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Ayurveda in 2022

It’s 2022 my friends.  As with all new years, there’s a pause for reflection, planning, and hopefully a little bit of dreaming.  The yoga version of a new years intention is called a sankalpa.  It’s a deep desire of the soul that comes from a place much deeper than your mind.  Because it’s this vow of the soul to be it’s higher self, it’s understood that you already have all the tools necessary to realize the desire.  A sankalpa of mine, or deep desire of my soul, is to teach Ayurveda to you. 

I want to help you reimagine what your normal can be.  I want you to feel really good.  I’m here to help you reestablish what health and wellbeing can look like for you, and for your family, and teach you how to create a path towards that reality.  Let’s re-examine the idea that pain, or constipation, or sleeplessness is just how it is. 

I want you to live long and live well.  I hope for you the kind of old age where younger generations talk about how cool, alive, and interesting their 100 year old friend is.  I imagine already many of us have watched as people we love die too soon from cancers, heart disease, diabetes and more.

I certainly don’t believe there’s ever only one way to do anything, but I do think Ayurveda can be one way to live long and live well.  Ayurveda and the yogic sciences reach across the practical to the esoteric to teach us how to take good care of the whole self.  They are intricately designed systems to know yourself inside and out.  The more you know, and understand, and can see, the more conscious power of choice you have.  That’s where the magic happens.

The Why: Health for Your Family & You

My little boy is 2, and I have another one on the way.  I want a version of health for them that is so much bigger than just the absence of disease.  I want them to understand all the ways their beautiful bodies are a part of the nature they see all around them.  I want their childhood to be rooted in a respect for mother nature and her laws.  I hope to teach them the ways that food, movement, nature, and loving relationships can all be medicine. 

I dream of a world where by the time they have kids (if they wants to) that living with the wise principles of Ayurveda will be second nature.  A world where they will never suffer from something called a lifestyle disease.  I want that for you, and for your kids too.  That’s why I’m here.  I want to teach you this science that offers another way. 

My intention is that we move through this year together with Ayurveda and yoga.  I’ll be here each week to teach you something new and offer you tools to help build your own wellbeing. 

Let’s get started by understanding the basic stuff.  Like, what is Ayurveda?

While Ayurveda is a part of the vedic tradition, just like yoga, and comes from the Rig Veda, it’s source texts are more varied.  I’m going to pull some verses from those texts to help teach you the basics that’ll get us started.   One of those texts, says in verse 1:

Who is Ayurveda For?

One who desires a long life in order to attain virtue, wealth, and happiness should very respectfully apply oneself to (study, understand, implement, and advocate) the teachings of Ayurveda.

Here we have the who, why, and how in one compact sentence and it’s great.

Ayurveda is for those who want to live a long life so you can do all the things you desire, and the study of Ayurveda is a ticket in that direction.

Basically it sounds like it’s saying, wanna stay alive and live well?  Learn to pay attention with Ayurveda.  Often it’s literally translated as The Art of Living, or the Knowledge of Living. 

And if you’ve heard anything about Ayurveda, I imagine it is somehow in relation to the doshas.  The Doshas are the lens that Ayurveda uses to see the ingredients of the universe in everything from food, to movement, to you.  And there’s three of them.  Next, the text says:

What are the doshas?

Three Doshas maintain and destroy the body. In short, vata, pitta, and kapha are the three dosas responsible for destroying, and maintaining the body in their vitiated and balanced states respectively.

This text literally repeats twice that nothing is fixed.  (maintain & destroy, maintain & destroy)  You have 3 different forces governing the body and they can either be in balance, or they can be causing a mess. 

We know from modern science that the body is in a constant state of recalibration and change.  For example, every 90 days the body has a completely new set of red blood cells, and every 5 days the cells that line the stomach replace themselves.  We are always regrowing our bodies and that can either happen intelligently with balance, or is can begin to break down and lead to destruction and disease.

The three dosha are responsible for the life or death of the body.  Again, the doshas are Ayurveda’s way of recognizing that everything in the universe is composed of the same raw ingredients- the elements.  You might remember them from Captain Planet.  I loved him.  Anyway: earth, wind, fire, water, either, (sadly no heart).  Each of the three doshas is a unique pairing of the elements. 

-Vata is either and air

-Pitta is fire and water

-kapha is earth and water 

We all have all three doshas, we just have them in varying quantities.  Those different quantities are what determine our individual doshic constitution.   Maybe you took a dosha quiz to learn this about yourself, and I promise we will come back to it but, for now what’s most important is to remember that you have all 3, and you want all 3 balanced and happy. 

We know Ayurveda is all about observation.  When we can observe the early stages of a dosha being upset, we can intervene at an easier level.  So for example:  We know Vata is air and either.  We know we all have some Vata dosha.  Too much air can show up in the mental body as racing thoughts or in the physical body as joints cracking, gas, dry skin, and pain.  If I keep adding more foods and lifestyle practices that create more air, these problems will keep getting worse.  But if i know how to add in more earth to balance out this air, it can get better.  There’s a little learning curve of recognizing the doshas in our foods and practices, but it’s totally doable, and I’ll help you get there. 

Next, the text gets into the doshas a bit more deeply saying:

How do the doshas work?

The predominant locations of three doshas in the body predominate dosha periods related to age, day, night, and digestion.

This one is a little tricky to take in without a bit more knowledge.  Basically, it’s teaching that the 3 doshas all live in different places in the body.  The pattern they are aligned in:  Kapha, Pitta, Vata is very intelligent and can be found all throughout nature it time of day, season of life, and even stage of digestion. 

