Just like a compass points you in the right direction when you are lost or keeps you on track, Ayurveda does the same. Ayurveda, the most ancient medicinal science on the planet, rooted in ancient India, has been guiding the human race to health and healing for thousands of years. It has been navigating my life path for over ten years and every day I am thankful and awed by it’s unyielding support.
How can Ayurveda do so much, you might ask? Impossible, you might think. As an eternal skeptic, scientist and life adventurer I would also have doubted. But time and time again, Ayurveda has shown me the right path and has never steered me in the wrong direction.
Based upon the most basic premise of cause and effect, Ayurveda maintains that the entire universe is the effect of prana, energy, manifesting in various forms as the cause. Thus, prana and all its forms is the cause and the universe is the effect. These various forms, for example, manifest as five basic elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements combine to form the famous Ayurvedic doshas known as vata, pitta and kapha:
Pitta = fire + water
Kapha = water + earth
For me, these doshas are the three cardinal directions which steer my activities, dietary options, lifestyle choices, best forms of exercise, my thoughts and feelings, even the type of yoga practice and meditation that is best for me. According to Ayurveda, we each are a very unique composition or constitution of each dosha, rooted in the elements. By understanding ourselves and our true nature, (constitution), we can make informed decisions. We have the inner knowledge to be guided by simple Ayurvedic tenants that point you in the right direction.
One of tenants states that: like increases like and opposite heals. As a dual Pitta-Vata constitution, I’ve learned that too much fire and air can be disruptive both physically and mentally. For example, the fire element shows up as excess thinking, working and over-committing; while the air principle is too much traveling, multi-tasking, and eating crunchy, dry or raw food. If I over do it, then these particular energies of fire and air increase in my body and mind. Over time, that will lead to an imbalance possibly causing undue frustration, irritation, not being present, losing things and a bad short-term memory (spaciness). Sound familiar? When this happens it’s time to use my Ayurvedic compass to guide myself back to balance.
Often my life requires travel and working long hours while leading retreats, workshops and teacher trainings world-wide, while also directing certification programs which can often disrupt a balanced orientation. However, how I travel, what I eat and the lifestyle choices I make during my daily living is what allows me to not feel disheveled or get sick, but rather radiate and feel grounded and stable. More often than not students and peers remark, “I don’t know how you do it.” My answer is always, “through Ayurveda.”
I’ve learned the importance of maintaining good morning rituals (routine); eating foods that support my constitution; honoring the current season or environment I am in; and adapting my yoga and meditation practice to my current life and work cycle. I understand that it is more important to be consistent instead of waiting for the right time to practice, work out, meditate etc.
Ayurveda teaches us that we are not separate from nature, but rather are an extension of nature in human form. So just as the sun rises and sets but shifts depending on how the earth is rotating upon its axis, so must we. We should wake up and go to sleep in a consistent way, but also notice changes in daylight, moonlight and not live with blinders on doing the same thing, eating the same foods, working out the same way 365 days out of the year. This simple teaching was a true revelation, shifting my patterns and choices based upon the seasons while at the same committing to a consistent way of life that begins with meditation, pranayama (breathing practices) and sun salutations on a daily basis.
My inspiration for a consistent yoga practice did not come from the teachings of Yoga, it came from Ayurveda. Yoga simply mandated that I practice daily, but Ayurveda taught and motivated me to the why. That made all the difference! I understood that consistency was the key to vibrancy, stability, happiness and health. Nature is consistent after all. We can count on the sun rising, the moon rising, birds migrating and bears hibernating. All around, nature guides me and Ayurveda, the science of life, woke me up to this fact. I can now understand that drinking coconut water, no matter how hydrating, is not good for me in the winter as it is too cooling; and, that eating salads all year round makes zero sense as cucumbers, sprouts and dandelion greens do not grow in the winter months. I have set rituals that support my travels like taking a bath, oiling my body (called abhyanga), drinking warm ginger tea and organizing my space even if only there for 2 days. Ayurveda helps me understand people as expressions of the elements so when they are imbalanced and perhaps angry, judgmental, depressed or anxious it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with choices they’ve made to get there. This helps me guide them to peace and tranquility
I still make some wrong turns as life is not perfect, but Ayurveda helps me turn me around. If I fumble and go on a coconut drinking binge during the winter and vata dosha creates cold hands, feet and poor circulation, due to excess cold quality of the coconut, then I know to apply the warm quality to bring me back on course. And the list goes on and on.
So can you find your Ayurvedic compass? Here are a few tips:
- Get to know yourself. Take this constitution test.
- Live in rhythm with nature. Don’t simply follow the season because the calendar tells you so, but rather observe and adjust as the natural world shifts.
- Eat seasonally and locally. If nature is offering it, then chances are your body and mind will welcome it.
- Adapt your fitness routine, yoga routine, lifestyle routine to match your constitution. For example, vata has lower endurance so short runs are best, while kapha has amazing endurance but starts slowly so long distance running with a walking start is best.
- Notice how food, activities and lifestyle choices and patterns affect your mental state.