Ayurveda Day 21: Digestion Pt.2 – Signs of Poor Digestion

In Ayurveda we have one very clear way to tell when someone is suffering from poor digestion. We use amas to tell us their digestive story.

What is Ama?

It literally translates from sanskrit as “That which harms or weakens or impure and uncooked”. Basically amas are tangible toxins in the body created in the digestive system. You can see them, detect them, measure them. These toxins build up in the body as a consequence of poor digestive processes. If your digestion is too fast, too sluggish, or too variable, your body will produce this gunk, this ama, from the sum total of all the toxic effects from poor digestion. It is not one thing! And just as the food we eat becomes the cells and tissues of our body, if we eat unhealthy foods and our digestion is not optimal, these amas get absorbed and mixed into our cells and tissues as well. It goes both ways. You literally are what you eat!

The easiest ways to detect Ama are as follows:

- coated tongue
– bad breath
– excessive body odour

These three are the body’s way of trying to get the amas out. But we also need to feed our body with proper fuel (healthy foods) that won’t produce ama in the body.

There are also two other ways to detect amas – indigestion and fatigue. Although these two signs also could be indicative of something other than amas in the body.

When we digest food, our body absorbs what it needs and sends it via channels to where it needs to go. There are 7 main body systems that need what’s in our food:

- The lymphatic system (Rasavaha Srota)
– The circulatory system (Raktavaha Srota)
– The muscular system (Mamsavaha Srota)
– The adipose system (Medovaha Srota)
– The skeletal system (Asthivaha Srota)
– The nervous system (Majjavaha Srota)
– The reproductive system (Shukravaha Srota)

(Side note – 5000 years ago before written language and technology in India the Rishis were able to figure out we had complex systems in our body and how they work and function best. They must have been extremely intelligent to come up with such a thorough understanding without all the tools we have at our disposal today)

The food we eat takes time to get absorbed by the body. Ayurveda teaches that it takes around 5 days for each system in succession to absorb what it needs. The whole cycle for all the nutrients from the food we eat to be completely processed by all 7 systems takes a total of 35 days or so (5 at each level). Anything that is left over at the end of this process, if any at all, becomes our reserves or our storehouse of energy. These storehouses are called Ojas, and are a topic unto themselves.

When we eat food that carries toxins in it or has very little nutritional value – popcorn, soda, fast food, processed foods, etc, our body doesn’t always know what to do with it. If our digestion is already poor, as most of our digestion is, then we create a buildup of ama in our body at a cellular level. At each level, the body tries to absorb what it can from the foods, but because our digestion isn’t optimal, we accumulate more and more toxins from these foods. Instead of building up a storehouse of ojas, we bog down the system with amas.

If it takes 35 days for all these systems in our body to get what they need, imagine how it must be for our bodies when we eat bad food. We aren’t just putting it through the ringer for one bad night on the toilet. Our body is making that food into us! For a month it suffers with this process. Now imagine making bad choices in food isn’t just a blip in your routine, but indeed it is the routine, and healthy choices are the blip. How could the body possibly create anything but amas? When does it have time to create reserves of energy for you?

We are constantly told that we need to eat healthy, avoid fast foods, blah blah blah. I know, we’ve been told it so many times. And every time we hear it, we know it’s true but we believe that we are the exception to the rule and are going to be just fine because we are aware of it. We tell ourselves it won’t cause that much a problem. We deny that we are addicted to these quick and easy ways of eating. These excuses carry a high price.

If we make eating healthier the routine, and have blips of unhealthy eating along the way, our body has more reserves to use to combat the amas in our body. If you are showing any of the signs of ama that I stated above, maybe it’s time to start making some healthier choices. Start small. Be forgiving of yourself. Try to make a manageable goal. Maybe for you that means eating 1 meal a day healthy. Or it could mean eating one snack a day that’s healthy. Wherever you choose to begin, be thankful to yourself for taking the time to intentionally support your health. As time goes on, the bad habit will diminish and the good habit you are slowly replacing it with will take over.

Trust yourself! You can do it! Get rid of those amas!

