“The underlying assumption of Ayurveda is that each individual has the power to heal himself or herself. We each have the ability and the freedom to recover our health if we become ill, or to maintain vitality and joy of living. We can do this by understanding our body and its needs, and by attending to those needs as they change in response to the ever-changing outer environment and our inner world of feelings. For this, consciousness is key: moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening.” –Vasant Lad, The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies
Theme for this week: Nourishment
Wednesday at Yoga for Queers. NEW TIMES 5:30 and 7pm
Saturday at Align and Shine. 10:30a-12p
We are three weeks into our Focus on Fall, our seasonal series inspired by the wisdom of Ayurveda. We will be looking for the coming weeks at how the ancient healing art of Ayurveda can help shed light on the changes happening inside and out, and how to skillfully navigate those transitions—coming out stronger, wiser, and healthier on the other side.
We started out two weeks ago by looking at ritual, and last week we explored mindfulness. This week we will look at especially important physical and spiritual aspects of the practice encapsulated by nourishment.
I have mentioned in the past few weeks that the transition to fall moves us out of the paradigm of heat and intensity characterized by the predominance in summer of pitta dosha (fire), and into the dry and cold of fall and the prevalence of vata dosha (air). The combination of these two forces leads to a powerful tendency towards depletion: heat can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, and dryness in its own right, and vata energy correlates with catabolic processes, the processes that break down molecules. Catabolic processes are essential for the absorption of nutrients through digestion, and are also essential for continuing the cycle of birth, life, and death. The shift to fall, then, is an essential part of the process. While we may know this in our heads, sometimes it takes longer for the rest of ourselves–body, heart, spirit–to catch up.
Given this tendency towards depletion, one of the primary ways to sustain healthful balance in this time of transition is to redouble your emphasis on nourishment. This is definitely true on the physical level, and the foods in abundance right now lend themselves to this – dark leafy greens and starchy potatoes which beg to be made into warm, hearty, nutrient-rich soups.
However, it is important to observe other ways to support nourishment, on the physical realms as well as spiritually, emotionally, and otherwise. With this paradigm of wind and depletion comes dryer, more fragile skin and a greater tendency for overall disruption in the digestion system. Increased vata also manifests as insomnia, constipation, anxiety, and much more (Lad, 272). In Ayurveda, all of these symptoms are considered to have the same cause, and the “treatment” is almost always the same – increase insulation, build up your cushion, maximize nourishment to counteract depletion. It’s a bit like the way that people who “run cold” (most of those are vata types!) always bring an extra layer or two with them in order to ensure that they don’t get cold. Think about the ways you can apply such a pre-emptive commitment to insulation to every realm of life.
In short, treat every situation as an opportunity to seek nourishment. Consider buying some organic, raw sesame oil and incorporating abhyanga into your life as often as possible (daily is optimal). Abhyanga is one of the ancient Ayurvedic protocols (treatments) that is eminently accessible in the modern world. The more often you can do it, the better the effects on your physical health, your mood, your stress levels, your sleep…etc etc. Also increase your ingestion of sesame oil if possible, adding it directly to cooked and prepared foods, (and be mindful that raw sesame is not optimal for cooking).
Spiritually and emotionally, seek nourishment by (re)committing to rituals that help ground and support you. This might mean initiating a new ritual, one that is appropriate for this time of reflecting on past seasons and preparing your harvest. Rekindle the art of enjoying herbal tea at night while quietly reflecting, journaling, or meditating. Reconnect with a long-lost spiritual companion.
Also be willing to examine what in your life does not nourish you, but rather contributes to depletion. Consider building in more than enough time to get to the places you need to go, as stress, worry, and anxiety are unnecessarily depleting as well. Perhaps you examine, reduce, or even (gasp!) eliminate your media consumption so as to further reduce anxiety, prevent insomnia, and insulate yourself from overexposure to stimulus. Maybe this is the time to get real about a friendship or relationship that does not feel reciprocal. If nothing else, it can definitely be a time to take a good hard look at your commitments and see if you can really sustain yourself while sustaining those responsibilities.
In the end, Ayurveda reminds us that the purpose of health is to live a long life and realize your svadharma—your life’s work. Take this time now to accept the invitation from Nature to slow down and move into stillness, to examine the ways that you are and are not supporting the realization of your life’s work, the ways that you are and are not making choices which nourish you. It is all in your hands. You get to choose.
Let the sacred ritual of yoga, in which you train yourself to be radically present and eminently mindful, continue to be a source of nourishment for you. Let us do it together.
EQUINOX FOR QUEERS // SUNDAY 9/20 4:30-6:30
All of this work is helping us build toward the coming Equinox, in which we will hold space ceremonially to focus on what we’re harvesting from these past few months. Let’s do that together too. This Sunday from 4:30-6:30. Click here for more info and to RSVP—which is not required but very helpful for me!
See you on the mat.