Ayurveda Day 30: Digestion pt. 4 – The Tree of Disease

Imagine yourself as a tree. You have 3 main parts – roots, a trunk, and branches. From the roots you absorb the qualities of your environment. If you absorb that which is harmonious, you will grow and thrive. If you absorb that which is disharmonious, you will wilt and decay. From the roots, whatever you absorb makes it’s way up your trunk, and eventually to the tips of your branches where they may or may not bear fruit and foliage.

At each of these three layers, we have a choice to rectify the situation. Unlike the tree, who has no choice but to stay wherever it was seeded, we have the ability to change things. We can change contributing factors to disease: our thoughts, words, actions, environment, etc. We are lucky in this regard.

    The Roots – Digestion

We can relate the roots of the body to our digestive system. It is how we take in the energies we need to grow and thrive. If a tree’s roots are planted in a toxic environment, it will in turn become toxic, and eventually wither to die. We place little to no emphasis on our daily digestive patterns, and yet it is the first place we need to look when asking why we have disease. Why is this?

The answer is really simple. We experience very subtle side effects at the digestive level when disease is first forming. Depending on whether or not you are kapha, pitta, or vata, you will experience sluggishness, burning indigestion, or mild constipation and gas. For each of those types, you will consider this normal. Every time you eat, you might feel one of these three ways. But you think nothing of it, because it’s always that way. It doesn’t interfere with your day to day life. Why treat something that isn’t that big a deal?

We must treat it here, at the roots, because this is where it grows into larger problems. It accumulates, and aggravates, and if it doesn’t get alleviated via diet and lifestyle, then it only gets worse.

    The Trunk – Blood and Lymph

From the digestive system, if we continue to support poor digestion, the disease then overflows into the blood and lymph. This is like the trunk of the tree. Here we will start to experience more more mild and transient symptoms. If we are Vata, we will feel cold/dry. If we are Pitta we will have burning mucous membranes and increased heat and intensity. If we are Kapha, we will have paleness and feel more lethargic.

Again, these symptoms seem minor to us. Just normal, a part of our regular lives. If they get too out of hand, we reach for a product to satisfy it. We grab moisturizer for our dryness, crack open a window for our heat, or drink coffee for our lethargy. But this doesn’t solve the problem, and only masks what are body is desperately screaming to us:

“Fix this issue before it gets worse!”

It is important to note at both the root and trunk stages, the symptoms I listed are these warning signs. They are our body telling us something needs to change. If you experience any of these, you need to change your diet and lifestyle with the help of an Ayurvedic Practitioner!

    The Branches – Noticeable Symptoms

Finally, if we let the disease follow further up our tree, it relocates to different sites in the body. There it manifests in various ways, and is symptom specific. This is when most of us can no longer deny there is an issue. We have let the problem get so out of hand that now (for example) we have skin that is so dry it is cracked and peeling. These sites of the disease are like the branches that bear fruit and leaves. Depending on how well the whole process has gone, from root to trunk to branch, will dictate whether we produce good quality tissues and ojas (reserves of energy) or poor quality tissues, diseases, and ama (toxins).

Ayurveda is great because if you are willing to change, it can give you the tools you need to work on your roots. It can help us manage via lifestyle and diet all that we take into the body, and ensure it gets converted into what we need, and not what we don’t need.

But perhaps deep down we don’t really want to change. It is so hard, even for myself, to stay on a regular healthy routine. I have spent 29 years building bad habits! They are hard to break, and my ego screams for them to stay the same. I get impatient when I don’t see immediate results. That’s why we like taking pills so much; they seem to solve our problems. But the problems will return, or manifest in other ways. That much is certain. If I choose only to treat a symptom that has gotten out of hand, I am just pruning back the dead leaves and fruit.

Again, ayurveda is simple, but not easy. It is a science of personal responsibility. If you have the goal of living a long, healthy, pleasant life, then it does take discipline. Just remember that you are like this tree in how you grow, but also remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to change your fate, whereas the tree cannot.

I have midterms coming up! I will not be blogging during this winter break, but the blog will start up again on Jan. 6th, 2015.

