Finding Balance in Chaotic Times with Ayurveda
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
With all the chaos going on in the world right now, I’ve been turning to Ayurveda – the 5000+ year old natural system of healing more and more to find balance.
But what is Ayurveda? How can it help us find balance?
Although there are SO many ways to describe Ayurveda - and my answer tends to change depending on the day (Vata problems), today I’d say Ayurveda is something that lives within us all.
To live according to Ayurveda is to remember how to live in harmony with nature: the natural world, our own unique nature, and the natural fluctuations and rhythms of life.
One of the things that first drew me to Ayurveda was the fact that it connects us to the natural world via the elements & honors these natural fluctuations in life — those internal & external cycles, rhythms, and energies that influence our inner and outer worlds.
Recognizing the individual as just that, an individual, with a unique constitution related to the same elements found in nature, Ayurveda honors that each of us requires different care dependent on a variety of factors and encourages us to cultivate self-awareness regarding our unique makeup. Encouraging us to connect with our innate wisdom, Ayurveda teaches us to observe the Vipāka, or post-digestive effect of all that we do.
Beyond the foods we put into our bodies, beyond the yoga we practice, but all the choices we make, Ayurveda teaches us to notice, how these choices make us feel. How they digest in both body and mind. Do they take us closer or further from peace? Closer or further from mental and physical health?
With time, Ayurveda teaches us to make choices that help us find and maintain balance. With time, we are handed back much of the power to help keep our nervous systems balanced.
Through Ayurveda, we realize, we hold so much power in preventing and healing many of the mental and physical challenges we face. Eventually we realize how intuitive it all really is—how deeply engrained this wisdom is within us all. Eventually, we learn to understand & self-regulate the doshas which live within us.
If we are feeling more Vata (air and space, that which blows):
We may feel chaotic movement from within, restless or indecisive, less secure, and less willing to be patient. In this space of erratic movement from one task to another, one thought to another, we tend to fear our future and experience ultra-sensitivity. This is a space without much grounding.
Physically, we may experience cracking joints, constipation, difficulty focusing, insomnia, gas, bloating, muscle stiffness, arthritis, or fluctuating energy.
If we are in this space, choosing grounding, nourishing practices such as gentle yoga, meditation, oil massage, regular routine, silence, or time in nature. Eating grounding root vegetables and ghee may also help regain balance.
If we are feeling more Pitta (fire and water, that which cooks):
We may feel a bubbling up from within. We may feel more aggressive or competitive, less compassionate, and less in touch with our emotions. In this space of intense movement, we may be stuck in a nonstop, on-the-go lifestyle in which we seek to overachieve, perform, and acquire without rest. We may want to conquer it al and conquer it all now. This is a space without much calm.
Physically, we may experience hot flashes, excess sweating, inflammation, diarrhea, redness, skin rashes, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, ulcers, and excess hunger or thirst.
If we are in this space, choosing cooling, calming practices such as moderation of all activity, taking the time to simply be, arranging a bouquet of flowers or listening to calming, soft music without words, to help slow us down to a more sustainable pace & help regain balance. We may also benefit from practicing yoga nidra or partaking in a regular gratitude practice. Consuming bitter, sweet, and astringent tastes in food, helps balance our interior.
If we are feeling more Kapha (water and earth, that which sticks):
We may feel weighed down from within, more lethargic or heavy, unwilling to share, and unmotivated. In this space of stagnation, we may eat too much, sleep too much, or feel stuck / fearful of letting go. This is a space of little movement.
Physically, we may experience excess weight, sinus congestion, water retention, hypothyroidism, lymphatic disorders, depression, low tolerance to cool, damp weather, or a flare up of asthma.
If we are in this space, choosing stimulating, drying practices such as regular intense exercise. Activities such as hiking, running, interval training, mantra meditation, listening to energizing music, wind bathing, dry massage to stimulate circulation, rising and sleeping early, and practicing non-attachment in daily life to help regain balance. When eating, consuming light, portion controlled meals is key.
Although it’s currently summer, the Pitta season when Ayurveda generally advises us to eat lighter, smaller meals, and practice more cooling practices, I’ve been watching myself and many others (Ayurveds and not) turning towards grounding, Vata-balancing practices in response to this current hectic environment or as my teacher says, this Vatagenic climate we find ourselves in today.
Yes, it can be said that the uncertainty and fear circulating from this virus & everything else going on in the world today, is disturbing to the Vata in us all. And what has been cool to observe over the months, has been so many turning to these Vata balancing practices (especially when it comes to grounding foods) in response, further illustrating how natural and deeply engrained Ayurvedic wisdom is - especially as we learn to tune in.
