Why I Love Every Ounce of Fat in My Body

(As published on Elephant Journal)

“You look fatter, Ripa,” my Ayurveda teacher said to me recently.

I smiled and replied “I never thought I’d take that as a compliment as much as I do now.”

Having once struggled with anorexia nervosa, starving myself for long periods of time to achieve a feeling of “skinny,” I have now come 360 degrees on my journey. I have not only been able to gain much-needed weight, but have experienced a transformation in my whole attitude towards my body. Ayurveda, the ancient art and science of life from India, has inspired me to now love every ounce of fat in my body.

Here’s why:

Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga, which heals patients by putting us back in touch with nature’s eternal rhythms. Ayurveda explains the macrocosm (the universe surrounding us) and the microcosm (the universe within: our individual mind and body containers) in terms of the five great elements.

These elements include ether, air, fire, water, and earth.

The five great elements combine to form three bio-psychic forces called doshas in the body and mind. These doshas, called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, are explained by Ayurveda as being the building blocks of the entire universe.

The ether and air elements combine to form what is called Vata dosha, which is responsible for all movement. Fire and water merge to create Pitta dosha, which governs the principle of transformation. Earth and water coalesce to comprise Kapha dosha, which maintains stability.

Those with more Vata dosha are often very thin, are either very tall or very short, with long, narrow faces. They tend to have dry skin and hair. Vata dominant individuals usually love to be on the go, have many ideas, get easily excited, and can be easily prone to constant mental activity. Their moods, digestion, daily routine, likes, and dislikes are all subject to frequent change. All of this very aptly describes my life in New York City, where everything in my life, along with myself, were constantly in a realm of flux.

When Vata dosha goes into a state of imbalance, as it does in the case of anorexia nervosa, it can manifest in many different ways.

For me, this imbalance showed up in the form of deep-seated fear and anxiety, cracking joints, frequent headaches, insomnia, nightmares, and a feeling of lightheadedness. I also experienced excruciating menstrual pain, which I could feel deep in my bones. My hair started to fall out of my head in copious amounts.

This was all in addition to my inability to maintain a healthy weight.

I am no longer super-thin, yet I continue to marvel at the wonders of what is called Kapha Dosha in Ayurveda: a bio-force that creates fat and other essential tissues in the body. You see, for me, anorexia was not actually about being thin as much as it was about wanting to be free.

Anorexia was a physical manifestation of a deep internal battle regarding personal control for me. As a young girl, I felt like everything in my life was so completely out of control that anorexia was a way to restore internal order amidst external chaos.

And while there was a sort of euphoria connected with not eating for extended time periods, I realized I was actually wasting away, one (skipped) meal at a time.

The way Ayurveda explains anorexia is that, in suppressing the natural urge for hunger, Vata dosha becomes vitiated.

The more we suppress our physiological urges, the more potential we actually invite for disease.

And while Pitta and Kapha doshas are responsible for 40 and 20 respective diseases, Vata dosha is the driving force behind a whopping 80 different diseases.

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(Photo courtesy of http://www.jwcey.com/blogs/entry/Skinny-Anorexic-Models-Dying-On-Stage)

In recent decades, as the prevailing western culture has quickly started taking over the modern world via globalization, we have been collectively conditioned to view “thin” as being “in.” These days, no one wants to be considered “fat.” Runway models, who personify the modern beauty ideal, are often portrayed to look more similar to adolescent boys, with narrow hips, flat chests, and ultra-thin limbs than to adult women, with fuller-looking bodies.

Though my experience with anorexia was actually more about finding ways to make myself less physically attractive to detract unwanted attention at a young age, I can’t help but feel sorry when I see how models portray the modern-day beauty ideal. Thin may be in, but at what cost to those who strive so hard to be skinny? The skinnier the woman, the more compassion I feel for her, as I know from hard-earned experience how much emotional emptiness exists in the attainment of being ultra-thin.

I’m not trying to say that fat is good and skinny is bad.

Ayurveda is, rather, all about balance, and cultivating the right amount of the elements we may lack in our minds and bodies. Because I have always been on the skinnier side of the equation and have had to work hard to gain weight, and because fat is given such a bad rap these days, I truly appreciate the value of the earth and water elements, which are responsible for body mass.

When the earth and water elements coalesce, they create Kapha dosha, which is responsible for stability. The earth aspect of Kapha dosha makes those who embody it enduring, like a rock or tree. Having enough healthy Kapha dosha is the key not only to stability, but strength, stamina, lubrication, patience, fertility, calmness, and contentment.

