“What is here, is elsewhere, what is not here, is nowhere.” ~ The Mahabharata
Lately, I’ve been imagining a scenario in which an interesting client knocked on my door seeking an Ayurvedic consultation.
The “client” was America. If this were to happen, after perhaps being a bit overwhelmed, I would invite her to have a seat, and then follow the same protocol of evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment that I would for any individual.
Ayurveda (“Ayur” means life; “Veda” means science or study) is a qualitative, energy-based medicine system of healing and well-being. Working with nature to restore balance and harmony within our bodies, the system was developed alongside yoga to create the ultimate partnership of self-healing and self-realization.
The basis of Ayurveda is the concept of the three doshas—each of which is comprised of one or more of the Five Great Elements: vata (air, ether), pitta (fire), and kapha (water, earth). In simple terms, kapha helps keep us grounded and steady, pitta illuminates our way and digests our food and our thoughts, and vata offers us space for creativity and imagination.
Understanding our dosha as human beings helps us to better understand our animate nature—our proclivities, our interests, our tendencies. The goal of Ayurveda is to help us all more easily enjoy and participate in life thanks to a sound body and mind.
All three of the doshas, when in balance, have something to offer us in our daily lives. Yet when they get out of balance, the doshas can create disharmony and disease, each in their own unique way. If we ignore an imbalance in one dosha, for instance, the other two doshas will work overtime in an effort to reestablish equilibrium. Over time, this can create imbalances in the second dosha, and soon the third will fall prey as well. The more our doshas (or, alternatively, the Five Elements) are out of balance, the more challenging restoring our health becomes.
When the imbalance is new or minor, restoring alignment can take no longer than a few days or weeks. But if it has moved deeply into the body’s tissues, it will require diet and lifestyle changes that may last for months, even years. Results might be slow to come, but they are possible. With diligence and honesty, almost any kind of healing is possible.
As I continued to study and teach Ayurveda, I discovered what I still think is its most fascinating revelation: the three doshas of vata, pitta, and kapha do not only make up human beings. The doshas are the fundamental building blocks for everything in our world—from animals to plants to rocks to clouds. In fact, there is nothing that exists that cannot be described by its doshic makeup. The doshas are at work from the microscopic levels of insects and atoms to the macroscopic levels of families, organizations, societies, nations, and planets. Once we begin looking around our world with this particular intent, we will see the doshas in absolutely everything.
What this means for us is that the Ayurvedic principles of healing that apply to individuals can also be applied to a collective—including a society of people. This also means that we can address a collective disease or imbalance in the same way as we would for an individual.
The steps are as follows:
1. When a body is sick, first seek help.
Continuing to live attached to the same habits and routines that got us sick in the first place is a dangerous practice of denial that serves only to push the imbalances into deeper and deeper bodily tissues. Recognizing that there is an illness of some kind and being willing to make some changes, is always step number one. This is true at the societal level, as well.
2. Determine which dosha(s) is primarily out of balance.
Make a list of every single symptom presenting itself—and don’t leave anything out. No matter how embarrassing—whether it’s hemorrhoids, gas, headaches, rashes, or a runny nose—each and every symptom gives us a clue as to the driving doshic imbalance. For example, we can thank the airy vata for forgetfulness, irregular periods, and insomnia. Pitta is almost always the fiery culprit behind acne, hot flashes, and acid reflux. And kapha tends to cause symptoms that can be attributed to excess water and earth: edema, lethargy, or asthma.
If we began listing our societal symptoms, the list would include, but not be limited to, the following (I’ve also parenthetically included the dosha most likely responsible):
>> Scatteredness or forgetfulness (v)
>> Short attention span or inability to concentrate (v)
>> Fear (v)
>> Rush to conclusion (v)
>> Lack of follow-through (v)
>> “Shiny object” syndrome (v)
>> Social media overload (v)
>> Fatigue (v)
>> Restlessness (v)
>> Inability to sleep (v)
>> Quick to anger (p)
>> Increased violence (p)
>> Whataboutism (vp)
>> Suspicion, criticism, and hatred of others (p)
>> Stubborn partisanship (k)
According to this list, vata is the dosha that needs attention first. Yes, pitta and kapha are problematic, but if we calm the vata, the others will follow (think of how firefighters need the wind to calm down before their efforts can be successful).
