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.