Kapha dominant individuals are those we can rely on to be there, no matter what. They have a grounded presence that makes them great parents, teachers, and other roles requiring consistency and compassion. Having healthy Kapha dosha provides one with an amazing capacity for incredibly hard work, both of the physical and mental variety. I have been amazed at how much more grounded and committed I have been able to be, not only towards work-related responsibilities, but to keeping my promises to myself across many spectrums of my life.

I now know that I can count on me.

The water aspect of Kapha dosha manifests as softness, beauty, and a naturally nurturing disposition, which easily and deeply cares for others. One of the qualities of Kapha dosha is called Sneha, which means oiliness. Another meaning of Sneha is “to love.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, there is nothing quite like a warm maternal hug from someone a little on the larger side.

Learning how to love myself, however, has been the key to the inner freedom I sought through anorexia.

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(Photo courtesy of http://asridevi.blogspot.com/2010/10/sherni.html)

Ayurveda is a truly amazing science in how it addresses body, mind, and spirit—and all three of these are, indeed, required for full healing to take place. It is amazing that, unlike our modern society, the ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and other civilizations equated the curves on a woman’s body with beauty, femininity, and fertility. This beauty standard is still upheld in many parts of India, as prospective in-laws prefer larger-bodied women for their sons as a means to ensure better progeny in the arranged marriage culture. So many of our Bollywood (Indian film) stars, especially those from the early days of Bollywood cinema, are full-figured women.

Too much fat tissue can be as problematic as too little of it. Yet on the whole, it makes a lot of sense why more weighty women are needed to ensure the continuation of the human race.

The ancient Ayurvedic texts extol the virtues of Kapha dosha. One of these texts, called Charaka Samhita, praises healthy Kapha dosha in the following ways: it gives an “excellent, compact, stable body, well-developed and perfect organs, strong ligaments, clear eyes, face, and complexion, a sweet, clear voice. Because of the presence of these qualities, Kapha dominant people are strong, wealthy, learned, brave, calm, and long-lived.”

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(Photo courtesy of ettlz on Flickr)

Gaining weight by cultivating healthy Kapha has given me not only the ability to love myself and others more, but also provides me with stability, strength, and satisfaction that comes from deep within my own self. It has taught me how to give not from a place of lack, but rather from a space of fullness inside, which has been incredibly liberating.

My knowledge of Ayurveda has completely destroyed the possibility of my ever becoming anorexic again. It has made me quite counter-cultural in my newfound quest to gain weight, so I can have more of the wonderful qualities of Kapha dosha.

And it has inspired me to love every ounce of fat in my body.

Don’t Lose Sleep Over It: Ayurveda’s Top 3 Insomnia Solutions

(As featured on Elephant Journal)

Do you feel pain all over your body?

Have a heavy head? Experience excessive yawning and drowsiness? Have indigestion often? Do you feel like you just don’t want to do anything most of the time?

These are all signs that you may not be getting enough sleep.

As a veteran of New York City, the city that very literally never sleeps, I once could raise my hand and answer “yes” to all of the above questions.

The Modern Idea(l) of ‘Sleep Debt’

Shortly after I began studying at NYU’s ultra-competitive undergraduate business school, I learned that, beyond getting good grades and acquiring a diverse skillset, to really succeed on Wall Street, there was one more highly-sought after job skill: the ability to delve deep into ‘sleep debt.’

Like everything else in this fast-paced world, people in NYC used to compete to prove to one another how little they slept; it was as if their willingness to sacrifice sleep somehow demonstrated how committed they were to their work.

Sleep was like a stock in NYC: a commodity that could be bought and sold, invested, and returned later. With so much stimulation, people, and situations needing attention, sleep felt like an expensive activity. When I ‘sold’ sleep to stay out late, study through the night, or simply for the seldom quiet moment that late night provided, however, the price I paid was steep.

My eyelids would feel heavy during the day and my body became accustomed to high levels of physical pain throughout my body. I remember many occasions of falling asleep in class.

When I worked on Wall Street selling financial services, dealing with portfolio managers, bankers and traders in Europe and Asia meant early mornings and late nights, with little time leftover to sleep. I returned my sleep debt on the weekends, when I used to look forward to completely collapsing in exhaustion, sleeping for 12-14 hours at a stretch.

Looking back, I honestly do not know how I managed to even survive, much less thrive, in such an environment.

Achieving ‘success,’ however, always came at the price of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing, something I decided at some point I was no longer willing to sacrifice for externally-determined measures of ‘making it.’

Why Sound Sleep is Essential to Our Health

In Ayurveda, the 5,000+ year-old art and science of wellbeing from ancient India, proper sleep is considered one of the three Upastambhas (pillars) of health (with the other two being proper food and balanced sexuality). Natural sleep at night is called Bhutadhatri, a Sanskrit term derived of the words Bhuta, meaning the physical body, and Dhatri, which means mother.

