How I Learned to Manage Pain with the Help of Ayurveda
I was 48 years old when I woke up one spring morning with a strange pain coursing through my body. The day before I’d thought I was coming down with the flu, but on this day, I felt fine except for the odd unexplainable pain.
When it didn’t go away after a week or so, I made my way to a doctor whose best guess was that a virus had settled in my muscles. He sent me on my way, saying that it would likely run its course in a couple of weeks. It did not. When weeks turned into months, I began the quest for answers to this pain that began to consume me, robbing me of sleep, and leaving me feeling fragile, afraid, and alone. I didn’t look sick, and I wasn’t comfortable being on the receiving end of care. I wanted answers, and I was not getting any from doctors.
So one afternoon I sat down at a computer (this was 15 years ago, and I barely used one at the time) and typed in the words “pain all over.” Up popped the word “fibromyalgia” over and over and over again. I had my answer! Or so I thought. Armed with this strange word as my self-diagnosis, I went back to my doctor and said: “This is what I have.” The description matched my symptoms to a T.
By this time, I was beginning to sense that the doctors thought I was slightly delusional. One of them had to get out a big book to look up the word “fibromyalgia.” She was kind and sympathetic but admitted that she had no clue what was going on with me. I remember feeling very alone. Antidepressants were suggested. Anti-anxiety medication. Sleep medication. Pain medication. Steroids. I tried them all and then I had an awakening. You know, one of those life-changing moments. A lightbulb went off. An aha moment, as Oprah likes to say.
The drug route was not for me. I already had a myriad of symptoms from this strange syndrome—pain all over, hypersensitivity to any kind of stimuli, bone-deep fatigue, insomnia, and so forth. I did not need any more from the side effects the drugs were giving me. And so began my foray into the world of holistic and alternative healing. Because, you know, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected.
I tried acupuncture, herbs, and something called Gua sha, where my body was “scraped” with a jade stone to remedy blood stagnation. The practitioner told me I would be black and blue and look like I'd been beaten. He was right. It was summer, and I had on a sundress. I will never forget that day.
I tried anything and everything. Some therapies gave me relief, but the pain always returned. I had excellent health insurance at the time, which would cover physical therapy almost daily. I would go and have a massage and get injections of I-don’t-know-what. I felt better until I stepped outside into the cold or the heat of the day, and the pain returned. It was mind boggling. Even gentle yoga was sometimes too much for me.
One day, probably six years into this ordeal of pain, I was working at a restaurant in NYC. It was summer, and I was stationed at the hostess stand. Overhead, a ceiling fan was whirring. Any air movement—a fan, air conditioner, even a breeze while riding my bike—completely unnerved me. I was trying to hold back tears. My body ached, and the air was blowing on me. A young waitress who knew what was going on approached me and asked, “Have you ever heard of Ayurveda?” It was a question that I answered “no” to, and yet I felt in my bones that I’d known this practice for lifetimes.
Her name was Sarah. She’d grown up in California, and her hippie parents (her words) had taught her about Ayurveda. I lost touch with Sarah but wish I could thank her for asking me that question. It changed my life.
I started to read everything I could get my hands on and eventually made my way to an Ayurvedic practitioner who proclaimed that my vata was “off the charts deranged.” Unlike the doctors who would look at me funny when I said that I was overly sensitive to the wind, he said “Well, of course, you are! Vata is movement and wind and you have way too much of it.”
I began paying attention to the foods I was eating, and when I was eating them. I started going to bed early and at a regular time (for the most part anyway—vata and regularity don’t usually go hand in hand!). I discovered a wonderful Ayurvedic spa in Soho and began getting weekly abhyanga massages. I nurtured myself. Deeply. I could have done better at letting the people in my life nurture me, but I too often let myself end up in a caretaking role, depleting rather than building up my own strength and immunity.
A wise healer along the way once told me, “It takes the body a long time to reach such a state of imbalance, and it can take an equally long time to heal.”
When I got frustrated with the slow progress of healing, I would remind myself of what she’d said. It took close to eight years before I could declare that my symptoms had subsided and I was pain-free. Looking back, my healing journey was a hodge-podge of treatments and remedies. Ayurveda most definitely played a key role. I often wonder if I would have had a quicker recovery if Sarah had asked me the question earlier. I went on to study Ayurveda, and now here I am writing about it. It seems as though it was some grand life plan and I had to go through the pain to lead me to where I am today.
My story will no doubt be different from yours. Each person has their own unique story of pain and suffering and searching for answers to their healing. One of the reasons I was so drawn to study Ayurveda was that it focuses so much on our individuality. Our unique constitution. This ancient healing modality called “the knowledge of life” really is so wise.
Healing your body with Ayurveda takes patience. It takes deep self-reflection and a willingness to nurture yourself down to your very cells.
It takes discipline to change old habits that are not healthy. This includes what we eat and drink, as well as when we eat and drink. And a daily routine is incredibly important to living a balanced life and even more so when we’re trying to heal.
Ama is a term used in Ayurveda to describe a toxic substance in the body which is the result of weak digestion. Left to circulate in the body, these toxins can wreak havoc and cause all kinds of physical (and mental) disorders. Vata type ama very likely played a key role in my own body’s ordeal with fibromyalgia. It’s something I remind myself of often when I begin to stray too far from foods that are best for my constitution, or eat at irregular times, or pile on too much stress.
Ayurveda is available for anyone out there trying to heal their body. In the years since I’ve healed, so many more books have been written and the Internet is chock-full of information about the ancient healing science. Consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner can help you make sense of doshas and gunas and abhyanga and some of those other strange words which now seem like old friends to me.
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. Just start with one or two simple adjustments to your daily routine.
For me, eating my largest meal at noon and going to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. changed everything.
A great place to start is determining your unique constitution and your current imbalances. The Ayurvedic Profile™ makes this process very easy. Explore the wonderful world of Ayurvedic herbs and oils. I should have bought stock in ashwagandha and Vata Massage Oil when I was healing. And Ghee! Oh my, this delicious, healing, nurturing, golden elixir became a staple in my kitchen. I’d never heard of it before I learned about Ayurveda. And I’m still learning.
Just because I was able to heal from a particularly grueling and painful condition doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to have health challenges. That’s life. Even healers need healing. Be patient but curious. Pay attention. My body “talks” to me and yours will too if you listen! Your body is wise and forgiving and it is working 24/7 to stay healthy and balanced. Give it the TLC it deserves.
Ayurveda is like a trusted friend now and it is part of my everyday life. I may not get it right all the time, but having the knowledge is half the battle. When Ayurveda is coupled with meditation, they are the dynamic duo of healing. I wasn’t meditating back in those days but I certainly am now, and it’s every bit as important to my daily life as eating and sleeping. I hope this beloved ancient science finds its way into your life and brings you as much joy and healing as it has for me. It will change you forever!