Why Health Isn’t Black & White:
5 Ayurvedic Practices to Restore Your Energy
Whenever I have the opportunity to teach the basics of Ayurveda to a live group of first time learners the questions always have the same theme.
There’s an unconscious black and white fundamentalist way of thinking that’s behind almost every earnest and well intentioned question.
Is this food good or bad for you?
Can this thing be eaten for breakfast?
What does fasting look like in Ayurveda?
What time should people get up or go to bed?
After I answer the first 10 questions the same way, for whom and when, they all start to smile.
Can you see it? How they genuinely want to do what they think will be considered right? How there’s only room for one right way? How that one right way must apply to everyone, regardless of their age, current state of being, life circumstances, or anything else.
How Black and White Thinking Can Hold You Back From Understanding Optimal Health
Even if you’ve never stepped foot into a church, but you grew up here in the West, perhaps especially in the South, though I’m not sure about that, there’s an interesting accidental fundamentalist thinking that underlines the way we see the world and really is getting in the way of us even asking more helpful questions.
I remember when I first wanted to start studying Ayurveda. I was especially interested in the herbalism aspect of the studies. At the time my father was on 30 something different medications and many of those were to help with side effects of the others. Sadly, I imagine this is something we’re all pretty familiar with here. At this point I bet we all know someone who is on a medication to help with the side affect of another medication. I loved the idea of being able to trade a side effect heavy pharmaceutical for a natural herb. I really wanted to help. I thought I’ll trade this drug for this herb and this new more natural pill will now help fix the problem.
Of course now, I understand that’s not really how it works.
How Symptoms are Part of A Larger Health Issue
It took me a long time to recognize my thought pattern of seeking treatment for symptom. I didn’t even understand how to zoom out and consider that a symptom is just that, part of a larger situation speaking up. That zoom out process is something most of us in the West aren’t used to doing, and it can be really uncomfortable.
When we’re brave enough to zoom out, we might see how our actions, lifestyles, foods, relationships, and mental states of beings have all contributed to our current situation. We might feel bad for ignoring signs from our bodies for a long time. We might have to look at undigested experiences from long ago. It can be a lot to tackle, especially alone and without good help.
What Is Ayurveda & How Can It Help Me?
Now that my friends and I are hitting our mid and late 30s there’s lots of new health problems entering our conversations. A lot of my friends seem to share this underlying belief that the right doctor with the right pill will be able to fix it, and that entire burden and responsibility is on the physician.
It’s a well meaning and hopeful belief, and they are earnestly seeking wise doctors and good information, but I find it fascinating that this one way is the only way they have thought about the problem. The idea that their current struggle didn’t come from no where, that they could have power in their own healing, that that power could be bigger than an herb or a pill, is outside the landscape of their thinking.
How Ayurveda Offers Agency and Responsibility for Your Own Health
One of the biggest gifts Ayurveda has offered me, and perhaps has to offer you, is this change in perspective. You have power as a creator of your own life and wellbeing. That power is a responsibility. Of course, yes, absolutely there are things outside your control and power, but not everything. You have agency. You have choice. You have observation skills. The sooner you are able to harness those powers, the more likely you’ll be able to create a beautiful landscape of health.
When we start to reexamine how we think about responsibility, agency, power, boundaries, and the rigidity of our own thinking, energetically we’re working with the root chakra, or muladhara chakra.
What is The Subtle Body and Why it Matters: Chakras, Koshas, and Nadis
First, allow me to attempt to demystify and simply explain the chakra system. You know you have a physical body. You can touch and feel it. This is most gross, or the most concrete layer of your being. From the yogic and Ayurvedic perspective there’s a basic premise of understanding that you’re a lot more that just the physical body. Of course, many other wisdom traditions hold this basic idea as well.
In this system specifically, there are five different bodies, or koshas, and they move from the most gross and easy to see, the physically body, all the way out to the most subtle and esoteric, the Bliss Body, or spiritual body. The second body in this gross to subtle line up is the energetic body. It is on this slightly less gross level of our existence that chakra system exists.
The chakras are seven really big energy centers that travel up the base of the spine in the energetic body. There are tons of lines of energy that connect them and the rest of the body called nadis. When one chakra, or energy center isn’t functioning well it will have an effect on the overall system. Of course, everything works together, nothing operates in isolation, just like in the physical body. If the kidneys aren’t well, it puts a strain on the heart. Our bodies, all five of them, work as a team. This is the microcosm echoing the macrocosm here. Everything is connected.
What Does The Root Chakra Look Like In Balance?
The first energetic center at the base of the spine, the first chakra, the root chakra, is muladara. It is the foundational energy center, and relates to our sense of survival, and security. Each chakra, or energy center, can be in one of three states: balanced, in excess, or in deficiency.
The root chakra is all about self preservation. When this root is well balanced we have a sense of security, belonging, rootedness, trust, appropriate boundaries, and even prosperity. Some signs that the root is well balanced can be good health, vitality, being well-grounded, being comfortable in your own body, trusting the world around you, and the ability to relax and be still.
Hopefully you can imagine someone who fits this description. It’s that feeling that someone has both feet on the floor. That they can handle themselves. That they know when to turn away. There’s a balanced sense of trust and action. It’s the kind of person that might make you feel more settled and grounded yourself.
Self Care Rituals from Ayurveda
What Does an Unbalanced Root Chakra Look Like?
In contrast, when the root is out of balance, both in excess and in deficiency, there’s a tendency towards fear and anxiety.