Sleep nourishes the body, just as a mother nurtures her baby.

Charaka Samhita, one of the core Ayurvedic texts, outlines several other benefits of sound sleep.  According to Chapter 21, Verses 36-38 of Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana, sleep imbues us with happiness, strength, physical prowess, fertility, knowledge, and life itself.

Healthy digestion, psychological, neurological, and physiological functioning all depend on proper sleep.

The Danger of Losing Sleep

Contrary to the way my comrades in NYC brag about how little they sleep as a means of proving how hard-working committed they are to their work, losing sleep on a regular basis can actually cause laziness, and what is called as Smriti Bramsha (memory loss). It can eventually lead to intellect malfunction, too.

(Photo courtesy of Stiller Beobachter/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of Stiller Beobachter/Flickr)

Want to have a baby one day? If you and/or your partner lose enough sleep over a long enough time, it can lead to infertility.

The colloquial expression “Don’t lose any sleep over it” is actually quite amazing advice, in the sense that not sleeping consistently for 30-40 days—due to any particular stressor in life—can lead directly to death’s doorstep.

Many psychiatric problems also begin with lack of sleep. Why venture that far, though?

Ayurveda’s Top Three Insomnia Solutions

Ever since learning Ayurveda, which I truly believe is a divine science, I have transformed my night owl tendencies. I now strive to wake up at 4 a.m. each morning—the same time I had once gone to sleep in what now feels like my past life in NYC.

These three amazing Ayurvedic solutions to insomnia have worked wonders for me, and I am thus delighted to share them with you:

1. Go to sleep by 10 p.m. and wake up by six a.m.

In Ayurveda psychology, we learn about certain gunas, or qualities, that pervade the entire universe outside, as well as within.

One of these gunas is called Tamas—it is essentially the quality of inertia, which is absolutely necessary to sleep at night. Tamas is present at night between eight to 10 p.m., which is the ideal time period to go to sleep, if possible. The Tamas quality is also present between six to 10 a.m., which is why it is so hard to wake up during this time of the morning.

Too much Tamas in the mind and body, which excess and untimely sleep can cause, also contributes to depression and other psychological problems over time.

Those of us seeking true health and happiness would be wise to wake up between four to six a.m., as this time is ruled by the quality of Sattva, which is synonymous with mental peace, clarity, balance, and universal love. Beyond the myriad mental health benefits of waking up during the Sattva-charged time of day, doing so is also easiest, as the Sattva quality wakes us up naturally.

2. Avoid stimulating activities and conversations for at least two to three hours prior to bed.

One of the main causes of insomnia is mental stress—this is why we want to avoid the causes of stress just prior to bedtime to ensure quality sleep. Therefore, turn off the TV, computer, and loud music during the last part of your day. Resort, instead, to more relaxing activities, like a gentle walk, meditation, prayer, journaling, or listening to soothing music.

Your mind, body, and sleep will all appreciate you for this. Your capacity to take on the stresses of modern work and life will also increase overall, due to your ability to sleep soundly.

3. Oil your feet, head, and ears with warm sesame oil before bed.

Oiling the soles of the feet, the top of the head, and the backs of the ears promotes sound sleep, helps combat stress, and even counteracts the aging process.

Following Ayurveda’s sleep recommendations has greatly transformed the quality of sleep I now experience. Try these timeless solutions to insomnia and you, too, will start to sleep like a baby, thanks to Ayurveda.

Why Getting More Exercise Doesn’t Always Mean Getting Healthier

(As originally posted as “Featured Today” highlight and in the “Popular Lately” section on Elephant Journal)

Eat well and get plenty of exercise.”

We hear this blanket statement of ‘health’ all the time in the health and wellness world. Doctors prescribe it, the media promotes it, and so we practice it.

We work out and we feel better. We even come to crave the release of endorphins that accompanies our exercise routines. It makes us feel so good that the more we do of it, the better we will feel, right?

Having fallen (hard) for the endorphin release that comes with a great workout in the past, I can say from hard-earned experience that getting more exercise does not always equal gaining more health.

Exercise Should Not Exhaust Us

Growing up, I used to love attending dance classes and practicing the routines I learned. There was nothing quite like the high I felt after dancing; having had rather strict parents, it felt like this art form was one of the best ways I could imagine to experience freedom, and the uninhibited joy that seems to ride hand-in-hand with this freedom.

I remember how deflated I felt after my mother informed me I was not allowed to dance once I reached high school.

Without dance in my life, I resorted to running, rollerblading, and weight lifting to experience that ‘high’ feeling. When running around people became rather cumbersome due to the exponentially higher volume of other bodies and automobiles all around me, and the intermittent stop signs and traffic lights at every block in New York City (where I attended college), yoga became my chosen method of exercise.