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 20: Digestion Pt.1 – Appetite

There is so much to know about digestion it is actually astounding. The complexity of the science of digestion alone in Ayurveda boggles my mind. The fact they knew all of this information 5000 years ago is baffling. Even today, as medical facts are uncovered, it is found in the ancient study of Ayurveda. It really feels like playing catchup in many ways. Like throwing out a textbook to write your own just because its from another culture that you don’t understand.

There was a court case recently in Canada that gave a first nation mother the right to choose their traditional medicines over modern medicine for her daughter who had been diagnosed with cancer. Medical doctors tried to intervene, but the courts ruled in the mother’s favour. This precedent will be one I will be watching closely.

What truly bothered me about this case (besides that we still feel as a society that we can decide what’s best for the first nations peoples after the cultural genocide we have inflicted upon them) was the deep lack of respect for their medical science. Whatever works, works. That’s it. Facts are indisputable. But if you suppress a culture who’s ways have worked for generations simply because they don’t have some pharmaceutical company paying for trials and research, then you really need to check your arrogance. You may have western medical knowledge and that’s great. It has it’s place. But don’t throw out any other treatment methods that may be available simply because you don’t understand them. We will only ever grow to understand them if we actually put funding into doing trials with other traditions of medicine. The system is skewed to benefit a western model (and fuels insurance and pharmaceutical companies in the process). What should matter is helping people, period.

When the British invaded India, they committed acts of cultural suppression as well upon it’s citizens. Among the things they outlawed was Ayurveda. And what an unfortunate mistake that was for all of us in humanity. If it had been adopted by the British instead of almost eradicated, it would be more widely used today and a lot of our daily suffering would be much more manageable and maintained.

A large part of that management is in the health of our digestion. Digestion is a broad and far reaching topic, filled with information. I struggle even to translate it’s sanskrit roots into western terms here because for many of it’s findings, modern medical science has no words that translate (In fact, many of it’s findings haven’t even been discovered yet by modern science). I’m not trying to bash medical science. As I’ve said in the past, the two are complimentary. So long as we care about keeping people healthy, they will always both work towards that same goal. But to understand digestion from an Ayurvedic perspective will take more than just me blogging. Still, a good place to start today will be with what makes us eat, and ultimately digest, in the first place:

Appetite.

Appetite is reflective of the energy we spend. The thing is, people spend their energy differently. In Ayurveda, we can look at this through the lens of the doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – remember the Winnie the Pooh analogy).

As you all know, I work with kids. When I was a kid we had maybe 30 mins to eat our lunch and then they rushed us outside to run around (which is already bad for digestion in and of itself as the body has to divert energy towards our exercise while it is trying to simultaneously digest). Nowadays? The kids are lucky if they get 10 minutes. It’s astounding. And they don’t get to snack every hour or so. They get a quick recess where they are forced outside before lunch. They are also expected to eat these huge lunches because they are growing and need more food to sustain that growth. It’s really actually quite dumb. They need more time to eat. But still, this doesn’t go far enough. The three meals a day model works for almost no one. Not only do the kids need more time to eat, but they need to have the freedom to eat according to their nature:

If your appetite is of a Vata nature, your appetite is variable. You may go the whole day preferring to snack and eat more often. You may even skip meals and not be aware of it. It is hard to pin your appetite down at a strict time. A healthy appetite for you will mean having smaller meals and snack more throughout the day to satisfy that appetite. When your digestion is off, you will commonly experience gas, bloating, and pain. You seem underweight for your frame.

If your appetite is of a Pitta nature, your appetite is strong. You feel hungry and burn through that fuel quickly. You tend to eat a large meal which will satisfy you until the next meal, eat another meal that satisfies you, and so on. You will never forget to eat a meal, but may choose to skip a meal because you are focused on something else. When your digestion is off, you will commonly experience burning digestive symptoms. You have a low weight for your frame and have difficulty maintaining your weight.

If your appetite is of a Kapha nature, your appetite is low. You often feel you have to force yourself to eat simply because “it’s time to eat”, though you feel satisfied often only eating one or two meals a day. You will never forget to eat, but may choose not to eat because you are not hungry. When your digestion is off, it is sluggish. You put on weight easily and may have excess weight for your frame. It is difficult for you to lose weight.