Now look, we’ve all been living through literal years of a pandemic here. This may very likely have had an effect on the balance of your root chakra. Talk about something that uproots your livelihood, your foundation, your sense of safety and trust, it’s like the year 2020 was invented for that, and it hasn’t really stopped yet.
But even before all that, I’ve noticed a lot the characteristics of excess in the first chakra in our culture. It’s where that rigid, black and white, fundamentalist thinking comes from. That fear and anxiety of doing the “wrong thing”. A desperate addiction to security that makes change almost impossible. We see it in greed, hoarding, overeating, sluggishness, and laziness.
Perhaps, you can see how a well intentioned version of this excess first chakra energy shows up in questions about ourselves, our health, and our practices. There’s a rigidness to thought. There’s difficulty zooming out enough to see that there could be more than one answer. More than one reality, more than one truth. There’s a tight grip on the right and wrong boundary that allows one to feel safe and secure. It feels like the subtext is: Just tell me what to do so that A + B can = C regardless of anything else. I’m scared, but I don’t want to think I’m scared, and I don’t what you to think I’m scared so I’m just going to ask the really linear question instead.
How Covid Has Caused A Deficiency In The Root Chakra
More recently, the pandemic years have brought out a deficiency in the root chakra energy. This can look like fearfulness, anxiety, and restlessness. It can create poor boundaries and chronic disorganization. It can lead to poor focus and discipline, and a disconnection from the body. It can feel like someone just pulled the rug out from under you.
I imagine you can all picture this friend, especially in recent times, and I bet they work from home. We live in a culture and a time where is can be really challenging to stay grounded, balanced, stable, rooted, and trusting. It’s kinda like we all went to anti root chakra sleep away camp and never came home.
When the root chakra stays out of balance for long periods of time it’s associated with problems that show up in the physical body. This can be colon disorders, and ailments in the anus, bones, teeth, legs, feet, and knees. It can often show up as an eating disorder and low immune system function that results in frequent illness.
How to Rebalance and Heal the Root Chakra
There is good news here, there are definitely tools to help reestablish a good flow of energy in the root, and help us become lovely rooted and grounded people.
Here’s 5 Ways to Heal the Root Chakra.
1. Yoga Asana is my favorite solution to this problem.
I absolutely love yoga asana for establishing a sense of rootedness and well-grounding. It’s also been my favorite tool for releasing the fundamentalist thinking I was raised in. I’m talking about a whole lot more than religious ideality here. It’s the small, zoomed in, absolutest world view. Yoga helped tear it down. It’s the beautiful process of discovering that your body can do things you didn’t think it could. It’s the magic of learning the voice in your head isn’t you. It’s the transformation of turning that voice into a friend. When these things change, the world does too.
I can no longer stand on my hands with my feet on my head like I once could, but the lessons I learned exploring the capability of my body will stay with me forever. You don’t have to touch a foot to your head to learn this way. You simply have to practice. Watch what happens. You will likely need a good teacher, especially if you’re using yoga asana as a way to ground and center. Favor a class with no music, or music that’s in the background slow and steady. You’re looking for an opportunity to be with, and deal with yourself, not escape it. A good teacher will be able to hold you there, without getting in your way.
2. Meditation and Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you’re doing while you’re doing it.
Wash the dishes. Take a shower. The more you train your mind to be present, the more grounded it will become. The more grounded your mind is, the less likely it is to run free and unchecked in an anxiety and fear spiral. If you’re looking for a place to start, try pooping without your phone. Yes, that’s a little gross. Yes, I mean it. If you’re peeing with your phone, definitely start there. It will help you start to notice an addiction to escaping being present with yourself. If your bathroom is already phone free, move on to meals. Device free eating and paying good attention to the food, it’s taste and smells, and how it makes you feel are all good paths towards mindfulness.
3. Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic self care practice where you oil the body.
In this application, it’s all about using the sense of touch to heal the root chakra. You heat up oil and rub it all over the body. It’s a beautiful and beneficial practice that can also be a bit messy and time consuming so if you’re looking for something you can do daily, come back to oiling the feel like we talked about last week.
4. Dance like no one is watching.
The important part here is that you are connecting to your own body. So I’m saying dance, but for you, it might be weight lifting, or sex, or whatever it is that makes you feel at home and empowered in your own skin. For this one we use can use music, and the focus is all about enjoying being in the body.
5. Affirmations help you rewrite the unhelpful loops your mind plays on repeat.
For example, this pandemic is never going to end. Maybe instead, I’m doing my part to keep myself and others well while we’re in this space together. There’s definitely an element of mindfulness here, because you have to be able to observe the unhelpful mental pattern in order to replace it with a new idea. Notice and replace, notice and replace.
I imagine all of us could use a little root chakra healing these days. I hope you find yourself grounded, safe, balanced, and well. And if not, I hope you feel inspired to use tools that help move you in that direction.
Dhanvantari is the god of Ayurveda. Legend has it that all the gods and deamons were seeking the elixir or life and Dhanvantari come up out of the milky sea holding a cup of elixir, the wisdom of Ayurveda. There’s a prayer to him that says:
We bow to Lord Dhanvantari, holding in his four graceful hands a conch shell, a wheel, a leech, and a pot of celestial nectar. In his heart shines the purest and sweet flame of light that surrounds his head and emanates from his lotus eyes. On dark water whose body is bright and shiny. The waist and thighs are covered with yellow cloth and by the game of which all diseases are conquered as by a powerful forest fire.
I figured it might be time to give you a bit of context into the forest fire bit.
Until next time my friends, May all diseases be conquered as by a powerful forest fire!
This blog is also an Ayurveda Podcast you can listen to here!