The kind of yoga I practiced in NYC, however, moved at the same pace as the city…fast. And loud. When there wasn’t a variety of music, ranging from hard rock to pop to ragas (classical Indian music) and bhajans (Indian devotional songs), the teacher’s voice could always be heard.

And the common thread of all my exercise experiences was that I did all of them until I felt high, followed almost immediately by a feeling of extreme exhaustion.

At the time, I couldn’t see anything wrong with any of this. After all, exercise made me feel good, and the yoga I was learning in New York was helping me to understand my Indian culture, which until then had baffled me in myriad ways.

The Right Amount of Exercise

Only in learning Ayurveda, the science of life from ancient India (and the sister science of Yoga) have I come to appreciate the Sanskrit term maatra, which means “quantity.”

Exercise
Photo courtesy of Mike Baird at Flickr Commons

So much of balance is about finding that sacred quantity of which something can help versus harm us. Ayurveda teaches how exercise must be performed done in the proper amount for our own particular body type, any imbalances we may be experiencing, and the season we are presently in. When done by following these parameters, the ancient Ayurvedic text, Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutrasthana, teaches how exercise increases our ability to do hard work, promotes digestion, rids us of excess fat, and provides stability to the body.

And while it can be difficult for us to individually gauge how much is enough when it comes to exercise, the science of Ayurveda gives us specific guidance about how we can know when we have crossed the line. Signs of overexertion outlined in Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutrasthana include:

  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Breathing from your mouth
  • Perspiration on the nose, forehead, hands, and legs

I always crossed these thresholds previously in my exercise habits, and even thought that the hallmark of a good workout was swimming in sweat afterwards. And though I felt good afterwards, the exhaustion I was experiencing from my exercise began to build up into an overall weakening, rather than strengthening, of my body.

Ayurveda’s Explanation of Excess Exercise

In Ayurveda, we learn about three doshas, or bio-forces, in our bodies, which are comprised of the five great elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. The ether and air elements together form what is called as Vata dosha, and the fire and water elements together are known as Pitta dosha. Vata dosha governs movement, while Pitta dosha is responsible for transformation in the body.

Vata and Pitta doshas are responsible for a total of 120 different diseases in the body, which is why we work to keep them in a state of balance in Ayurveda. And too much exercise aggravates both Vata and Pitta doshas, inviting many potential health challenges down the road.

In addition to the ways too much exercise vitiates Vata dosha, the presence of a lot of sound, whether in the form of music, or even just the continual sound of the teacher’s voice, also causes Vata dosha to increase.

Silence is one of the best ways to balance Vata dosha, so the more we can invite silence into our exercise routines, the better off we will be. This means it’s time to say goodbye to our Walkman when we’re walking and drop more into the deeper recesses of our being whilst in motion.

A few more tips from Ayurveda to apply to your favorite fitness routines:

1. Do not exercise the day after you have stayed awake very late or all night.

Staying up late or all night greatly increases Vata and Pitta doshas, so we want to make sure to get adequate rest the day after an all-nighter to regain balance.

2. Never exercise while talking.

Save your inner Chatty Cathy for some other time. Embrace, instead, the healing power of silence.

3. Oil your body.

Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage with oil) supports exercise. It can be done before or after exercise.

In following Ayurveda’s rules for exercise, I feel I am finally experiencing the full benefit of my efforts. Start following Ayurveda’s exercise recommendations, and you, too, can begin to become more fit from your fitness routines.

4 Surprising Ways That Ayurveda Can Aid Poor Digestion

(Originally published as “Featured Wellness Article,” in the “Popular Lately” section and Top 10 Blogs of the Week on Elephant Journal)

Are you experiencing heaviness, bloating, and pain upon elimination?

Do you also suffer from inexplicable chest pain and headaches?

Do you feel tired all the time, yet have difficulty sleeping and not know why?

These are all signs that your elimination system could be compromised. Unlike the popular elimination diets promoted by modern, western science and mainstream media, the ancient, 5,000-year-old Indian science of Ayurveda recommends certain health-increasing dietary and lifestyle practices that need not be discontinued after a specified time period.

unnamedAnd whereas in the west, we tend to think of digestion and elimination as being totally separate phenomena, Ayurveda sees both as deeply intertwined. When digestion is optimal, healthy elimination naturally follows. What benefits digestion also supports elimination.

Having struggled with various digestive challenges for most of my life until discovering Ayurveda in my early 20s, I am incredibly grateful for what I have learned. The Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle practices listed below, which I learned and now teach at my Ayurveda school, have transformed my life, and I am therefore delighted to share.

