Dear Ayurvedic Abbie is a feature where you ask Abbie your most important ayurveda-related questions. Anything goes! Send an email to email@example.com and your question may be in the next issue!
Why do I have such a hard time getting up in the morning? I’m a male, in my 30s, and my yoga teacher tells me I have a lot of vata.
Well, first let me share that you are not alone! I am not sure of your yoga teacher’s diagnosis of Vata imbalance, but I can give an explanation to some of the general ayurvedic reasons folks have trouble getting started in the morning.
There is a concept in ayurveda that dictates how time, in our 24 hours system of day and night, connects to our doshas. This explains why we have certain tendencies, regardless of our dosha constitution, at different times of the day. For example, at high noon when the sun is at her brightest, we are best at digestion! All digestion—in our physical bodies, mental body, energetic body, spiritual body..
If we were talking, I would ask you two important questions about your sleep. These questions would help me gather necessary info to better understand your sluggish mornings. First question, do you sleep through the night? This is important as if your sleep is broken you will be tired when the morning comes round! Back to the ayurvedic clock..in the middle of the night, around 2am, our ayurvedic clock moves from pitta to vata energetically. This is often when folks report “break through” waking, also known as “broken sleep”. We move from a focused energy of pitta to the lighter, dispersed energy of vata. It is often a time when folks wake and then go back to sleep. Our 90 minute sleep cycle gets off rhythm (vata) and we can have trouble getting any quality of sleep before dawn.
The other question is a two parter :) First, do you have any trouble falling asleep? And second, what time to you go to bed?
Here is the skinny on this situation! Our ayurvedic clock tells us that after 6pm we are under the gaze of kapha. Then transitions into the fiery and focused Pitta energy around 10pm. SO… the magic time to get to bed in ayurvedic medicine is around 10 or 11pm (depending upon season). If you miss this window you might just “light the midnight oil” and “burn the candle at both ends”! Often folks have trouble falling asleep if they go to bed later than 10ish. Or they have trouble falling asleep as they have not been engaging in relaxation for the hour before bedtime. Going at full speed and dropping off into exhaustion often is a false sense of rest. Rather this creates a short deep sleep and then break through or broken sleep as the clock hits 2 or 3am.
More to say about this…ayurvedic considerations to begin to support a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning…how are your adrenal glands functioning? Try taking your dinner closer to 6pm so you have time to digest before bed at 10. Start a deep relaxation practice in the afternoon or evening: 31 points, or 61 points of light to help your body and mind get ready for sweet dreams! And…there is always our nighty-night rasayana to help with getting to sleep and staying asleep!
Rise and Shine Sleepyhead,
I have been diagnosed with anxiety and I am taking medication prescribed by my medical doctor. I don’t like taking medications and I was wondering what ayurveda says about treating anxiety.
I have always been a little on the nervous side. It seems that my ability to sleep, relax, and focus have all gotten progressively worse since my mother died 2 years ago, at age 75. She was always there for me and my family. I have lost weight, not such a bad thing really, and have had trouble with what my family calls “getting all worked up over nothing.”
Any tips you can share to help me? Will I be on medications for the rest of my life? I love my yoga classes and used to do a little meditation, but lately it seems I just fall asleep in meditation and cannot seem to get to class.
First let me say I am sorry that someone you love—your mother—has died. Loss strikes all of us differently. The relationship between the person we love, who has died, might have served us in a way that we did not realize while they were alive. I want to come back to this thought in a moment.
One great thing about ayurveda is that we can support western medicine with lifestyle and healthy seasonal eating without conflict. I cannot answer your questions about medications, only the doctor who made the diagnosis and prescribed the medication can answer those questions. I would suggest you consult your physician, if you have not already, and find out their thinking around medication management and the trajectory of your treatment plan.
When I review the changes that you shared it seems to me that you are having an increase in the qualites of Vata dosha, no surprise I am sure :) I can offer a few suggestions to help manage Vata and support your Ojas (deep vitality, immunity) even without a full ayurvedic consultation, but to get specific I would need more information.
Hang on…I am going to nerd out for a bit…
Our mind-body connection is organized on many platforms or koshas. In yoga and ayurveda we use various techniques to increase coordination and communication between these systems to enhance our ability to be calm and aware. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) work together to help us navigate life. The SNS “heats us up” to get going when opportunity strikes or there are threats while the PNS “cools us down” to feel safe, empathic and attentive. These partners in our nervous system feed two neural networks, ACC, Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and the Amygdala Hub, that create how we view and respond/react to our lives.
