Monday, September 8, 2014

Simple Changes: Why I Love Ayurveda

Last year when I was taking my first weekend workshop on how to treat anxiety and depression with yoga at Kripalu, I spent my Saturday evening walking the grounds and exploring their extensive book store. I was trying a bit of an experiment, trusting my gut (my intuition) to lead me to where I needed to go.

In the book store, just before closing, my hands landed on a copy of Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad.

I was less than a year into my quest for trying to restore my mental and physical health and wellness, and so far, yoga seemed to be doing the trick. But I knew that I needed to do more if I wanted to really heal and become a vibrant, healthy, productive human being again.

I took the book out with me into the grounds for a moonlit walk through the labyrinth, and then back to my room where I started to read.

It occurred to me as I was reading that this might just be the key that would help me restore my sanity and my body.

What first struck me was how according to the science of Ayurveda, which has been around for about 5,000 years, was how practitioners look at each individual to determine what can best solve their health needs. Very unlike what I've experienced with Western medicine where the doctors treat the disease the same in everyone, regardless of differences between people.

It only makes sense to me. I mean, my husband and I are completely different physical types - he's tall and muscular, and I'm short and lanky. (Although I'm building up some strength from my yoga practice these days!) His digestion is completely different than mine. He sleeps differently than I do. Why would it make sense to treat us for indigestion or headache in exactly the same way?

That was my first clue that I had stumbled on to something good.

Next, I read about Ayurvedic diets. Now, an Ayurvedic diet is really not a difficult thing to follow. There are no hard and fast rules about eating in Ayurveda, only guidelines about which foods benefit each dosha, or type. There are no big warnings about AVOID THESE FOODS AT ALL COSTS kind of thing. No crazy you-can-only-eat-this-if-you-prepare-it-under-a-full-moon-at-exactly-sixty-eight-degrees-after-soaking-it-in-calves'-milk-for-a-fortnight kind of stuff.

An Ayurvedic diet just makes recommendations on what to eat and how to cook it - easy. For my type, Vata, I need to eat mostly warm, well-cooked foods. It doesn't decree that I can't ever eat things like salads, raw foods, or cold foods - it's just a set of guidelines for how to make food that will work well with my digestive processes so that I get the most nutrition possible out of my food.

And the crazy thing? It WORKS.

For years and years, I've had this predisposition to drinking ice-cold beverages. I used to put ice in every single glass of water or juice that I ever drank. And that was at the height of my digestive distress, when my gallbladder finally gave up the ghost and I was losing weight for seemingly no reason and I was scared shitless.

This past winter, I tried an experiment. I ate according to Ayurvedic principles laid out in this book. I drank lots of warm teas and warm drinks, I cooked my food well, and I used to recommended seasonings for my dosha - ginger, cumin, basil, thyme, black pepper, salt, cilantro, and sage.

I started eating more foods with healthy fats in them like avocados, nuts, eggs, and dairy products. (Some of you know I have this love affair with cheese. I indulged freely in cheeses of all types while trying this experiment.)

I ate lots of rice, quinoa, and organic wheat. I ate eggs. I filled my plate with loads of healthy foods like beets, carrots, asparagus, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and onions.

And at the end of this, I discovered that I had made it through the entire winter without a single bout of gastric distress. No indigestion. No stomach aches.

I started to look at the idea of changing my routine to suit my vata dosha. Some of the actions took a little bit of work - I've never been a morning person, just ask my husband - but I started getting up a little earlier. I started practicing pranayama every day. I ate my breakfast before 8:00 a.m. most days. I slowed down my meal times, eating in silence or creating a tranquil environment in which to savor my food, and I tried getting to bed before 10:00 p.m. I started my mornings with a small amount of warm water with a squeeze of lemon in it.

Then I began to experiment with things like gentle oil massage on my feet and using certain scents that were supposed to help balance my dosha.

And if I didn't notice the results immediately, the people around me sure did. I started to hear people telling me, "You look wonderful!" "You look so healthy!" and "You're glowing!"

The best part of all of these changes that I made? They were small. Simple. I made them one at a time. I made them mindfully, writing them down in my journal.

So if anyone asks me why I love the practice of Ayurveda so much, it's because Ayurveda doesn't demand crazy changes in your lifestyle or diet or routine. How easy is it to make simple changes like adding a glass of lemon water to your morning?

The only hard part in all of this, as I see it, is that you have to have the desire to make these changes. If you're not motivated, nothing will ever change.

But if you can make these small, manageable changes to your routine and your lifestyle, you might be surprised at the differences you see.

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