Guest post graciously contributed by Tanya Boigenzahn.
“Mommy, what is that stuff coming out of your nose?”
“Nasya oil, sweetie. It’s to help me relax and calm down.”
“Oh, well it looks funny.”
“I suppose it does, but it makes me feel so good…just like being with you.”
It was just a year ago that I was lying in bed, just as I am now, with my feet oiled, flannel jammies on, and nasya (nose) oil running down my nose and onto my upper lip. Except now I’m writing you, reflecting on the past year of events in my life, and am relieved and overjoyed that I’ve made it through. Like many people, a year ago, I found myself in the throes of divorce. After trying everything I knew of in my arsenal of yoga and Ayurveda to make my marriage work, I was still lost and confused, sad and angry. So I sat and really listened, and with the love and guidance of my friends and teachers, I finally just surrendered and heard that it was time to move on and create a new life for myself, and my young son.
When I look back now, I realize what kept me from hearing it before was the fear of grief. I couldn’t believe my family was breaking up. I was shocked that I had to envision a new plan. Grieving the loss of my “dream” and fear of the future set into motion a perfect storm of feelings and experiences that showed up for me as anxiety, sleeplessness, weight loss, and scattered thinking, to name a few… And then the pain really began.
But I was in it and with it, and luckily had the training, practice and knowledge of Ayurveda to help with coping. But nobody was going to do it for me. So I made a deal with myself and made a firm vow, or sankalpa, to “always show up for myself and honor, nourish, and love myself daily.” It took courage to be with all that grief, and I had to build my reserves, or ojas, to deal with it.
In Ayurveda, our heart is what is connected to grieving, and literally feels pain as a method for helping us take action to move out the heavy, sharp, dense feelings of loss. I felt dark. I wanted to leave the dirty dishes. I didn’t want to cook dinner, yet I had a seven year old son who needed care. Despite my feelings of loss and grief, I asked my higher self to guide me toward balance and established a firm routine of dinacharya (Ayurvedic daily self care) to help move out these feelings with purpose, love, and compassion.
So yes, now a year later, I am free. I see why my marriage had to dissolve. I am stronger and more enriched in my body, mind, and spirit. I remember the exact moment I “landed” back in my body last summer and really felt safe…and relieved. Probably the most important attribute I earned by allowing the process of grief to unfold – with compassion – was trust in myself and really having the visceral experience that I was always going to be ok. Here’s how I did it:
Tips for Self Care While Grieving
- Just stop, and rest. Breathe. Cry. Ayurveda tells us that ANY and EVERY bodily function that wants to be expressed SHOULD be expressed. For example, repressing belching keeps the gases INSIDE instead of taking those wastes outside. We are a perfectly designed machine to rid ourselves of excess doshas, yet we often feel shame or guilt in showing it. Grief is one of those emotions that we aren’t schooled on how to deal with it in our culture very well. Thus we keep it in. I know for me, when I was mourning the loss of my “family” and my husband, it was if ALL the band-aids of my other grieving incidents were pulled off at the same time… losing my cousin from Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 30, past loves, putting my cat down in the midst of my divorce, etc. So stop. Lay there. Rest. Take a moment and just let the emotion rise up. Be brave and allow yourself to show up for yourself. Let the waves rise to the surface and give yourself the gift to just pause, to just feel, to just cry. Then… Dry. Rinse. Repeat.
- Abhyanga = love yourself up! Every AM and PM I gave myself an “oil bath” in the self-massage practice of Abhyanga. I found that whatever emotion was hidden “under my skin” would show itself in this practice. For example, some days when I felt a lot of anger, I would vigorously rub the oil onto my skin. But the witness in me realized I was further injuring myself in these moments. What wanted to come through was all that sadness. I often found myself accepting the pain – not easily sometimes! – allowing the tears to come. As I sat in that sadness and grief, the Abhyanga practice became something else entirely…a way to coax the feelings to move down and out. To empty. To rest. To love myself in that puddle, and allow it to be ok.
- Yoga Nidra. When grief is so profound, and the mind is so active with emotion, sleep seems like a lost cause. I literally played Rod Stryker’s Relax Into Greatness Yoga Nidra CD off my iPod almost nightly when I woke at 3 or 4am. It would relax me enough to 1) keep my mind from entering the chaos of the grief, and 2) guide me back to sleep. To this day, I feel that this practice literally saved my life. It allowed me the rest I needed to face the grief and sadness when I was more rested and able to channel it in an appropriate way.
- Nasya (nose) Oil 2x/day. The oiling of the nose is a common Ayurvedic practice to calm the senses, keep the nasal tissues lubricated, and help reduce the overall effect of vata (air + ether) dosha. For me, I added in the “anointing” of my crown and heart centers daily to help me stay connected to my sankalpa. This was especially important for me as I worked toward forgiveness towards my ex as well as myself, and made me reverent in the practice to allow the grief a seat at the heart of my life.
- Use a Mantra daily for protection, guidance and strength. The mantra SO-HUM helps you stay connected to the divine, as well as help you keep your feet on the ground. Think of it as a “link up” to the Universal Consciousness, or your own personal idea of divinity, to help you experience that all is in its perfect order. As I walked or practiced yoga, I inhaled and internally heard the sound “SO.” During exhale I heard the sound “HUM.” This practice helped me stay in tune with something auspicious and protective when my grieving mind wanted to pull me into derangement. To use as a daily practice, feel the mantra’s intention as stated above and internally repeat the mantra with a mala (rosary-like necklace) and do one round of 108 repetitions daily, as well as use during asana, or anytime you need it!
