I spent the past weekend attending a workshop on Mindful Sexuality and Orgasmic Meditation and my mind is completely consumed with writing this new article for YogaCity. So lame as it may be, I am once again posting an oldie. This was my second article for YogaCity last fall on Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, and it's sorta cute. Enjoy.
Let’s just cut to the chase.I don’t feel good. During any given week at some point I feel foggy, low energy, lazy, anxious and not regular. And it kind of freaks me out. I eat well, I go to yoga about five - six times per week, have been sleeping okay and have made my pursuit of true happiness the most important thing. So what is the deal? I have tried acupuncture, Chinese herbs, probioitics, digestive enzymes, exercise, copious amounts of kombucha, vitamins, teas, massage, cleanses, giving up dairy, meat, alcohol and even sweets. I have tried eating blended raw spinach for breakfast and spent most of last winter giving myself enemas. So why is my health, or lack thereof, still an issue?
I know, of course, the most important thing is working on my mind; anxiety, fear, and insecurity can’t possible lead to healthy body. But it is a catch 22 because how can I quiet the mind when I sorta feel like crap?
I was introduced to Ayurveda at yoga school recently and I decided it was worth a shot (since I am currently without health insurance – maybe even my only hope.) Ayurveda means “science of life” in Sanskrit. It was developed over 5000 years ago in India by the great rishis who organized the basic fundamentals of life into a system that uses five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) to describe the composition of all things. The three vital energies, or doshas, are each made up of two of these elements and are what are used to diagnose our constitution. Vatta is air and ether; pitta is fire and water; and kapha, water and earth.
A quick search lists a few places that offer Ayurvedic consultations and healing treatments. I found my way to Bioticare in midtown because I’m impressed that the practitioners Dr. Naina Marballi and Ms. Amita Banerjee have been practicing for 32 and 28 years respectively and was excited by the idea of having this information passed to me from someone trained in India.
I sit down in Amita’s office and she begins by drawing two parallel lines, explaining that these are the two paths that we are following in our lives. The Spiritual one is always connected to and leading back to the Divine, and the other - our Wooly one - represents our ambitions, dreams, achievements, homes, careers, and relationships etc. In order to travel these paths we are given a body, mind and spirit as vehicle. The purpose of Ayurveda is to balance these so that we are working at our optimum as we move along the road to one-day join again with the Divine.
Amita then asks me a series of questions to diagnose my dosha and pinpoint my vikruti or the way in which I go out of balance. I tell her about my health, my parents health, my divorce (at which point I burst into tears), my erratic sleep, my current relationship, my living situation, my diet, my exercise, my work. She looks in my eyes, at my tongue, and checks my pulse.
I would have bet money that I was vatta. Made up of air and ether, vatta is changeable, scattered, moving, insecure and anxious. I am shocked by my constitution - I am pitta-kapha which means that I am mostly fire and water, with some earth. My pitta nature makes me ambitious, transformative, passionate, and perceptive. The kapha part manifests in my need for grounding and strongly bonded relationships.
So it turns out my dosha is pitta-kapha, with a HUGE vatta imbalance. And it hits me then that I have been living for years completely out of balance. I used to be ambitious and productive and competitive (pitta), but the older I have gotten the more it seems I have been wandering aimlessly moving about once a year and learning how to be more easy going and flexible. Which is great in a way, but not if it means completely living out of alignment with your true nature. I suspect the cause of this may be twofold – keeping depression and boredom at bay, and my image that being “vatta” is much “cooler”. I think at some point I decided that artists are really much more free, mutable, creative, open (overall more vatta) than I was. It is almost as if I willed my way into a vattic lifestyle – leading of course to poor health and an overall dissatisfaction in my wooly life.
She gives me a plan for a 7 day detox that consists of ginger and detox tea and kitcheri, a one pot dish of vegetables, grain, and spices that you blend so it’s easily digested. On the seventh day you return for marma abhyanga, a 90-minute massage that works on 107 vital pressure points and helps to complete the detoxing. I am also to implement some dietary guidelines that she gives me for pitta constitution such as staying away from hot spicy dishes as well as greasy and fatty foods. What I love immediately about Ayurveda is that it gives me the tools to change things myself. I don’t have to take a bunch of weird things, I don’t have to go back once a week, and I don’t have to invest a ton of money.
Even though we may share some characteristics in a particular dosha, each person’s constitution is as unique as a fingerprint. Similar to a yoga practice, Ayurveda requires us to each become our own teacher by paying more attention to ourselves. And not in a self centered way. The whole purpose of figuring out who and what you are is so that you can stop thinking about it and commit more fully to taking your vehicle down your two paths.
I asked Amita what each of the doshas can do as we move through vatta season (fall to early winter) coming into kapha season. She says all the doshas need to not bring more cold into the body by eating too much raw or cold food. We need to lessen our activity but exercise daily for warmth (she suggests dancing), and eat often and yet not too much. Pittas who are naturally warm, must not brave the cold without enough layers therefore exposing themselves to sickness. Kaphas, who become more lethargic during the colder months, need to be sure to get some activity every day to not become slower. Vattas who are usually cold need to take care to stay extra warm.
I am excited by all this new information, but also a bit overwhelmed. It does make a lot of sense, but it can be confusing as well. For instance a buildup of ama or toxins in the body can made all constitutions feel dull, foggy and constipated, as they aren’t receiving the nutrients from their food. Usually connected to increased vatta (the colon is the seat of vatta) constipation can also occur from an imbalance in pitta because it causes dry stool, and kapha because it creates mucus in the intestines. It isn’t the overnight solution that I am of course desperate for but I really like Ayurveda’s simplicity and alignment with what is natural. I commit myself to giving it try.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I had misunderstood Amita. In describing our two parallel paths, she had actually said worldly, not wooly – which makes more sense. Or does it? Because the truth is, my worldly path has felt pretty wooly at best sometimes, and I am sure I am not alone. I think this is the very thing we are all looking for - whether we know it yet or not: tools to bring us into balance so that we can remove some of the wool. Ayurveda allows us to pull it from our own eyes.