When asking yourself which of these three you fall into, try to think of what it’s most commonly been like in your life. It can fluctuate between these three at times, but remembering what your body naturally tends towards will tell you which dosha your appetite is in (but paying an Ayurvedic Practitioner to assess you is far better of course). We often blame ourselves for forgetting meals, being too skinny, being too fat…But it’s not just because of the food choices you make. Yes, that plays a large part in nutrition for your body, but eating right for your nature is fundamental.

Forcing kids at a young age to eat on our time sets them up for a lifetime of failure. Some kids may not finish their lunch, but just need opportunities to eat smaller portions throughout the day. Some kids may be like a garburator devouring everything. Others may only want to eat a couple of meals. Don’t force them to eat or to not eat! Spread it out. If they take forever to eat it is because they are not hungry. Leave them be. If they need to eat all the time, let them! Try to establish a routine that works best for them, so they feel hungry at appropriate times. Don’t force them into some wonky appetite pattern with no regard for their nature. I know we do this because it’s how we were taught. Break the cycle! Start with yourself. Recognize how your appetite is, and adjust your eating patterns to match it. If I can give you any good rule of thumb to follow, it will be to try and make lunchtime your biggest meal of the day, and have lighter meals if any in the morning and afternoon. Kindle that fire of your appetite properly to work towards this. You don’t want to start heavy or end heavy in your day. Midday is optimal for digestion.

Knowing you have a natural way your appetite operates can hopefully trigger a sort of “Duh! Of course!” moment in you. Your problems with your weight start here. Many people in today’s society struggle with their weight and ultimately their concept of their self image through their weight. I am telling you right now that you have been set up to fail from the get go, and realizing that there’s a way that works best for you is paramount. This is why diets don’t work; they don’t assess your appetite pattern. This is a great place to start if you are worried about weight in any way. So don’t beat yourself up! Ayurveda can teach you to play to your strengths. It creates the space you need to foster that change towards better health.

We will continue to visit other aspects of digestion as time goes on. Until tomorrow!

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Class 19: Borrowing Time

It’s so easy in today’s fast paced world to want the easy fix. We look to the quickest ways possible to do things because we have this belief that we should spend every waking moment doing things as fast as we can so we can do even more things.

We let the most basic and fundamental aspects of our health suffer to make time to do things that pay for us to fix the very problems we are creating by working so much!

It’s why we feel like we don’t have time to eat and drive through McDonald’s. It’s why we don’t just take a few breaths and slow down before heading out the door to work. It’s why we don’t go to bed early enough and use coffee every single morning to wake up. The expectation has become for everyone to work like crazy and sacrifice their bodies to do it. There are so many quick “fixes” to any problems that could arise from this excessive work that we just assume we can toughen up and it will be okay. In the long run however, it will not be okay. It will be very un-okay actually.

We as a society want the symptom masked, the pain relieved. We want it done now, this minute, this second. We are constantly told through media and culture that there’s an easier and quicker way to cure the many faults we didn’t even know we had.

How often do we stop to ask what we can do in our lives, not just to mask or treat a symptom, but to actually address the cause of the disease in the first place?

What can we change in our lifestyle to help our body find it’s natural balance?

If we continually look for a magic button to fix all our problems, we are borrowing time. We are sacrificing time from our future for time this minute. And what’s even being accomplished in that minute? Are we moving towards better health and peace in that moment? Or are we just working, working, working? It’s not rocket or even new science: A steady and healthy diet combined with proper exercise and rest are fundamental to our health.

From an Ayurvedic standpoint, these two factors (eating and sleeping) belong to the three pillars of health. Too much or too little or improper management of these factors leads us to disease.

We have not been taught as a society to address the cause of our imbalances. We know that our imbalances manifest as symptoms. But we do not trace the symptom back to its source.

Maybe you’re one to push yourself hard everyday, not getting enough sleep. You have chronic headaches. Rather than focus on proper rest, you pop a couple of pills and continue on indefinitely. It masks the pain but never stops the cause of the disease. You just accept it as a chronic condition or the way it is and change nothing.

This is no way to live!