When the ACC and the Amygdala Hub are not in sync there is a disconnect that we identify as a miscommunication between our head and our heart. Now true, both of these complexes are in our brain, along the neuroplexis, but in ayurveda the mind and the heart are the same organ. This being true, the lack of coordination between the ACC and the Amygdala Hub can create all kinds of difficulty in our ability to feel safe, attentive, motivated, empathetic and aware. The logical ACC and the emotional Amygdala complex create tranquility and steadiness when in sync.
Sorry about all that, but much of what it sounds like is happening is the head and heart are not having clear communication. Grief, the loss of your mother, among other issues, might be creating some of the issues that are troubling you: sleeplessness, weight loss, trouble focusing, and a decrease in emotional durability.
I invite you to listen to a little talk about grief . I would suggest you start to take three meals a day, largest at noon, with warm and moist foods only. At bedtime, try this Nighty Night Drink, please don’t skip the saffron as it helps support ojas along with the warm milk, ghee and honey! In the morning, please start your day with some self-care and focus on the warm oil self-massage called abhyangha (try the vata balancing Banyan Botanicals oil). You are correct about the importance of your medication in your healing process. While tough to take as a wellness focused gal, it is what will support your Tarpaka or grey matter and PNS. Sometimes, we need outside support (like medication) to help us get through the day, to our therapy, yoga class or be able to manage rough days or what I call the “sway of the wave”. After a while, with support, self care and tenderness we can paddle out in the surf and get up on the board ourselves…..until then, a little yoga nidra, warm abyhanga (self oil massage),nighty night drink, and a mindfulness towards feeding yourself nourishing, digestible foods will go a long way to getting you ready to go back out and ride the waves of joy~
Dear Ayurvedic Abbie is a feature where you ask Abbie your most important ayurveda-related questions. Anything goes! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be in the next issue!
Dear Ayurvedic Abbie,
Please help! I have eczema that comes and goes generally around my fingers and sometimes on my legs. Lately, I have been getting it on my face near my eyes—what can I do? I look all scaley and my eyes itch and burn. I am told that I have a pitta (fire) nature but I always get confused on those dosha tests. Sometimes I think I am a Vata, sometimes I think I am a Pitta? I am 50 years old and practice yoga almost every single day. My doctor said it would go away with a gentle, all natural moisturizer and to use Visine for the itching. Got any other ideas?
Dear Dry Eye,
Do not worry, in fact, worry itself can create more issues for you! I am putting my money on the idea that you “gotta lotta vata” and some high fire too. You may be a dual dosha, Vata-Pitta, and that is why you get “confused” on those dosha tests… don’t worry it happens to us all. :)
We have a few ayurvedic home remedies that might help calm your nerves and soothe your skin at the same time. Sound good? First of all, try a cooling diet with veggies of the season. Use dark green veggies with some ghee (clarified butter) and Vata Churna spices.
Without a consultation it is difficult to know how to bring you back to balance, but we can do some general calming and cooling that should decrease the agitation of your blood and calm your skin. Ayurveda supports your doctor’s idea of moisture. I use medicated ghee on my skin when it becomes dry, hot and flakey. Eczema can be either an imbalance of V,P or K. When Kapha, it is gooey and will ooze in which case you want to dry it out. You did not describe your excema like that, rather yours sounds dry, inflamed and itchy. Those words mean we have the qualities of vata being expressed and some high pitta too. We need warm moist oil, in this case ghee, and we want to soothe the skin by mixing bhrami into the ghee. You can purchase this at www.banyanbotanicals.com or make it at home.
Other options that are easy to get and simple to use with excellent effect are: rose water spritz to the skin, aloe vera gel or two tablespoons of the juice internally, turmeric, coriander. Helpful therapies for external application include rose water, coconut juice, Aloe Vera gel, coriander leaf juice, a paste made of turmeric, sandalwood and neem is excellent as well (be careful around the eye as it can stain) or taking this turmeric along with saffron in a nighty-night drink can be useful to soothe the overtaxed immune system too!