Happy holidays and may the new year be the year of healing for you.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 29: Understanding the Doshas 101

As those of you who have been regularly reading my blog already know, there are three main elemental categories, or doshas, that we can classify things into. For the purpose of our diseases or imbalances, we call these either kapha, pitta, or vata. There are certain physical ailments that will fall into one of these three categories, as well as mental and emotional patterns.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what the doshas are, or how they work. The Doshas are a huge part of Ayurveda, and I can’t explain them completely in one or two or even ten blogs! But I can give us a general understanding. Within this understanding we can learn more about why we get sick in the first place, or for that matter, why anything in the universe ever deteriorates.

Let’s simplify what the three doshas are:

Kapha represents qualities of earth & water. It also represents solidity, as they are the most solid forms of matter.
Pitta represents qualities of fire. It also represents sharpness or focus, as a flame always follows the path of the fuel, like a burning wick of a candle.
Vata represents qualities of air and space (ether). It also represents movement, variability.

The ancient rishis divided all things into these categories because they observed nature, saw that there were five elements, and further more, saw that those elements tended to group in this way. For the sake of modern definitions, in the body we can look at Kapha as being anything solid (bones, muscles, etc.), Pitta as being anything that imparts heat or burns fuel (metabolism, digestive enzymes, etc.), and Vata as anything that moves (respiration, etc).

Additionally, there are certain key signs for which dosha is to blame for our illnesses. If there is (without external injury) swelling, inflammation, or pain, it is kapha, pitta, or vata respectively.

We can further assess what people’s tendencies are based on which doshas dominate specific bodily functions, and thought patterns.

Rather than just merely accepting that “I always get gas when I eat”, we can identify it as a Vata imbalance, and use opposite elemental qualities to satiate it. For example, eating less airy, light, or dry foods. The same is true for mental patterns, such as being sharp or critical. We can stop judging and merely say “This person has a lot of pitta tendencies and we need to bring that down”.

There are two sides to every one of the doshas. We usually will tend to exacerbate our negative habits or tendencies. But there is also behind every imbalance another side that is more conducive to our health.

For example, the same fire that gives a pitta type their critical and judgmental side also makes them amazing at solving problems and focusing on tasks.

The same lethargy that a kapha type can experience can also be channeled into creating solid, steady routines.

The same mindset that makes a vata type distracted can also enable them to have amazingly creative ideas.

We just need to look at ourselves and recognize which dosha is responsible for our imbalances. Then we can channel them properly into balance.

Doshas are complex. They are merely a way of categorizing nature. So just as humans all have doshic qualities throughout their bodies and minds, so does the world around us. We see doshic qualities when looking at the food we eat, or the actions we partake in, or the words we use, or the places we live, or the seasons of the year, or the passage of time…it is endless.

This is why living a balanced life can seem so complex at times. Like there is so much we have to do to stay healthy. But the beautiful thing is Ayurveda, like yoga is not so much about doing – it is about undoing. We must undo all the unhealthy habits we have. By removing them, we create space for new, better habits to occupy them. Recognizing the dosha responsible for these habits gives us the tools we need to both create and fill that space properly.

It is important to note than no one is just “one” dosha. We have certain tendencies throughout us. Maybe our thoughts tend to be more distracted – vata. Maybe our skin tends to be more oily – pitta. Maybe we gain weight easily – kapha. We are made up of all three doshas. It is unavoidable, and no human is only one of the three. That is why Ayurveda works so well, because it treats every person as a unique case and works to get them back into balance based on how they naturally are.

Until next time, as always, I wish you good health.

With gratitude,

Saran

Ayurveda Day 28: Compassion

Compassion is a lost art form in today’s society. Yes, I do refer to it as an art because it takes the skill of an artist to truly appreciate and manifest compassion in life.

But why is compassion relevant in today’s society?

In a globalized society, we have all adopted certain values, above all being taught that competition breeds progress. In growing up we put our children in a competitive school system and in competitive extra-curricular activities. From there we go on to competitive universities or colleges, fighting for the best grade amongst our peers, and for the best job. Within that job, we fight for higher promotions and more money.

