10 Sep My Life’s Truth: De-stressing with Ayurveda
Ayurveda means life wisdom, science, or truth. Commonly referred to as the sister science of yoga, Ayurveda is a living science that heals both body and mind. Yoga is the path to your innermost self that depends on a well functioning body and mind. These practices were developed together and designed to work together.
My gateway into Yoga and Ayurveda was yoga asana (postures). The poses made me feel strong and capable. I was 18yo and for the first time I felt present in my body. That spark of possibility led me to wanting more.
Ayurveda’s basic principle is that like increases like and opposites balance. The better I felt in my body, the better I wanted to take care of my body. I began to eat cleaner and fresher foods so I could push my asana practice to the next level.
As someone who spent most of her life disassociating from her body, yoga asana seemed to be the perfect answer. In the real world I would unwittingly leave my body if I felt confronted or afraid. While on my yoga mat the fear melted away and I would experience moments of courage and deep presence. I wanted more of that.
Ayurveda’s basic principle is that like increases like…
While pushing my asana I ignored my heart, mind and spirit. Like most westerners I thought if I moved more and ate better I’d be healthier. All I did was push my physical body out of balance with my mind and spirit. Ayurveda sees us as a unique and whole being. It addresses physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and ancestral imbalances. All of these influence our DNA and patterns of well-being.
Asana could only do so much for me. My PTSD patterns were deeply rooted in my childhood and needed to be addressed at a more subtle level than I was ready for. My fear and anxiety just got pushed deeper down.
In the early hours of 9/11/01 I was held up at gunpoint. In many ways this was my breaking point. I couldn’t seem to validate the fear of this experience because of what happened in NYC. I felt a weird need to be strong and pretend it really didn’t affect me. “I really knew he wasn’t going to pull the trigger.” What happened to me was so minor compared to what they were going through in New York. It felt selfish to put the attention on me. I felt lost, drank too much, smoked too much, and yes – even did too much yoga. I’d push myself into poses I wasn’t ready for and just keep injuring myself.
My yoga practice had become as much of a coping mechanism as the smoking and the drinking. This seemed to get worse after the loss of my mother and the end of a long term relationship. I quit traveling and doing the things I loved. I avoided my feelings, my wants-needs-desires…the things that made me who I was and lit up my world.
…and opposites balance.
The path back to myself has been a slow and steady one with a few ups and downs. As I started to address my mental-emotional patterns, even heal old family wounds – my physical body seemed to keep breaking down. I was diagnosed with hypothyroid which helped, but other symptoms continued to get worse. I kept with the same superficial dogma, “exercise more and eat better.” I tried cutting out all kinds of foods but it seemed the better I took care of myself the worse I felt. My sister’s words, “You’re the healthiest sick person I know,” best sums it up. Nothing seemed to make sense.
It took my digestive distress, low energy and other symptoms getting worse for my doctor to finally test me for Adrenal Insufficiency. I had the lowest cortisol levels the nurse had ever seen, she couldn’t believe I was functioning (and I barely was). More than 80% of Adrenal Insufficiency cases are caused by Addison’s Disease. I finally had a diagnosis. I had an autoimmune disease that attacked my adrenal glands and explained the strange symptoms I had since I was 12yo. At first, it was a relief.
Almost a year later I wasn’t doing much better. I had gotten myself off the steroids, but emotionally I was worse. I was forced to deal with some very dark secrets from my childhood. I knew my PTSD patterns lived deeply in my nervous system and were affecting my health. I needed a level of support I wasn’t sure existed. I wanted to get away, go on retreat, find in-patient treatment, or just go somewhere I could rest and heal a lifetime of exhaustion. But I knew running away and “resting” would simply stall my healing journey and keep me from living in a world I loved.
Ayurveda sees us as a unique and whole being. It addresses physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and ancestral imbalances.
Suddenly it was obvious that Ayurveda could help me heal while keeping me present to the ups and downs of real life. Ayurveda begins with your Dosha or constitution. The 3 Doshas are Vata (Air/Ether), Kapha (Earth/Water), and Pitta (Fire/Water). Your dosha is how the 5 elements live in you. It gives you insight into how the elements relate to your qualities, characteristics and tendencies. They guide you into making simple diet and lifestyle choices based on your constitution.
My physical body looked like it had a Kapha imbalance. However, if the nervous system has been pushed beyond its limits over long periods of time there’s usually a Vata imbalance. On the surface a vata imbalance can look like a kapha imbalance. I kept shaming myself for being lazy when in fact I needed deep rest.
If you have PTSD you are exhausted because you are living in a stress (hyper-vata) state. Our bodies are simply not designed to constantly have these stress hormones (like cortisol) in our blood stream. Over time they begin to break down our protection mechanisms and our bodies. This manifests differently for each of us and often plays a role in developing an autoimmune disorder. My misunderstanding of Ayurveda had me treating myself for a Kapha imbalance which was exactly the opposite of what I needed.
I discovered I could heal.
My turning point was learning how to live the habits of Yoga and Ayurveda one little step at a time. Trying to take big leaps on my own wasn’t working. I needed community to help me hold compassion, truth and understanding as we each moved through our own journey. I was able to commit to myself and the habits at a whole new level.
I discovered I could heal. Within two months my digestive distress had improved remarkably. I could go weeks (sometimes months) without any problems. I didn’t think it was possible. My body was able to absorb nourishment. My energy was improving. I noticed I could be present and in my body off the mat, even with intense emotions. The habits are the level of support I needed to address my physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and ancestral well-being. These layers of healing go well beyond whole body healing – they are the layers of all being.
I am (still) learning to love my body and live into its infinite capacity to heal. Autoimmune disorders have many ebbs and flows. As I learn to honor these waves, I step into my truth and purpose in this world.