The Quest for Health in Such a Time…
Has 2020 got you down? Have you sometimes (often) found yourself run down, depleted, exhausted? Do you ever start new health/fitness/diet programs only to fall off the wagon? I sure do. I find myself walking behind that wagon a lot. Sometimes I lose site of the wagon completely; it’s just me alone on a dusty road.
We want to keep up with our lives, but how can we do that? When we have so much on our plates – work, school, kids, COVID stress and uncertainty – it can be quite the challenge to make time for our own health and well-being. And how do we measure up to the gorgeous, fit, “together” celebrities (and even regular people) we are scrolling past on our Instagram feeds who seem to radiate peaceful perfection?
It sure can feel easier to give up and eat chocolate/pizza in front of Netflix with our precious (little) free time. For me, it becomes an all-or-nothing proposition. If I didn’t find time to exercise this morning, I am likely to reach for the candy bowl come mid-afternoon and then stay up late nursing that candy bowl in front of a screen. The next morning, I feel kind of yuck – and it continues.
Being hard on ourselves can lead us to give up entirely. But what if we could make small, incremental changes, not stress over imperfection, and work with our own individual bodies and brains to find the right mix of healthy behaviors? And perhaps we could include large doses of self-love and forgiveness for the times when we seem to fall short?
If you have been around the yoga world, you may have heard of ayurveda. Ayurveda is yoga’s medical sister. It originated in India 5,000 years ago and it’s wisdom has stood the test of time. Ayurveda means “the science of life”. It is about living in tune with nature’s rhythms as well as with our own unique biological flow. The cornerstone of ayurveda is that to enhance health we must look at who we are as individuals. Everyone is different, and that is a beautiful thing. Maybe you run around all day from this to that, like a whirlwind, and your co-worker takes on their work at a slow and steady pace, managing one thing at at time. Perhaps your partner can eat an entire bowl of coleslaw that would leave you farting up a storm for hours. Our “constitution”, as it is called in ayurveda, is largely what determines certain individual attributes that we all have in varying degrees.
It is thrilling to find a system of living that completely aligns us with who we are, in fact telling us that NOT honoring our one and only selves will lead to ill health, or simply not feeling our best. To know that I am my own authority, , not any doctor, not my bestie, not your mom- feels very freeing. And obviously, medical advice can be critical. But if you take the time to figure “you” out, you will be empowered to determine what daily practices are most important for you as a unique human that will keep you healthy and feeling great. Ayurveda offers plenty of easy ways to do this.
Ayurveda categorizes three different energies (called doshas). These doshas are present in each of us, but in varying amounts. There are different qualities associated with each dosha. By qualities I don’t mean personality qualities such as being kind, but rather qualities such as having a steady amount of energy throughout the day versus quick, intense bouts of energy followed by a need to rest, or a sharp appetite requiring regular meals versus having variable and unpredictable hunger. These energies, or doshas, that we all have manifest in infinite varieties across people to make us all the beautiful and unique people that we are. A person’s dosha combo may be the cause of their tendency to a quick temper or of someone else’s forgetfulness. The doshas and their different ratios in each person determine what we are like in many ways – physically, emotionally and even spiritually. These qualities influence how we see and interpret the world.
The ayurvedic tradition has recommendations for healthy ways to live based on what dosha is most prevalent in you – foods, lifestyle choices, even ways to/intensity of exercise. People do not belong in a one-size-fits all way of life; we cannot be put in neat boxes. Ayurveda is a science that helps us figure out what habits will allow us feel our best, so we can do what we want and accomplish what we want in life.
When I found Ayurveda, it just made such ridiculous good sense. Amazing for the whole system to be so spot-on despite being an ancient science (just like yoga). People in India practiced it as their main system of health care (which is much more about prevention than about treating illness) until the country was invaded by the British in 1608. The British imposed their own medical system on the people of India and branded ayurveda as health care for the so-called “lower classes”.
Only lately has ayurveda become mainstream again in India. Traditionally, people learned to be Ayurvedic doctors by having it passed down in their families, generation to generation. This vast wealth of knowledge would be imparted to them throughout their childhood; they were taught from a young age and they learned to embody the concepts. Despite the stigma placed on it by the British, ayurveda was never lost and continued to be passed down generationally. Today, Universities in India teach ayurvedic medicine and we have programs in the U.S. that teach it and grant certifications as well.
I have been a nurse for 20 years and I have to tell you that I see the consequences of negative health habits in my patients at the hospital every single day. Chronological age means nothing. I see 45 year olds that look 65 and 75 year olds that look 55. I’m always struck that these people are no different than me! They are intelligent, they have families, they have stress in their lives, and they are doing the best that they can. We all know how lifestyle contributes so much to our health (or dis-ease) as we reach middle age and beyond.
I am looking to get more serious about my health, and I find ayurveda to be so elegant and so true. In writing, I hope to learn more and to incorporate these simple (but challenging in our modern world) concepts and practices into my life. I just had a baby (17 months ago!) at age 44 (plus there is my dear 11 year-old), so I need to be around for them. And I need to keep up with them. The better I’m doing, the better they are doing. Period. I’m looking for some space to practice self-care, not an extreme diet or exercise boot camp.
Why Ayurved-ish? Well, this is an ancient practice that may need a few modifications for daily life depending on where you are in the journey. Busy all day with toddlers? Different phase than my retired friend who has comparably endless time to garden and commune.
My aim is to break ayurveda down into bite-sized chunks and offer practical steps to incorporate this wisdom into our daily lives. I have been working with these concepts for several years, but I need a push to start more than sporadically adding these practices into my own daily reality. The -ish in Ayurved-ish is my desire to reach for better, not perfect. We all do our best, and what that looks like is different for us all. These practices are nothing too fancy, I promise! In fact, you already do many of them. The beauty is that we can start today, go slowly (you could just make tea! Recipe below!) and begin to make significant headway toward having more energy and better moods.
As we progress on the path, we may find our chronic complaints (aches and pains, insomnia, weight gain) falling by the wayside and we may never have to hear our doctor say the words “hypertension”, “diabetes” or “obesity” to us. We can try to remember that the idea is to introduce changes and health modifications slowly, so that the changes themselves do not cause stress. Making more stress would be the exact opposite of what ayurveda reaches for. My plan is to discuss ayurvedic concepts here, and to talk about how we can take them and make practical, incremental, and do-able. So that we can show up and enjoy a life well-lived.
Boil 4-5 cups water in a pot on the stove
1/2-1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/2-1 tsp Coriander Seeds
1/2-1 tsp Fennel Seeds Use Organic Herbs
Boil for 5-10 minutes, then strain the seeds and drink! You can keep the extra in a thermos and sip on it through the day. This will help you detox.
Quick Ayruvedic Beauty Trick:
Put melted coconut oil (warm if possible) onto your hair – work it in and give yourself a head massage, then put on a shower cap or towel and leave on as long as you would like (at least an hour if possible); shampoo out – may have to wash twice. So soft! So shiny! Cheap! Warning: It is messy; don’t forget to clean it up well so you don’t slip.