Guest post graciously contributed by Sarah Guglielmi
It’s like clockwork. The Ayurvedic clock, that is. Mid-August in Buffalo NY, and the winds arrive, signaling the onset of autumn. Autumn is the ‘in-between” time. The winds of fall work their magic, allowing nature to “burn off the summer heat”. Temperatures cool, the weather varies, and the leaves gradually dry and change shade.
Sharpen your awareness of nature’s dance, and you’ll notice how the qualities of this “in-between” time show up in your own body and mind. You are, after all, a part of nature! Through the Autumnal transition, physical symptoms may arise, as your internal nature “burns off the summer heat”. These symptoms are often characterized by a simultaneous increase in the vata and pitta dosha and present as hot, dry, and variable. You may feel overheated, over-reactive (to foods or people), inflamed, red, itchy, intense, unsteady, and variable in energy.
To counterbalance a symptom, the golden rule of Ayurveda is “Apply the Opposite”. As vata and pitta naturally increase in August and September, make lifestyle choices that ground, soothe, hydrate, and release heat. When it comes to food, this involves striking the yin/yang balance of heating and cooling herbs. Warm enough to soothe vata, and cool enough to abate pitta.
I’ve recently discovered the surprising delight of adding cooling herbs to chai tea – a perfect beverage for Autumn days. Traditional chai tea is an alchemic blend of black tea, ginger, cardamom, milk, and natural sweetener (this time of year I use coconut sugar to kick in the cool, and pacify pitta’s glycemic sensitivity). In the past I found chai tea overheating and over stimulating during the summer and autumn months. The combination of ginger and caffeine has the potential to aggravate the hot and sharp quality of pitta for some. This year the wisdom of Ayurveda smiled upon me, and my beloved yogini roommate introduced me to her father’s “Mint” Chai recipe.
Mint chai you say? Skeptical? I know. But …. don’t knock it ‘til you try it! It’s surprisingly delicious and takes the sharp edge off that ginger and caffeine. This is the 6 tastes at work – finding the right balance of the 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent) in any recipe to create balance for your doshas. The dominant taste of mint is Bitter (as it is for most culinary herbs). Bitter foods are dominant in the air and ether element making them great pacifiers for pitta. Turns out mint isn’t the only chai friendly herb. One morning we ran out of mint, and I decided to use basil instead – loved it! Slightly different flavor, and a bit less cooling than mint.
Now it’s your turn! Go out to your garden (or your local grocery), harvest some mint and basil and make a chai date with yourself! As you sip your cup of Autumn Chai your vata will be warmed and soothed by the milk, sugar, cardamom, and ginger while pitta is pacified by the mint, basil, and astringent black tea. A cup of autumnal bliss! Here’s how it’s done:
Autumn Chai Bliss (Serves 1-2)
- On high heat, bring water and ginger to a boil.
- Add black tea, and mint or basil leaves.
- Boil until ginger is fragrant, and tea is steeped to desired level. Adjusting boiling time is key in modulating the pungency of the ginger, caffeination of the tea, and flavoring of the herbs. Experiment!
- Add the milk and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling turn down the heat.
- Add the cardamom and sugar.
- Bring to a boil and reduce the heat 2 more times. Boiling 3 times increases the digestibility of the milk.
- Cover and let sit for a few minutes.
Sarah Guglielmi MS, E-RYT, Certified Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist
Sarah Guglielmi is a professional educator and clinician in the fields of yoga, meditation, and ayurveda. She was initially drawn to yoga, over 15 years ago, while working as a product development engineer, and looking for relief from chronic stress and illness, Sarah not only regained her health, but discovered a deeper dimension to her life she finds rich and inspiring. Her overarching intention is to make the therapeutic power of yoga and ayurveda accessible and transformative for her students and clients. Sarah has served on the Faculty of the Himalayan Institute and Yoga International for past 10 years she has taught numerous workshops on yoga, yoga philosophy, meditation, stress management, yoga therapeutics, and Ayurvedic lifestyle. In addition to teaching here in Buffalo, she travels nationally as a Teacher Trainer for the Himalayan Institute’s 200 hour, 500 hour, and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist training programs. Sarah holds a Master’s Degree in Materials Engineering from the University of Delaware, and spent 10 years with W.L. Gore and Associates (makers of GORE-TEX), prior to joining the Institute.
Guest post graciously contributed by Nicole Taylor.
“Sama dosha samagnis ca sama dhatu mala kriya prasannatmendriya manah svastha ityabhidiyate.”
“One who is established in Self, who has balanced doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of malas, well functioning bodily processes and whose mind, soul and senses are full of bliss, is called a healthy person.”
What does health mean to you? As I continue to study Ayurveda I’ve become more conscious of the images we receive regarding health. It’s a constantly moving target. The media will tell you it’s this body type or that one, this clothing size, or that activity that can get you there, and whatever way you slice it, these messages are mostly about the external. When images aren’t trying to influence your idea of health, articles you read will tell you it’s this body mass index, or that blood pressure reading, or a host of other measurable targets you can hit if only you stop eating wheat, or drink red wine daily, or eat like a cave person, or juice diet, etcetera, etcetera.
Whew! I felt overwhelmed just writing that. The Sushruta Samhita is one of the core texts of Ayurveda, and in that text we find the definition of a healthy person. “One who is established in Self, who has balanced doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of malas, well functioning bodily processes and whose mind, soul and senses are full of bliss, is called a healthy person.”
The Sanskrit word for health is “swastha.” When I learned that word and its meaning, I fell more deeply in love with Ayurveda than I already was. Swastha can be translated as “One who is established in Self.” Note the capital S. What does it mean to be established in Self? Can a lab value or a clothing size help you to get there? Although some of these things may end up being landmarks along the path, they are not to be mistaken for the path itself. And in fact, many of us have found that the message we receive about what it means to be healthy actually create a sense of inner criticism that is pretty much the clear opposite of resting in the Self.
