Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 39: March 11th, 2013

Only 10 days until spring and here in Rhode Island, it sure is showing! Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day, the sky and ocean were incredibly serene, and people were out and about running, raking, biking, taking beach walks with their families, even windsurfing! It is clear that people in Rhode Island love to be outdoors in the open, fresh air and that is something that I truly appreciate about this state and its inhabitants. Rhode Island is feeling more and more like home. I had originally planned to leave in May and now it looks like I am staying for the summer. ( uh oh, pretty soon, I will be 80 and never have left).

Spring is the time of rebirth and new life, and therefore, it is very easy for us to say adios to winter and all of its darkness, death, and decay. For many of us, winter cannot end soon enough. However, in her Restorative Yoga class, Kristi reminded us that before welcoming spring and hastily saying goodbye to winter, we must first pay respect to winter for all that it gives us, although its gifts and benefits are more subtle than those of spring, summer, or fall. To serve as a metaphor for winter, Kristi told us the story of the Hindu goddess Durga, the female version of Shiva. Durga is a fierce and ferocious goddess who is often depicted riding a tiger and battling and slaying demons. She symbolizes death and transformation, which signifies that in order for there to be transformation, there must first be death. Winter is Durga. Winter makes everything die so that there can be rebirth, mostly through the act of fertilization.  The dead leaves, flowers, trees, and animals return to the earth, making the soil fertile again, allowing us to grow more food. This may seem like a 6th grade science lesson, but it is easy to forget that everything on earth depends on this cycle of decay and rebirth. Without one, the other cannot exist. Wednesday, March 20th is the spring equinox, which marks 1 of the 4 days of the year when there is an equality of day and night. The equinox provides us with the perfect opportunity to rightfully pay our respects to winter and to welcome all of the transformation that spring will bring.
                                                               ( Durga- one bad ass chick!)

This past saturday, I attended an Intro to Ayurveda workshop at All That Matters with Ayurvedic Practitioner Jessica Ferrol. Ayurveda is a 5000 year old holistic health system, practiced in India. It is seen as  the sister science of yoga. Jessica described Ayurveda as the science or knowledge of the human experience. The word Ayurveda comes from " Ayus," which means life on all three levels: body, mind, and spirit, and " Veda," which means intuitive knowledge or the knowledge of nature. This is not the type of knowledge that one can learn from books or school, but a knowledge that comes from intuitive wisdom, a knowledge that each one of us is born with, a knowledge that is universal law.  The ultimate goal of Ayurveda, and yoga, is to find everyday peace. The concept of peace has many definitions, but in this case, it means to experience every moment without the chatter of the mind, without the chatter of the ego. Basically, peace means that  we are able to  listen to our true spirit, or self, and live in a way that satisfies the needs of our true spirit and not our ego. Here is an example of satisfying our ego: We get home on a Friday night, feeling exhausted and sick after a long work week. Our friends want us to go out with them for a night of drinking and because we feel like we cannot let them down, we go. Here is an example of  satisfying our true spirit:  On this Friday night, we respectfully  apologize to our friends and instead stay in so that we can rest and engage in restorative practices, such as drinking tea. In our society, our mind is constantly telling us that we must do certain things and that we must behave in a certain way. We usually listen to our minds even if we have no true desire to do what it is telling us to do, which is often the case. The voice inside that we all too often ignore, the inner voice that tells us to stay in on a Friday night, is our intuitive wisdom. The ultimate goal of Ayurveda is to create a lifestyle on a daily basis that will keep our body, mind, and spirit healthy and well. What this means for each person is extremely different , but the only way for each of us to  achieve this goal is to listen to our intuitive wisdom. Ayurveda focuses on creating the ideal and optimal conditions for body, mind, and spirit so that we can connect to this powerful,all-knowing intuitive wisdom. How is this accomplished?

Jessica described that " Ayurveda views all of creation, both physical and subtle, through the five element theory. It is through the qualities of the five elements that we can understand the environment as well as our body, mind, and soul, and how our internal world interacts with our external world. Once the basic nature of one's self and the environment is understood, a person can choose food, activity, sounds, herbs and surroundings that are all appropriate for their body/mind needs. The intention here is to learn what one's unique needs are in order to thrive in life, rather than just survive" The five elements are as follows, and each element is classified as hot or cold, heavy or light, and stable or unstable and also how it is represented in the environment, in the body, and in the mind:

1. Ether( space)-Cold, (heats up quickly, but does not retain heat well), light, and unstable. Represented by nothingness in the environment. Represented by gases, empty belly, porous spaces in bones, cavities in our bodies. Manifested in the mind as lack of concentration,  forgetfulness, and spaciness. 