So yes it’s a year later. I’m still grieving, and know that more is coming. However, I’m no longer hesitant to feel the pain. In the pain I found myself. In myself, I found joy. Grieving is a normal process of life. Be skillful in your actions and welcome the opportunity to clear the emotion and make space for life to be lived through you. Remember that you, too, are a child of the divine, that everything is in its right place, and that you are loved. Hari Om Tat Sat
Guest post graciously contributed by Kay Franz.
According to Ayurveda, with each meal, we all need to enjoy 6 tastes on our tongue; sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. The tongue’s experience of these tastes creates a digestive reaction that triggers various actions in our alimentary canal conducive to healthy digestion, assimilation and elimination. These 6 tastes can be experienced and added to our foods by making dosha balancing powders or spice mixes called churnas. Churnas take a lot out of the thought and guesswork when working at the stove and a great time saving item in the pantry
For those somewhat new to Ayurveda the kitchen can be an intimidating place. Dosha balancing food lists, 6 taste churnas, making ghee and a number of other beneficial practices can be challenging for experienced cooks but for the kitchen novice it can seem overwhelming.
Relax. It’s not as daunting as it seems on the surface.
For an experienced cook, this will begin to seem like common sense. Once you begin to identify with the qualities of foods (heavy/light, hot/cold, oily/dry, smooth/rough, etc.) and the properties of heating or cooling, all your familiar tried and true recipes can begin to fall in line with your Ayurvedic brain. Dosha balancing with foods can add an element of fun and creativity in the kitchen. If you are experiencing acid indigestion with reflux, look twice at the fiery hot, black bean chili you love so much and weigh if there is a way to preserve some of its savory, spiciness while tamping down on the heat? Can you get away with mild chili’s, lots of cooling lime and cilantro to balance out the heat or is it best to opt for something better suited to your constitutional imbalance?
Experimentation is allowed and it doesn’t take long to figure out what works for you. Usually one aggravating doshic meal tells you all you need to know. If you’re feeling heavy and sluggish, a heating quality may help you lighten up but you are the best judge of the effects of your foods on your system. Keeping a log of the how you feel an hour of two after you eat is a valuable tool for educating yourself on what works and what doesn’t. What are the qualities of those post-digestive effects you are feeling? Are you lighter, heavier or experiencing heat in your gut or throat? All of those qualities relate to the same qualities in those foods. If the qualities have a harmonizing effect, you should feel contented and full without dullness, heaviness or discomfort.
For the novice cook you have the advantage of being able to learn cooking utilizing these principles and not have to change how you cook. You have a clean slate and just need to remember that nothing is ruled out, we need all those tastes. However, proportions will need to adjust according to the properties and effects of the foods you select. Any recipe can be adjusted with that in mind.
To give an example, the images shown are of a meal I prepared called Matar Panir (Peas and Cheese). The original recipe calls for a number of items that can be aggravating for my Pitta imbalance. This recipe called for chili (mild), which can still sometimes be too much heat for my Pitta. To counter this, I cut the amount of chili in half but doubled the amount of cilantro, which is cooling. The cream that is used in this dish, along with the Panir (cheese) is balancing for Pitta so in the end the changes result in a dish that is fairly tridoshic and neutral for Pitta rather that the potentially aggravating original balance of spices.
If you approach your kitchen with love for the way it connects you to family, friends, the earth as well as your own body, it can be a creative laboratory. Experimentation is allowed, mistakes are allowed. Give yourself over to the creativity of cooking, exploring and connecting with the needs of your own body. Above all don’t be anxious, it is all about practice. Detach and the results results of your practice will bear fruit in good time.
Happy eating….…find out more about Kay at www.yogaandgreentea.com
Guest post graciously contributed by Caroline Schmidt.
Just to call to mind what it could look like. Vatic bliss: the expansive creative potential in every direction, the big open sky, a vast non-discriminating love, and the flexibility of forgiveness. We all have greater access to these at this time of year. Moving, dancing, music, vibration, creative partnering, and direct perception of the Divine, these are all the delights of vatic bliss.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.” I have often wondered, is it the lack of sunlight, is it the isolation of the cold or is it just plain ole depleted ojas? It may feel like backtracking but when we look back at the last few months we may all see the picture more clearly. To use myself as example:
December – It was a total blur. Traveling for family and friends. Spending. Shopping. Holiday madness. Family meltdowns…parties, party food and being up late. Did I mention, food, food, self-medicating substances, and more food. The Ayurvedic 70/30 (70% balanced health supporting food to 30% we live in America – forget about it food) ratio goes out the window here. Plus lets face it the holidays can be full of warmth, joy, and friendship and also full of heartache, grief, and loss.
January – It was a beast. From the gate, the horse is racing… Work. Work. & Work. Travel. Planning. Relationships… New patterns and things to manifest. Family illnesses. Mending from aforementioned family meltdowns. Getting back to that 70/30 or even better yet 80/20! Being diligent. Setting goals and then driving forward one step at a time to meet those goals.
