Ayurveda Day 71: Momma Knows Best

When I was a child I would sometimes get a buildup of secretion around my eyelids. It would sometimes cause my eyelids to be closed shut for a while, and when the secretions dried up there was risk of it cracking the skin. I never once saw a doctor for this.

My amma (mother) would always have the same response: She’d heat up some cooked rice, place it in a handkerchief, tie it up into a little ball, and dip it in oil. She’d then press this contraption to my eyes for few seconds, remove it, then place it on my eyes again. When it cooled down a bit more, she would tell me to leave it on my eyes. The heat and pressure felt good as I remember it.

Within minutes, the entire condition would be alleviated. It would be completely gone. If memory serves, it probably only occurred again months later, or may even have been seasonal. I was very young and it stopped once I hit puberty.

Only now through my course am I learning this is a treatment known as Pinda Svedana.
This is traditionally done in the same way my mother did. The device she prepared is called a bolus. Sometimes, herbs will be used in these as well and more specific oils to pacify doshas. On top of that, these boluses are used sort of as a massage tool during abhyanga, and are comparable to a hot stone massage, only better if you ask me.

But it doesn’t end there.

Also when I was a child, I would get upset tummies. I actually had an ulcer when I was about 10 or 11 believe it or not. But my amma, whenever I had an upset tummy, would grab some oil, heat it up, and rub it on my tummy near my naval in a clockwise motion. Whether or not she realized it, she was applying the principles of Ayurveda. The home or seat of Vata dosha resides in the large intestine. Stress is a Vata vitiation as well. Vata is all about depletion. The oils she used where tonifying, pacifying the air and ether elements of vata with it’s water element, providing comfort. The clockwise motion was pacifying the chakra. But if you asked her she’d just say “this is what my amma did for me”.

But wait, there’s more!

My parents would always stress the importance of the time of day, position of the sun in the sky, and other such natural rhythms. I never listened, as teenagers do. But now I have learned there is a time of day for everything: A vata time of day where you can be most creative, a pitta time of day to be most productive, and a kapha time of day for rest and retention.

I have so many stories. Like how my amma would put asafetida, a spice, in our sambar (a hearty Indian curry made with daal). Daal causes gas. Asafetida is a carminative herb (it dispels gas). Or how my mom would always say when frying our spices to wait until the mustard seeds “popped” (often hitting me in the eye). This reasoning is two fold: One, you know that the pan is hot enough for the other ingredients now, and two, you know that the oil has now taken on the flavour of the spices.

I could go on and on.

You see, I am from Tamilnadu, a region of South India. Specifically, I was born in Pondicherry, a once french occupied settlement near the mid-southeastern shore. In India, especially South India, Ayurveda isn’t an office you go to where a practitioner prescribes you some herbs for X condition. Of course practitioners exist and are needed. But Ayurveda is so much more than that. It is the science of personal responsibility. For many in India, health care of any kind is not affordable. Ayurveda is accessible to everyone and was passed down generation to generation for 5000 years. It became a part of the culture, from village to village. Though these regular citizens may not have understood why or how things worked, they preserved that knowledge through their culture.

It is still this way in India, but now Ayurveda has made it to the west. India is a sort of funny place. You will get the most extreme and polarizing situations:

  • Beautiful landscapes littered with garbage
  • Reverence for cattle yet they are yoked and eating the garbage
  • The birthplace of silent meditation yet a cacophony of honking horns and noise
  • The richest city neighbouring the poorest by mere metres, juxtaposed in a undeniable way

You see, India is the birthplace of much. It is like a seed, then a womb. The guru Osho once aptly described it in this way. India is a fertile land, ready to produce much beauty. But a womb cannot sustain the child indefinitely. If the child stays in the womb too long, even the womb will become it’s coffin.

So things that are beautiful from India have a tendency to leave India. But everything comes full circle. So Ayurveda started in the east. Now it is being adopted arguably more lovingly here in the west than in India, where it is largely seen as the poor man’s medicine. “You became an Ayurvedic doctor? Why not a medical doctor!” There’s a lot of emphasis on status and caste even to this day. And remember, Ayurveda was outlawed in India when it was colonized. This has had an effect on it’s popularity in India.

Here people are embracing it. The want to focus more on diet, lifestyle. They want to take that science of personal responsibility and discover the art of their being. It’s a beautiful thing. I was born in India, but even I had to leave to embrace my own culture, it’s rich history, and it’s gift to the world: Ayurveda. It’s kind of funny.

Ayurveda has always been a part of my life. Even to this day when my girlfriend has an upset tummy I rub oil on it. When I get nausea I chew or suck on certain preserves. These are just a part of me in the same way your mommy probably told you to eat soda crackers and ginger ale when you are sick (never understood that one!).

As I learn more about Ayurveda everyday, I learn more about my amma, my past, my heritage. It is truly a blessing to not just be studying something I love that can help people, but also be studying something that is solidifying the roots of my upbringing in meaningful ways.

So thanks to Ayurveda and my amma. I’m going to learn as much as I can from both of you! And thanks for all you’ve shown me thus far.

Amma knows best! So listen to yours and thank her for taking care of you and raising you.

With gratitude,

S

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