2. Air-Cold( heats up quickly, but does not retain heat well,) light, mobile.  AIr is the only mobile element and it is that which moves matter. Represented by gravity and wind in the environment. Represented as circulation and nerve impulses in our bodies.. Manifested in the mind as the movement of thought.

3. Fire-Hot( always hot), light, and unstable. Fire is the element or energy of transformation and it is how we understand our environment. Represented literally by fire in the environment. Represented by digestion in our bodies( digestion is synonymous with transformation). Manifested  in the mind as intellect and the ability to comprehend things that come in from the outside environment.

4.Water-Cold( heats up slowly, but retains heat well), heavy and stable. Water is the only fluid matter that exists and it is that which flows.  Represented by water, oil, and soft metals in the environments. Represented by blood, mucous, tears, cerebral fluid, salvia, and sweat in our bodies. Manifested in our minds as love and softness. Lubrication is love, when we have lack of water, we feel a lack of love.

5. Earth-Cold( heats up slowly, but retains heat well), heavy, and stable. Earth is that which is solid matter. Represented by dirts, rock, wood, hard metals in environment. Represented by cartilage, hair, teeth, bones, and nails in our bodies. Manifested in the mind as stability,peace of mind, and calmness.

In all that exists on earth, be it you, me, your dog, the moon, lettuce, coffee, etc, these five elements are found in various and different combinations. From these combinations, come the 3 doshas, or the 3 body types, which are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each individual has a different and unique combination of these 3 doshas. An individual can be entirely one dosha, others can be an equal combination of 2 doshas, some people are even tri-doshic, meaning they possess all 3 doshas in an equal amount. Our doshas are manifested in our physical appearance, in our personality, and in our lifestyle choices. Once again, each dosha is dictated by the five elements.

Vata is composed of the elements of air and ether, which are cold, light, unstable, and mobile. Physically, an individual with a primarily Vata dosha is thin, light in body weight, has long arms, thin and dry skin, a colder body temperature, and walks with a lightness in step. Typically, Vatas are  very energetic, inspiring, and socializing and they are the friends who make sure we have fun and stay inspired and upbeat. Their minds are very expansive and they tend to think outside of the box.Therefore, Vatas are the creative individuals in our society, such as artists, inventors, and musicians. Vatas are often described as marching to their own beat. Based on the element of space, Vatas tend to lack concentration and focus and often do not follow through with projects of plans. When Vatas feel out of balance, they have too much unfocused energy  and movement and they lack stability. They worry and become anxious. Vatas often suffer from insomnia, weight loss, weakness, arthritis, and hypertension.

Pitta is composed of fire and water, although predominantly fire.  Physically, an individual with  a primarily Pitta dosha has a medium sized build with well defined muscles and bones, red-toned skin, perfect complexion, redder lips,and they freckle when they enter the sun.  Pittas are ALWAYS hot, even in 30 degree weather, and they are always sweating ( we all know a Pitta). They have a very strong appetite, a strong sex drive, and they sleep soundly for short periods of time.Typically, Pittas are  serious in nature, ambitious, goal-driven, competitive  and very intelligent. Therefore, Pittas tend to be  the leaders in our society. Pittas constantly like having a project to do and they always see through with the completion of a project. Based on the element of fire, Pittas have an extreme amount of passion. Pittas can be angered and irritated quickly and they find it difficult to engage in playful activities, which they find pointless. When out of balance, Pittas become short-tempered, resentful, and critical, specifically of others. A common Pitta thought is " why can't everyone else be an intelligent as me and see things as clearly and easily as I do."  They often suffer from skin rashes, heartburn, peptic ulcers, and indigestion

Kapha is composed of water and earth. Physically, an individual with a primarily Kapha dosha has a short and stout build, bulky muscles, thick and dark hair, thick skin and nails, and a cold body temperature. Kaphas sleep soundly and at times have a low sex drive. Based on the stable elements of earth, Kaphas tend to be calm, steady in mood, level headed, and non-confrontational. It is hard to anger or excite a Kapha. Due to their stability, Kaphas tend to be the emotional supporters in our society, those who  hold things together. A Kapha is the friend that you go to when you need to be listened to and comforted. Kaphas are often the ones mediating difficult situations between family members and friends. Based on the heavy and dense qualities of earth and water, Kaphas can be lethargic and slow to action. It is often hard for a Kapha to find the motivation to start a new project. When out of balances, Kaphas are lazy and depressed, spending a majority of time in bed doing nothing. Kaphas typically suffer from weight gain, diabetes, depression, and asthma 