Did we mention that we are in the dead of Vata season. Air and Ether, nothing of substance. The least robust of all seasons. The lightest dosha is the most susceptible to problems, because of its irregular and dispersive, unstable qualities. In nature most plants are dormant, during this season. In our life this is a wildly busy, demanding time. A time to get going for the rest of the year, start new patterns and move in the right direction. It is worth noting that this disparity between nature and our reality is where we can find the root of this seasonal suffering. And yes, it could be the lack of sunlight and it could be the chilling cold, but more likely we are simply tired and depleted to the point of being unable to contain our own experiences. Simply put, there is not enough energy left to support our basic changes more less unfold into a higher state of joy. Our bodies and minds are depleted, under-nourished and so we struggle through the lower functions like dragging ourselves out of bed, and there is less reserve left to feed the higher delights of satisfaction and bliss.
- What’s happening with sleep. Are we going to bed on time 10pm-ish. Are we waking up on time 5:30 am-ish. Are we sleeping through the night? Are we waking up throughout the night because we don’t have enough heaviness and substance to stay asleep? Are we sluggish and tired in the am no matter how much sleep we get because we are so depleted that the dark, heavy weight of Tamas is over us?
- What’s happening with the 70/30 diet? Are we eating 3 warm, wet meals everyday? Are we in vata land with food, grazing on a few crunchy, dry things here and a few dry, crunchy things there, washing it all down with some cold raw juice every now and then, maybe a Kombucha?
- What’s happening with the practice? Are we on the self-care Dinacharya plan? What about the yoga practice? Are we supporting ojas or depleting, burning it up. What about our mediation, pranayama and other spiritual practices that help us stay in joyful contact with the wonder and mystery of the world? What’s happening with those practices?
Tips for Bliss:
- With sleep issues:
- Work towards consistency with bedtime and wake time.
- Night-night Rasayana – see recipe below.
- 25 min afternoon restorative practice (if you don’t have 25 min, do 15 min, if not 15 min, do 5 min. Like the Bhagavad Gita teaches us, on this path no effort goes to waste. You will receive benefit even from the 5 min of rest.
- Yoga Nidra
- Am and pm prayers, to lighten the heart and mind.
- With diet:
- Get cooking, even just a little bit for yourself.
- 3 warm, wet, fresh meals per day on average.
- Enjoy grounding foods, filling soups, root veggies, warm grains like basmati rice with its sweet easy to digest nature, spiced apples with oatmeal, bright juicy oranges, licorice tea, marshmallow, dense wet cakes and sweets
- Sit and relax while you eat. Turn off your devices and experience your food
- With self-care:
- Give yourself a generous abhyanga with lots of oil. Once oiled up wrap yourself in a snuggly blanket and rest with your legs up the wall for 25min or enjoy a hot bath with Epsom salts – or all of these.
- Recommit to your self-care plan. More oil this time of year, more gentleness, more rest. Do a third of what you would normally do – give yourself a break!
- Pick up your pranayama practice. Especially if the mind is feeling dark, reestablish a bright, balanced pranic state by working daily with the breath.
This time of year is the least robust. Be gentle with yourself and know that spring, with all its new life and fresh blooms, is on its way. And most of all align yourself with the vatic bliss. Expansive, creative beyond measure and a soft flexible heart.
Guest post graciously contributed by Kara Aubin.
I hear some version of the question “What’s right for me?” often from my clients. We have a sense that there are foods that would work well for us, a type of asana or meditation that would be more beneficial than others, a best number of sleep hours, etc. We seek this connection to balance as evidenced by the rapid-fire transition many of us have moved through exploring diets (Blood Type, Atkins, South Beach, Raw, Paleo) or exercise (Spin, Bikram, Pilates, Ashtanga, CrossFit, Barre). We know there’s something out there that will leave us feeling like we have enough juice, and that we can rest into ourselves (feeling, you know, balanced). For various reasons we can find ourselves disconnected from our inherent wisdom, which means we aren’t all at a place where we can best intuit what’s going to bring us balance.
Ayurveda offers an amazing tool for sorting out this question of “Is this right for me?”. It’s the 10 pairs of Universal Qualities. Not as well known as the three constitutional types of Ayurveda (the doshas), these 10 pairs of opposites (the gunas) offer what I think is an even more practical, more applicable guide to personalizing the choices you make towards wellness.
So let’s look at the list…
In Ayurveda we see everything: organic and inorganic substances, thoughts, and actions as having these attributes. These qualities are the potential energy of a substance. This potential energy eventually becomes the action of a substance when it is transformed in a reaction like burning or digestion. That means this these qualities act on and in your body.
To understand how these qualities affect us we need to look at a precept of Ayurveda: “Like increases like, and opposites balance”. So, if we are experiencing a lot of a quality, like dryness, substances that are also dry will exacerbate the issue, where as substances that are oily will bring balance. This simple concept becomes mind-blowing when you begin to understand that these qualities apply to everything. That means that everything has the potential to be medicine (balancing) or poison (imbalancing).
If you take one thing away from this, here it is…
Everything can be medicine or poison. It depends on the qualities of the individual interacting with it.
This is why when I’m asked about the lasted fad diet, my answer is typically “It depends.” There is no one-size fits all approach that will work for everyone. While someone may thrive on particular foods, or foods prepared in a particular way, another may suffer indigestion, mal-absorption, weight imbalance, and a build up of toxicity in the body because of them.
So the next time you’re wondering “What’s right for me?” try this practice out. Ask yourself what symptoms you’re currently exhibiting and see if you can identify the qualities behind the symptom.