Resting in the Self requires stillness. It is through the practice of meditation that we begin to calm our minds and nervous systems enough to be able to get still. Through that stillness, coupled with our chosen practice, for example, mantra meditation, we begin to get a glimpse of our true Self. Whether you call it Soul, Atman, or Purusha, you have likely at some point in your life gotten still enough to feel the light of your Self, your true nature that is not your personality or your thoughts or your habits or your sensory experiences. A person who is established in that light, in pure being, is one who is healthy. It’s really hard to become established in the Self if your body and mind are out of balance. The Ayurvedic definition of health goes on to expand in the forms of balance that can lead us to be able to rest in our Self.
Balanced doshas is another characteristic of a healthy person. The study of Ayurveda teaches us that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm that is the universe, and that the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether are the building blocks of all matter. In our bodies, these building blocks are represented by kapha, the mixture of earth and water that provides the structure for our bodies, pitta, the mixture of water and fire that provides our heat and ability to metabolize and transform substances and sensory impressions, and vata, the mixture of air and ether, which governs all movement. Our prakriti is the composition of the doshas that we came into this life with, and our vikruti is our current imbalance. Ayurveda teaches us how to balance these elements in our bodies, and the more balanced we are, the better we feel and therefore the easier it is to do the practices that help us to rest in our true Self. When we understand the qualities associated with each dosha, and if we gain an understanding of the qualities found in our food, lifestyle choices, and asana, pranayama, and meditation practices, we can make choices that can help bring us back into balance.
Agni is our digestive fire, and Ayurveda teaches us that having a balanced digestive fire is a hallmark of health. Eating healthy food comprised of the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent) at the right time in the right amount in a calm environment is one practice that can help our agni stay strong. Giving our digestive fire a break during seasonal changes by doing a Spring cleanse and a Fall Rejuvenation is also supportive, as are many of the practices discussed in the preceding paragraph on balanced doshas. No one is perfect, and we don’t always make the healthiest choice, but having strong digestive fire can assist us in those moments when we don’t make the optimal choice.
The dhatus are the tissues of the body. Rasa dhatu is plasma and lymph, rakta dhatu is blood, mamsa dhatu is muscle, meda dhatu is adipose tissue, asthi dhatu is bone, majja dhatu is marrow and nerve tissue, shukra dhatu is male reproductive tissue, and arthava dhatu is female reproductive tissue. These tissues are properly formed when our agni is strong, and when the fuel we are giving our bodies is optimal. Ayurveda teaches us that we literally are what we eat, because our food becomes our tissues. When we eat food that is closer to nature, that is as unprocessed as possible, we offer the highest possible nutrients to our digestive fire, which results in well formed tissues. Each tissue takes nutrients it needs during the digestive process, so if we are eating a diet balanced across the six tastes, we are eating a diet balanced across all of the elements, which is a part of supporting properly formed tissues described above.
Proper eliminations of malas, or wastes, is another hallmark of healthiness. If you’ve ever met someone who practiced Ayurveda, you know we have absolutely no problem talking about poop. Feces, urine, and sweat are the three main ways the body eliminates waste. At an even deeper level, during the digestive processes at the tissue level, important by-products are formed. So when your elimination is regular, in appropriate amounts, and when you allow your body to eliminate when the urge arises rather than holding it until it’s convenient for you (yes, I know you’re in an important meeting but it is better to excuse yourself and go rather than hold in your natural urges), that’s an aspect of health. You probably won’t see an ad in a magazine of a person smiling with the caption “amazing elimination” under it. Maybe one day! It’s actually quite possible that to achieve the body type of the person smiling at you in most magazines, you would go on some sort of diet that is food withholding and not balanced in the six tastes, that would adversely affect your digestion, which in turn would contribute to the production of ama, or toxins comprised of undigested food and the body’s response to that undigested food, which in turn would affect your elimination and your sense of well-being. So put down the magazine and start a wave of people eating warm unctuous balanced meals that will support their digestion and proper elimination.
Well functioning bodily processes are another hallmark of a healthy person. I’m reminded of the definition of purusha or soul, which is “that which is at rest in the city of the body.” It gives us great pause to think of our body as a city, organized by countless processes that keep us functioning well and able to thrive in the world so that we can achieve our dharma (our purpose for being here). Think of all of the things that happen in the body that we don’t have to think about, functions performed by the autonomic nervous system. Our hearts beat. Our breath moves in and out. We reach for a glass of water and don’t even think about all of the systems inside that have to coordinate in order to reach for that water. All of these processes working well together generates an experience of health.
The last section of Ayurveda’s description of health is “whose mind, soul and senses are full of bliss.” Just take a minute and reflect on the last hour of your life. What thoughts did you have? What things did you read? What did you hear? What did you see? What did you taste? What did you smell? What did you touch? As you experienced your five senses and the thoughts in your mind, did you identify them as changeable while you rested in something that was changeless? Or did you identify with the changing quality of your mind and what you took in through your senses? Were the things around you supportive of a mind that was sattvic, which is characterized by clarity, peace, and harmony, or were they of more of a rajasic nature, marked by a sense of excitability and intensity, like a hamster running nowhere on a wheel, or were they tamasic, characterized by a sense of darkness, heaviness, and inertia? These three qualities, sattwa, rajas, and tamas are qualities found in nature and in us. Our thoughts and sensory impressions are constantly moving, incrementally leading us either toward the light and bliss of sattwa or toward the inertia of tamas. Ayurveda teaches us how to make choices that support building sattwa in a way that allows us to do our work here in the world. We can learn about sattvitc foods, practice a daily ritual that imbues our life with a sense of inner harmony, and choose activities that keep our light bright.
