Guest post graciously contributed by Heidi L. Audet, NAMA Certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor
One evening at the beginning of March, I thought my end was near. My partner, Dan, drove me to the hospital upon my request– the tell tale signs of a heart attack were rearing their ugly head, accompanied by a side order of a sudden drop in body temperature. In the car while my body shook and teeth chattered, the feeling of pending doom overwhelmed me. I calmly planned in my mind to transfer money to my daughter’s account in the event I didn’t make it.
After 3 hours in the Cardiac Care Unit hooked up to an EEG/EKG machine, chest x-rays taken and a blood panel evaluation, the lead nurse looked at me and said, “We don’t see anything. Your blood by the way is really good. Oh, your thyroid looks a little low.” I thought in true pitta fashion, of course my blood is really good. I eat healthy, I exercise, I am a yoga teacher and I practice Ayurveda.
Plans to hook me up to an event monitor for a month were discussed, but after a visit to my doctor for a follow up, that plan was put on hold.
“Is your blood pressure normally this low?” the nurse at my doctor’s office asked. To say I was surprised was an understatement. My blood pressure has for most of my life run around 118/80. Here I was in the doctor’s office, in the middle of the day having just walked up two flights of stairs and my BP read 86/62. My primary care doctor for the past 15 years announced that my thyroid, that butterfly-shaped organ located at the throat (Udana Vayu), was underperforming. He remembered me mentioning 8 years prior about my mother’s
hypothyroidism at the age of 38, and her mother also suffering from it. When I had turned 38 I had come to him because signs that my thyroid might be underactive were beginning to play out. Back then testing revealed a “low” normal, so nothing was done. March 2016, however, my TSH count was revealed to be nearly at the “top” of the low scale. Of course. I was an over-achiever in underactive thyroid performance.
“I am going to put you on thyroid medication. You will need to take this everyday. In six weeks we will retest….” You guessed it; I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Many of the symptoms I had been experiencing over the past 8 years had gotten progressively worse, and now began to make sense. Vata rapid and irregular heart beat, Kapha dull blood pressure, inability to lose weight without great struggle (a sign of meda dhatu dushti, perhaps caused by low meda dhatu agni), pressure headaches, dry skin, hoarse voice, puffy face, joint and muscle pains, unexplained exhaustion… oh the list went on.
Inheriting my mother’s sharp wit was one thing, but this I could have done without. Somewhere in my pithara agni, my genetic ancestral fire, I won the hypothyroid lottery. As far as genetic samskaras go, this one had been a bit of a mystery in discovery. My mother’s diabetes and heart disease, all inherited on her mother’s side of the family, had successfully escaped me. Having spent most of my days working hard to eat and live a life very different than my maternal side had been successful at helping to avoid those diseases. So how was it inevitable that I would get hypothyroidism? What else could I have done?
Really it was what I could have done less. In 2008 I had undergone great stress, and in the process exhausted my adrenals. Never having fully recovered from that depletion, I spent the next 8 years of my life pushing past the tiredness to get things done. I would have some good days, but many were challenges that I just soldiered through. Pittas tend to not give up, and my determination combined with my “heart of a lion” kept me going. Sounds intense, doesn’t it? Perhaps it was too intense.
In the past 3 weeks, I have been surprised to find through discussion with the women in my community how many of them suffer from hypothyroidism. Out of the 20 women I have spoken with, many found out in their late 30’s and most, except for a few Kapha types, are self-proclaimed lifetime overachievers. Not all women obtained hypothyroidism through inheritance. What is one common cause? I would say one plausable reason is the excess stress we face or choose to undertake; it can deplete our adrenals and increase our cortisol levels. Dr. Claudia Welch discusses the ramifications of this pattern in her book, Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life (2011) Excess stress can cause qi, (life force) to stagnate, thereby setting off hormonal imbalance. “Too much cortisol circulating in the body leads to overall hormone resistance, including thyroid resistance” (pg. 25).
Dr. Welch discusses increasing Yang for support to increase qi, or as we refer to it in yoga and Ayurveda, prana, our life energy. In Ayurveda we discuss increasing ojas, our vital sap; ojas is the nourisher, the supporter of our other two vital essences, tejas (supporter of intelligence, cellular memory and metabolic functions) and prana. Building ojas allows us to sustain the higher practices of the other two. “Saunter more,” my teacher Kathryn Templeton always tells me. Turns out, she’s right. A little more sauntering and a lot less bolting will help increase my vital sap, and cool the burnout of the adrenals. Less overdoing and more being present is a superb recipe for balance.
In these past 3 weeks I have begun to learn the importance of saying no. My days off are precious to me, and I make a date for myself once a week for total relaxation without interruption. I realized that if I don’t create space for downtime, I will continue to deplete. It took me assuming I was saying goodbye forever to finally say hello to a new way of thinking. Ojo Sara (optimal ojas) is where I am now headed.
Excuse me, will you? I need to go listen to soothing music, take a nap, and build me some ojas.