- Are you constipated? Chances are that dry, rough, and hard are present. If so, then substances that possess the opposite qualities of oily, smooth, and soft will be medicine.
- Do you have a rash? Is it a hot, oily, mobile rash? Then cold, dry, and static are for you.
- Are you tired and sluggish after eating? Does it feel heavy, slow, and dense? You’ll want to bring in light, sharp, and liquid.
Using the Universal Qualities not only gives you a quick check on whether something is balancing or not, but it also helps to connect us to the world around us. We see ourselves as connected to the food we eat, the movement we partake in, and the qualities of our relationships. I invite you to enjoy exploring and being supported by the idea of the Universal Qualities. If you need some help deciphering and decoding how these qualities are present in the world around you an Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist or Practitioner can help.Kara Aubin is a certified ParaYoga teacher (ERYT) and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist based in Kalamazoo, MI and Albuquerque, NM. She weaves the teachings of yoga, ayurveda, and holistic living into group classes, workshops, and private sessions to share radical wellness with you. Photo Credit: Lauren Macdonald, https://www.flickr.com/photos/42386632@N00/
Guest post graciously contributed by Maria-Luisa Chea.
I find that there is an exciting feeling of freshness to these first days of the year, a promise of unlimited possibilities waiting to unfold before us. The holidays are officially over and it is time to get on with our lives. It is also the time to harness the heartfelt desire to bring forth the best in us, and integrate our intentions for the New Year into our lives. But where do we start?
The best place to start is to meet ourselves where we are. Seems obvious and simple, doesn’t it? Think again! During the last year, I have been sharing with my students and especially working on integrating into my own life, this apparently obvious place to start whatever it is we are starting, be it our day, our practice or even the New Year. And though I feel I have made some progress, I have to admit that I need to keep working on it.
Meeting ourselves where we are means taking a deep and sincere look inside so that we don’t confuse the place where we want to be, or the place where we think we should be, with the place where we really are. This is where the challenge begins. We might feel a strong resistance to accepting to see where we really are. We are caught within that lopsided image we have of ourselves. It is so much easier on our ego to see just the good and pretty and forget about the bad and the ugly.
Becoming aware of where we stand physically, energetically and emotionally might not thrill us. But the truth is that the only place where we can truly relax and release stress and tension is by meeting ourselves right there where we are. Furthermore, it is only by opening up to ourselves where we are, and relaxing into that space, that we can take a next step that is aligned with our own truth or Dharma.
Thankfully, Yoga and Ayurveda provide us with the tools we need to take that deep and sincere look inside, to work through our resistance, to relax in our space and to nurture our intentions for our next step towards our truth. Here are some of the practices that have helped me make some progress in this direction. Try them and I’m sure they will help you as well.
- Take a moment to check-in upon waking. Taking a moment to notice how I feel as I wake up in the morning and connecting with my heart helps me start out on the right track. It allows me to figure out what I need this day from my practice. Do I need an early morning relaxation? Or is it a day for hearty sun salutations?
- Abhyanga, give yourself a daily dose of self-love through self-massage, with the oil that is best suited for your dosha. I find that in addition to nourishing my body and my soul, abhyanga brings me to the now. It makes me more aware and present in my body.
- Take time to relax deeply. Practicing deep relaxation, if not daily, at least a few times during the week, helps me cut through the armor of tension that builds up when I’m not watching. It helps me open up the heart. It is also a great preparation for the next practice.
- Sit with the breath. This I find to be the most powerful of the tools. Just sitting with my breath, without trying to change or correct it, without trying to shape it in any way, just being with the flow and movement of my breath as it is. This quiets my mind and brings it inward so I can hear the whispers within. It helps me to release resistance by giving me perspective. It is all right to be where I am now.
- Practice Yoga Nidra to plant your intentions deeply into your subconscious. Meeting myself where I am and relaxing into that space doesn’t mean that I will stay there forever. It just means that I am in the most suitable position to discover and take my next step. The practice of Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is the perfect soil to plant my intention, or Sankalpa for my next step.
May the New Year bring light to your consciousness; peace to your heart and may your path unfold with ease and grace, manifesting your deepest intentions.
Guest post graciously contributed by Liz Ritoli.
Shortly before the beginning of December, during a particularly dark and dreary week, I started to think about how short the days had become and how my favorite day of the year, the Winter Solstice, would be coming up soon. Yes, I thought, the days will soon be getting longer and the sun will start to travel northward again. My mind immediately went to dreams about what could be different in my life as soon as there were more minutes of daylight – short evening walks, getting home before dark, not feeling like it’s bedtime at 5:30. Then I started to getting excited about the winter holidays and the start of the new solar year.
What changes at the start of a new year? We are time-bound creatures who measure our lives by the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. Even if nothing particularly significant is changing in our lives we have a stirring of newness and opportunity, fresh eyes on the sameness of our circumstances. We feel free to press our personal reset button, or claim a legitimate “do-over,” confident that no one will step in to contradict our claim. We are absolutely empowered to take stock, wrap our arms around ourselves and carry our sweet selves over the annual threshold.
But wait, what about “the list” of resolutions that start with “I will never . . .” or “I am going to . . .” or “I will quit . . .” or “I will lose . . . ?” May I suggest that resolutions may be old school? Our knowledge of Ayurveda prepares us to take stock, make modifications and adjustments, and step lightly into 2015 with renewed enthusiasm and peace of mind. Each of us is a work in process, right? Our lives and environments are constantly changing, right? We’ve learned how to balance ourselves through the hours of the day, seasons of the year, and cycles in our lives. With that knowledge and understanding we can certainly make flipping the calendar to January 2015 a graceful transition.