It’s not easy taking responsibility for our lives. It’s so easy to get stuck in our ways. It’s so easy to lean into our tendencies, supporting the habits that have gotten us to where we are, even if those habits are destructive. Often the treatments we take to mask or treat our symptoms don’t even work all that effectively and we lose faith in our ability to be healthier. We accept it is our fate to just be in whatever pain we are in. We all do this and it deeply saddens me. Mostly because it is all so unnecessary.

I have said again and again that Ayurveda is a science of personal responsibility. Many people only go to a doctor when a symptom manifests. Of course this is normal; symptoms are the body’s way of communicating to us that there is something wrong. But we as people need to adjust our mindset. It’s not enough to walk into a clinic and expect a solution. Sometimes, the solution may be really simple and treatment can be prescribed. But even in the simplest treatments, there is always an underlying cause as to why that symptom manifested in the first place. Ayurveda helps us to get to the root of the problem. The root of that problem lies in our own lifestyle.

I don’t say this to point blame. In fact, I say it because it is liberating. You are in control of your own health! What an amazing revelation to know that you can heal, and that the ability to do so is already within you (even if you don’t know how yet)! But you have to be willing to change. This is unavoidable. We can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results. So lets change the way we approach our own personal healthcare needs:

The next time you get disease, and go to someone who you think can help you to heal, you will walk in to inevitably ask them:
“What can you do to treat this symptom?”
But then, go deeper. Ask:
“What can I do in my life differently to be healthier?”

Regardless of whether or not you visit an Ayurvedic Practitioner to heal, you will still be following Ayurveda if you can ask that one simple question. Be brave, take that personal responsibility! You can do it! Your life will be so much better for it. Healing cannot truly occur without the participation of the patient.

Tomorrow we will talk about undoubtedly one of the most critical pieces to manage for optimal health:

Digestion.

Until tomorrow!

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 18: Feeding Imbalance

As I’ve written before many times, we are all born with tendencies (samskaras). These tendencies differ from our thoughts to our emotions to our physical functions. For example, while one person may have the tendency to put on weight easily, another might have the tendency to lose weight easily. Although in today’s society we might label one as being “good” and another as being “bad”, the reality is that everyone is just different. Knowing your tendencies helps you to correct yourself when you go into extremes (excess or deficiencies). Without knowing your tendencies, you are programmed to keep making the same mistakes over and over.

We feed our tendencies.

Our mind and body is great at making habits. We form synaptic connections that become stronger and more efficient the more and more they do something. Those synapses crave that habit, that steady routine, in order to be useful. If you have ever felt addicted to anything in even the slightest, then you know this feeling.

Unfortunately, when we do things that create imbalance in us, we tend to feed that same imbalance. I remember the first time I ever had a beer. It was disgusting. And not just because it was Molson Canadian. People kept saying to me, “It’s an acquired taste, try this instead”. I was convinced there was something wrong with me for not liking it. Beer is so obviously not good for your health. My body was telling me it wasn’t good for me. But I kept trying it…and trying it. I became accustomed to the chemical effect it had in my system even though I didn’t like the taste. Eventually, those synapses became strong enough that I did “acquire” a taste for it. I kept feeding my imbalance, making it stronger, rather than just making the healthier choice. Pretty soon I was drinking all the time – not necessarily addicted, but I found it difficult to say no when out with friends, or after work, or in any social setting. Now that imbalance was being fed in an even more specific way, in that my social experiences were tied into it’s consumption as well. It all happens so steadily you don’t even realize it!

I’m not saying “BEER BAD. NO DRINK.” I am just using my example as a way to understand the power of habit.

Habits form whether we are conscious of them or not. We form unconscious habits all the time. These ones are based on our tendencies. So if I was born with the tendency towards being distracted easily, I will feed that tendency, making it stronger and stronger. But the great thing is we always have something called free will which can overwrite those tendencies. I can always choose to form good habits, to balance out the extremes of my tendencies.

This is easier said than done. Those synapses that have formed already are hard to break. They don’t want to be broken. Those synapses serve a purpose, even if that purpose is not in the best interest of your long term health. It is key in shedding those bad habits to replace them with productive ones, that are working towards your good health.

