I’ve been thinking and talking with folks a lot about health lately. As I was using my tongue scraper this morning (it’s a way to clean off the “ama,” or disease-creating substance that gathers in our bodies), I was thinking about how much Ayurveda (the 5,000 year-old system of medicine from India) has changed my life. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned from this amazingly detailed, health-promoting system:
1. Everyone has her/his own unique body constitution. We’re all made up of the same three energies (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), but how those energies combine is unique to each one of us. That means the diet and lifestyle that totally fits you is different from what works for me. (In other words, “experts” who tout the same diet for everyone aren’t addressing our uniqueness.)
2. When in balance, we can trust what our bodies want. Taste is an example of a built-in body signal that we can trust, i.e., when we crave a taste, it means we need more of that type of food in our diet. However, if we’ve been out of balance, we are likely to crave foods and tastes that will take us further out of balance, so to truly trust our impulses, we need to come back into balance first.
3. Eat for the seasons. Now that I understand this principle, it seems like a “duh.” But I didn’t know that eating cold foods in cold weather, or hot spicy foods in the heat of summer, or dry foods when it’s windy out, made any difference. Now I typically don’t eat salads or drink icy liquids except during the warm months, and I’ve learned that warm, nourishing soups and stews are my friend.
4. What we eat directly affects our emotional state. This is what really woke me up. I tend towards anxiety. What a huge relief to see the connection between eating Vata-aggravating foods (cold, dry, rough foods) and my resulting swirling thoughts and anxious state. Understanding that Pitta out of balance creates irritability and Kapha out of balance leads to lethargy has vastly changed how I sort through issues with clients.
5. Symptoms mean something. I pretty much had resigned myself to Western medicine’s explanations for odd symptoms, like “that’s what happens when you get older,” or “we don’t know why–that just happens for some people.” In Ayurveda, symptoms come together in constellations, and they mean something is out of balance. For example, it turns out that Vata-aggravation comes together in a triumvirate of anxiety, insomnia, and constipation. Deal with the aggravation and the symptoms go away.
6. Old age does not equal decrepitude. In Deepak Chopra‘s wonderful book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, he masterfully demonstrates how we westerners have accepted chronic illness as part and parcel of aging. Instead, he says, it’s–chronic illness. That should be treated and healed. Hmmm.
7. Improving one’s health can be a gentle, gradual process. Taking simple steps like choosing cooked vegetables instead of eating salads, adding good oils to one’s diet, or living more closely to one’s body type can create pay-offs that multiply over time.
8. Fat does not make you fat. Olive and other oils (like sesame and coconut), butter and ghee are necessary to keep the body functioning well. Cholesterol, so demonized by our current medical thinking, is a necessary building block for hormones and the myelin that wraps around neurons, allowing our nervous system to function.
9. Humans are part of nature, so nature provides what heals us. Using herbs and spices mindfully (like “heating” herbs–cinnamon, cardamom, ginger–in teas during the winter months) is an easy and powerful support to health. Ayurvedic home remedies are accessible and really work. Google “Ayurveda” plus your symptom and you’ll get lots of ideas of how to treat it right away.
10. When in balance, humans are naturally joyful. Joy is our natural state, if we’re sleeping well, eating what our bodies want, and living according to our own natural constitution. I believe we’ve accepted too low of a bar for our overall health, and that, by adopting Ayurvedic principles, we can access what is our birthright: perfect health.
Would you like more information? Here are some resources:
- Paula Scarborough is a Ayurvedic practitioner local to Boulder who is working with the BC3 to create acommunity-wide education and support for Ayurvedic principles. TAKE AN ONLINE SURVEY HERE to help us identify community needs.
- Self-analyses of your own unique body constitution can be easily found on the internet. Here’s one link.
- Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health, is a wonderful introduction to Ayurveda.