This science of life, Ayurveda, provides time tested practices to help us heal ourselves so that we achieve health. The Ayurvedic definition of health–One who is established in Self, who has balanced doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of malas, well functioning bodily processes and whose mind, soul and senses are full of bliss—is a holistic one that takes into account the beauty and fullness of being human. From this practice we learn that what health is for us might not look like someone else’s version of health, because we each come into this world with a particular constitution, the balance of the elements that our soul needed in order to find freedom and fulfillment. We each have our purpose, and everything we are given is there to help us achieve that purpose. The more time we spend getting to know and love our own body, our own mind, our own heart, the more glimpses we get of our true Self. Once we get a glimpse of that inner light, it’s enough to keep us returning to these practices that become a beacon, calling us home to ourselves, guiding us toward a healthy body and mind so we make decisions that support fulfilling our life’s purpose and sharing joy with others along the way.
Guest post graciously contributed by Ginny Mazzei.
Fundamental to any Ayurvedic self-care routine is the proper feeding and nourishing of one’s 5-elemental body. As an appreciative student of Ayurveda, I’m in awe of the logic and cohesiveness surrounding the guidelines for diet and food preparation. But putting theory into regular practice ~ that can be a tall order especially in the summer when the structured cooking routines of the rest of the year take a back seat to summer’s spontaneity.
What are those challenging guidelines? Foods should be organic, seasonally harvested and consumed, freshly prepared, appetizing and properly cooked, lightly spiced, moistened with high-quality fat, have wisely combined ingredients, be suited to one’s specific digestive capabilities, be taken at the time of day when the external natural forces best support digestion, AND to insure proper replenishment of the elements should contain the 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter). Foods should NOT be leftover, stale, unappealing, processed, canned, frozen, improperly cooked, out of season, or otherwise cause a disturbance to digestive fire, bioenergetic tendencies, or state of mind. (Whew!)
Thank goodness Ayurveda’s emphasis on moderation extends even to the approaches we take to change long-engrained dietary habit patterns ~ gradually and mindfully are the way to go.
Here are a few tips, strategies, and recipes for the current season that are helping me reshape some long-held, rather non-Ayurvedic dietary patterns. You may want to make modifications to be sure they fit your state of digestion and any imbalance you might be experiencing.
1. KEEP IT SIMPLE, KEEP IT FRESH
Keeping the number of ingredients in my meals to a minimum not only saves times in food preparation and clean-up, but also makes it easier to follow suggested Ayurvedic food combinations. I found it helpful to keep a Food Combining Chart posted on my refrigerator. (I use Dr. Vasant Lad’s guide https://www.ayurveda.com/pdf/food_combining.pdf.) As for the foods themselves, we’re fortunate to have a small garden to insure just-picked freshness. Local farmers’ markets are your next best bet for prana-rich, seasonal, organic foods. Also make a point of checking all your major grocery chains for which ones carry the freshest locally grown produce. Some are definitely better than others.
Here is a quick and simple recipe that works well for breakfast or a light evening meal. It uses late summer produce and has a pitta-pacifying sweetness. It also crossed nicely into autumn.
Spiced Butternut Squash with Dried Fruit and Toasted Nuts
1 ½ cups diced butternut squash*
¼ cup combined raisins, dried chopped apricots, dried cherries
3 tablespoons nuts of that work for you (my vata-predominant nature does well with pecans and walnuts)
1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
¼ teaspoon each ground cinnamon and cardamom
Drizzle of maple syrup (optional)
Toast nuts until lightly browned (about 5 minutes at 350 degrees). A toaster oven helps keep the kitchen cool. Set aside when done. While nuts are toasting, place diced squash and dried fruit in a medium-sized saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, place a lid on the saucepan, then lower heat and simmer until squash is tender and easily pierced with a knife. Strain and set aside. In the same saucepan, melt ghee or coconut oil. Add cinnamon, cardamom, and the cooked squash/dried fruits. Stir until combined. Serve sprinkled with toasted nuts and drizzled with a dab of maple syrup if desired. With pre-prepped squash, this dish is done in about 15 minutes.
*Time-saving tip: In your grocery store produce department, look for fresh squash already peeled and cut-up. Granted, there’s some sacrificing in the area of freshness.
2. COOK ONCE, EAT TWICE
To move away from leftovers and still save time in the kitchen, I try to come up with new ways to consume what I prepare within a 24-hour window. This is not perfect, but for practical purposes, a cooking-once-eating-twice strategy is a vast improvement over my old habit of making a big pot of something on Sunday and eating it all week long. I found that in relatively short time, I could prepare dahl or hummus in the morning for my midday meal, and use a portion of it as a great base for making an evening soup. By simply adding lightly steamed veggies and their cooking water, I get a whole other meal. If the soup needs more body or if I want to enhance the flavor, I stir in a bit of olive oil or ghee and add in a pre-mixed churna.
Red Lentil Hummus for Lunch/Vegetable-Hummus Soup for Dinner
Red Lentil Hummus:
1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of hing (optional)
Place red lentils, water, and salt (and optional hing) in a medium pot. Cover and cook over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to skim off foam as needed. Water will absorb into the lentils. Remove from heat. Place cooked lentils in a food processor along with the following:
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons Tahini paste
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Ground black pepper (unless you’re a strong Pitta-type)
Himalayan pink salt
Process until smooth. Adjust seasonings adding ground pepper and Himalayan pink salt if needed. Eaten with sprouted grain bread and a salad (say, cucumbers and dill for their cooling properties), this makes a nice mid-day main meal.
Steam some fresh, quick-cooking, chopped vegetables such as zucchini, swiss chard, and/or string beans. Once they’re done, strain out the veggies and stir enough left-over hummus into the cooking water for a creamy, light base. Add back the veggies, a bit of olive oil or ghee, and a teaspoon or so of a spice mixture of your choosing. Add Himalayan pink salt as needed.
*Time-saving tips/products to try:
- When you want to streamline cooking time, look for legumes that cook quickly such as split mung beans and red lentils. Soaking the legumes overnight reduces gas and further shortens cooking time.
