My journey inward began with food. Challenged with a series of digestive disorders that doctors had no answers for, I turned to my eating habits in search of answers. My childhood diet looked a lot like most American kids of the 90s, filled with lunches of chewy gummy snacks, neon-colored yogurts that squeezed out of plastic tubes, and the ubiquitous white bread and deli meat sandwiches. Long before the green revolution and the revival of homesteading and home gardens, our family, like most of our friends, had little awareness of the impact of diet on our well-being. So it was a sweeping personal revolution for me in my teens, when I started to notice the connection to what I ate and how it made me feel.
Quickly, I became fascinated with food as a pathway to healing, and exploring new dietary theories became my entry point in my journey of self-discovery. I traveled down the vegan road first, replacing my childhood sandwich staple with a soy and gluten-free “mock” version. Then, trying a raw foods diet, it was dehydrated flax bread, sunflower seed tuna, and super-sized green smoothies with all the superfoods.
“[Ayurveda] shows us how to live in a state of balance in which fulfillment is a matter of being, not becoming”
I felt hopeful, seeing improvements in my health and finding a new community to connect with. But as I continued on the path, I became more and more restrictive with my diet, and later more stringent with my asana practice, thinking that if I could follow the rules just right it would unlock some kind of key to my health and healing, uncovering a holy grail of sorts that would liberate me from all my “bad” habits and struggles. I became more attached to the rules of these dietary theories, rather than really listening to my own body. I soon felt overwhelmed by the abundance of information and discouraged by the fleeting results as I continued to shift into new seasons of life and location.
At first, Ayurveda was foreign words in a book and more rules of what I should and shouldn’t eat for my body type. But then, quite literally, came the elemental awakening to what Ayurveda truly is. A whole world of possibility opened up in front of me as the language and tools of Ayurveda allowed me to move beyond the rules of “right and wrong” in my diet and make sense of my own inner nature through the elements. “It shows us how to live in a state of balance in which fulfillment is a matter of being, not becoming,” explains Dr. Frawley.
Suddenly, I didn’t have to become something else through linear diets and austere practices. I could relax, exhale, and expand into knowing myself through the awareness of the five elements and how they danced in my body and mind, giving me a compass to direct my daily practices towards balance, using ease and alignment rather than control or force. This beautiful wisdom of Ayurveda gifted me a grace to interact with my health in a whole new way.
We Are the Elements
The essence of Ayurveda teaches us that we are a part of nature. Everything within nature, including our own bodies and minds, is comprised of these five elements—air, space, fire, water, and earth. We can observe the elements in their interplay by looking out the window. Notice the wind dancing in the leaves, erratic and mutable. Observe the stable qualities of the tree trunk as it roots down into the earth. Feel the warmth of the sun as it shines intensely mid-day, and the soothing qualities of water as it flows steadily in a cool stream. These are mirrored in our own bodies—as the bones and dense muscles create the stability of our physical structure, the waterways that transport blood and other fluids, the fire in the belly that transforms the food we eat into energy, and the nervous system that stimulates movement and connects body to mind. These dynamic forces, or doshas, are always at play within us and around us.
Knowing Our Nature
When we’re born, our own constitutional makeup is shaped by a balance of the elements. Known as prakriti, our constitutions are established at conception, take root at birth, and shape our proclivities throughout our lives.
For example, I discovered my constitutional makeup has more air and space elements—vata dosha—and my health challenges centered around chronic constipation, dry skin, anxiety, and low immunity. I moved homes, traveled often, and frequently ate a diet of cold, dry, and packaged foods. Little did I know these were all increasing vata dosha and deepening my patterns of imbalance. Even in my raw food days, I would feel great in the summer, but by fall I was cold and constipated all over again, not understanding how even the healthiest of foods weren’t making me feel great. Instead, I began cooking my foods and utilizing more oils and warming spices in my diet, slowing down my yoga practice, and integrating more time for rest and reflection. My digestive challenges and anxiety subsided, and I found deeper awareness of how food could not only shape my physical health, but my emotional health and spiritual capacity as well. By understanding the qualities of each element, I could bring in what was needed in daily diet and lifestyle practices to balance my body and mind.
This awareness of the elements and how they’re showing up in the day-to-day is called vikrit—our current state of balance. Prakriti, our inner nature, helps us know who we are at our core, while vikritiempowers us to practice self-inquiry each day and observe what is present for us in the moment.
Knowing the language of Ayurveda yokes us with the very real, very present, and intimate experience of being a part of nature. It moves us beyond the text books and linear theories and gives us a practical and actionable framework to interact with our fluid and dynamic health.
For me, it took me out of seeking answers in new diets, new yoga styles, new healers, and the next best thing. Instead, Ayurveda, and knowing my own nature, empowered me to see my health as a living wisdom within me. And while my journey with food continues, it’s now more of a love affair as I play with new flavors and foods through the seasons and discover how they can nourish me in different ways to meet my elemental needs.
Invoking Your Inner Wisdom through Ayurveda
There are many ways to more deeply know who we are. These five steps will help you on your journey of self-discovery.
- Determine your prakriti by taking the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz, and work with a practitioner to gain more in-depth insight into your personal constitution.
- Get to know the elements and their qualities, and inquire within to see how they shape who you are.
- Check in with yourself each day, observe what is present and what is needed to restore harmony.
- Take action to align with your daily needs—whether it means eating cooked, warming foods in colder weather, honoring slowing down with a restorative meditation, opting for an energizing breathing practice when you’re feeling lethargic, or practicing gratitude when you’re feeling angry and impatient.
- Be loving, patient, gentle, and ever curious on your journey inward.