagavad Gita in London in 2011.

“I just thought he was the coolest person ever,” she tells me over a basket of truffle fries we’re picking at long after they’ve gone cold. 

She was drawn to Jay, she says, because of his profound spirituality—which she has called one of her strongest values since birth, even when her peers were discovering drugs and alcohol (to this day, she hasn’t tried either). “What was so wonderful is that our foundation ended up being built on those spiritual connections rather than like, ‘Oh, he looks cool in this jacket. He used to be in robes!’ It was kind of like all the layers were stripped off.”

Jay recalls working a fundraiser with Devlukia-Shetty before they started dating: “She was kind and loving and got along with everyone, and she had these really smart ideas— and she brought a positive attitude to everything. Observing her that way really attracted me to her, because she was such a wonderful spirit and energy in her own world where there was no expectation.”

The pair were married in 2016, and it looked like Devlukia-Shetty was about to start living her happily ever after. She thriving as a dietitian at Watford General Hospital. “I was working with children who had allergies and people who weren’t eating properly,” she says. “I realized there was a place where I felt like I was of service in a way that felt natural to me.” She and Jay had also just purchased a house in Watford—less than two miles from Devlukia- Shetty’s family. “My only requirement when we got married was let me have a home near my mum and sister,” she says. “I was always a homebody. Most of our dating life it was me and Jay hanging out at home with my parents.” They threw a housewarming party with their closest friends. A few weeks passed. A handful of boxes lingered, waiting to be unpacked.

The couple were still sleeping on a mattress on the floor when Jay got a call from Arianna Huffington offering him a job at Huff Post headquarters in New York City. “I never imagined we would leave the country,” Devlukia-Shetty confesses. She was deeply attached to and reliant on her family, and she had worked hard to find a career she found meaningful and fulfilling. Jay was understanding of his wife’s predicament. He told her she didn’t have to move—they could be bicontinental for a little while. “I went through three days of silence, not talking to him about it, because that’s how I process things,” she says. “And then I bought New York City skyline bed covers, and I just put them on. ‘Does this mean we have to bring New York to London? Or does this mean that we’re going to New York?’ I was like, ‘We’re going to New York.’”

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made of

It was in Manhattan that Devlukia-Shetty discovered Ayurveda. Unable to seek employment on a spouse visa, she found herself wandering around the city frequenting health food stores alone, reading ingredients on food labels and feeling deeply unhappy. “I realized when I got to New York I really didn’t know myself at all. It was extremely scary for me in the beginning, spending a lot of time with someone who is a stranger—that’s how I felt about myself, which is even scarier than if it’s another person,” she recalls. What’s worse, she wasn’t really sure she liked herself all that much at the moment. Jealousy and petty thoughts had taken up residence in her head. “I was meeting people and saying lovely things to them, but my mind wasn’t saying lovely things about them. I was jealous of how they looked, how they were admired, how flexible they were. I didn’t like that polarity. I don’t want to be two people, one in my mind and one in my words. True integrity is when your thoughts, words, and actions are all aligned. I thought, ‘That’s not me at all right now.’”

With a curious, open heart, she began journaling out certain situations where she’d spoken kindly but thought negatively: “I would write down what my mind was thinking versus what I’d said out loud. And then I’d write down what I wanted my mind to say. Writing it helped me train my mind and realize which weeds I was watering by allowing negative thoughts and energy. You can either water your weeds or water the seeds.” Through this practice, she realized her jealousy was often directed toward people she saw happily living their purposes— many of them yoga teachers she’d met at the nearby Bhakti Center. “I loved their energy and how confident they were in themselves and how much love they were giving out to everyone around them,” she says. “I thought, ‘If [taking yoga teacher training] is what’s got them to be like this, I wanna be like that.’”

Devlukia-Shetty says that through her yoga teacher training (YTT), she remembered very quickly that life was about service. “Feeling good about yourself is a very limited happiness,” she says. “Serving others brings more joy than anything else.” She thought about cooking and a new friend, Divya Alter, an Ayurvedic teacher and restaurateur whom she’d also met through the Bhakti Center, where she was doing her YTT. She asked Divya

if she needed any help in her restaurant or with her teaching. “I told her, ‘Just let me be your assistant. I want to learn from you. I love what you’re doing.’”

Alter, who was understaffed, was grateful for an enthusiastic accomplice. “Radhi came to me and said, ‘I’m a nutritionist, and I love to cook, and I’d love to learn Ayurvedic cooking from you—I want to learn everything.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, OK. You’re welcome to be my assistant for as long as you’re around,” Alter recalls. “We became like sisters. She was so humble, She was like, ‘I’ll wash cloths, just tell me what to do.’”

The partnership lasted for two years on and off.

Devlukia-Shetty didn’t get to finish YTT (she made it all the way to the last exam) because in July 2018, she and Jay moved to Los Angeles, this time so he could be even more immersed in the media landscape. As much as she’d already learned about food and Ayurveda, self-doubt still

nagged at her, convincing her she wasn’t qualified to share her knowledge with the world. So last year she completed an Ayurveda Health Counselor degree from California College of Ayurveda and began sharing tutorials online, armed with her new-found “bridge” mentality.

Watching Devlukia-Shetty find her footing and bring joy and wisdom to so many people has been an honor, says Jay: “I’d always believed that everyone has their own potential and their one purpose, and they find it in their own time. But I was blown away by how she took responsibility for her own journey and her own growth. She did all the work herself.”

LINDSAY T U CK E R is a writer and editor who lives in Denver, and the co-host of the Lyrics for Lunch podcast. Find her on Instagram @linds.tucker.

ASHTON RAY HANSON is a photographer and director from Boulder, Colorado, but based in Minneapolis, with his wife, son, and two quirky rescue dogs. Their ideal time is spent camping, cooking, and dreaming of owning a cabin in the mountains.

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