- Pre-mixed spices help shave off extra minutes in the kitchen, too. You can find recipes for different churnas on-line or try KT’s six-taste churna set at http://www.kathryntempleton.com/product/kts-six-taste-churna-sets/
- For easier digestion, I found that sprouted grain bread works best for me and goes really well with hummus or toasted as an accompaniment to soup. If you’d like to try a superior brand of sprouted bread, here’s an excellent loaf from a baker in my neck of the woods whose product is available nationally. ~ http://www.columbiacountybread.com/collections/bread/products/country-wheat-loaf
3. SIX TASTES AND SEASONAL FARE
The more experimenting I do, the deeper my appreciation runs for the wisdom of preparing and consuming foods using the principles of Ayurveda. For me, the Mung Sprout Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing provides a direct experience of how including 6 tastes in one meal creates a wonderful sense of satisfaction and completeness. This recipe is pitta-pacifying with astringent, cooling, and sweet qualities, yet doesn’t seem to disturb my vata nature. To my taste and experience, the lubricating feel of the toasted sesame oil adds warming, moistening qualities to keep my vata in check. The Sprouted Quinoa Tabouli with Summer Vegetables only seems to hit the spot in the summer, driving home for me how seasonal fare truly does jive with our body’s natural intelligence. (I’d tried the same dish in other seasons with vegetables shipped from afar and it just doesn’t work at all!) If you prepare these recipes in the morning for midday consumption, remove them from the refrigerator about an hour before mealtime so they’re not too cold when it’s time to eat.
Mung Sprout Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing
This recipe comes together very quickly; you make the dressing in the same bowl as the salad.
At the bottom of a small salad bowl, combine:
1 tablespoon or more of good quality toasted sesame oil
1 generous squeeze of fresh lime
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tamari sauce
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Stir well. Then add:
1 cup of mung bean sprouts
¼ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup chopped snow peas or sugar snap beans
Toss with the dressing. Then top with:
2 tablespoons blanched slivered almonds
½ avocado, cut into dice
Garnish with a few fresh cilantro leaves.
Sprouted Quinoa Tabouli with Summer Vegetables
1 cup cooked sprouted quinoa
Cut-up vegetables that you can digest easily and enjoy heartily, e.g. several halved, fresh cherry tomatoes; sliced celery; cubed cucumbers; shredded carrots; zucchini; possibly a few olives.
After cooking quinoa, allow it to cool a bit, then add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, some freshly squeezed lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and if your digestion permits, a tiny bit of crushed garlic. Stir together. Then stir in the cut-up vegetables. Add a generous handful of chopped parsley and a small amount of chopped mint. If your digestion allows, a bit of crumbled fresh feta cheese goes well in this salad.
Time-saving and other tips:
- I buy mung bean sprouts in the Asian section of the produce department. Perhaps someday I’ll incorporate sprouting grains and seeds into my routine. But that day has not yet arrived.
- Use sprouted grains such as TruRoots brand sprouted quinoa. It cooks in less time and doesn’t need to be rinsed. If using regular grains, do rinse and soak to reduce cooking time.
- Try to minimize the use of utensils for speedier clean-up. In both of these recipes, I use only one container to cook/prep and mix: The dressing is made and the ingredients are tossed in one bowl for the sprouted mung salad, and the quinoa is cooked, dressed, and all ingredients are added to the same pot for the tabouli.
- Regarding tabouli, Ayurvedic food-combining guidelines suggest avoiding lemons with cucumbers and tomatoes, and staying away from nightshades with cucumbers and dairy products. You may want to experiment. I’ve found if I eliminate cucumbers, this recipe works well for me; sometimes I do well with the addition of feta cheese, other times it doesn’t digest easily.
4. CAST PERFECTION TO THE WIND
I consider my attempts to cook and eat according to Ayurvedic principles as a continual work in progress. Looking back over the years, I’ve come a long way; looking at the Charaka Samhita, I still have a long way to go. If I can’t do 3 freshly prepared meals a day, I strive for one. If I can’t get 6 tastes into each meal, I try to get the 6 tastes over the entire day. If I can’t cut out all leftovers, I can cut down the amount of time in which I consume cooked foods. And when I REALLY have to crunch time for an early morning appointment, I pull out my less-than-perfect strategy – Sattvic Multitasking:
5. SATTVIC MULTITASKING
The difference between frantic multitasking and Sattvic multitasking is all in the intention and the state of mindfulness I bring. I’ve found on those days when I need to seriously compress my morning routine, I set up my yoga mat in view of the stove. This is especially helpful if I’m preparing something that needs to be stirred, expresses starch, or has the potential to scorch if I’m in another room where I invariably lose track of time. This strategy stays Sattvic only when I hold the clear intention that both actions – cooking, and conscious movement and breath – are preparing my sacred 5-elemental vessel for skillful action in the lovely day that lies ahead.
Guest post graciously contributed by Minta Davis.
Coming to a peaceful state in the mind appears to challenge many of us. Especially forces from work, personal, and global circumstances swirl round in our mind. How do we calm the mind? Many yoga Gurus have shared their wisdom on achieving peaceful mindfulness, or reaching a blissful state of mind. In order to reach this level of peacefulness in the mind, it takes practice and patience through the use of meditation.
