Why Nature is the Best Health Coach
When I set out to write this article on how Ayurveda can help us lead a calm and peaceful life, I immediately thought of something I learned from my teacher, Maya Tiwari. She taught us that all the herbs in the world wouldn't heal us if we’re not living in harmony with Nature.
Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Yet, how many of us wish for that magic pill to take away our troubles or heal our bodies?
I think it’s pretty easy to see that the busier we become and the more out-of-touch we are with our natural rhythms, our health suffers—be it emotional, mental, or physical. For all the adapting that humans have done over the years, we still have basic needs that must be met and a biological clock that needs attention.
Enter Ayurveda. This ancient science, so aptly meaning “the knowledge of life,” teaches us how to see the elements (Air, Ether, Fire, Water, and Earth) within us.
Recognize That We Are Nature
Ayurveda proves without a shadow of a doubt how inextricably connected our body, mind, and spirit are. And when one suffers, they all suffer. We seem to know this instinctively when we say things like “My heart is breaking,” “I’m sick to my stomach with worry,” or “I’m so angry my blood is boiling.” Balancing our mental and emotional health often seems to take precedence because most of us use it as a barometer for the joy in our life.
We all know people who are in a great deal of physical pain, and yet they somehow seem to have figured out a way to step outside of that pain and be happy. And we also know people who, from the outside at least, seem to “have it all,” but are miserable.
If the body doesn’t make us sick, the mind most certainly can. Of course, we are all different. And what may create anxious feelings for one person may manifest as angry or depressed feelings in another.
The intelligence of Ayurveda teaches us to respect the unique needs of the body/mind we were born with. And the three doshas (life forces or biological humors), known as vata, pitta, and kapha, help us determine our individual constitution. With even the slightest understanding of the doshas, we can learn to recognize what we need to do to strive for good health—physical, emotional, and mental—in our day-to-day lives. Check out this Intro to Ayurveda for easily digestible information to get you started.
Equally important to our health is paying attention to the daily clock and seasonal influences associated with the three doshas:
|Dosha||Times of Day||Season|
|Vata||2:00–6:00 a.m. and 2:00–6:00 p.m.||Fall / Early Winter|
|Pitta||10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m.||Summer|
|Kapha||6:00–10:00 a.m. and 6:00–10:00 p.m.||Late Winter / Spring|
When we, in our busy lives, neglect this knowledge and do things such as eating improper foods at the wrong time of day or season, having poor sleep habits, or overwhelming our mind with stimuli and excessive information, our health suffers. But we are in the driver’s seat. Undoubtedly, outside influences are affecting our health such as air and water pollution, depleted toxic soil and GMOs, busy work schedules, and on and on. The good news is there are many things in our control that we can change to affect better health and a more peaceful life, and Ayurveda holds the key—at least, it did for me.
I first discovered Ayurveda when I had fibromyalgia, and I remember it was like a giant lightbulb switching on in my head. I had suffered with decades of unexplained anxiety—almost half a century, to be exact. That’s a lot of anxiety! I had my work cut out for me getting my vata dosha under control. It still challenges me every single day. But I don’t have the pain of fibromyalgia anymore.
“All pain is a reminder that we have strayed from the natural rhythms of life.”
I wish I could say it’s a piece of cake to achieve a natural state of wellness. But, for all of the Ayurvedic knowledge swimming around in my head on a daily basis, I still struggle to follow a proper routine. We humans are like that. Gloriously imperfect. That being said, what I do have on a daily basis is awareness. And that, I think, is the key within the practices of Ayurveda.
A beautiful element of Ayurveda is the concept of sadhana (daily practice) and one which I learned a great deal about during my studies with Maya Tiwari. Years later, it continues to inform me, motivate me, and inspire me.
“Sadhana is a Sanskrit word whose root, sadh, means to reclaim that which is divine in us, our power to heal, serve, rejoice, and uplift the spirit. Sadhana practices encompass all our daily activities, from the simple to the sublime—from cooking a meal to exploring your inner self through meditation. The goal of sadhana is to enable you to recover your natural rhythms of nature, your mind becomes more lucid and more peaceful and your health improves. Your entire life becomes easier.”
With Maya’s words ringing in my ears, I’ve become conscious of when I’m neglecting my daily routine and expecting the herbs I take to work miracles. Herbs are excellent for giving us a boost in the direction of healing, and the ritual of taking them is an important self-care sadhana. Herbs are food and food is medicine.
I try to give equal attention to the other daily sadhanas that are also healing, such as meditation, abhyanga (oil massage), yoga, pranayama (breathwork), and so forth.
Writing this article is also making it crystal clear how quickly I can slip from a peaceful Ayurvedic lifestyle to one of anxiety and chaos if I don’t pay close attention. I have a Thich Nhat Hanh calligraphy next to my bed that says “breathe, my dear.” It jumped out at me once when I was choosing from dozens of his gems of wisdom. I chose it because I used to joke that I’d held my breath for most of my life and I needed a reminder to slow down and consciously breathe.
Even with that reminder right next to my bed, many days it goes unnoticed. But when it does catch my eye, it always makes me smile, and I immediately honor Thich Nhat Hanh and myself by sitting down and taking some calm, mindful, gentle breaths. Because, after all, awareness is the key.
Then, of course, we must take action. The beautiful thing is that each day, if we fall short of our expectations, we get to start fresh the very next morning. You don’t need to be an Ayurveda enthusiast like I am to practice these ancient principles. I sometimes have to put to rest all of the information that’s swimming around in my head because it overwhelms me. And then I go back to basics. And my sadhana practice. With one important goal in mind—awareness.
Trust the Process
So much of my Ayurveda journey has been serendipitous. A casual mention from a co-worker who saw how much pain I was in every day. “Have you ever heard of Ayurveda?” she asked. That one question changed my life profoundly. I remember answering “No,” but feeling, at the same time, that I knew it in my bones. And a last-minute, unplanned visit to a little independent bookstore in NYC several years ago put me face-to-face with Maya Tiwari, whose book, “The Path of Practice,” I had just discovered and devoured.
As vata season shifts into kapha season here in the Northeastern U.S. (where I live), I can feel a slight lessening of anxious feelings. It’s a welcome relief for me, having very little kapha in my constitution, but I feel for my beloved kapha friends and family who will be faced with their own seasonal challenges.
Whatever your constitution is (discover yours here), I urge you to get acquainted with it—the good and the not-so-good. Study what foods and lifestyle habits are most pacifying for you. Go easy on yourself. Pick one or two things to work on and see what a difference they make. Be mindful of the seasons and the time of day, with the intention of living in sync with Mother Nature as much as possible.
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom,” said Socrates. What do you want to bet he knew all about Ayurveda?
If you consciously live with Ayurvedic awareness for a full year, through all three Ayurvedic seasons, I can almost guarantee you will experience the most incredible shifts in your life.
And when it happens, I would love to hear all about it!
“We are wellness. We are consciousness. That is our natural state. Disease is an imposter.”