But nothing can be gained unless something else is lost. This is a fundamental law of nature. If we are gaining something in our lives, it is taken from somewhere – either from our environment, our community, or ourselves. It’s not the competition that is inherently bad. Unless one does nothing, it is unavoidable that you will have an effect. However, if done without intention, or with a disregard for it’s effect, or with ego, then it will be at the expense of other things that you make your gains.

There are three main stages in nature, all of which are unavoidable:

- Creation
– Preservation
– Destruction

We are created. Then most of us exist for the majority of our lives in the preservation stage. We do whatever we can to survive. We earn money for as long as possible, we try to prolong our health as long as possible, and maintain a certain standard of life for as long as possible, making it better and better along the way if we can. We try to stave off the inevitable destruction, or transformation towards death, that all things must experience. Just as a star is created, so to will it be preserved and ultimately be destroyed. If even the stars in the universe cannot avoid this fate, what chance do we have? But it is natural to want to try and live a healthy life for as long as possible! Of course.

The real tragedy comes in the fact that we compete in order to do so. We justify our actions because we have desires, goals…passions that must be fulfilled for our life to have meaning. We could justify it in a million ways, but we value this passion so heavily, often pursuing it at any cost.

The best way to understand the importance of compassion is to understand the word itself:

“co(m)” as in together, and “passion” as in a powerful, compelling feeling

A lot of people have made terms like “sympathetic” or “kind” be synonymous with the word compassion. But the true definition is about working together to bring out other people’s passions. It is not standing in the way, altering things to suit you, or completely destroying other passions so that only yours survive. But this is the fundamental building block of preserving our society.

Imagine passion and compassion like an orchestra:

The parts of the symphony where everyone is playing together, harmonizing, and no one is fighting for centre stage – that is compassion.
The parts where amidst all the harmony there are bursts from an instrument, punctuating and juxtaposing the beauty of the entire orchestra – that is passion.

What would that symphony sound like if it was only passion? Loud cacophonous noise, each indiscernible from the last. Every person fighting for their own place, and ultimately no one gets one.
But without passion, the symphony would be dull. Maybe peaceful, but without anything to punctuate and showcase that beauty.

Finding a balance with passion and compassion is important in today’s society because when a person can truly look at people, the environment, and themselves, they find a way to make amazing music! It will appear that everyone has a part to play, and it was the part they were meant to play. As we exist in this stage of preservation in our lives, we must not do so at any and all costs. Be a part of the beautiful symphony, don’t try to control it to only suit you!

But how does one know when they are practicing too much passion over compassion?

The signs will be easy, if you are listening. Your voice will drown out anyone else. Your desires will be more important. You will feel that if everything goes the way you have planned, then all will be perfect. You will also feel critical, judgmental, and frustrated when things don’t go your way. We’ve all been guilty of this at times in our lives. So find that compassion. Truly recognize how to harmonize with that which is around you.

Okay but how does one increase their compassion?

Start with gratitude. Gratitude is a precursor to acceptance, which is a precursor to compassion. You will never be able to harmonize with those around you if you cannot be grateful for what they have to offer and accept them for who they are. Bring out the best in people! Everyone has something to contribute! Don’t judge a goldfish by it’s ability to climb a tree. Let go of your expectations, because your judgment does not change who others are, it only changes who you are.

Practice compassion the next time you feel upset over something. Ask yourself,
“What would things be like if we all had our own unique part to play in the symphony?”
Imagine yourself as an artist, and let compassion guide your thoughts, words, and deeds.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 27: Digestion pt. 3 – Diet and Lifestyle

Ayurveda focuses a lot on diet and lifestyle. This can be tricky, because it puts the responsibility on the individual to change many things in their life in order to promote good health. As my instructor Mary Thompson says:

“The ayurvedic solution is simple, but it’s not easy”.

For better or for worse, we are born with certain tendencies. Those tendencies tend to crave that which makes us more imbalanced. Most people that experience mild burning digestive symptoms will continue to eat mostly foods which aggravate it – oily and greasy and spicy for example (A pitta type). For Vata, they will experience gas and dryness, and continue to crave the foods that aggravate that tendency. Finally, a Kapha type will have sluggish digestion, putting on more weight easily, and will crave that which only slows them down more and increases their weight.