There are a few other things I would suggest you try to do as we move into the season of summer: try reducing any hot and spicy foods, maybe take a gentle kitchari cleanse to balance your agni, drink coconut water to cool you down, start a practice of yoga nidra or deep relaxation daily for 20 or 30 minutes. Once the excema clears, use cucumber on your eyes in the afternoon for 10 minutes as a refresher, and practice alternate nostril pranayama to help you balance your right and left hemispheres and calm your mind.
Hope you’re feeling bright eyed and rejuvenated very soon~
In Ayurveda, we know that at the seasonal change we will need to make some real adjustments. Not only do we need to readjust ourselves to the new temperature, we need to detoxify our body from the accumulation of the season before. Why? When we accumulate the elements of the environment we can be imbalanced as nature changes. Ayurveda says, “As outside, so inside”. So, when it is cold, hard, dry and light (as in winter) we need to take opposite action so our physical functions can be counter balanced; so warm soups, hot cocoa, root veggies—all foods that help us stay in balance. When we get to spring, the outside changes. We have lush, dense, heavy and stable forces at play in nature. So we need to adjust our foods and spices to counter balance.
When we do not counter balance, seasonal qualities are building and then we have trouble with digestion. When our digestion is imbalanced we often see the accumulation of undigested toxins in our system. Ayurveda notes that these undigested food toxins, that are not evacuated as waste, are the root of our symptoms that can cause us to feel those seasonal change symptoms. We call this undigested waste “ama”.
So poor digestive fire (agni) + build up of elements will create = ama :(
Here is the good news, you can get rid of ama! It takes only a little attention and effort. Starting a cleanse to detox the ama during this seasonal change is a great start!
Here are a few other tips on how to get yourself ama-free:
1. Sip hot water all day long for 3 to 5 days. Yep, no extra fancy stuff, just good ol’water.
2. Take Triphala two times daily. I find it best to take it in the morning and in the evening*
3. Watch your food intake and make a few simple changes: try to eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day, eat warm, moist foods, and try eating three meals a day.
Here is to a cleaner, lighter, more energetic ama-free you!
* Triphala is the name of an ayurvedic adaptagen for the colon. Tri= three and phala= fruits, so this is a compound of three fruits. Each helps rejuvenate one of the doshas and together they help to regulate your colon to support proper waste management! You can take as a capsule or tablet, about 500 mg am and pm to start. Or you can put 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the herbs in a 6oz glass of water and let it stand, covered, overnight. In the morning simply drink the water and leave the herb, then repeat and drink the infused water at night before bed. Then empty the old herb and put in more to start the process all over again.
What is all the hubbub about springtime cleansing? Well, in Ayurveda we call these seasonal changes the “glitches” that can either create havoc or help us swim with ease in the river of life.
So how do you know when you need to cleanse?
Here are a few hints…
• When we move from the cold, rough, hard, icy, cold winter to the wet, heavy, cool and dense and gooey spring we can see our bodies express this change with various symptoms.
• Seasonal Allergies Why? Moving from the light and dry winter to the heavy and wet spring will create issues if we are imbalanced. Those imbalances show up in a variety of symptoms. The most common are spring allergies that bring mucous-related issues. Tissues, wet cough, post nasal drip or stuffy noses…all signs of excess kapha or springtime qualities.
• Inflammation issues Wait, if this is a meeting of Vata and Kapha how can it profit a Pitta or inflammation imbalance? Well, when we are dehydrated, fatigued and hit a wall (heavy energy of kapha) we will see swelling. This means “itis”—sinusitis, gastritis, ear infections, eye stys, and uncomfortable joints or headaches,
• Sleep Issues Either way, feeling sluggish and lethargic so all you want to do is sleep, or an ability to sleep by the buildup of winter qualities that can spike our anxiety and stress response.
• Weight Gain Yep, our digestion will move from taking sweet tastes to support building and supporting tissues all winter to taking astringent, bitter and pungent tastes that are the boon of the seasonal harvest of spring. These tastes help us detoxify and lighten up. However, the excess sweet mixed with the heavy quality of Spring can create sluggish digestion. This means we are less likely to detoxify and often get clogged drains (John Douillard) or lymph. When the lymph tissue is clogged, the digestion is slow, we gain weight, water retention or fat tissue.