OK, that’s the mindset, but here’s the reality. The weeks right before the “graceful transition” can be anything but graceful. All the major winter holidays are jammed into a tiny window of time that starts with preparations for Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day or Twelfth Night. By the time the last black-eye pea is eaten, many of us are strangers to ourselves and very possibly strangers to our family and friends. We vow and resolve to get back to our “normal” routine now that the holidays are over.
Let’s get down to it. Start by tidying up around the house and making a note to take the greenery out of the house by Twelfth Night. Take your winter whites and pastels to the dry cleaners so they’ll be ready for next year and take a look in your pantry to see what needs to be restocked (basmati rice and mung dal?). Check your houseplants – do they need a little cheering up, a.k.a. water? Check in with yourself – do you need a little attention, too?
Spontaneous and last-minute moments and events rule during the holidays which makes it all too easy to sidestep your Dinacharya during the Holidaze; but it’s just as easy to get started again, and the positive effects will be immediate. If you haven’t remembered to scrape your tongue every day, start again with gentle vigor (don’t damage your taste buds!). Any ama from the fabulous food you enjoyed? Just thank your sweet body for digesting what it could, clean your tongue and move on!
Has daily oiling become a memory and not a basic part of your daily shower routine? Remember when you first learned about oiling and got the suggestion to start with the massaging your feet at night and work up to oiling the whole body? Go back to that beginner’s mind if you need to – whatever it takes to get slippery again! Seriously, folks, we’re in a Vata time of the year and have just celebrated our way through a very Vata holiday season, so we NEED the oils to ground us, warm our bodies and souls, and protect our skin.
‘Nuf said about the outside of the “super tube,” what’s going on inside? If it’s been a while since you had your morning glass of warm lemon water, put a note by the bathroom sink to start that again tomorrow! The warm “cuppa” wakes up your senses and kick-starts your digestion. Bye-bye ama, hello happy gut.
If you haven’t been visiting your mat and cushion as much during the festivities, and you’re thinking about returning to your full practice, start easy with a couple of sun salutations and a few rounds of bastrika and agni sara, followed with sitting quietly for about 5 minutes. Consider whether your full practice will be too much now and, if you need to, come back slowly and thoughtfully. A simple practice done with a focused intention is a nice post-holiday gift to yourself.
By the way, what did you give yourself during this holiday season? Was it the fabulous gift of time with family and friends or playtime in your kitchen making delicious baked goodies for your neighbors? Did you allow yourself the leisure to choose perfect gifts for your dear ones? Maybe one day you were so tired that you gave yourself permission to say, “Enough, I’ve had it!” and took a nap? Or better, maybe you blocked out an entire day to just BE, not DO.
I’m preaching to the choir, and I haven’t said anything new and brilliant. What I write is just a reminder that the “graceful transition” marks a time to get back to business after celebrating the Return of the Light. We’ll all spend some time readjusting our sleep cycles, meal times and food choices. We’ll get back to our yoga mats and meditation cushions and will be profoundly grateful when we realize how much we missed them. Our bodies will feel like home again. Our minds will come to rest in those quiet places where we visit with our thoughts, visualize our dreams for the coming year, and put aside our disappointments from the past year.
Whether we measure our year from Solstice to Solstice or New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Eve, we instinctively know that we are living in a constantly changing world of causes and effects, the grand play of manifestation and dissolution. My friend Kay Allison says, “Everything in the universe is subject to change and everything is on schedule.” All we can do is watch what’s happening in our lives, remember what we’ve learned, and make changes as necessary. It’s a flow, and what’s more graceful than being in the flow?
Guest post graciously contributed by Julia Cress.
“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” – Louise Penny. This came from a novel my mother was reading and brought my thoughts around to the work of mantra, similar to the sound of church bells, how it’s vibration when held internally changes us, brings us to stillness, lightens us up, and allows our human heart to meet the divine within.
Recently we were hit by a snow storm that for days the snow fell and drifts would pile to cover our backdoor. Every day we had to push hard through it, shovel, and make plans for where to go next in the driveway as the snow banks were so high, flinging it over the banks became intense physically, mentally, emotionally. The very first day when we came out of our house, the snow was 4-5 feet deep and we walked through it slowly like we were in the lake, yet it felt a bit scary, cause you weren’t in a lake, you were surrounded by something much denser, and the drifts on the roof ready to fall at any minute kept your ears tuned to all sounds so you could get out of the way. It truly felt like our Everest of a storm, we had to keep shoveling, breathing, and praying. We prayed and did our mantra for the strength to continue the manual labor that we would not lose power, that our roof would not cave in and we would not lose ourselves to anger or fear.
The mantra I chose to say internally and out loud at times when the going got rough was one that is meant to help work with anger. Interestingly I don’t feel like an angry person, yet when you are meeting resistance of any kind, whether it’s a difficult personal relationship, money issues, or a natural disaster, well, anger tends to arise. I used the mantra consistently for 5 days, that in itself was intense, I found that saying it out loud at times was better cause I could hear it and its guidance was undeniable, it cleared my thoughts so I could be present for the task at hand and through that was able to be patient, calm, and steady.