There are several techniques that can be used to reach a meditative state. According to Swami Rama, before we can start the journey of meditation, we need to prepare for it. It is through preparation for meditation that we can avoid “obstacles that prevent your meditation from becoming deep or profound.” I view meditation as a practice that cultivates a type of art form starting from within. This art form can use pranayama to bring the body and mind to a single point of balance. The mindfulness aspect of this art form simply means being in the here and now – to awaken the deeper levels of the mind. In order to reach this level – state of mindfulness, according to the Yoga Sutra – III.1-2, “locking the mind on an object is focus, and staying on that object over a stretch of time is fixation.” One technique to help the mind focus is through pranayama work, and then allow the mind to fixate on pranayama for a while. This helps the mind, body, and nervous system to calm down, and avoid distractions that obstruct us from reaching a state of mindfulness. Pranayama begins to balance and shift the physical, mental, and energetic levels of our being. When we are feeling indecisiveness, confusion, restlessness, fearfulness, depression, hatred, envy, anger, delusional, lazy, attachment, nervousness, insecurity, ungrounded, or greedy; this creates imbalances that start to affect the functions of the mind and body. These imbalances are brought back into balance through pranayama practice. An imbalance in the mind can be anxiety, fear, anger, wrong judgement, laziness, depression, and attachment to physical or nonphysical things. I find that by practicing pranayama along with meditation, just being aware of what my imbalances are allow me to release them in a slow, and systematic manner. After meditation, when my mind is peaceful, I know I am ready to respond to other people in a calm and civil manner. Reaching a state of mindfulness is not hard, just prepare, focus, and let go!
Guest post graciously contributed by Heidi L. Audet, AAYS, RYT-500.
Given the clarity and perception that a healthy and well-adjusted pitta naturally possesses, why, oh why do persons with this prakriti sometimes end up taking on too much and subsequently find themselves hovering over the edge of the burnout cliff? As a pitta individual, this is the question I have asked myself every time I get too close to that edge.
By nature, the Pitta character in the novel of life is a true example of the elements of water and fire, the foundation of this prakriti’s physical and mental make-up. Pitta possess qualities of light and sharpness, a clarity that helps reveal truth, and lends to a sharp mind and intellect. These traits serve this character well in certain professions. You may know many scientists, lawyers or teachers who exhibit these qualities and are usually standouts in their field.
Often playing a main protagonist in many situations where a leader is required, Pitta will rise to the occasion to get things done. He or she has a desire to learn, to take in as much as possible, and can usually digest whatever information is received with a great degree of success. Which brings us to some other qualities of the Pitta: fluid- or spreading- and heat. If pitta is not careful, this fluid nature will encourage the spreading quality, and before you know it, the individual who thinks he can do everything, even with his best efforts and efficiently organized calendar, will have spread himself too thin. Ask a confident Pitta to organize a charity event or lead a nation and you will almost never hear the reply “No,” regardless of the myriad of other responsibilities already piled high on his or her proverbial desk.
Even though the medium-build Pitta thinks she has the durability of Kapha (the earth and water prakriti), the reality is, she does not. Heat rises; frustration builds as the overloaded Pitta tries to do all that he or she has promised and set out to conquer, or, rather accomplish. Telling Pittas they are taking on too much will most likely fall on deaf ears. Once their dosha is out of balance, they believe they know everything, can do it better than the next fellow, and they above all others know what is best for them. It’s only when they are in the midst of recurring acid reflux or GERD, tussling about in a verbal blow up, or suffering from an undeniably itchy, spreading, oily red rash aggravated by the heat of their imbalance that they might begin to look at changing tactics. Remember, Pittas for the most part don’t like to fail and they rarely give up until a logical solution is found.
As a member of the Pitta clan, I understand this oh too well. For most of my young life I just pushed play the moment I woke up… not stopping until my head hit the pillow. Even if I felt I was on the precipice of a melt down, I would not surrender to the notion that less is more. Like most Pittas, it was clear to me at an early age that I could do anything I set my mind to. And, like most of my prakriti siblings, I usually accomplished my goal. The problem, though, comes when there is no space for rest; hopefully you have the clarity to realize you have consumed too much information, food, or ideas, and not given yourself enough space to digest it all or let it gently simmer into assimilation. How does one pacify or cool the Pitta mind and encourage the existence of space, sweetness and softness to enter so as to avoid going over the cliff?
My practices of yoga and Ayurveda have helped me move away from being a year-round sufferer of the Pitta burnout. These sister sciences continually inspire me to move toward balance, that life is not always an all or nothing experience. When I start to get too close to the edge, I remind myself to embrace these 5,000 year old practical tools of surrender and support.
8 Key practices to Pacify the Aggravated Pitta
1. Daily meditation practice:
Encourage the Pitta to spend a minimum of 10 minutes a day in meditation. Mantra Meditation, such as “So Ham” works to help keep the Pitta mind focused on acceptance of self rather than on the myriad of plans for the day. It is best for the Pitta to schedule meditation as a “daily personal appointment.” When I schedule it into my day’s routine, it will be done faithfully. If I fill the slot with something else that I deem more important, like a production meeting, it does not get done. Pittas need to remind themselves that scheduling and participating in a daily meditation practice is like adding money to the bank. Ojas increases, which builds better support for the active Pitta in times of need.
2. Pranayama- Sheetali or Shikari Breathing, followed by 6 rounds of Nadi Shodanam:
Soothe the heat of the Pitta with the cooling, sipping breath of Sheetali, inhaling through the mouth, and exhaling through the nose. Nadi Shodanam (alternate nostril breathing), the fourth practice of the four purifications, is also known as channel purification. When the mind is overheated & overactive, this breath practice can help bring coolness and passivity to the out-of-balance Pitta mind and gets the channels of the body running smooth.
3.Walks in nature near water:
Connecting the mind and body in an easy flowing walk in nature near a pond, lake, or gentle stream reminds the Pitta to cool down and slow down. Meditating near the ocean can remind the practitioner to let the heat go. One of my most favorite Pitta-reducing meditation practices is to sit at the beach near the ocean on a moonlit night. It has such a refreshing and peaceful effect on me almost immediately.
4. Daily Abhyanga- self massage:
When this girl gets really heated up and cranky, especially in the summer months, I apply cooling coconut oil to my head, gently massaging it into my forehead, nape of the neck and temples. I use coconut oil on the entire body for spring and summer, but switch to sunflower oil or grapeseed oil mixed with neem and sesame on the rest of the body for the cooler months of the year. If the forecast says we are in for a particularly hot and humid day, I will keep the coconut oil on my head during my morning meditation. The practice of abhyanga is an act of self-love nurturance. It reminds the Pitta to soften, relax and accept, three things that do not come easily to this prakriti.