I should note that vata is the dosha related to old age and many of the degenerative diseases associated with it. It is also the dosha ultimately responsible for death and demise (kapha is youth, pitta is middle age). For these reasons, vata is the most dangerous dosha to go unanswered, and requires our utmost care and respect.
3. Take action.
Now that we have identified the problem, we can use Ayurveda’s healing principle of “like increases like, and opposites heal” to create a treatment protocol designed to heal our society of these symptoms. The more people who attend to these suggestions and benefit individually, the more we contribute to the healing of the whole—just like if we work to make our cardiovascular system healthier, our respiratory and digestive systems will also benefit.
My prescription includes:
>> Maintain grounding, steadying routines. Shifting, unpredictable, and reactive lifestyles increase vata. Waking and going to bed at roughly the same time each day can be a good start. So can eating regular, moderate meals so as not to throw our bodies into crisis wondering when and how the next meal will come. In fact, establishing proper times for all of our daily activities (working, watching TV, exercising), as well as setting reasonable limits and expectations around them is critical for our health.
>> Slow down. The speed of our culture right now is anathema to a healthy body. Recently, I’ve noticed that many online blogs now tell us, from the beginning, how much time each article will take to read. As both a writer and a reader, I find this an affront to what should be a simple, free, and grateful exchange of information and ideas. If our life is so carved up that the difference between three and five minutes is the deciding factor on what we read, consider me concerned.
We’ve been taught that time is money. But time is much more fluid and generous than that, if we let it be. We’ve all had lazy days that stretch on forever, and hours that fly by unaccounted for. Perhaps it’s time we measure our life by the quality of what we take in, not the quantity.
>> Find wisdom in nature. After the 2016 election, I spent some time alone in a hermitage in northern Minnesota to recoup. I was shocked, frightened, and concerned about the future of our country and our planet. And then, I looked out my window, where there was a giant and naked tree, swaying gently in the freezing winter night. I silently asked the tree what it thought about President Trump. In answer, it laughed and laughed and laughed. Pretty soon, I was chuckling right along with it. The tree seemed to be saying, “That small, silly-haired man can do nothing to me, and he can do nothing to you either, if you join me.” I think about that tree often, and it still brings me peace.
The tree will be here long after Trump is out of office, swaying in the winter night, basking in the summer heat, living attuned to the cycles of Mother Nature. And so will we.
>> Warm up. Fall is the season of vata—with the wind rising, the leaves falling, and the temperature dropping. It becomes even more important that we manage vata in the season in which it naturally rises. Adding some warming spices like cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon is an easy and sensory-pleasing thing we can do. We can also consider including warming essential oils and warm baths (sometimes hot can aggravate vata more) into our routines. We can surround ourselves with loving, nurturing relationships. Soft blankets, romantic movies and books, and anything else that promotes warmth, comfort, and safety are musts in a vata-imbalanced world.
>> Find stillness and silence. The most natural antidote to imbalance in the vata dosha, which is prone to erratic movement and constant noise, is stillness and silence. Our well-being will greatly benefit from prioritizing time in stillness and silence. This can be a formal meditation practice, or it can be just taking some time to appreciate our surroundings. Like a child sitting and waiting on a sled at the top of a hill, let’s find time to take in our surroundings more often, before we push off on the next adventure.
With this list of action items in its hand, I would send my imaginary client, American society, out the door with my well-wishes. I would think to myself that while the vata imbalance is deep and penetrating, I do believe this society can heal. With diligence, honesty, and a bit of Ayurvedic wisdom, anything is possible.
Author: Keri Mangis
Image: Emma Fierberg/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron