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