5. Eating cooling, sweeter foods:
Pittas are drawn to the foods that naturally increase their imbalance. Hot, spicy, sharp, and sour foods are craved, but should be reduced; avoiding these stokers of the flame is advised during times of intense Pitta imbalances.
*Opting for sweet fruits like melons, cherries, pomegranates, mangos, plums and grapes is a good choice. Coconut milk, coconut water, and dried coconut are cooling and sweet, perfect for the Pitta.
* I use cooling herbs and spices such as fennel, saffron, coriander, cilantro, and mint to season my food and for teas when I am feeling too much heat.
*A midday treat of a little ice cream on a hot summer day is a delightful pacifier for an out-of-balance Pitta. I am an avid supporter of this practice.
*Adding ghee to my spice churnas brings additional pacification when my pitta is deranged; I also love to have asparagus, cucumbers and celery in my meals when the heat increases.
*In the fall and winter, eating steamed or baked sweet potatoes and pumpkin help to bring a little sweetness when I am feeling sharp and prickly.
*Drinking a cup of lavender and chamomile tea is a good way to relax and renew.
6. Pitta Pacifying Yoga Practices that cool, calm and regulate fire:
Twists, forward folds, cat/cow stretch and backbends like Ustrasana (camel), Setu Bandhasana (bridge) or Bhujangasana (cobra) with a softened downward gaze (remember, eyes are pittic in nature) are good poses for Pittas. Twists can help to regulate the digestive fire, forward folds bring the concept of surrender and cooling, and postures of expansion in the backbend family and side body openers like Ardha Chandrasana help release the heat. I practice reminding myself not to push past 60-80% effort and avoid becoming so serious that I do not invite sharpness into my practice.
7. Remember to laugh:
One of the things Pittas need to remember is to not take themselves so seriously. Watch funny movies or shows; occasionally choose reading materials that are more light-hearted and maybe a little zany. Laughter can help curb the heated sharpness of an edgy Pitta and make life that much more enjoyable.
8. It is okay to say no:
Just because you can think you can do everything, doesn’t mean you have to. It is okay to decline an invitation and avoid getting in over your head. Learning to say no means creating space in your life for enjoyment. Surrender brings sweetness, and learning to say no will create an opportunity to bring the sweet nectar of balance to you.
May these practices be helpful in stabilizing and maintaining a healthy and balanced Pitta prakriti.
Guest post graciously contributed by Sarah Bannerman Andrews.
For a healthy self after childbirth; learn how everyday Ayurveda can help new Mommas find balance.
Ayurveda has a way of putting things into perspective. It teaches us that staying in balance can help prevent most dis-ease. It teaches us that the key to long lasting health and wellness is preventative not reactive. It works with Mother Nature to target the root of illness not cover up the symptoms. It understands that we are multi dimensional beings, which means that all aspects of total health are connected: body, mind, soul… and baby.
There is no doubt among mothers that becoming one is the most incredible thing that could ever happen to a woman. BUT if we are going to be honest, it is intense! It is hard to manage all the change, especially when combined with the pressures (from society, self, or otherwise) to be the modern day “Super Momma”.
Listed below are three simple concepts to become aware of during the first year of motherhood, along with suggestions for integrating them in a way that works for you…
Rebuild your digestive ability, aka, Agni.
Agni is your digestive fire, it is responsible for how you process the foods you eat (among other things). If your Agni is low you may not be able to extract the nutrients from the foods you are eating.
The simple act of digesting the food we eat can utilize an enormous amount of energy, especially after giving birth when our digestive fire is naturally low. Instead we want to conserve our energy in order to begin healing the rest of our bodies. Start rebuilding your digestive flame slowly with light easily digestible and nourishing foods for the first few weeks, then gradually begin to reintroduce a well balanced diet of local organic seasonal foods, including all six tastes, spiced according to your dosha. Agni is considered the key to good health, a low fire will likely cause you a lot of problems down the road such as low milk supply, malnourishment, trouble losing baby weight, depression, and fatigue.
Tips to help rebuild your Agni (first 1-6 weeks after childbirth):
- If possible avoid processed hospital food, have someone cook for you and bring it in.
- Begin with warm, cooked foods like oatmeal, vegetable or lentil soups, kitchari, cooked vegetables, stewed sour fruits, or fresh sweet fruits, and soaked nuts.
- Use ghee as your main oil and be sure to include spices such as cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek, hing, cumin, turmeric and black pepper.
- Avoid processed foods of all kinds, raw foods, excess meat, excess dairy, gaseous foods such as beans, nightshades, and cruciferous. Caffeine and fermented foods are also to be avoided.
Nourish yourself, a.k.a. build Ojas.
Ojas is your vital essence, immunity, endurance, your energy bank. If you are feeling run down, often sick, or feeling depleted (i.e., you just birthed another human!), you are low on ojas.
According to Ayurveda the richest form of ojas resides in the heart. At the time of birth this special form of ojas is transferred from the mother to her baby by way of the umbilical chord. The pulsing of the chord is a mirror of the mothers beating heart. It is for this reason that Ayurveda recommends that the umbilical chord not be cut until it has stopped pulsing. After birth you will need to rebuild your own ojas so you will have the energy and vitality and endurance to care for yourself and your child.
Tips to help rebuild your ojas:
- Ojas drink – Soak 3-4 dates and 8-12 almonds in water overnight. First thing in the morning blend the dates, peeled almonds, almond milk (or milk) and cardamom to taste in the blender. Drink this on an empty stomach for the first 1-4 weeks or until you are feeling strong again.
