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April 14, 2020

Finding Balance in Chaotic Times with Ayurveda.

Relephant read: Elephant’s Continually updated Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed.

~

With all the chaos going on in the world right now, and many turning to alternative ways of healing, I’ve been asked more about Ayurveda.

What is Ayurveda? What has Ayurveda been to me?

Although my answer always changes, depending on the day, I’d say that Ayurveda is something that lives within us all.

To practice Ayurveda is to remember how to live in harmony with nature—the natural world, our own unique nature, and the natural fluctuations and rhythms of life while guided by internal wisdom to make corresponding lifestyle choices best suited to balance both body and mind.

One of the things that first drew me to Ayurveda is the fact that it honors our natural fluctuations in life—internal cycles, rhythms, and energies that influence our inner and outer worlds. I loved that it honored that there is no one-size-fits-all fix for anything, but instead, many simple practices to move toward balance.

Recognizing the individual as just that, an individual who requires different care dependent on a variety of factors, Ayurveda encourages us to cultivate awareness and connect with our own innate wisdom, by observing the Vipāka, or post-digestive effect of all that we do.

Beyond the foods we put into our bodies, beyond the yoga we practice, but all the choices we make, Ayurveda teaches us to notice, how these choices make us feel. How they digest in both body and mind. Do they take us closer or further from peace? Closer or further from mental and physical health?

With time, Ayurveda teaches us to make choices that help us gain and maintain balance. With time, we are handed power to help keep our nervous systems balanced.

Through Ayurveda, we realize, we hold much power in preventing and healing many of the mental and physical challenges we face. Eventually we realize how intuitive it all really is—how deeply engrained this wisdom is within us all. Eventually, we learn to self-regulate.

If we are feeling overly Vata (air and space):

We may feel chaotic movement from within, restless or indecisive, less secure, and less willing to be patient. In this space of erratic movement from one task to another, one thought to another, we tend to fear our future and experience ultra-sensitivity. This is a space without much grounding.

Physically, we may experience cracking joints, constipation, difficulty focusing, insomnia, gas, bloating, muscle stiffness, arthritis, or fluctuating energy.

A remedy:

If we are in this space, choosing grounding, nourishing practices such as gentle yoga, meditation, and oil massage can help to put our body back check. We may also benefit from a regular routine, silence, or time in nature. Eating grounding root vegetables and ghee may also help to help regain our balance.

If we are feeling more Pitta (fire and water):

We may feel a bubbling up from within. We may feel more aggressive or competitive, less compassionate, and less in touch with our emotions. In this space of intense movement, we may be stuck in a nonstop, on-the-go lifestyle in which we seek to overachieve, perform, and acquire. We may want to conquer all. This space without much calm.

Physically, we may experience hot flashes, excess sweating, inflammation, diarrhea, redness, skin rashes, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, ulcers, and excess hunger or thirst.

A remedy:

If we are in this space, choosing cooling, calming practices such as moderation of all activity, taking the time to simply be while arranging a bouquet of flowers or listening to calming, soft music without words, can help to slow us down to a more sustainable pace. We may also benefit from practicing yoga nidra, time in nature, or partaking in a regular gratitude practice. Consuming bitter, sweet, and astringent tastes in food, helps balance our interior.

If we are feeling more Kapha (water and earth):

We may feel weighted from within, more lethargic or heavy, unwilling to share, and unmotivated. In this space of little movement, we may eat too much, sleep too much, or feel stuck and fearful of letting go. This is a space without much movement.

Physically, we may experience excess weight, sinus congestion, water retention, hypothyroidism, lymphatic disorders, depression, low tolerance to cool, damp weather, or a flare up of asthma.

A remedy:

If we are in this space, choosing stimulating, drying practices such as regular exercise. Activities such as hiking or running will best suit those with a Kapha imbalance. We may also benefit from mantra meditation, listening to energizing music, wind bathing, dry massage to stimulate circulation, rising and sleeping early, and practicing non-attachment in daily life to help regain balance. Consuming portion controlled meals is key.