It’s sort of like sitting on a couch – there’s that spot you sit in that is carved out to your body, and it just loves to sink into it. Sitting anywhere else feels wrong. But sitting on that couch causes all kinds of other problems, as it’s too comfortable.

So we’re fighting this uphill battle. Then medicine comes along and says, “You can keep eating greasy fried foods, just take this pepto-bismol after!”. But we are not dealing with the main issue, we are only masking a symptom. Given the choice however, most people will enable their cravings at the cost of their health. Again, the answers are simple, but not easy. Ayurveda is a science of personal responsibility, remember?

Through masking these minor symptoms, we create more and more imbalances, eventually leading to greater diseases. Using just diet as an example, the food we take into our system carries certain traits – like the greasy fried food, or the dry crackers, or the heavy and moist cake. The qualities of that food go through our body, and create the same qualities in our tissues. They make us more oily and hot, or more dry, or more heavy.

The body is amazingly good at giving us early warning signals. After eating greasy food, thirty minutes in you will probably feel the mild burning symptoms. It’s the most common digestive problem. At this point, if you are paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you, you can try to balance your diet (which is another topic unto itself), or you can continue to do more of the same, eventually causing those symptoms to get worse and worse, and move throughout the body to other areas, where it can manifest as a more serious disease that can’t be ignored. It is only at this point that most of us say “okay, now I need help.”

But even at this stage, we want the quick fix, the magic pill. No matter what medicine you take, it will never cure your problem completely.

Let me say that again:

No matter what medicine you take, it will never solve your problem completely.

It doesn’t matter if that medicine is western or eastern. Without lifestyle change, you’re only ignoring the real problem.

Think about it like this:

You have a sink that is clogged. The tap is running, causing it to flood. You don’t notice there is a problem until you see water all over the floor.

At this point, do you grab a mop and start cleaning, or do you turn off the tap and unclog the drain first?

Taking a pill to mask a symptom is like mopping the floor without turning off the tap and unclogging the drain. It sounds like common sense, but we do this all the time.

Your lifestyle choices are like that tap and drain. You have to do things in balance so that you aren’t clogging or flooding your body with imbalances. You can take things to alleviate symptoms, and Ayurveda can offer that to you in a way that won’t produce other harmful side effects – but you still need to ultimately alter your lifestyle and diet.

Paying attention to the early indicators of health imbalances can help us treat them. Lifestyle and diet are going to be your best tools at that point. Don’t wait until you have a serious problem! Listen quietly to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. My bet is we all could change at least a few things in our life and diet to promote better health. It is hard, no question. Change is difficult. Don’t be discouraged, and know that it’s just our tendencies playing out. But with regular routine, we can change those bad habits into healthy habits. Again, start small, be forgiving, and set some tiny attainable goals at first. Decide to eat one less processed meal a day, or to cut down on the cups of coffee, etc. Your practice will grow.

Otherwise, you will keep on grabbing that mop.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 26: Sandcastles

Imagine you are on a beach. There is endless sand around you, and an endless ocean who’s tide is slowly coming in and out. The sun is shining. There’s no one else on this beach. It’s all yours.

You spend some time in silence on this beach. You look at the waves, listen to the ocean, smell the salt in the air. After sometime however, you begin to realize how alone you actually are. You become a little nervous, a little scared, to be stuck sitting alone with yourself and feeling so insignificant.

Then you realize that there’s this infinite sandbox surrounding you. You can build anything you want out of it. So in an effort to distract yourself from this feeling of insignificance, you decide to build a sand castle.

You start to ignore the ocean now, and it’s tide. You are fixated on your castle. You make it clumsily; after all, it is your first castle on this beach. Nonetheless, you make it. You step back to look at it and are proud. You decide it can be better though, and continue to build, further ignoring the ocean, further ignoring the fact that the tide is creeping up to your castle. You become better and better and creating, honing your skill.

One day, after building an elaborate and vast kingdom of sand, you notice the waves have become threatening. You scramble to brace yourself and save your castle, but no matter what you do, you know you cannot stop it. The waves come crashing and wipe away all you’ve created on these shores, and when it is finally done thrashing you around, you look back to see the aftermath of it’s wake.