1. Wake up early.

One of the fundamental laws of nature taught by Ayurveda is that of the five great elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These five elements combine to form bio-forces called doshas in the entire universe, as well as inside our bodies.

One of these doshas is called Vata dosha. It is comprised of the ether and air elements. The nature of air is to move, and Vata dosha is thus in charge of movement in the body.

The Rishis (sages) of ancient India, to whom Ayurveda is believed to have been revealed, have observed that Vata dosha is dominant in the atmosphere between 2-6am. The hours of 4-6am are believed by Rishis and Yogis of lore to be a spiritually charged time of day, in which it is most beneficial to meditate and perform other spiritual practices.

As the sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda recommends waking up between 4-6am, for its spiritual impact, and because Vata dosha moves in a downward and outward action in the body during this time, which allows us to more easily eliminate. This can be observed by how birds, babies, and animals all naturally eliminate in the early morning hours.

I cannot fully express how much of a difference waking up earlier has made in my life, its benefits on my digestion and elimination, and the much more positive perspective it has given me.

2. Drink warm water.

There is a concept called Agni in Ayurveda, meaning “digestive fire.” Ayurveda compares our digestive capacity to a physical fire. We ‘extinguish’ this fire when we consume cold water, whereas warm water kindles digestive fire, supporting elimination.

I remember how good it felt to drink warm water immediately upon starting to do so, and there has been no looking back since then.

3. Stop eating salads.

So often touted as the classic ‘healthy food,’ salads actually disturb the elimination process for most people. That is because, like drinking cold water extinguishes digestive fire, eating cold, raw, uncooked vegetables in salads is difficult for our digestive system.

Eating raw vegetables additionally aggravates Vata dosha. When Vata dosha is aggravated for a long time, it can lead to the development of 80 different diseases. Keeping Vata dosha in a state of balance is a priority in Ayurveda.

The science of Ayurveda therefore recommends eating warm, oiled foods, which supports the digestive process and helps balance Vata dosha. You can steam or add oil to salads if you’d still like to eat them.

As a former pasta salad lover, I understand the challenge this tip may pose. In Ayurveda, one’s digestive health is seen as a reflection of overall health, and the quality of health I now experience as a result of sticking with warm, oiled foods is so much better that I don’t miss my once beloved pasta salads at all now.

4. Embrace certain dairy products.

Whereas most western elimination diets recommend restricting dairy and then reintroducing it after 23-30 days, Ayurveda embraces certain dairy products.

One of these is called ghee (clarified butter). According to an ancient Ayurvedic text calledBhavaprakash, having the proper amount of ghee in your food (which will be different quantities, depending on individual health needs) kindles digestive fire, and benefits gas, abdominal pain, and ulcers.

Those suffering from constipation can also drink warm milk at bedtime, as this it is a mild laxative.

Not a day goes by now that I don’t have ghee or warm milk. My digestion and health have thanked me for it.

Try these tips today and your health will soon thank you, too. While it can be challenging to change our diet and lifestyle habits, the rewards will be well worth it.

 

How Ayurveda Inspires Mindful Eating

(As published on Elephant Journal in the “Popular Lately” section)

In a world where women are so often objectified, whether in the workplace, media, on the school bus, or the world wide web, one of the most powerful lessons from the ancient science of Ayurveda for me has been to see my body as my temple.

Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga. Deriving from the Sanskrit words “Ayush,” which means “life,” and “Veda,” which means “knowledge” or “the study of,” Ayurveda is an amazingly comprehensive study of life. Ayurveda sheds light on such a myriad of topics related to human life, ranging from detailed daily self-care practices (called Dinacharya) to the way we manage our relationships.

I learned from my Ayurveda teacher about how there are three primary relationships in life. One relationship we all have is with actual objects, like our cell phones, car, computer, etc. Another form of relationship we have is with other people.

The relationships we have with others often make us feel vulnerable, as different layers of our egos get exposed through our interactions. When we view people with the lens of what they can do for us, or only by how they may make us feel, it is easy to slip into objectifying others.

As a spiritual science, Ayurveda helps us learn to cultivate a third type of relationship in life, with our own higher Self, which transcends name, race, gender, and all other external differences.

One of the beautiful aspects of the Vedic spiritual tradition from which Ayurveda stems is the belief that one need not search far nor wide to find God, or a higher power, by whatever name we choose to call this presence. A higher power lives within us all, and hence the concept of higher Self is given a capital “S,” to connote its connection with the sacred in each of us.

As we learn to perceive and treat our bodies as our temples, we are able to not only respect ourselves more, but also to honor one another as living embodiments of divinity.