- Take chaywanprash, a nutritive tridoshic tonic rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. You can eat it right off the spoon, or add hot water to make a tea. 1- 2 tsp. daily
- Practice Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) while your baby naps. There are many versions available, find one you like and save it to your phone. That way you’ll always be ready to go. Lie down in a warm cozy place and enjoy a deep state of rest.
- Do things that nourish you, and accept help.
Stay grounded, a.k.a. balance Vata dosha.
Vata is the biological force made up of the Ayurvedic elements air and ether. It governs physical movement of all kinds, and is also responsible for destruction and decay (among other things). It is present in each of us, some of us more than others.
At this time of rapid change, and the shedding of what was once needed to grow your baby, Vata dosha has to work extra hard to keep up. It is easily pulled out of balance making us forgetful, confused, anxious and fearful. To counter the Vata before it gets away on you try to incorporate these practices daily.
Tips to help balance Vata Dosha:
- Abhyanga (self oil massage) means with loving hands. Abhyanga has an enormous impact on Vatta. It calms your nervous system and in turn sooths your mind. Use a nourishing oil like Mahanarayan or sesame, make sure the oil is warm, leave it on as long as you have time for, no need to use soap when you shower it off.
- Yoga! Get creative with what that means. The days of 90min studio classes may be over for you for the next little while. The beauty of yoga is it can be practiced anywhere at anytime, and is not limited to the sequence of poses you do on your mat. It is a way of life, a state of mind; it’s the practice of presence, and the art of unconditional love. For yourself and your baby. If you are able to do mild asana right away, wonderful! If not, try to gently move your spine in all 4 directions (side to side, forward and back, and twist) to open up any blockages of prana. Practice pranayama (controlled breathing), especially alternate nostril breathing and Meditation – this is so important! Even if you don’t have a regular meditation practice try sitting still after your stretches and breathing. Sit in a place without any sounds or distractions, close your eyes, and let your body and mind settle. Follow the flow of your breathing. Hold your hands at your heart and feel gratitude for everything you have and everything you have become. Breathe and connect to that underlying abundance of Love and Joy that arrived with your little bundle. Every day feel blessed that your sweet little baby chose you. Stay connected to that as long as you can. Connecting to that sense of gratitude daily will have a huge impact on your state of mind, and in turn your over all health.
- Company – surround yourself with people who make you feel safe, supported and loved. Slowly make time for family and friends that support the new version of you, people who respect the beautiful mother you are becoming. It’s possible that some relationships which worked for you before might not work for you now. Acknowledge that everything is different, you are different.
- Herbs such as shatavari, ashwaganda or bala, can also help to mitigate a Vata imbalance, but must be taken under the strict guidance of an ayurvedic practitioner.
For more details on any practices, foods or concepts listed above please search Yoga International’s website.
Sarah Bannerman Andrews is YA 500hr E-RYT, HI AYS, AAYS, Mother and lover of life.
Guest post graciously contributed by Mary Honchock.
How Hanuman Helped Me Pack My Practice
So, just a quick recap of Hanuman the Monkey God. Hanuman was the son of the Vayu (god of the wind) and a devout woman (a vanara, a monkey being). He was a powerful and mischievous young god and many of his adventures resulted in the other Gods either aggravated by his tricks or involved in his rearing. Eventually, he was cursed to have no knowledge of his powers and only in his service to Rama did he use them. He is known as “The Great Devote”. Now why would the mythology around this deity help me to pack my practice?
Hanuman is a trickster by his nature and he not knowing about his powers makes him even trickier yet. When faced with demons, obstacles, or tasks to accomplish; he only uses what he has at that moment. Whether that entails growing large to make the demon, who is trying to swallow him, have to grow even larger. Then Hanuman shrinks instantly to sneak away! Or whether that means letting the demons light his tail on fire, only to grow his tail longer to burn them. He uses his powers like a bag of tricks to help him get through the hard things in life. It is in these legends that I found my inspiration.
Since my life has taken a strange turn back into aviation, I have wrestled many demons and mostly they are my own. But the biggest demon I currently wrestle with is giving up my daily practice. There are always valid reasons not to practice. I have been working since 5 am…I am in a weird hotel room and I am tired and hungry…I have been trapped at the Philadelphia Airport all day in an ice storm. As the excuses mounted up, my daily practice turned into a five days a week practice. Then, it slipped four days a week. Then, it slipped farther three days a week. What a slippery slope indeed! But then, Hanuman came to mind. A frequent power he uses is to change his size at will, making himself as big or small as he desires. Well, why can’t my practice have those same powers? Instead of wanting the perfect place or time, why can’t I make my practice the right size to fit the situation? Now, I have renewed my diligence to shrink or grow to my daily ritual. The minimum I allow is usually 15 minutes. I have learned to even shrink the tools I need for these practices so they come everywhere with me. I have yet to meditate in the baggage rack of the Philadelphia crew room but I will get there one day. When no one is around, of course! That is what I will be doing with my Mala and Hanuman statue. Reminding me that we all have powers we don’t know about and it is in the faithful repetition of our practice that we find them.
It is in this Hanuman inspiration that I have started developing a bag of traveler’s tricks. I have daily rituals of all sizes. It is now part of my practice to fit my daily ritual to the situation rather than finding a situation that will fit my ritual. I expect every week I will have to use my bag of tricks. On the road, it is not if an obstacle will come your way. It is when and what will it be. The larger my bag of tricks, the more likely I will be able to scoot around it and practice.
As our wonderful teacher Kathryn often says, “Ayurveda does not tell you what to do, it tells you how to do it.” Over and over again, I have found that using the Ayurvedic principles as a guiding light (rather than a strict compliance) has helped me see the light in many difficult situations.
So, what do you do when you travel? I am sure we have many traveling Ayurvedics in our group. What are your travel tricks? Is it the food you bring? A guided meditation that helps put you to sleep? Or is it a practice on the hotel bed because the floor is too yucky! Let us share our tricks and in my next edition, I will bring them all together for a Traveling Ayurvedest Bag of Tricks. Together we will be more prepared when tapas is low and excuses are high!