We see this pattern in the body.  Kapha dosha or earth & water generally lives in the top part of the body, specifically in the lungs.  Pitta (fire & water) lives in the middle of the body, specially the digestive tract.  Vata lives in the lower part of the body, below the navel, but it is also connected to the entire nervous system. 

This pattern of Kapha, Pitta, Vata also relates to stage of life.  Childhood is the kapha time, middle age is pitta, and our later years are vata.  The flow of the day follows the same general pattern.  Kapha is in the morning time, pitta the afternoon, and vata the evening. 

I think of this as a beautiful reminder that we are intrinsically connected to, and part of, our environment.  We aren’t living in nature, we are nature, and we are all made of the same stuff that follows the same rules. 

With more practice, you can start to observe if a dosha is showing up in a place it doesn’t belong.  If vata is up in your chest you might find a dry, harsh, unproductive cough.  With practice and observation, we learn to interpret the functionings, or dis-functionings of our bodies through the lens of the doshas.  And of course, the sooner you can see something, the greater the possibility of a low level and successful intervention. 

This is where food, herbs, movements, sounds, nature, everything has the potential to function as medicine.

Next, the text starts talking about digestion as it relates to each of the doshas saying:

The Doshas & Digestion

The four types of agni, or digestive fire, are:

1. unpredictable irregular
2. intensely sharp
3. inadequately slow
4. balanced

There is a long standing idea within the vedic tradition that it’s the god part of you, your divinity, that allows you to transform food into a body.  If you step back and think about it, it is rather magical that a banana becomes you.  This is one of the reasons why agni, or digestion is given so much value.  On a more practical level, you aren’t so much what you eat, as what you digest. 

Any Ayurvedic practitioner worth their salt is going to ask you about your digestion, appetite, and waste.  These are huge windows into he overall health of the body and tell us a lot about what the doshas are doing.

This text makes the types of agni a bit more simplified than other texts, but it’s a great starting place.  The first is unpredictable irregular.  This is an unbalanced vata type digestion, think wind.  You never know when it’s gonna blow.  The tale tale signs of this type of agni are bloating and gas.  Air and either make up vata, and too much of that is showing up here.

The second agni is intensely sharp.  This is unbalanced Pitta, think fire.  Symptoms of this agni type are lots of thirst and burning sensations like heartburn.  This type can also be intensely hungry.  They burn up their food before they can really digest it. 

The third type is inadequately slow.  This is unbalanced kapha, heavy and earthy.  This type is going to feel heavy after meals, like its taking a really long time to digest their food.

Last, we have the balanced agni.  You’ll know this is you if you don’t have any of the symptoms we’ve already talked about and you do feel light, energetic, and good after you eat. 

Here Ayurveda is teaching us the importance of paying attention to our digestion.  The sooner you notice something is off, the easier it is to do something about it. 

Now the text jumps back into the doshas at the individual level saying:

Is my dosha a problem?

In the beginning, at the time of conception, that is, at the union of the sperm and ovum, the constitution (Prakrit) of a living being is formed. Prakrti is the poison of the poisonous creatures that does not cause them harm. There are three separate single dosha constitutions: inferior, medium, and superior, in that order. There is one constitution in which all the three doshas are balanced. The other three constitutions in which two doshas are predominate are abhorred.

I mean, this one is kinda hard to take down.  My doshic type is abhorred.  Honestly, it seems really harsh. 

Let me try to break this down a little.  There are seven different types of Prakrit, or doshic constitutions.  All seven of these come from the 3 doshas. 

Some people have a single dosha as their constitution.  If you have a single dosha as your constitution, vata is the hardest to keep happy, pitta is medium, and kapha is the strongest and most likely to stay well. 

However, maybe you are a dual doshic type, meaning you have equal levels of two of the doshas.  (hello abhorred friends)  There are three types of duel doshic constitutions.  You could be vata-pitta, vata-kapha, or pitta-kapha.  Basically if you’re any of these types it’s harder to stay in balance because there are more forces pulling at you, and it’s harder to keep everything happy. 

Lastly is the tri doshic type.  This rare bird has an even distribution of vata, pita, and kapha.  Because it’s naturally so well balanced, it’s considered the best one. 

The silver lining here is that no matter what doshic type you are- even the abhorred ones- your dosha will never harm you.  It’s compared here to the poison of a poisonous animal.  Mr. Poisonous Frog is never harmed by his own venom. 

Knowing your dosha, or knowing your Prakrit, is really helpful because it helps you better understand your make up.  It would be like if you were a rock, but you didn’t know you were a rock, and you kept wondering why you felt so heavy.  Or more on the nose, you’re a pitta type, and you keep wondering why it’s so easy for you to get diarrhea, skin rashes, and stay up all night. 

Your Prakrit is your born in, unchanging, doshic constitution- much like your thumbprint.  It sets things like the size of your skeleton, things that will never really change.  In contrast we also have a vikrti, or current state of imbalance.  You current state of imbalance may (or may not) end up creating the disease process, but your prakrit never will.  This is good news, kinda.  It’s always going to be internal or external factors that get ya, never just how you were born. 

So here’s the basic Ayurvedic lens on disease.  The doshas are responsible for the life and death of the body.  Your dosha- whatever it is- will never hurt you, but some are easier to keep happier than others.  It’s always going to be internal and external factors that disturb the doshas.  Disturbed doshas are always what lead to disease. 

Again, this is why learning to observe the doshas, and understanding how to re-establish balance can be a golden ticket towards creating health. 

This was a lot of information friends.  I hope it was clear.  I’ll be back next week to teach you some more.

Until next time, May all diseases be conquered as by a powerful forest fire. 

This blog is also an Ayurveda podcast you can listen to here!