There were many times during this time that I was able to stop and see how beautiful the snow was as it blanketed everything making the environment quiet. On the fifth day we were on a neighbor’s roof shoveling off the snow and stopped several times to watch and listen to the birds and also breathe in the fresh air that the snow created. The mantra helped me the whole time stay with the work, be kind, and work with nature.
As of late, building Ojas for me is about letting past truths fall away in order to live authentically. The understanding is that to have Ojas, means to feel vital, contained, strong, enthusiastic, luminous, and fluid, the old ways of doing this would have been to exercise more, study harder, and be busy, which for me was reflecting an outward appearance of success.
This year had taught me something about deep rest, autonomy, and authenticity in ways I have never experienced. For whatever reason my once easy to wake habit has passed, it’s not that it is hard for me to wake up early but I just don’t want to any longer, to arise and feel refreshed at a later hour now is more appealing than getting up before everyone else as if it is a race to be won. Getting more sleep and using the morning hours to be present with myself, notice how I feel at that moment and what I am grateful for allows for a better pace throughout the day.
This change came about naturally and truly feels so good right now, almost like being in love again, I am in love with slowing down, letting my waist get a little wider, yes I had to buy some big lady pants. At this point in my life it wasn’t horrifying, embarrassing, or shameful, just what needed to be done, like buying more groceries. I am enjoying this new pace and the real me at this time. In the past I was running, cycling, and even doing yoga cause it felt great but also I was in the midst comparing my body shape to that which was deemed acceptable, attractive, etc., that tended towards the more masculine framework than a curvy, soft feminine frame that right now I really like.
Oiling every day is part of my routine and became even more important when a gentleman told me about his ritual that came from being in AA. As he massages his body he prays, practicing the art of anointing and celebrating that he is still on the planet helps increase his appreciation for his life and the world around him and gives him support to keep from falling victim to alcoholism.
Slowing down has also helped me love meditation practice. Before it felt like something to get through to get to the next more important task, now I revel in sitting, making time for comfort, solitude, and connection with that force that is my own and all around me.
When nature gives us an experience whether it’s a storm outside of us or inside, the use of mantra and meditation helps us align with the experience instead of fight it as if it was wrong somehow. Nature is never wrong and righting ourselves with her helps the light get in.
“There is a deep wisdom in giving up the fight to make it go away. When we instead come home to our path, we come home to what is. You are where you are. So be there. Stop trying to protect yourself from the harshness of right now, fleeing into a long fabrication about how it’s going to be one day. That’s a way of avoiding the here and now truth of our lives.” – Sue Monk Kidd
Guest post graciously contributed by Heidi Audet.*
If you live in a cold climate during the winter months, staying healthy can have its challenges. Since roughly 80% of our immunity comes from our intestinal health, it’s important that we nourish and support our digestion in ways that honor us. Thankfully, the science of Ayurveda recognizes this. It teaches us how to support our health with good digestion and assimilation of nutrients to keep our immune system strong. I think about my grandfather and his generation who used old time remedies based upon observation and sworn family testimony that helped keep a generation of grandchildren on the road to recovery from colds and flu. As I began to study Ayurveda, I was amazed at how many of my grandfather and grandmother’s folk remedies bore a striking resemblance to the suggested Ayurvedic treatments. After living and surviving many cold winters in the Adirondacks, they knew how to maintain their health. I can count on less than one hand the number of times in the 36 years knowing him that my grandfather had been sick with a cold or flu virus.
The one thing my grandparents never gave me when I was feeling the ill effects of the flu or a nasty fever was a cold drink. “Puts a chill in your bones,” my grandfather, Harold, would say. Like increases like, and he knew it, even though he never studied Ayurveda. My grandmother, Libby, would make me a homemade chicken bone broth when I lacked appetite, and my grandfather would brew me a nice hot cup of ginger tea, and many more to drink throughout the day while I was huddled under a mountain of covers resting. The concept was simple. Nourish, support, rest.
Tips for Building Immunity
Winter time is Vata time – air and ether dominant. When you look at the qualities that are present in this season – cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick and changeable, and knowing that like increase like, the opposite qualities will help to mitigate the qualities of excess Vata. We need to slow down and create moisture, warmth, smoothness, stability and constancy.
Rest is vitally important. Follow a routine of bed by 10pm with 8 hours of sleep to recharge your immune battery. Winter activities can be refreshing and exhilarating, but as the body works to maintain warmth your energy can be depleted. Proper rest will help keep you healthy and aid in recovery from those illnesses that sneak up on you.
Another one of the keys to building a strong immune system is largely by paying attention to what you put in your body. In Ayurveda, a strong agni (digestive fire) is needed to help with digestion. Warming foods, especially when the season is cold, helps to kindle the fire. Cold foods and drinks act as dampers and diminish the firepower of your digestive function.
Ayurveda utilizes the Six Tastes – Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent and Astringent – to create balance in our immune and digestive systems. Each taste can have a therapeutic effect if done in moderation. Sweet has a nourishing effect on the body and supports tissue building; it helps to ground. This taste has a pacifying effect on Vata. Sour has an invigorating effect on the body, encourages the eliminatory response, and helps improve digestion while stimulating appetite. Salty taste encourages warmth, moisture and adds heat to the digestive process; in the cold, dry season of Vata, this proves beneficial. Pungency, in moderation, brings a heating quality. Use sparingly, though, as its other qualities of light and dry can increase Vata aggravation. Combined with the heavier taste of Sweet can help anchor Pungency. Bitter and Astringent’s drying nature can help clear out inflammation in the body, and congestion in the lungs and sinuses. In very limited quantities, these can help to thwart the congestive mucosal effect colds and flu has on the head and chest.