With futility you try to reassemble what you can. It’s all haphazard now, but you quickly attempt to recover any memory of your former creation. In your heart however, you know that no matter how hard you try, you can never build the same castle again, with the same grains of sand, in the same way. It is all indistinguishable now.

At this point, you are faced with a choice: Either return to sit and watch the waves in stillness, accepting how fleeting and insignificantly beautiful your time on this shore is, or build a bigger, better, stronger kingdom of sand. You choose the latter.

You have built many castles now. You have made walls and ramparts and trenches and anything you can think of to protect your precious creation. But the tide is patient, in no hurry. Eventually it comes, again and again. Sometimes it eats away slowly enough that you can salvage it. Other times it comes crashing leaving an unrecoverable shore. Eventually, it always leaves you with the same two choices.

How often would you choose to keep rebuilding?
At what point would you stop, and decide that you need not even wait for the tide, but should join in it’s undulating by knocking down your creations yourself?
At what point would simply watching the waves silently be enough for you?

Change is the only true constant in our existence. We all have our own private beach within ourselves. And we all build sandcastles within. It’s natural. When we are afraid, our ego screams loudly for us to protect ourselves with drama and distractions. We build these castles around our heart, hiding from the chaotic truth that is the ocean of our soul. It’s a defense mechanism.

But that change will always come, and is indiscriminate as to what it will wash away.

We are more than just what we can create. We are more than our ego, our desires, our defenses.
When we can just go with the flow of the tide, and not be attached to impermanent ideas that spring from the sands, then our true self can emerge.

Everything else is just an illusion.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 5: Practice Makes….?

“Practice makes perfect”

You know, I’ve always disliked that saying. What is perfection anyway? Who defines it, and is it even attainable or realistic?

I agree that practice makes our habits stronger. Through practice, our ability in that practice grows slowly and we attain a certain level of skill, or perfection, or success. But I still don’t like any of these words.

What does practice make then?

I once heard a quote saying “Greatness is lots of small things done right”.

Now, this is getting closer, but the word greatness has so much attached to it.

See the thing I don’t like about all these terms is that they are too deeply rooted within our ego.

So let’s remove it from the equation entirely. Let’s stop trying to figure out what practice makes us. Let us simply say:

“Practice makes us.”

Regardless of whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly practicing. We build habits, and those habits become stronger. Physically or mentally or emotionally, we hone these habits through practice, for better or for worse.

In order to truly be healthy, we need to look at all those small things and whether or not we are doing them right. Because those small things will make up who we are.

There are four basic stages to these habits that make us into what is so uniquely “us”. I will compare these stages to riding a bicycle to help illustrate the concept more clearly.

1 – Unconscious Ignorance – We don’t know riding a bike is even a thing, and we don’t know how to do it.
2 – Conscious Ignorance – We realize that it is possible to ride a bike, usually because it was pointed out to us somehow. Now we are aware but we have no idea how to do actually ride a bike.
3 – Conscious Competence – We practice, and practice, and practice, getting better and better at cycling. Our competence has a direct correlation to the amount of effort and intention we put in.
4 – Unconscious Competence – Riding a bike is like tying your shoelace, or reading. You have done it so many times that is just a part of who you are. You don’t even need to think about it. You can bicycle seemingly effortlessly.

There comes a great power in knowing this is how practice works. Many of us have countless things that are in stage 1. We are completely oblivious to how to deactivate an orbiting satellite, nor have we even considered the need to know how. This is a ridiculous example, but there are so many practical things that we are unaware of that we really should be aware of, because they affect our very health. Ayurveda can get you to that second stage to make you aware and then it’s a quick jump to stage 3, where you practice. It takes a long time to reach stage four, but so many of us do so many things for our health every day that we don’t think twice about. Those things however, were at one point difficult for us, like learning to walk, brushing our teeth, and even potty training! Remember, Ayurveda is the knowledge of life. Your lifestyle does matter!

Now consider the flip side of practice – you decide instead of exercising today that you’re going to sit at the computer or television. You start to do it day in and day out. You hone your skill of unhealthiness. Rather than those distractions being a blip in an otherwise healthy lifestyle, now the lifestyle is unhealthy and healthy actions become the blips.