So ayurveda recommends this as the ideal time of year to cleanse. The concept of cleansing is a specific idea in ayurveda, to detoxify the Vata elements—light, dry, hard, rough and mobile qualities of winter so we can embrace the inherent qualities of spring with greater ease. This is not done by starving. This is done with creating a mono diet with specific spices and herbs, teas and practices that support healthy detoxifying. More to come on cleansing.
I find myself in situations where I see something happening and I feel a deep response to blurt out, “NO! That is not true!”… I have learned to stop this, because as you might have guessed, it has created some real issues for me. (Darn hot head!)
Still, when I ‘see’ situations where there is a lack of integrity—a ‘fast one’ being pulled—I find myself taking action to shine a light on the event. I am always hopeful that others will support me in shifting the situation into the realm of awareness so we can work toward a resolution…a consciousness resolution.
So what changed? I have not really become a ‘cooler mind’ but I now seem to have a little, tiny, crack of light (awareness) that there is something larger than just my vision at play. I have realized that there is a time and a place to pull out my torch and let the truth be illuminated. It still must be done but in a compassionate and timely manner. I suppose one would say, with grace.
I am diligently working on cultivating grace as I still get in trouble for ‘blowing the cover’ on people, events, secrets that hurt. My pal Sue says that the ‘truth tellers have a responsibility’ and part of our dharma is to play that role. I agree and yet, I do not like to be singled out as the “bad guy” who threw the whole operation in a spin because I did not go along with the (unconscious) plan. Heck, I am a parent of three teenagers, sometimes it is nice to step out of the responsible role and be just plain liked!
Yet, just as in parenting, when your teenagers ‘like’ you or are your ‘friend’ you can bet there is trouble a-brewing :) It is everyone’s responsibility to support right action (in yoga-speak we would say good karma). All of us are tapped to ‘shine the light of awareness’ on ourselves, and those who are ‘under cover’ or unconsiousness. This mutual global, social, community, interpersonal action of ‘truth telling’ is called vydia. Living in the light of knowledge, the light of awareness.
Vydia can sometimes be experienced as what we bump into that ‘wakes us up.’ Often that wake up call can be painful, humilitaing, embarassing, or worse…but, at the end of the day we are all supported by these truths. They are gifts to each of us. These truths move us closer to who we truly are and allow us a chance to be compassionate and accepting of ourselves.
So lay off, let’s give the truth tellers a break! Make us a cuppa’ chai and hold our hand. Let us know that despite the “ouch” of the truth, you appreciate our courage and fearlessness to throw back the cover…that compassion, a sweet hug, will help us to grow in grace~
Relationships get stressed out in the coming weeks…Valentines Day! It is often less about romance and more about “getting it right!” Just watch “The Big Bang Theory,” when Sheldon hires his assistant to find a really good Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend. As poor Sheldon reports, “I have no idea how to get a good one or why.” This holiday seems unrealistic and arbitrary. It is the the outer world, or cultural, way to work with the idea of love. Maybe this is one example why Dr. Lad says, “Our love is a shoddy little affair.”
Often we engage in relationships with a give and take mentality, “I will do this for you and you do this for me.” This is one message we learn about love, as it is reflected back to us in our culture. We get attached to outcomes, worried we will “lose love,” and want to be validated by our loved ones that we are lovable. But, is that love?
I suppose it is all about our personal association to the word love. Our idea of love is shaped by our family history, cultural experiences and personal ideas on spirituality, intimacy, compassion, sex and relationships. If you study the Vedas, we would include to that list your past life samskaras, or impressions of experiences, from before this round of play on the Earth :) whew!
So, what does love have to do with us? When we practice self love it seems that our perspective on this idea of love changes. The Vedas say that compassion starts with loving yourself, but not in a “Generation Me,” pseudo–narcissistic manner. Rather, this idea of love is described as learning to accept who you are in the World, from a grown up, realistic manner, and then appreciating ALL of yourself. This seems like an easy idea to execute, but in truth, it is often challenging and creates agitation as it bumps up against our “walls” or outer mind. If we look to our culture to give us a “thumbs up” on who we are we will probably be disappointed. I believe it is all too true, what the sages say, the truth lies within us and so does love.