It’s important to realize there isn’t just extremes – one or the other. There is always balance. Your choices aren’t overweight or underweight. Your choices aren’t too hot or too cold. Your choices aren’t sensitive and numb. There is always a balanced form to every extreme. Our tendencies just lean us toward one extreme or the other. Knowing which side you lean towards helps you use the opposite quality to find harmony (a simple example would be to treat coldness with heat).

Often we can’t seem to get out of the ruts we stick ourselves in. Some of us feel guilty, others angry, others depressed. We feel like we just can’t change. I’m here to tell you that the way you feel – everyone feels. The reason you always stay up late isn’t because you are a bad person. The reason you eat too many unhealthy foods isn’t because you are stupid. The reason we all do so many disharmonious things to ourselves is because we are born with tendencies to do so. It is in our nature to feed those imbalances. But it is also equally within our power to find balance.

It’s impossible to know the full extent of your samskaras without proper assessment and reflection. Ayurveda is the gift that can help us all to learn more about not just who we are – but why we are the way we are. Then it can help us to stop fighting ourselves and find harmony inside our own mind and body.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 17: The Car Mechanic Metaphor

When I was in my car accident, I had a doctor who told me that the body is like a machine. It is important to maintain it properly and to assess where there’s damage to repair it. He told me that a doctor is like a mechanic for your body. We often need someone to help us fix things we don’t understand, otherwise we cannot heal. I understand the general intent of this metaphor, but the only problem is, I don’t trust mechanics.

Okay, let’s slow down a bit. It’s not that I think all mechanics are bad. I should clarify that it’s taken me 29 years to find a good one. Along the way I’ve been ripped off too many times to count. My issue really isn’t with them though, it’s with not knowing. You are completely at their mercy, and have to trust that they know what’s best for you, even if your gut tells you otherwise. It’s true, I am not a car aficionado. I can do basic things – change a tire, fix the oil. But I can’t assess and repair damage like a mechanic would. I have no instinct when it comes to fixing cars. I have to either learn to be a mechanic or go see one. It is in this same fashion I went to see my doctor when he told me this metaphor.

But your body is not a machine.

Your body is far more complicated than even the most complex machines. It is a massive fragile organic metabolizing computer, that within itself contains billions of individual cells and organisms that are themselves mini fragile organic metabolizing computers. It is in theses relationships that we are what we are.

Our body is an ecosystem.

Tugging on any one string will affect many other things in the body. This is why we cannot always simply target an individual problem without creating other side effects (pharmaceutical drugs for example). In a car, you can merely replace or repair indiscriminate parts and everything will be fine. The thing is though, our body has a survival instinct whereas your car does not. Your car will not tell you when it is damaged unless you know what to look for. Your body however, will tell you and does know what to look for already. It’s in our primal survival instinct to know.

Within each of us is a voice that tells us when we are doing things that create disharmony in our ecosystem. Whether or not we choose to listen is a whole other issue. When we don’t listen, we experience pain. This is how our body again tries to teach us that what we are doing is not in our body’s best interest. Our body has a mind of it’s own. It is great at giving us feedback.

Ayurveda is great at helping you create a life that tends towards good health. It is preventative (can help you not get sick in the first place) and also can provide relief from symptoms, and in many case, cure symptoms entirely, with minimal or no side effects. Ayurveda will also be mindful of any side effects and work to reduce and balance out those changes in the body. It does not sacrifice one part of you for another. Ayurveda understands you are an ecosystem, and that all parts must thrive for there to be prosperity.

In really aggressive forms of disease and emergency situations, modern medicine is great. Many lives have been saved thanks to advancements in this field. But almost all of us live and suffer on a daily basis with some chronic issue. When those issues become too intense, we feel the only option is to go towards aggressive treatment. When we just “need to get through the day”, modern medicine often just masks our suffering without treating the cause. Modern medicine often sacrifices one part of you for another. It assumes you are like a machine. It may see how one part is connected to another, like a bone to a joint, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that when dealing with treatment. Side effects are okay and just collateral when it comes to treating the most prominent symptoms.

