Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on October 12, 2011.
By Sachie Alessio Heath
My mother has been into alternative medicine since I can remember. I’ve endured countless “healthy” trends like:
• 35% hydrogen peroxide drops in our milk,
• growing kombucha on our dining room table,
• eating raw garlic,
• and other things I’d rather not mention.
Her current medicinal miracle of choice, which has lasted a few years now, is coconut oil.
She not only uses it as a body and face lotion, but has also replaced it for olive oil in her cooking. She is truly shocked when I tell her I don’t care for the coastal tropical flavor her lovely Mediterranean dishes have adopted. When I was a child, I had no choice but to survive these phases, but now, as an adult, I have the option to ignore her completely. (Just kidding, mom!)
I have a natural aversion to anything she’s ever told me to try – have you ever had hydrogen peroxide in your milk? – but she was relentless with this one, and I figured I at least didn’t have to ingest it. So, after years of pushing, I started using coconut oil as a body lotion.
I was initially turned off by the greasiness on my skin, and then after a few weeks, I developed a rash on my chest. Some investigation on my part disclosed that a minor percentage of people are in fact allergic to coconut oil. This led me to seek out other essential oils, their properties, and health benefits. There are a ton of them: sesame seed oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, oregano oil – just to name a few. I chose sesame seed oil, and put the coconut oil aside to return to mother.
A few days later, my mom asked about the coconut oil during our phone convo…
Mom: “So, how’s the coconut oil working out for you?”
Me: “Well, I actually found some Ayurvedic sesame oil, and I like it!”
Mom: “But coconut oil is a beneficial oil with lots of healing properties!”
Me: “I know, and sesame seed oil is an antioxidant, has natural enzymes, and fatty acids that are absorbed into the skin.”
Mom: “Coconut oil has that too!”
Me: “And, sesame oil is naturally antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial. And it’s a natural anti-inflammatory!”
Mom: “Yeah?! Coconut oil is that too!!”
Me: “Sesame seed oil is a natural UV protector, and is good for your joints!”
Mom: “Well, COCONUT OIL is BETTER!”
Me: “Mom, do you really think God made ONE essential oil that was only available in ONE part of the world leaving, everyone else totally screwed?” (silence) “Besides, I developed a rash using the coconut oil.”
This impassioned response was not foreign coming from my mother. She was this way about everything. But, it got me to thinking that we are all like this about something in our lives. We see this in religion, politics, business, philosophy, medicine. In the yoga world, it can be about what style you take, what teacher you go to, vegetarianism, veganism, chocolate, and mats. And everyone is emphatic when you ask them about said things. Common descriptions include: “the only way,” “the best way,” “the real yoga,” etc.
Ayurveda, the 4000-year-old medicine meant to compliment asana, is all about looking at the individual and tailoring to his or her needs. And though there are three main doshas, and seven possible combinations of those doshas, there are numerous potential imbalances and treatments, including the highly charged topic of vegetarianism. Just like the coconut oil, maybe some of us thrive on vegetarianism, but others of us really need the protein in grass-fed meat that we just cannot get from veggies alone. Some of us might love Ashtanga, but it might be too vigorous for others. There are numerous styles of yoga and I’m sure every single one of them is right for at least someone. Even Bikram. The longer I teach and practice, the more challenging it gets for me to plan a class. I know there will be at least one student who may not benefit from certain alignment instruction, if I’m lucky. Some days, half the class needs one thing, and the other half requires the opposite.
It’s the rigidity and judgment that I can’t ever seem to comprehend, especially in the yoga community.
I mean, who really cares how open your hamstrings get if your mind doesn’t mirror the same or greater flexibility? Couldn’t we all have the freedom to explore our latest “medicinal miracle,” be completely immersed in it, and release it when it no longer serves us – just like my mother went through her fixations.
I have certainly gone my way of declarations, and have wished I could take a lot of those things back, as they have cycled their way out of my life. I still catch myself on the brink of steadfast announcements.
I used to teach a theme in class – more often than not, my execution was inelegant and underdeveloped. There are a few teachers that are able to effortlessly weave philosophy with asana, and I humbly bow to them. I, however, felt I was doing a disservice to these people who paid good money to come to class, and if they were interested in the philosophies of yoga, could just pick up several well-written books on the subjects. I changed my focus to just the asana, and discovered that proper alignment gave me more AHA! moments than my poorly executed themes ever could.
Shifting my focus to alignment was the ticket to the body/mind/spirit connection I was looking for. The more I learned about alignment, the greater parallels I found to philosophy — so THAT’S what they were talking about! I wanted to share this experience with everyone. I found myself behaving in the same manner I did when I discovered Intellingentsia coffee – shrieking “THIS IS THE BEST COFEE EVER!!” I wanted everyone to experience this joy, this true connection.
But I had to remember: I wasn’t the only person to have felt this. Duh. And, the yogis back in the day were pretty darn brilliant. Those poses did not happen by chance. The eight limbs of yoga aren’t an accident either.
Having a mother so passionate has helped me develop compassion for other people’s beliefs. My wish for each person is that they learn respect and tolerance for everyone on their own path to whatever it is they’re aiming for. Whatever devotion we might have at the moment, there will be others with the complete opposite belief. Good for them. Good for us. May it help us continue to develop love, compassion, tolerance, and respect for our entire human race.
About Sachie Alessio Heath
Sachie Alessio Heath is a yoga teacher, actress, foodie, and action hero. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Josh, and their two adorable pit bulls, Sasha and Bruiser. She loves learning and sharing knowledge, and also happens to have a preternatural talent for impersonations. Follow her on Twitter and check out her website.
Artwork by: Vanessa Fiola