Ayurveda, as an ancient art of living, teaches us to take care of our bodies and minds so that we can achieve oneness with the higher being residing within, and connect with that without, as well. That is why Indians greet one another by saying “Namaste:” the higher being in me bows to that higher being in you.

Honoring others begins with honoring ourselves, as there really is no ‘other’ —we meet none but ourselves in one ‘another.’

One of the best ways I have learned from Ayurveda to honor my body as the home of the higher being residing within is by giving myself what my teacher calls ‘a royal experience of eating.’ I never thought of eating as a spiritual practice prior to learning Ayurveda.

Having struggled with eating disorders as a teenager, I have really experienced the power of food to heal my whole being. We are what we eat, no doubt. What I have learned from Ayurveda, however, is that how we eat can have as much of a positive and transformational effect as what we consume.

Before learning Ayurveda, I used to treat my body like a trash can, consuming so much junk food, and that, too, beside the sink, while driving, talking, walking, or working on the computer. Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice) has now truly become the best way to describe my experience of eating. The entire act of eating has transformed itself into a sacred ritual and art in which I can connect with a higher power in the food I eat, the person(s) who grew, cultivated, and cooked the food, and in the act of cooking.

green-apple

Many religious and spiritual traditions alike have prayers that are offered prior to eating. There is a beautiful mantra of gratitude we traditionally offer prior to eating in the Vedic tradition, which acknowledges consciousness present in the food, in the process of preparing and offering it (to ourselves and others), and in the digestive fire (called Agni in Sanskrit), to which we offer food. In Ayurveda, we view the state of our digestion as a key indicator of overall health, and thus revere Agni as a sacred being in and of itself.

When we are in a rush, it is easy and tempting to want to run as soon as we finish eating (if we are not already running while eating!). Even if we have sat and mindfully eaten, abrupt and especially very fast movement after eating does not allow the wonderful food we have just consumed to properly nourish our being.

In Ayurveda, we learn that there are three bio-psychic forces called Doshas, which comprise our physical and mental constitution. One of these Doshas is called Vata, which is made up of air and ether elements, and is responsible for movement. Vata dosha is responsible for 80 different diseases in the body. Moving too quickly after eating disturbs Vata dosha, which we want to keep healthy and balanced to prevent disease formation.

I love sitting in Vajrasana (the only Yoga asana that can be practiced after eating) once I finish my food, while visualizing what I’ve eaten converting into amazing immunity. This practice is very calming to Vata dosha and prevents the buildup of so many digestive disturbances. Having had poor digestion for many years prior to learning Ayurveda, I can see the dramatic difference that slowing down, eating mindfully, and following my food consumption with the practice of Vajrasana has had, even when I have to occasionally eat out in restaurants.

If you are feeling inspired to cultivate a more mindful practice of eating, start by taking a moment to pause and feel gratitude for the food you are about to eat. Then, try to chew your food up to 30 times. You can also mentally chant any mantra or positive affirmation you know while eating. Really feel the texture(s) and savor the flavor of each bite.

Try to eat in silence if possible.

Silence is the language of the soul; it connects us to our indwelling spirit and brings about clarity and peace. Sit still for a couple minutes after you finish eating (you can sit in Vajrasana if you know it) and visualize your food converting into amazing health and vitality inside the sacred temple of your body. All of this will bring about a spirit of reverence and joy in your daily life, as these small things really add up to make a big impact upon our overall health and lives.

Wishing you all a sacred experience of eating and seeing your body as your temple.

Live in Harmony with Nature: 3 Practical Tips from Ayurveda

(Originally published as “Featured Today” highlight, featured in “Popular Lately” and Top 10 Blogs of the Week on Elephant Journal)

‘Live in harmony with nature.’

We hear this expression all the time in the world of health and wellness. But, what does this expression really mean, and importantly, how can we actually start to do it on a daily basis?

Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, and a complete medical system from ancient India, has so much wisdom to offer those of us wishing to live in greater harmony with nature.

The word “Ayurveda” stems from the root words “Ayush,” which means “life,” and “Veda,” which means “the study of.” Ayurveda, therefore, is the study of life. Unlike many modern means of study, however, the way Ayurveda was learned was by living it. As a spiritual science, Ayurveda is believed to have been ‘revealed’ to the revered Rishis (sages) of lore, in the depths of their profound meditations in the forests and mountains of ancient India.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

These Rishis studied every aspect of nature. They spent time learning from animals, plants, trees, and the sun, moon, wind, and stars—and generously shared the knowledge they acquired with anyone fortunate to encounter them and/or read their words in the various sacred texts they recorded.