We live in a fast paced society. It’s so much easier to just take a pill to “fix” something. But we are not creating balance in our ecosystem. The thing is, we all know this about ourselves too. We know that every time we decide to eat fried foods, or drink too much soda pop, or not get enough rest, etc. that we are doing something that will make us sick. It is undeniable. Our bodies immediately give us feedback. We ignore these bad practices one choice at a time, then we wonder why we feel so tired, sluggish, stressed, or worse. But we already know. That instinct is there. But each of us feels like somehow we are the exception to the rule, that we can handle it, and we are stronger. We feel invincible when we really are not.

Ayurveda is a science of personal responsibility. It asks us to have deep respect for our bodies and all the life that resides in it. Only through this understanding and establishment of ourselves can we be truly healthy (swastha). It is not harmonious to just wait until you get sick enough to feel that you are not invulnerable and then go see the doctor. Our body often pushes us to this point of suffering because we have been ignoring its smaller signals to change something. Continuing to ignore these signals will lead us back to the mechanic every time. Though our car may get fixed, it will cost us, and we won’t have learned any better how to prevent damage our maintain our cars in the end.

It’s as if we are addicted to drama, and will only make a change when something is really a huge unmanageable problem, and we frantically search for someone to help us because we feel overwhelmed. It’s kind of funny when you realize how simple it all is.

So you might be asking by now,

“How is an Ayurvedic Practitioner any different from a mechanic?”

As an Ayurvedic Practitioner, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. We want you to come see us, so that you can maintain your own health. We don’t want you to need us the way you need a mechanic, or a lawyer, or a television repairman. We want you to be able to learn about yourselves. We educate you about how to maintain your own health and recognize when problems arise. Granted, there is a lot to learn, but it’s within everyone’s reach.

You will use your body more than you use anything else in your life. Be brave: Learn what health means for you. Learn from Ayurveda.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 16: Why Saran Acts the Way He Does

I want to write about something a little different. Normally I talk of Ayurveda in a general sense. I give examples, stories, facts, analogies, etc. to help people better understand the gift of Ayurveda. But today, we are not going to do that. We are going to talk about me. Specifically, I want to talk about my worst tendencies (or faults, if you prefer), and why I act the way I do. So pull up a chair, this should be good!

But why me? What makes my situation so important to write about?

Today I learned I have one of (if not the worst) personality tendencies: In Ayurvedic terms, we would call it a Pitta nature with a Vata imbalance.
In layman’s terms, it basically means this:

I ramble. I have a million thoughts buzzing around in my mind. I don’t create proper outlets to express everything, so when it does come out, and you are around, it needs to be expressed in my way or no way at all. It will be increasingly important to me that you, as the listener, don’t just get the cliffnotes. I need you to understand the long rambling story behind it all, for if you do not know it all, how could you possibly understand me! And if you derail that train, I will get frustrated and angry with you, or sad and silent. If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, trust me, I am aware how annoying or frustrating it can be for you. You probably feel like you are being interrupted constantly, or like I should just slow down and think before I speak more, or that I should just shut up and let someone else have a turn. That is another part of my imbalance. That I am extremely critical of myself, and of others. I am aware of my faults. I am not just distracted and need to be reminded to stop being distracted. I know. It is just really difficult to change.

Essentially I have a mind that has so much space to allow experience to enter it (Vata type). There is so much going on upstairs, but when I do decide to focus on something, that focus is sharp (Pitta type). Unfortunately, it has to navigate through all of those other infinite ideas first to get there. I have to examine every possible scenario before I choose the “correct” one. I have a hard time just letting go and being. Because I know every possible scenario, it’s easy to make excuses and get distracted. Although most who know me are aware I have been in car accidents and suffer physical pain, my true suffering comes from my mind. I spend way too much time in my thoughts. My internal dialogue is not harmonious to my health. Yesterday we talked about Winnie the Pooh. I am like Tigger (Vata) combined with Rabbit (Pitta). Imagine the most crazy off the wall hilarious yet equally frustrating and methodical and critical person possible. This is me.

Sorry!

Haha, but seriously, I am not really that sorry. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be Rabbit at all!

Basically, when it comes to the mind, I am dominated by Vata tendencies, which equate to movement. But my inner transformative nature, the Pitta, strives to make sense of it all and find purpose, focus. It seeks to create something meaningful out of that infinite cacophony. It’s like a constant expanding and contracting and can be exhausting. If it’s exhausting to listen to me, imagine how exhausting it must be to be in my head, where most of the stuff I don’t even share is stored. I only share a small fraction of what I think. Seriously, a tiny sliver only. It is not something I can just “change” easily.

