August 9, 2011

Trying not to be such a pain in the ass.

An Ayurvedic Newbie Attempts to Balance the Doshas.

I can be a real pain in the ass. That is no secret to those who know me well.  In fact, I make no apologies to those who have called me an eye-rolling pain in the ass of epic proportions.

But it’s not my fault. Really, it’s not. My prakruti makes me do it. I was born this way!

Prakruti is the unique body type and design each person is born with and that regulates their temperament, health and physical characteristics as described in the Ayurvedic tradition. Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit words: Ayus—life and Veda—science. Therefore, ayurveda is often called the science of life.

In Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra details how using Ayurvedic principles and techniques can naturally lead the body to a place of balance and wellness. Understanding that everyone is made up of three different doshas, usually with one being the predominant dosha, Ayurvedic practitioners believe disease and discomfort occur when the doshas go out of balance. 

But first, we have to determine our dosha—or body type. A quick search turns up multiple dosha quizzes to find your prominent dosha type.

  • Vata—Made up of the Earth elements of air and space. Therefore, vata types are usually  small-boned and thin-framed, creative, adaptable, prone to fatigue and often have low immunity.
  • Pitta—Earth elements are fire and water. So, like me, you’re most likely a pita if you are of a medium but muscular build, ambitious, passionate and prone to inflammation and irritability.
  • Kapha—Because kapha earth elements are water and earth, people with this primary dosha have a rounder body shape, are prone to weight gain, tend to be grounded and compassionate, yet will often be lethargic and sleepy.

As a pitta, I have the characteristic reddish hair and freckles. I sunburn easily but crave the sun. I don’t particularly like spicy foods. I am precise and orderly when working on a project. I am opinionated, competitive and ambitious. Sometimes, though, I am a bit too opinionated, competitive and ambitious.

Chopra details in Perfect Health how keeping the doshas balanced through diet, exercise and daily routine can keep us in a state of natural and perfect health. With the death of my mom this past year, my life was set into chaos and my doshas went spiraling out of control. While reading, I realized that a recent weight gain was the result of a kapha imbalance.

Although Ayurveda is 5,000 years old, it’s adaptable to our modern fast-paced life. I decided to try the weekend Ayurvedic plan to reset my digestive fire, called agni, in hopes of restoring balance to my doshas and returning my eating to a more natural state. Begin to cure myself in just a weekend? I’m in and ready to give it a try.

  • Friday evening: I eat a light meal but before bed take three tablets of senna and a glass of warm water. So far this is pretty easy.
  • Very early Saturday morning:  Wake up and make a run for the bathroom. So that’s what those senna tablets were for.
  • Saturday 8am—drink a glass of fresh squeezed apple and pear juice diluted with warm water and teach my first yoga class of the day. I feel lighter already.
  • Saturday 10am—watch my kid’s soccer game and begin to feel a little hungry but no big deal. Leave soccer game and teach another class. Feeling good!
  • Saturday 12:30pm—watch kids eat their lunch while I drink another glass of warm juice. This isn’t so fun anymore.
  • Saturday 3pm—I’m tired and I’m hungry.  And I have a headache. I flip through Perfect Health and see the highlighted passage that says pitta doshas don’t like to skip meals.  So this agni reset is against my dosha! I’m being set up to fail!
  • Saturday 5pm—screw this I’m eating!

Agni reset FAIL.

Obviously there is more to adapting an Ayurvedic lifestyle than just knowing my dosha, drinking warm juice and a weekend fast. And since running off to the Chopra Center for Well Being for a complete evaluation is impractical, I needed to find an expert closer to me for help.

To help me figure out the labyrinth of details involved, I turned to Felicia Marie Tomasko, RN, President, California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, and Editor-in-Chief, LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health Magazine.

Is there a “good” dosha to have? How bad is being a pain in the ass pitta?

FT: From the perspective of Ayurveda, there is no “good” dosha. All doshas have their positive qualities and their challenges.

Is it possible to change your prakruti? Or do I just hope to keep it balanced?

FT: The idea of prakruti is that it is your personal combination of genetics, karma, what you inherit from your parents and the circumstances of your birth. We live in a world characterized by constant change, thus maintaining our balance in a shifting environment is a challenge. When your current state is different than your prakruti, we need to engage in activities to bring ourselves back into balance.

In your opinion, what is the one most important thing we can do to keep the doshas balanced?

FT: Maintaining balance is a daily practice and it involves paying attention to some of the cornerstones of health: good digestion, good sleep and good exercise.

I realize that part of the reason my weekend agni reset didn’t go so well was because it’s meant to be done during a time of complete rest and relaxation. Well, I’m a working mom with a real life that doesn’t involve long periods of complete rest.

Other parts of the daily Ayurvedic method include self-oil massage, tongue scraping, neti pot, meditation an hour before sunrise, sun salutations and a 15-minute walk after every meal to aid digestion.

If given the option between sleep and rising at 4am to begin my Ayurvedic routine, I’m picking sleep. Doshas be damned.

How practical is the whole Ayurvedic daily routine?

FT: Choose one non-negotiable practice. Find a routine you can live with and practice six out of seven days. Sleep well and eat well. From the beginning, release the need for perfection.

Release the need for perfection? Does she know I’m a pitta? That’s what us pittas expect!

Ok, so I can’t live a completely Ayurvedic lifestyle, but I can accept Felicia’s suggestion and pick a few non-negotiable activities: sleep, neti pot and healthy foods.

I’m pretty boring in that my bedtime routine is the same each night. I’m very protective of my need for time to rest. The neti pot has really helped me with my Southern summer allergies.

With awareness and effort, my eating has returned to a more vegetarian-based diet. Pittas tend to do very well with vegetarianism because it calms and soothes our digestive fire. Aside from a natural weight loss, eating lighter also helps keep me cool in the midst of the summer heat wave we are having down here in the south.

Although I am the one who always volunteers to sit in the sun and give others the shade, I don’t do well with humidity. And summer heat can push my already fiery dosha out of balance, making me irritable and unpredictable.

In fact, I started writing this post back in the beginning of the summer, but just haven’t been inspired to write much of anything lately. I’m blaming it on my prakruti. It’s been so damned hot outside it’s messing with my innate creativity.

Felicia suggests adding some aloe vera juice to my water to help keep me cool and balanced in the summer heat.

This weekend I’ll drive down to Whole Foods and buy some aloe vera juice. It has to be better than that weekend agni reset I tried!

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