Shiv Nath Tandon, Aveda Tribal Elder
Aveda Institute Denver Master Series

Jamie and Shiv

“It’s not about what you don’t have, it’s about what you can create.”

It may seem like a simple message but when it’s delivered by an Aveda legend, the words suddenly have more meaning and the impact of the message becomes a sensory experience. Aveda Institute Denver had the honor of hosting Aveda Tribal Elder, Shiv Nath Tandon as a special guest speaker this week and his message continues to be digested in the hours and days that have followed.


“If you pay attention, you’ll see the answer.”

Shiv’s wisdom was shared through story-telling of his roots with his teacher and how he came to know Horst Rechelbacher, found of Aveda. The two met in India and were both disciples of Swami Rama who comes from the Jnana yoga tradition.* Swami Rama met with Horst when the idea of creating Aveda was just a thought in his mind. He told Horst he should create a cosmetic company and that Horst should take Shiv Nath with him back to America, and so he did. It was here that their bond began and soon they would refer to each other in the highest regard as brothers.


“Logic or trust, which comes first? To believe in the logic, you must establish trust first.”

In India, Shiv studied with Swami Rama and wanted to continue his studies in the mountains but his teacher told him that was not his path. Shiv knew nothing about the industry he would soon spend over 40 years being a part of. He and Horst created the first Aveda product ever, Clove shampoo. In the telling of this story, he giggled his way through how he learned about this industry through Horst’s vision.


Shiv Nath speaking

“If you believe in it, create it.”

When Shiv started working for Horst he was making $2.35 per hour. As Shiv told this story he referred to himself as a money miser, one who is very careful with monetary transactions. He was very clear in stating that this was not a negative for him. He saw value in what he was doing with Horst and felt the love and intention that came with the work he was doing.

“Working hard is about imagination, dedication and sincerity. To live to your full potential, you must be willing to work hard.”

Shiv shared the story of how Horst started his career and at a young age began earning distinguished awards in the industry. He brought the ideas of his mind to life. He saw something and he would work at it till it came to light. This started with Horst walking to his traditional school and on the way he would pass a hair salon.


“Wisdom comes from experience, not from books. Knowledge in books is someone else’s experience. You can’t live on other’s experiences, create your own.”


This is where he felt a calling. One day he walked in to the salon and asked for a job. The owner told him he would hire him and give him a job if he could do two things; keep the water hot (back then it took a while to warm the water before shampooing hair) and keep the salon clean. He did this passionately and in between these duties, Horst would practice his skill set.


As the audience asked questions about what it was like working with Horst, Shiv shared that he was very determined and had the highest expectations when it came to the quality and source of the ingredients. Horst questioned himself and asked Shiv if he was too demanding. With a sincere smile, Shiv told Horst he must be true to who he is.


Shiv and students QA

“Humbleness requires flexibility, which is more important that originality.”


In preparation for Shiv’s presentation, he prepared his mind and body with a 90 minute yoga and meditation practice, noting that this is why he is able to be in balance. Without this practice he couldn’t do this. He only hinted lightly at his teachings and roots in yogic traditions, which are the heart and soul of Aveda today. However, he did take time to share the science behind the power of breath in life with a story of how a cloudy day can change from the light of the sun. This too is how the mind and body become clear of imbalance, through the breath.

As the session came to a close, students had a chance to meet with Shiv individually. He asked each one about their goals, their vision. Each time a student showed a moment of hesitation, he immediately drew them in by reminding them the importance of intention. He didn’t hesitate to connect with touch by a hug, holding hands or a smile.


“It’s not about what you don’t have, it’s about what you can create.”

* Jnana yoga is one of the branches of yoga (among Bhakti, Karma, Raja, Tantra and Hatha.  This traditions focuses on knowledge, education and wisdom as the source to understanding true Self.