We are delving deeper and deeper into Ayurveda in this class. I have talked about the three doshas, and simplified things as best as I can so the average person can understand them. But truly, it is beautifully complex why I act the way I do and also hauntingly simple the solution.

Currently, this is how I act:

Overstimulate my senses through distractions and a busy life.
Have irregular routines for eating and sleeping.
Create fantastical scenarios of the future based on my problems of the past.
Talk way too much, think way too much.
Refuse to let go of my dramas.

In Ayurveda, solutions are obviously simple when we can correctly identify the imbalances. Now that we all know how I act, the way to treat it is to use the opposite approach:

Take in that through my senses which will calm the mind.
Create some regular routines to achieve more balance in my life.
Bring awareness to the present moment.
Spend more time in silence and meditation.
Let go of my dramas.

These 5 tendencies I have are no accident. I was able to assess them because of Ayurveda. In the Vata Dosha, there are 5 subdoshas, or different ways that things can be moved in the body and mind.
These are called Vayus. That is what my 5 tendencies are a reflection of. The cycle is as follows:

Prana Vayu – Draws energy into the body through the brain.
Samana Vayu – Responsible for absorbing the energy.
Vyana Vayu – Responsible for circulating the energy throughout the body.
Udana Vayu – Utilizes the energy for the body, puts it to work.
Apana Vayu – Removes anything we do not need from the body (waste).

This works in both body and mind. When out of balance, you may be like me. Overthinking, bad habits, wandering mind, excessive thinking and talking, refusal to let go. In the body, it can manifest in many ways. For example, if you have an imbalance in any of these 5 Vayus, you could have symptoms such as anxiety, gas and bloating, coldness, problems with memory, and constipation, respectively.

In Ayurveda we can treat symptoms. Relief from symptoms is great. But until we can understand the cause of the imbalance, we can’t really stop the cycle of suffering that goes on in our bodies.
These Vayus are just one subset of one of the three doshas. It just so happens I tend to have the most trouble with this one. In reality, this is the dosha that is most likely to go out of balance.

On this remembrance day in Canada, I would like to express that I am grateful for my freedom of existence and everyone that has allowed me to have it. I am eternally grateful to my friends and family and infinitely patient girlfriend for putting up with the most aggravating combination possible. I am also grateful to Ayurveda, for giving me the knowledge I need to find balance and not waste this existence wrapped up in suffering.

I hope my experience has shed some light on your experiences as well.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 15: Winnie the Pooh

Working with kids can be tough.

You have dozens of kids of all ages running around screaming, all having different care needs that have to be satisfied instantaneously, lest their energy become destructive. Some adults just try to control everything. Others will let the kids run rampant and free, disregarding all safety. Others still are too patient and forgiving and won’t be able to respond quick enough and become daunted, feeling heavy about the task at hand. It takes a balance of these qualities to ensure the kids have safety, freedom, and are engaged in something productive. It’s very easy when faced with a challenging setting to just give into our tendencies.

I’m sure at some point every child care worker (or parent!) has asked themselves “I wish I had a road map to these kids personalities!” Some actually do come with a set of “instructions”: the ones with diagnosed developmental qualities, such as autism, ADHD and ADD, anxiety, etc. There are tools and techniques we can use to help them because now we have a clear map of how they act and react to certain things, and we can play to their strengths (For example, studies have shown that kids with ADD thrive when they are in nature and struggle when there is too much stimuli in the room). At worst however, we compartmentalize them without proper attention to their needs, and they just suck up resources while everyone else falls through the cracks. Overwhelmed is a word I would use to describe childcare.

The desire to diagnose these kids came because the system they are in was not only not helping them thrive, but they were also disruptive to that system. If we just understood these kids, and indeed all kids more deeply, we could help to calm that destructive force and bring out the best in all of them. There is no such road map or model in the west that allows us to do this effectively.

But what if I told you that there is a road map, a set of “instructions”, for every single child, that help us to understand how to best teach them? In fact, there is a road map for every person out there, not just kids. Ayurveda has this road map! Though it does take time and practice to draw it all out.