Below are a few remedies to bring balancing qualities to Vata and support winter wellness.
Turmeric Milk Drink
This recipe combines the sweet tastes of warmed milk, cardamom, ghee and cinnamon with the pungency of ginger and black pepper. Turmeric’s heating quality and bitter taste alleviates Vata.
1 cup fresh raw whole milk
1/2 inch minced ginger
2 whole cardamom pods, cracked
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cinnamon1 tsp of ghee
Add jaggery, maple syrup or turbinado sugar to sweeten spiced milk at end of cooking.
Bring the milk to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Add the ginger, black peppercorns and cardamom pods. Bring to a quick boil then reduce to simmer; add the turmeric, cinnamon and ghee. Heat for 3-4 minutes. Strain, add sweetener (optional) and drink.
My dear friend, Navita, shared this family recipe with me. Her mother used to make this for her when she was a little girl growing up in Punjab, India. Chickpeas are rich in zinc and contain the astringent quality; this helps with colds and bronchitis. Navita’s recipe was used to clear congestion in the chest, help with coughs and support the immune system during bouts of respiratory and digestive illness.) (Serves 7)
1 ½ cups of chickpea flour
2 cups of water
2-4 tbsp Jaggery or raw sugar (turbinado)
3 Tbsp of ghee
Saute ghee in saucepan. Add chickpea flour and when it turns brown (under 3 minutes), remove from heat and add the jaggery (or turbinado sugar) and water. Stir for 5-6 seconds. This sweet pudding can be used in place of a kichari during detox or cleanse.
My grandfather’s recipe was strong but effective. You may adjust the amount of ginger based upon your tolerance.
1-2 Tbsp of dried ginger
1 Cup of boiling hot water
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
Sweeten to your liking
Steep the dried ginger and lemon juice in the boiling water for 5 minutes. You may strain, or add more hot water once you drink down to the grounds. Once tea is cooled to warm, add honey or brown sugar to taste.
With warm, moist food and drink, proper balance of Ayurveda’s 6 Tastes and supportive rest, Vata season can be managed in a way to help bring about winter wellness and an enjoyment to winter. Happy Holidays!*Heidi L. Audet is an ERYT, RYT 500 and AYS Torchbearer graduate.
Guest post graciously contributed by Heidi Audet.*
Wellness is often regarded by what is observed on a bathroom scale. It sometimes is perceived in one-dimensional terms that only serve a limiting belief of what we should be, often purported by doctored magazine covers. Many of us spend extreme amounts of energy trying to lose weight without understanding what true wellness is. We need to remember that we are individuals who possess our own innate wisdom of health. Instead, many of us get drawn into the one-size-fits-all fitness programs that don’t always work for the masses to whom they are marketed. Practical tools for wellness far extend beyond the dinner plate, gym membership or desire to fit into a size 4. Total health encompasses a great deal more. We need to ask ourselves, “What gets us into bad habits of unhealthiness?” We need to look at the hidden causes residing in the deep lake of our consciousness, bubbling up to the surface, pulling us into a pattern of sadness, disease and poor choices. While we might choose what is considered the best foods to nourish our bodies, lets not forget that our mind and soul crave nourishment too. We exercise to become fit, but for some there is just not enough exercise in the world to calm their mind and bring them the happiness they think they will find on the face of the bathroom scale. A total approach to health, one that incorporates mind, body and spirit and recognizes the uniqueness that exists in each person is a path worth travelling.
Stress and its Effects on Wellness
Many years ago around the holidays, I was going through a painful end to my marriage. The relationship’s end brought me to a place of excessive weight loss; I was buying clothes in the junior section because the size one was not available in the women’s department. I had always been a fit person, but the experience of loss left me less than that. I had lost my appetite; I was unable to eat without feeling jabs of pain or sick to my stomach. For 6 months I slept no more than 3-4 hours a night because sadness kept my mind stirring. I went to the gym, ran 5 miles a day and every other day leg pressed over 200 lbs because as a good pitta, I just needed to push away the feelings that were pulling me down. Many of my friends commented on how good I looked since losing so much weight. Deep down, though, I was not doing so well. Hiking, one of my favorite past times, began to be a chore. I had no energy. I had no stamina. I had no fight left in me. Exhaustion became a constant companion. By late Autumn, my hair was breaking off and falling out, and my skin had become paper thin. My eyes were empty pools that had lost their sparkle and I struggled with feelng cold all the time. As if it were some marker to my fitness, I was happy that at least my jeans still fit nicely.
Then the next big shift came: I began to swell. My health took a downward spiral and by January, only three short months later, I had gained 30 pounds. I was seeing doctors and specialists who were testing my thyroid, my pancreas and my blood; my general practitioner suggested I might have an adrenaloma. I watched my potassium and sodium levels move up and down like a yo-yo. What happened? For so many months I had put my body through undue stress with the intense exercise, lack of real nutrition and proper sleep that my hormones were out of control – the pendulum had swung the other way. When tested it was revealed that I was carrying around nearly 10 pounds of excess water weight from the inflammation. My feet were so swollen it felt like I was walking on shards of glass. I suffered recurring asthma and panic attacks and I was out of breath walking up a flight of stairs. Clearly, my whole system was a mess but I couldn’t understand why. My appetite had returned by that fall and I was eating healthy salads and all the suggested “right foods.” I worked out the gym and practiced my yoga asana, but nothing was changing for the better physically.