While I’m gaining much knowledge from teachers and textbooks, the true heart of these teachings resides in the practice—in the real life applications of these teachings to our lives.
By choosing one practice to start, remaining consistent and taking note of the post-digestive effect of whatever it is we are adding, we are able to slowly move toward balance.
I invite you to choose a balancing practice from below—something you feel is realistic and something you can commit to.
Take a minute to be still and reflect. Which dosha needs balancing? You’ll most likely intuitively know.
While I highly recommend taking an online assessment or seeking an Ayurdedic consultation, especially for more serious issues, it can be fun to tune into ourselves and to our current state and begin to notice the qualities of the of the doshas playing out in our lives and relationships.
Food: Enjoy warm, cooked, grounding foods like root vegetables, eggs, pineapple, kimchi, mung daal, red lentils, peaches, avocados, ghee, dates. Warming spices include: cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon. Go for tastes that are sweet, sour, or salty, moderate use of spices.
Yoga Asana: Indulge in slow, repetitive movements, yoga nidra, forward bends, Lotus pose, Vajrasana, and long Savasana.
Meditation/Pranayama: Engage in alternate nostril breathing (in through right, out through left), meditation on strong, happy or peaceful deities like Rama or Krishna, payers for peace & protection.
Mantra: Ram or Hum are warm, soft, and calming mantras. Start with saying a mantra out loud, and then chant silently in your mind.
Exercise: Take part in regular walks in nature, yoga, and tai chi, swimming
Massage: Massage with sesame or medicated oils (Ashwaghanda or Bala are my favorites) Sweet, warm calming fragrances such as rose, sandalwood, eucalyptus
Nature: Sit or walk quietly and peacefully by a garden, forest, river, lake or ocean.
Limitations: Avoid alcohol, coffee, caffeine, overstimulation, eating on the go, talking excessively.
Food: Enjoy milk, butter, ghee, coconut, celery, kale, pasta, basmati rice, and sweet fruits. Cooling spices include: coriander, turmeric, fennel, cloves. Go for tastes that are sweet, bitter, or astringent. Food that is neither too heavy or too light. Few spices, except for those that are cooling.
Yoga Asana: Practice at 60-70 percent effort. Take a step back from your edge. Embrace slower and more restorative practices, Plow, Shoulderstand, and long Savasana.
Meditation/Pranayama: Begin a practice of alternate nostril breathing (in through left, out through right—opposite the Vata practice) Meditation on benefic & peaceful deities like Shiva, Vishnu or Lakshmi. Prayers for universal peace, cultivating surrender & receptivity.
Mantra: Om, Aim, Shrim, or Sham are cool, soothing and calming mantras. Chant them silently.
Exercise: Take part in regular walks in nature, taking the time to notice all the beauty you see. Swimming in cool water is also beneficial for Pitta balancing.
Massage: Massage with cool oils like coconut and sunflower. Essential oils, rose, sandalwood, Vetivert, gardenia. Rosewater to cool the head.
Nature: Sitting or walking by flowers, river, lake or ocean, particularly when it’s cool. Walking at night, gazing at the night sky.
Limitations: Avoid alcohol, coffee, caffeine, spicy food, smoking, watching violence on TV, and exposure to heat.
Food: Enjoy fresh fruits and veggies, black beans, garbanzo beans, pumpkin seeds, wild rice. Hot spices include: ginger, black pepper and turmeric. Go for tastes that are pungent, astringent, bitter.
Yoga Asana: Indulge in higher intensity flow to get the energy moving upward with poses like Pashchimotanasana, Virabhadrasana, Sun Salutations, backbends, and inversions.
Meditation/Pranayama: Vigorous pranayama, Kapalabhati. Meditation on active or wrathful Deities such as Kali or Rudra. Meditation on the void or on the inner light.
Mantra: Hum, Om, Krim, or Aim are warm, stimulating and activating mantras. Chant them out loud.
Exercise: Participate in high intensity workouts, like running and strenuous hiking.
Massage: Strong, deep massage with light, dry oils such as mustard or herbal powders. Use saunas to help promote sweating. Essential oils such as musk, cedar, myrrh, camphor & eucalyptus.
Nature: Vigorous hiking or walking in dry or desert regions, high mountains or sunny, windy days in open areas. Wind bathing.
Limitations: Avoid overeating, emotional eating, storing emotions, napping, and heavy, oily foods.
Which practice did you commit to? I’d love to know. 😊