Ayurveda works to assess not just a person’s physical tendencies (towards illness or imbalance), but also their personality tendencies (how they treat others and themselves). By understanding that a person’s tendency falls into one of three basic doshas, we gain insight into why they act they way they do, and how to bring out the best in our relationships with people. These doshas are called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and represent movement, transformation, and structure, respectively. When in class today, we discussed these doshas in considerable detail and as I related it to my relationships with the kids at work, I remembered good old Pooh Bear, the free spirited Tigger, and hard working Rabbit.

Have you ever had a friend that is really all over the place, and is happy that way? You will ask them a question about what movie they want to see tonight and by the time they get to the end of their words, they have told you what they had for breakfast, what their favourite movie is, about a weird thing that happened today, and they still haven’t even told you what they want to see. When you ask them again what they heck they want to see they say,
“Oh I don’t mind they all sound good!”.
This person is showing clear Vata personality traits. This person is Tigger! There is so much movement in their minds its hard to pin them down. They thrive on being grounded and more structured as it enhances their focus of attention (dharana). When someone is upset with a Vata type, they may reply,
“I’m so sorry what can I do to fix this…how can I change?”, feeling guilty and critical of only themselves.

Maybe you have a friend like this, but you are not like them at all. You only wanted to go to the movies because you heard about one that really fit your interests. It fit all the criteria you have in your mind of “what makes a good movie”, so you decide that you are going to go out and see that one specifically tonight at the 7:10 showing, as that gives you enough time to eat and rest after. You have a purpose and will only switch to another movie if you can be convinced that there is something else out there worth seeing at a similar time. Otherwise, you would not even go out to see “just any movie at anytime”. You tend to be more easily aggravated by the movement of your Vata friend, and you become critical and don’t understand how they can be so seemingly random and aloof.
This person is showing clear Pitta personality traits. This person is Rabbit! Pitta types have a clear vision and purpose towards almost every experience and decision in their lives, making them great problem solvers. Unfortunately, they can feel like everything is a problem and want to fix it all. They thrive when people just are clear with them on what they want and when they want it, and they may even be willing to change when their flaws are pointed out, though they can get defensive. They tend to point one finger at everything else, but are three times harder on themselves. When a Pitta type becomes upset they may say,
“If everyone and everything was exactly this way, then we would all be happy”.

You may be so aggravated by your Vata friend that you decide to call another friend and invite them to the movie. You like this friend because they do almost anything you say. They are generally obedient and quiet. They take their time with everything and are very thorough. Sometimes this friend can be pretty slow to get going, or seem withdrawn. They are generally supportive but also can feel uninspired at times. Maybe they laugh at all your jokes! You don’t always call this friend because they tend to be more supportive and you feel like you have to initiate everything.
This person is showing clear Kapha personality traits. This person is good ol’ Pooh Bear! They tend to just be still without much going on, but thrive on more movement in their lives, be it physical movement or mental movement (creativity). When someone is being mean to a Kapha, they might respond,
“Oh wow, you must have had a really bad day. What’s wrong?”. They can be difficult to penetrate at times, and will most likely only change when there is a catalyst (movement).

If you have ever read a Winnie the Pooh book or seen those three interact on the television show, you will know exactly what I am talking about. These three are extreme caricatures of these three traits, but they serve as good imagery.

Cuddly Reliable Pooh Bear, Diligent Hard-Working Rabbit, and Bubbly Lighthearted Tigger.

:)

I should stress that anyone can be any combination of these three doshas. You may have a tendency to be Vata when making decisions, Pitta when focusing, and Kapha when stressed. It is all variable. But learning what doshas make up your personality and what makes up other people’s can really help take the judgment out of our relationships. We will stop saying “this person is so freaking critical of everything I do!!!!”, and instead say “This person is showing a Pitta personality trait. They just need to be acknowledged and then will be more open to discussion”. It’s a pretty freeing concept that goes much deeper than what I wrote today. But one day you can pay me to be your Ayurvedic Practitioner and we can journey into it together.

:P

Until next time, go watch some Winnie the Pooh!

With gratitude,

S



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