Guest post graciously contributed by Tanya Boigenzahn.
If you took a few minutes to read Laurie Dean’s blog below on WHY Kapha increases during spring, great! If not, that would be a good start. But in a nutshell, spring has sprung…even here in MN where I live, the ground is free from snow and people have SPRING FEVER! However, the heavy, wet, dull qualities of the season are building. As spring nears, I hear students and friends complain that even though the sun is greeting them earlier in the mornings, they are having a harder time rising out of bed. So…if you find yourself in this situation – dull and feeling weighed down with stuck energy – read on!
Tips for Moving KAPHA for Spring:
- Hot Water Thermos: The buildup of winter’s accumulated ama, or toxins, can coat the alimentary tract leaving our digestive systems dull and sluggish. Sip hot water throughout the day for a few days can help melt away that white “goo” coating your GI tract. The frequency rather than the quantity of water is more important. Add lemon if you are particularly phlegmy.
- Kapalabhati: Sneeze…. Sniff, sniff? This kriya, or cleansing practice, helps move the fire and air elements up into the the stomach and lungs and dry out the excess earth and water, or kapha, there manifesting as running nose, sneezing and sinus congestion that often occur with spring allergies. The force of the exhale literally melts away the mucus, and allows fresh prana, or energy, move to the frontal lobe of the brain clearing the mind for your next task. Kapalabhati literally means “skull shining.”
To do: sit in a comfortable cross-legged seat with your hands resting on your knees. Take a comfortable inhale. Then exhale forcefully through the nostrils as you pull the navel and root center in and up. Repeat 18x about once per second. Stop and observe the breath. Repeat two more sets. You may increase the number of reps as you build stamina in the abdominal muscles and breath.
Contraindications: menses, pregnancy, high blood pressure, headache.
- Spice Up Your Greens! Kapha is pacified by the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Not only should you eat lighter in the spring to help the digestive fire, or agni, get revved up, but also eat more spring greens such as arugula, asparagus, dandelion greens, etc. Think shoots and spring greens – they move up! – to help lift digestion. Be sure to add a little extra spice such as a pinch of cayenne or grated ginger to help circulation.
- Exercise! Because kapha’s excessive properties include heaviness, dullness and fatigue, get outside and get moving! Fresh air, a brisk walk and a mild sweat will help circulate blood, lymph and breath. Plus feed your smile and senses with spring colors and activities. Kick up your yoga practice a bit, and add a few more Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations). Go here for a short tutorial: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/warm-up-with-the-sun-salutation
Spring is here! Lift your spirits and take advantage of the season’s growth and renewal to help you activate your latent creative energies. Like a flower reaching up out of the earth for the sun, aim high and throw off the shackles of winter. Enjoy the Spring! Hari Om Tat Sat
Guest post graciously contributed by Laurie Dean.
Ah Spring……..tulips, daffodils, budding trees, the promise of a new beginning, a feeling of freshness in the air……
From an Ayurvedic perspective, Spring is the perfect time to begin anew – to clear from our digestive system the undigested “stuff” that we have accumulated in there. We might not even realize we have “stuff” that is not allowing us to assimilate and then digest as well as we could…..but most likely that “stuff” is there! It’s this stuck stuff we want to clear out by doing a Spring cleanse – kind of like what you do when you clean out your closet – get rid of what has been lingering around so there is more space for what you really want and need in there.
The ayurvedic term for this “stuff” is ama. On a physical level, food that is not properly assimilated and then digested turns into a sticky, icky toxic substance called ama. It’s the leftover residue from food we have taken in that has not been properly digested. And – while ama is not toxic in the sense of poisoning you right away – according to Ayurveda – ama is the root cause of many diseases. It is what creates “dis ease” in our bodies.
Ama may be present if you experience any of these symptoms –
A feeling of heaviness or dullness
Constipation, diarrhea or gas/gas pains
Bad breath or have a thick coating on your tongue
Generalized body aches/stiffness
And – if that wasn’t bad enough – ama may also be the residue from undigested or unprocessed mental and/or emotional experiences – “food” on a mental level – and may create mental ama.
Add the above on the list of reasons why doing a Spring cleanse is so important! Springtime is the ideal time to clear out this stuff – to care for and cleanse both body and mind. A gentle spring cleanse will help us to transition from the cold of winter and the dampness of spring. It will create a fresh beginning so we can then move into the intensity of summer feeling vital and refreshed!
I’ll use the analogy of a kitchen sink – many times we just keep stuffing stuff down into the plumbing. But if what is put in there is not getting properly ground up or not moving thru efficiently, at some point the system gets bogged down and stops working the way that it should. Our digestive process is more complex – but I think you can see my point.
During a spring cleanse, we intentionally give our digestion a break by eating a simple mono-diet of mung beans with white rice that we season with fresh vegetables, delicious spices along with adding nourishing oil or ghee to the mix. This short digestive break helps us clear out the “stuff” we have accumulated in our gut and will bring our digestion into a more optimal balance. It is also a time to nurture ourself on a mental, emotional and energetic level – taking time to slow down, reflect on our lives, our habits, practice self care that nourishes us from the outside in, while we are practicing dietary self care thru the simplicity of our food. Also helps us to begin to see our relationship to food – do we really eat because we are hungry? Do I eat to fill an emotional void? Eat certain foods when I am stressed to comfort me? All interesting things to consider…….
To find more information on doing an Ayurvedic Spring cleanse – check out kathryntempleton.com. Kathryn offers an online spring cleanse and her newsletter lists many Spring cleanse classes being done by Himalayan Institute Ayurvedic Yoga Specialists around the country. Yoga International also offers information on Ayurveda and Spring Cleansing.
You can join me at Shri Life Yoga in Palm Beach Gardens FL March 13 or March 15 for our Spring Cleanse class. Happy Spring and good health to you!
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