One could even say that you are practicing unhealthiness.

And trust me, you will have become exceedingly efficient at it.

I don’t say this to instill guilt in anyone. I say it because it is the truth. But keep in mind we live in a society that does not set us up for success. Everything is go go go…at the cost of our health. It can be a real challenge to realize one’s health is a consequence of their daily practices, and an even bigger challenge to change.

But not all is lost. Ayurveda can help. It’s not important to change everything all at once. Starting small is how unhealthy practices grow. Would it not stand to reason that starting small will grow your healthy practices as well?

Again, do lots of small things right.

Practice makes us. Full stop.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 24: A Good Question

I talk a lot in this blog about tendencies, or samskaras in sanskrit. How we all are born with certain tendencies when it comes to the function of our bodies (too hot, poor circulation, gain weight easily, etc.) and in our thought processes (critical, distracted, etc.).

But why do we need to change the way we are?

That’s a good question that I was asked last night.

One could argue that we are born with these tendencies, they make up who we are! They define us. They are part of our very being, and important to our sense of self.

Why should we need to change? Aren’t we all just perfect the way we are?

Well…no.

Okay, let’s backup for a second. When I say we have tendencies, and those tendencies need to be balanced, I am not saying that there is something necessarily “wrong” with you. In fact, many tendencies by today’s cultural standards might be considered “good”. But they are still tendencies.

Being competitive is a tendency. It is considered a positive quality in today’s economic model. But who’s to say that will be the case in 100 years?

Being able to lose weight easily is considered a positive quality in today’s society. But generations ago, being overweight was a sign of wealth and prosperity.

All these definitions of good or bad are fleeting, impermanent, temporary.

So let’s not attach judgment to our tendencies. If we can recognize first and foremost that there are not good or bad tendencies, but we are born with some regardless, then we can move forward.

Now you might be thinking, “That’s great! I am me, and there’s no need to change!”.

So are we perfect the way we are? The answer, is still no.

The reality is that the vast majority of our tendencies will produce disease in our bodies. We are all born with these. It is unavoidable. Never mind if by societal standards they are considered good or bad. The question to ask is whether or not those tendencies are leading you towards poor health or better health.

If you do that which is harmonious, you will produce a healthy body and life.
If you do that which is disharmonious, you will produce an unhealthy body and life.

You might say something like:

“I like being cold and hate being warm so too bad if you don’t agree!”
or
“I am me. I am stubborn but focused, hard working and never quit, and I don’t change for nobody!”

You may even feel justified in sentiments like that. And it’s true, you shouldn’t change because of what other people think of you. So instead, listen within. Quiet that loud ego that is screaming to define itself in such limiting ways.

You are not your tendencies. You are so much more my dear reader.

As my girlfriend likes to say, “You are a ghost inside of a skeleton wrapped in a meat suit flying through outer space.”

Hilarious, and true. What makes you so uniquely “you” is not all those things you attach to that you call your identity. It is not all those tendencies that you refuse to let go of. When you can balance your tendencies, your true nature, as an amazing part of this universe that is made up of the same stuff that the stars themselves are made up of, will emerge. In this sense, we are eternal! Everything else is just drama. All of a sudden focusing on fleeting personality or physical traits becomes rather moot.

Think of your tendencies like water going through a hose. When all is normal, the water flows perfectly through the hose to where it needs to go.

If it is in excess, it will come out too quickly and forcefully.
If it is deficient in flow, it will come out too slowly and weakly.
If it is blocked, then nothing can flow. There is a kink in your hose.
Finally, if the hose is damaged, then the water can flow out and it never gets to where it’s supposed to.

We need to keep all of our mental and bodily functions like a perfectly flowing hose. When we do that, we create good health. We create balance. Our ego is quieted, because we are no longer defining our existence through physical and mental dramas and suffering. We find peace, stillness, and see ourselves in everything.

We stop defining ourselves through our separateness from everyone, and start defining ourselves through our connection to everything.

You can learn to overcome all those tendencies within you that are preventing your true peaceful self from emerging. It takes time. It is not easy. But it is a wonderful and humbling path. I’ll say it again:

You are not your tendencies. You are so much more, my dear reader.

With gratitude,

S



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