One of the discoveries these Rishis have carefully penned down for the benefit of humanity is a set of daily self-care rituals called Dinacharya. “Dina” means “day” and “charya” means “to follow,” so Dinacharya literally translates as “following the rhythm of the day.” The rhythm of each day is closely connected with the natural cycles of the sun, moon, earth, and other planets, and hence, we learn through Dinacharya how to keep our own daily cycles in sync with the natural world around us. In Ayurveda, we learn that we are a living composite, or microcosm, of the entire universe.

Hence, what goes on around us has a great influence on what goes on within us and vice versa.

Part of the brilliance of the medical science of Ayurveda is that it provides incredibly detailed protocols for not only how to counteract disease, but also how to actively protect, promote, and increase our health. There is a beautiful Shloka (poetic verse) that defines the purpose of Ayurveda as:

“Svasthasya svasthya rakshanam

Ayurasya vikara prashamanam cha”

Ayurveda protects the health (Svasthya) of the healthy (Svasthasya), first and foremost, and also effectively treats diseases (Vikara).  The reason for Ayurveda’s effectiveness in treating disease is that it addresses the root causes of why ill health occurs in the first place.

Dinacharya is considered one of the best ways to protect the health of the healthy. Not following it is thought to be a causative factor for disease.

The Ayurvedic Rishis discovered that one’s daily routine is a much more powerful source of healing and wellbeing than even the strongest medicine a doctor could possibly prescribe. And while it may seem intuitive that one’s daily routine is one of the best sources of disease prevention, what’s even more amazing about Ayurveda is that it provides such detailed descriptions of what this daily regimen entails through many chapters of its traditional scriptures.

I have been grateful to learn many of these practices, and to now teach them to beginner Ayurveda students. Here are some of the ancient Rishis’ discoveries to live in greater harmony with nature:

1) Wake up early.

We are all solar powered creatures. In Ayurveda, the sun is deeply respected and regarded as the source of health, power, strength, and spiritual wellbeing. Awakening between 4-6 am gives us the opportunity to greet the sun, appreciate it, and welcome the sun’s amazing qualities into our lives.

The time between 4-6am is also known by Rishis and Yogis since time immemorial to be a spiritually elevated and charged time during which it is very auspicious to meditate and develop a more positive mindset. I can speak from personal experience in saying that I have seen a great positive change in my overall state of mind from waking up early.

2) Develop a morning practice.

Wonder what to do once you start waking up earlier? There are many morning practices recommended by Ayurveda to help ground you and give you more strength and clarity with which to proceed with your day. Having been a rather ungrounded person in the past, these morning practices have really changed my life and provided me with a greater connection to my inner source of wisdom and peace.

One of my favorite morning practices is gazing at my hands immediately upon waking up. It is amazing to consider just how much our hands allow us to do; we use our hands to work, create, and connect with others through writing, typing, gardening, cooking, shaking hands, and much more. By living according to the wisdom of Ayurveda and Yoga, we have the opportunity to really take our health and lives into our own hands, and so I always acknowledge the power, possibility, and freedom that resides in my very own two hands as soon as I wake up each morning.

Other morning practices ideas include taking a walk, doing Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), other Yoga Asanas(postures), meditation, journalling, chanting mantras, and repeating positive affirmations.

3) Make lunch your biggest meal.

We often hear about the merits of breakfast; it is commonly touted as the most important meal of the day. According to Ayurveda, however, lunch is actually the most important meal of the day. The sun is at its peak between 12-1pm, and so is our digestive fire, which is called Agni in Ayurveda.

We learn from Ayurveda that we are not just what we eat, but what we actually digest. The health of our entire body is greatly reflected by the health of our digestive fire, and therefore, we are advised to eat the most when we have the most capacity to digest the food we’ve eaten. Having grown up making dinner my heaviest meal, and having struggled for many years with digestive challenges, the practice of making lunch my biggest meal has greatly improved my digestion.

Following Ayurveda’s Dinacharya recommendations has made me a healthier and happier human being. I encourage you, too, to try one or more of Ayurveda’s daily routine recommendations and feel the joy of living in greater harmony with nature.

Make Every Day a Spa Day With Ayurveda

(As originally published on Elephant Journal)

Have you ever walked out of your favorite spa wishing you could somehow make enough money to always feel the way you do when you step out of a spa? While there were no “spas” in the ancient times when Ayurveda was revealed to Rishis (sages) living in the Himalayas and faraway forests of India, these Rishis have discovered an incredible daily ritual to make you feel like every day is a spa day – regardless of your annual income.