Although it’s currently spring, the Kapha season when Ayurveda generally advises us to eat lighter, fresher foods and practice more energizing practices, I’ve been watching myself and many others (Ayurveds and not) turning toward heavier, grounding, Vata-balancing practices in response to this current hectic state of Vatagenic climate we find ourselves in today.

Yes, it can be said that the uncertainty and fear circulating from this virus is disturbing to the Vata in us all. Many not even studying Ayurveda are turning to these Vata balancing practices in response. It’s pretty freaking cool to see, and it further illustrates how natural Ayurvedic medicine is when we learn to tune in. The world needs Ayurveda now, more than ever.

While I’m gaining much knowledge from teachers and textbooks, the true heart of these teachings resides in the practice—in the real life applications of these teachings to our lives. By choosing one practice to start, remaining consistent and taking note of the post-digestive effect of whatever it is we are adding, we are able to slowly move toward balance.

I invite you to choose a balancing practice from below—something you feel is realistic and that you can commit to.

Take a minute to be still and reflect. Which dosha needs balancing? You’ll most likely know intuitively.

While I highly recommend taking an online assessment or seeking an Ayurdedic consultation, especially for more serious issues, it can be fun to tune into ourselves and to our current state and begin to notice the qualities of the of the doshas playing out in our lives and relationships.

Vata Balancing

Food: Enjoy warm, cooked, grounding foods like root vegetables, eggs, pineapple, kimchi, mung daal, red lentils, peaches, avocados, ghee, dates. Warming spices include: cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon. Go for tastes that are sweet, sour, or salty.

Yoga Asana: Indulge in slow, repetitive movements, yoga nidra, forward bends, Lotus pose, Vajrasana, and long Savasana.

Meditation/Pranayama: Begin a practice of alternate nostril breathing (in through right, out through left).

Mantra: Ram or Hum are warm, soft, and calming mantras. Start with saying a mantra out loud, and then chant silently in your mind.

Exercise: Take part in regular walks in nature, yoga, and tai chi.

Massage: Massage with sesame or medicated oils (Ashwaghanda or Bala are my favorites).

Limitations: Avoid alcohol, coffee, caffeine, overstimulation, eating on the go, talking excessively.

Pitta Balancing

Food: Enjoy milk, butter, ghee, coconut, celery, kale, pasta, basmati rice, and sweet fruits. Cooling spices include: coriander, turmeric, cloves. Go for tastes that are sweet, bitter, or astringent.

Yoga Asana: Practice at 60-70 percent effort. Take a step back from your edge. Embrace slower and more restorative practices, Plow, Shoulderstand, and long Savasana.

Meditation/Pranayama: Begin a practice of alternate nostril breathing (in through left, out through right—opposite the Vata practice).

Mantra: Om, Aim, Shrim, or Sham are cool, soothing and calming mantras. Chant them silently.

Exercise: Take part in regular walks in nature, taking the time to notice all the beauty you see. Swimming in cool water is also beneficial for Pitta balancing.

Massage: Massage with cool oils like coconut and sunflower, and apply rose, sandalwood or rosewater to the head.

Limitations: Avoid alcohol, coffee, caffeine, spicy food, smoking, watching violence on TV, and exposure to heat.

Kapha Balancing

Food: Enjoy fresh fruits and veggies, black beans, garbanzo beans, pumpkin seeds, wild rice. Hot spices include: ginger, black pepper and turmeric. Go for tastes that are pungent, astringent, bitter.

Yoga Asana: Indulge in higher intensity flow to get the energy moving upward with poses like Pashchimotanasana, Virabhadrasana, Sun Salutations, backbends, and inversions.

Meditation/Pranayama: Vigorous pranayama, Kapalabhati.

Mantra: Hum, Om, or Aim are warm, stimulating and activating mantras. Chant them out loud.

Exercise: Participate in high intensity workouts, like running and strenuous hiking.

Massage: Deep massage with light, dry oils such as mustard or herbal powders. Use saunas to help promote sweating.

Limitations: Avoid overeating, emotional eating, storing emotions, napping, and heavy, oily foods.

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Which practice did you commit to? I want to know.

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