To have a functional society, we desperately need all three of these doshas. Without one, our society would fall apart. Without Pittas, nothing would get done. Without Vatas, there would be no new inventions or art. Without Kaphas, diplomacy could not exist. However, society needs each dosha to be balanced because a Vata, a Pitta  or a Kapha that is out of balance can be extremely dysfunctional, useless, and even harmful. Why and when do these imbalances occur? Jessica explained that " the root of disease is living out of harmony with the external environment. In other words, it is the action of continuously choosing food, routine, activity, and surroundings that are not harmonious with a person's unique needs and constitution ( the body's inherent combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.)" For example, because a Pitta is inherently very hot, something as simple as eating spicy foods will cause an imbalance in the Pitta constitution, eventually leading to anger and irritability. For a Kapha, something as simple as a mid day nap will cause an imbalance because it increases lethargy and sluggishness. Basically, if a quality is inherent inside of us, we do not want to add more of this quality.

To heal, Ayurveda balances the qualities of a specific dosha by introducing the elements that hold the inherently opposite characteristics to that dosha. For example, to balance a Vata constitution, the qualities of warmth, heaviness, and stability need to be introduced to the body. How are these inherently opposite qualities introduced to the body? Because we connect to our external environment through our 5 senses, Ayurveda uses the 5 sense therapies to bring balance to each body, as well as yoga, meditation, and daily routine.The recommendations for each dosha are precise and extensive.

Using these therapies, a Vata should eat primarily heavy, cooked foods at a regular time each day.  In moderation, oils and sweets benefit Vata, but a Vata should minimize foods that are pungent, bitter, or astringent.  A Vata should wear earthly colors, listen to calm music, regularly go for a hot stone massage, and  favor flowery and sweet smells, such as yuengling and vanilla. Due to their tendency to lose energy quickly,  Vatas can benefit from lighter types of exercise. During meditation, a Vata should envision a tree, rooting to the ground. All of these therapies and practices are meant to increase Vata's sense of grounding and stability.

A Pitta should eat primarily cool foods and should never skip a meal. In moderation, dairy and sweets benefit Vata, but a Vata should minimize foods that are spicy, pungent, salty, and sour. A Pitta should wear calming colors, such as blues and silver, should listen to upbeat music, should regularly go for deep tissue massage, and should favor cooling and sweet aromas, such as mint, jasmine, and sandalwood. Pittas should avoid hot yoga classes and should attend restorative yoga classes, although the competitive nature of a Pitta makes he or she want to choose the Hot Power yoga class. During meditation, Pittas should envision the ocean or another calming body. These therapies are meant to cool down and loosen up the fiery and serious Pitta.Most importantly, Pittas should not overbook themselves and must find time to laugh and play.

A Kapha  should eat primarily raw foods that are light, dry, and warm. Kaphas should avoid oily, sweet, and salty foods, and should favor foods with pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. Kaphas can skip breakfast and meals should not be eaten after sunset. Kaphas should always avoid feeling damp and cold, they should wear colors that are warm and bright, such as yellow and orange, should listen to energizing and rhythmic music, should regularly get a dry and stimulating massage, and should favor warm and stimulating scents, such as cinnamon and juniper. Due to their lethargic constitution, it is very important for Kaphas to engage in regular, vigorous exercise and they should never take a mid day nap. During meditation, it is useful for a Kapha to stare into the flame of a candle. These therapies are meant to energize the heavy and sluggish Kapha.

This is just a small summary of the therapies used in Ayurvedic medicine and if you would like more information, the Ayurvedic Institute's website is extremely helpful.( You can even complete a quiz so that you can figure out your dosha. I must warn you that it is somewhat difficult to diagnosis your doshic makeup.  I have tried and I have found it impossible. Therefore, I am seeing Jessica privately. The one downfall of Ayurvedic medicine is that it is not covered by insurance, mostly because our country fails to recognize the benefits of eastern medicine. Therefore, the consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner can be somewhat expensive. However, in my eyes, seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner is a lifetime investment because once you know your specific constitution, you can make every day, lifestyle choices that will allow you to live in optimal health and in optimal peace for the rest of your life. For me, this is worth every cent. The Intro to Ayurvedic workshop has opened my eyes to a whole new world of medicine. It truly has showed me that we do not need pills or surgeries to heal us. Instead, we need to understand our bodies constitution and its relationship to the external environment so that we can make choices that do not hurt out bodies, but instead nourish them, thus preventing illness and disease. I do not necessarily care how long I live for , but while I am living, I want to feel strong and be healthy. I strongly believe that the lifestyle choices we make today dictate how we feel in our old age. Do you want to be in a wheelchair or do you want to be climbing a mountain at the age of 65? I choose the mountain.

This picture has nothing to do with yoga, but the sight of these waterfalls is too beautiful not too share with the world.

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