So, back to practice, to look within… maybe we look for moments when we are practicing compassion towards ourselves, and the more we do, the more we notice when compassion comes our way, and just maybe the more we will share that compassion and love with the rest of the World~
What is this all about? At the glitch between seasons, winter to spring, the body is best suited to cleanse and detox. In Ayurveda, we have a very specific way to work with seasonal cleansing; a process that does not leave us depleted, rather it leaves us clean and shiny from the inside out with abundant energy. We start with a pre-cleanse to get our mind on board with this idea of detoxing, followed by a specific diet that lasts about a week. We end with a week long post-cleanse to support and nurture ourselves, keeping the benefits of our cleanse moving forward.
Yoga International will be offering my BIG Spring Cleanse online this year! We will be together for 21days—online and with my ebook in addition to all the support practices, recipes and encouragement to keep you on track. We will be working together to detox our body and mind; pruning away habits that no longer serve us and evacuating the “goo” or ama that often keeps us imbalanced. When we sleep poorly, or not at all, lack concentration and have trouble focusing, feel sluggish or no motivation, have skin or joint issues, put on weight, get seasonal allergies or have trouble with digestive issues we know it is time to cleanse. Please join us so we can support each other and cleanse together ~ more details to come…
When to let them walk away, and when to help them push through.
Yep, the “P” word, Parenting!
Okay, so I now have three teenagers: 19, 17 and 13-year-old people who I love dearly and they love me. I am the mom. They are the children. This is a clear line in my house as I have had the privilege of being trained by many clients when I was a therapist at the amazing Clifford Beers Child Guidence Clinic of New Haven, CT. I had 100’s of teachers between the ages of 4 and 18 who taught me about what happens when the parent/child line is not clear. While it seems like “being a pal” it is better for all, do not be fooled, it is not better for the children. I say this with a certainty due to being reminded by my teenagers of how much they think I do a rotten job of “momming” (at times) and how safe and loved they tell me they feel (at times). I think the Psych Sage, Alice Miller, would have agreed…and that is “Good Enough” for me!
What does this have to do with ayurveda? Yoga? EVERYTHING. Learning when to walk away, surrender to it, because the lesson learned is a skill set not all of us possess. I wonder if sometimes our parents had us “push through” to build character and this got integrated as an “all the time” activity. And some of us, the ones with the “fun” parents, were not supported to have to “push through”. This means they do not have that skill set to rely upon when the lesson becomes a fire or tapas thus they keep working on the same lesson over and over again…creating samskara or a deep impression. This samskara is a bad habit at the least and a psychological shadow or obstacle over lifetimes.
Still confused about the yoga and ayurveda link? Both yoga and ayurveda recommend meditation as a tool to promote self awareness, to develop consciousness, and to commune with the Divine. Meditation helps us practice aligning ourselves more with our adi guru or inner teacher than the voices in the outer world. This is key to a healthy mind or a balanced mindset with Sattva or clarity at the center. With Sattva at the center we have the support of movement or rajas and stability or tamas as smaller side bars to help us live in this World. Both yoga and ayurveda offer us many practices to work, or to clear the dust (tamas) off Sattva and ground the movement of rajas so we can help ourselves, and our children, DISCERN when it is time to surrender and when we need to put our all into it (to practice tapas), hard work and push through.
Now, go do those belly down backbends so you can sit for meditation with ease :)
When Vata elements (light, mobile, rough, dry, cold, hard) start to rise we can become imbalanced from our nature. This increased vata can cause us to act impulsively. This can be a problem.
When we talk about impulsivity, it often gets romanced into the idea of spontaneity. These are not the same—no really, they are not!
When we act impulsively we simply react to a thought without any awareness. The thought enters your mind to change the subject to tell a story you love. (cough, cough) The person speaking cannot finish their thought and this is disruptive. It might cause agitation in the other or be jolting. Spontaneous activity is unplanned, but not jolting and is generally a response to a thought. Impulsivity is a reaction to a thought.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand the “gunas” or (qualities of the doshas) in our behaviors. The major difference here is consciousness and elemental. The vata impulsivity is hard and light. The spontaneous response to your thought is light as well but soft.
Finding balance, understanding the “pause” between your impulse to act and taking action offers vata a chance to practice sattva… the quality of mind that offerces clarity, calm and balance.
When I think of this I think of taking a breath between my inital impulse to take action, or comment and then considering the thought again. Thus becoming spontaneous in action without the rub of impulsivity.
(Inhale) Impulsivity is reactive and (Exhale) Spontaneity is responsive.