Though many people may only associate the word “Ayurveda” with fancy, expensive spa treatments, Ayurveda is actually a complete medical science of life. The word “Ayurveda” derives from the Sanskrit words “Ayush,” which means “life” and “Veda,” which means “knowledge of.” And the beauty of Ayurveda’s wisdom is that it truly touches upon every aspect of life. From psychology to managing difficult diseases like psoriasis to practical home remedies, to seasonal, dietary and lifestyle recommendations to prevent diseases, to guidance on how to attain the ultimate spiritual goal of Self-Realization, Ayurveda offers health solutions at every level: body, mind and soul.

Abhyanga: A Powerful Disease Prevention Tool

There is an entire sub-branch of Ayurveda called Svasthavritta, which specializes in health consciousness, and teaches many spa-like rejuvenating self-care practices to help people actively increase their health and prevent disease. I feel so fortunate I have learned Svasthavritta practices at Vedika Global, and it is now a joy to teach them to beginner Ayurveda students at Vedika. One of the first daily health rituals I teach as part of dinacharya (Ayurveda’s recommended daily routine to live in harmony with nature) is the practice of self-massage.

The term for Ayurvedic self-massage is “Abhyanga,” a beautiful Sanskrit word that is comprised of the word “Aba,” meaning “glow” and “Anga,” which means “limbs.” Abhyanga literally brings a glow to our skin, reflecting the ever-glowing, shining nature of our indwelling spirits.

The Benefits of Abhyanga

An ancient Ayurvedic medical text called Ashtanga Hrdaya describes the manifold benefits of Abhyanga. Chapter Two, Verses 8-9 of Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutrasthana reveals:

“The advantages of the oil massage are that it wards off old age symptoms and exertion, bestows good vision, provides nourishment to the body, equips one with a long life, good sleep and healthy skin.”

The daily practice of Abhyanga also has a powerful effect of mitigating what is known in Ayurveda as the Vata Dosha, a state of matter consisting of air and ether elements. Vata Dosha is what goes out of balance in us when we feel stressed, don’t sleep enough, skip meals, travel or exercise excessively. In addition to its physical health benefits, Abhyanga has the added power of calming the mind, by calming Vata Dosha. Having had deep Vata Dosha imbalances when I first encountered Ayurveda, I can definitely attest to the degree of stability, grounding, strength and calmness I feel when doing Abhyanga. Since I have been doing Abhyanga, my joints also crack much less and my skin is clearer. When I was a teenager, people used to think I was in my 20s. Now that I am in my 20s, people are asking me if I am in my teenage years. I truly feel like my own bathroom has become like a magical spa, and my oil supply like a fountain of youth I have been fortunate to discover while I am still in my youth.

How To Do Abhyanga

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1. Purchase organic Sesame and/or Coconut oil from a health food store. Sesame oil is best in winter and spring and Coconut oil in the summer and early fall seasons.

2. Pour the oil into a small bowl, which can be placed inside a pot of boiling water to warm it. (Another option is to place a small bowl of oil into a mini, lunch-sized Crock pot to warm up.)

3. Once the oil is warm, sit on a towel and start by rubbing oil onto the bottoms of your feet.

4. Work your way up, from your feet to your calves, knees, thighs, hips, lower back, abdomen, chest, hands, arms, neck, etc. (but not on the face).

5. When you are oiling longer bones, move in upward and downward strokes. When oiling your joints, rub in a circular motion.

6. Spend some time oiling each part of your body, giving extra attention to any area that is particularly prone to pain and cracking. You can close your eyes while applying the oil if you like.

7. Take a shower with warm to hot water, which will allow your body to more fully absorb the oil.

8. Instead of using regular soap, which can dry out the skin, you can grind green mung lentils into flour in a blender and use this instead to scrub your body as you shower.

When To Do Abhyanga

  • On an empty stomach
  • Ideally after you have eliminated your bowels in the morning
  • Before you eat dinner in the evening
  • Especially important to do during the hot, dry months of summer and the cold winter season
  • Try to oil yourself daily, or at least three times per week

Abhyanga Contraindications

  • Never apply oil when you have active indigestion, fever, diarrhea, colds, coughs, flu, etc.
  • Do not do Abhyanga when menstruating
  • Avoid Abhyanga when raining or cloudy
  • No oiling wounds or rashes

If none of the above contraindications apply, the practice of Abhyanga will deeply benefit osteoporosis and other joint-related aches and pains as we age. Another word for oiling in Sanskrit is “Sneha,” which means “to love.” John Lennon once proclaimed that “All we need is love.” Most of us love to receive love, but this desire can often lead to feeling unloved by others. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned from my Ayurveda studies is the practice of not wishing so much to be in love or to receive love, but to actually be love itself. Being love begins with loving ourselves, and Abhyanga is one of the best ways I’ve learned to do that, in a practical way, every day. Start practicing self-love today with Abhyanga and you, too, will start to feel like every day is a spa day, thanks to the power of Ayurveda.

 

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