Yoga & Ayurveda Bring Balance
Thankfully my Yoga was that one activity that gave me a bit of solace to stay in the present. For that one hour a day that I practiced, I felt a margin of calmness.
The root of my drastic weight loss and rapid weight gain in a year’s time had been the same. Mental and emotional sadness that was not resolved had manifested physically, and was wearing on my whole system. The deep lake of my mind craved nourishment and healing as much as my body did. A good friend who saw the pain I was in lent me a book to help me understand my sadness over the divorce. My therapist suggested I read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and write in a journal. I reclaimed my practice of Ayurveda with my longtime Ayurvedic Practitioner, Betty Moylan, and I began to dabble in meditation, something I once thought of as a waste of time because I could be doing something else more meaningful. Hah!
My practice of Dinacharya (self-care) increased to a daily ritual. I practiced Abhyanga self-massage and nourished my nervous system with oils to pacify my Pitta and Vata doshas. Soon I was feeling increasingly balanced mentally and physically.
I took some to learn about myself through Svadvaya (self-reflection); soon I began to understand what went awry. I began to worry less about the excess weight loss and the sudden weight gain, and focused more on how to nourish all of me properly. I surrounded myself with likeminded folks who craved harmony, peace and joy, and limited my time with folks who had the tendency to drag me down. My Ayurveda practice reminded me to eat whole nourishing foods according to my Prakruti and I worked on ways to incorporate those foods and practices that addressed my current vikruti (imbalances); I observed my reactions, journaled my feelings, practiced more yoga and pranayama, got better sleep and even allowed myself times to reflect in silence. My mate, Dan, encouraged me to enjoy meditation and walks in nature with him when I was feeling stressed, and reminded me to engage in these practices whenever he witnessed my tell-tale signs of aggravation. In 2010 I underwent a surgery. Prior to the procedure my tests revealed that aside from being slightly anemic, I was in good health. After the surgery, my doctor informed me that my tissues were pink and healthy like that of a 20-year old. She credited my lifestyle behaviors and practices for this state of wellness.
I was no longer a size 4, but it didn’t matter. Health and wellness were mine, and I had holistically achieved it. It didn’t matter what the scale said, the tests were very clear. In 2011, my desire to learn more about Ayurveda led me to AYS studies with Kathryn Templeton at the Himalayan Institute. I gained more insight and understanding about myself and how to help others who struggle with total health challenges. The program gave me the tools to balance my life in more ways than just through food and exercise; I learned how to balance my pitta tendencies towards overdoing and became more comfortable in my own skin.
Today, nearly 7 years since that life-changing divorce, I am happier, more whole and continue to follow a path that is right for me. It doesn’t come from a one-size-fits all program, it certainly no longer includes a scale, but it does come from that innate wisdom deep within, and with guidance from a 5,000 year-old philosophy meant to honor the inherent nature residing inside of us: Ayurveda, the science of life. As Pandit Rajmani Tigunait states in his book, Secret of the Yoga Sutra, we are all “islands of excellence.” We simply need the proper tools to remember. I thank my partner Dan, my friends, my teacher Kathryn and most definitely Ayurveda and Yoga for guiding me to true wellness.*Heidi L. Audet is an ERYT, RYT 500 and AYS Torchbearer graduate.
Guest post graciously contributed by Laurie Dean.
Ways To Survive The Holiday Craziness!!
You’ve heard that song before – it’s been playing in every department store since October! And while the holidays are so wonderful – loving times with family and friends, delicious meals, sharing the spirit of the season – it also means jam-packed schedules, lots of stress, no time to relax!!
Especially during the holiday season, it is so important to take time for your own wellness. If you don’t, you won’t have the energy, time or patience to give to others. So what does Ayurveda offer us to take care of ourselves this holiday season?
First – take the time to connect with something that feeds your soul – a walk in nature, a cup of tea with a dear friend, playtime with your pet – all simple actions that bolster your feeling of well-being. Start or end your day taking time to appreciate all the many gifts life has given you – doesn’t have to be in the form of a formal meditation practice – just find a quiet space, light a candle, sit still and reflect on all the goodness in your life!
Put my 2 favorite Ayurvedic practices into practice – Abhyanga and Nasya.
Nourishing self massage – or abhyanga – is a loving ritual we can do each day to nourish our skin and calm our nervous system. Gently warm your favorite oil – add to it a relaxing essential oil like lavender or rose and apply the oil before your daily shower. Let the oil absorb for 10-15 minutes before you jump into the shower and wash up. This practice is a delicious and simple way to pamper yourself as you start or end your day.
Use Nasya oil every day! Nasya means “nose” applying a few drops of nasya oil to each nostril every day helps to keep our nasal passages clear and our brain calm and refreshed. Check out the Himalayan Institute webpage – they have 2 types of nasya oil for sale – Clarity, a lovely invigorating scent and Pure Bliss, a soft subtle scent that invokes a feeling just like the name implies!
Use these 2 simple daily self-care practices. You will feel calmer, more relaxed and be able to enjoy this most wonderful time of the year!