When I initially came back from India, I did really well with my self-care practices. I awoke early each morning to meditate for 40 minutes (jet-lag helped), took my time in my kitchen to prepare my own foods, sipped tea (instead of coffee) as I wrote in my journal and read my book on the brahma-viharas. I spent my evenings practicing yoga, reading and retreating to bed early. I felt steady, calm, expansive and elated.
Then a few weeks ago, I went to meet my friend Simon for a drink to catch up and give him the hand-carved coconut wood necklace I bought him in India. One drink became two drinks. And two drinks required food. Quick processed food; vegan nonetheless. I went to bed far later than usual which resulted in me getting up later. Which meant I had to skip my meditation practice so I could use that time to make breakfast and coffee to clear my head before teaching my Saturday morning classes. The coffee made me antsy and impatient to cook my lunch afterward which meant picking up more processed vegan food from Marie Catrib's on my way home. Which made me feel heavy and lethargic and require a nap. I woke up from my nap feeling groggy and fatigued but I needed to work on my projects so I headed to a local coffee shop and put more caffeine in my system to recover from my nap. Which made it difficult to focus and get anything done.
And honestly, the pattern continued to snowball for about a week. I continued to not respect my sleep schedule, eat sparingly, indulge my vices, and spend my free time, not replenishing my energy reserves, but with people who were also not concerned with serving my best intentions.
Back in my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I remember my friend Nicole and I would struggle with an overwhelming sense of guilt and self-deprecation whenever we strayed from our yogic principles and indulged in one of our vices. A glass of wine. Maybe two. Another espresso. Eating raw food in the winter. Or god, not black pepper! Not during Vata season!
Looking back it seems kind of silly that we were trying to infuse some sort of morality into something as harmless as drinking coffee. I have learned since then that there is no right or wrong when it comes to drinking coffee, eating raw or vegan junk food; but there is an energetic consequence.
This weekend, I am starting another 500-hour yoga teacher training with Theresa Murphy. In the introduction to her manual, she writes:
"No doubt random asana practice, sweating, jumping around and having fun can be just as yogic as a 3-day silent retreat. The truth is, they all have outcomes. Knowing the outcome and making choices appropriately is advanced practice."
She continues to talk about how as we advance our yoga practice, it moves from the gross to the subtle. This is described in the hatha yoga texts as working with the elements -- earth, water, fire, air and space.
As we deepen our sensitivity to these elements, we stop arbitrarily applying recommended foods, herbs, and rules from outside ourselves and begin to anticipate the energetic effects of our choices and intuitively adjust ourselves appropriately. We start to listen, feel, and sense into what is serving us and what is not. This concept of mining our own extraordinary resources for health and healing is what Maya Tiwari calls "Inner Medicine."
Next weekend, I am leading two Ayurveda workshops at PeaceLab Yoga. During the process of condensing a 7,000 year-old subject into a two and a half hour curriculum, I have had a beautiful opportunity to assess what I find to be most valuable in the self-healing science of Ayurveda. And for me, it is this:
Ayurveda offers us a seat back into ourselves. We not only resume the primary role and responsibility in our own wellness, but through our increased awareness, we know ourselves to be the only true source of healing in our lives. So we stop desperately running around from this diet to the next, running between the ceaseless appointments with the naturopath, physical therapist, acupuncturist, and energy healer with the illusion and false hope that healing exists somewhere outside of ourselves. We stop. We sit with ourselves; listen and observe. We allow the pain to pass and we give in the the natural grace of our presence. We become sensitive to the choices that nourish us. The practices that remind us of our participation with everything. And as we become rooted in this awareness, our every action becomes a sacred act of love.
Unfortunately, Ayurveda has the same potential to become just as clinical and prescriptive as any other allopathic or naturopathic system of medicine. When I first learned about Ayurveda in my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I missed the whole point. I thought it was about memorizing this list of Vata-pacifying foods I could eat, which oils I could use to self-massage in the winter, what herbs to take and what food combinations to avoid. My attempt to practice Ayurveda in this way only served to deepen my sense of separation from myself. I still had no knowledge of what truly served me.
When I was in India, I met several people native to the land that lived Ayurvedic principles daily. But if I asked them about Vata, Pitta, or Kapha dosha, they had no idea what I was talking about. They simply lived with a sensitivity to the elements, a connection to nature, and a trust in their own intuition and healing capacity. They lived from the understanding that Maya Tiwari writes in her book The Living Ahimsa Diet:
"Ayurveda is not about the foods we eat, the medicines we consume, or the number of yoga classes we take per week. It is about our response to the everyday lifestyle choices we make regarding our meals, medicines, relationships, work and other activities. Our response depends on the degree of awareness we cultivate in our lives. We realize that food is not merely the fodder we consume to satisfy our palates and senses, but a living instrument of peace, health, prosperity and consciousness."
Today I am feeling beautiful and grounded. I am back in the rhythms of my self-care practices and feeling rooted in myself. And I am choosing to leave behind any guilt or judgment for my previous indulgences, as Ayurveda isn't about being in a constant state of balance. It is about cultivating heightened awareness so we may constantly adjust to the natural and inevitable ebb and flow of life. No doubt you can be just as yogic drinking coffee as you can drinking green tea or yerba mate --it is knowing the outcomes and making choices appropriately that is advanced practice.
Love and light,