How to Simplify Life with Ayurveda (no joke!)

ayurveda-yogaA few weeks ago I was chatting to a fellow yoga teacher and mentioned that I love Ayurveda because it has really simplified my life. I think he literally snorted, possibly rolled his eyes and said something like, “Ayurveda and simple, never heard those two words in a sentence together.”

To be honest, I would have made a very similar comment only a few years ago and scoffed at the notion of simplifying Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India (considered one of the oldest in the world) and sister science to Yoga.

It wasn’t for lack of studying Ayurveda that I would have scoffed in the past. In fact, my first job after graduating massage school in 2003 was at an Ayurvedic clinic and wellness spa. I did the constitution tests, got consultations, read David Frawley’s famous books, and learned all of the traditional Ayurvedic bodywork treatments like abhyanga, swedana, garshana, bastis and shirodhara. 

I learned more about Ayurveda in my yoga teacher training in India, even dedicated my final project to Yogic and Ayurvedic understanding of digestive health, and then went and experienced first hand the powerful Ayurvedic cleansing and detoxing process know as Panchakarma. Which was probably one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had, but at the end left me feeling clean as a new born baby. My eyeballs literally looked white as snow and I felt like my skin was radiating.

I did my best over the years to stick to my constitution food lists, exercise regimes and herbs, but always felt a bit confused about what I should be eating, doing or taking something and why. That is until I started studying with my amazing Ayurveda teacher Cate Stillman who totally transformed my life and understanding of Ayurveda with her 9 month Living Ayurveda course.

This system has now become a tool to simplify my life, and it truly can be for everybody! So I wanted share with you all my simplified understanding and how it has made a much bigger impact than all the complicated practices, recipes and lists I tried to follow previously.

First, I started to see the whole world in terms of the 5 elements and their qualities. 

__6336808.jpegJust like the Chinese medicine system, Ayurveda recognises that ALL things are comprised of the 5 elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). Ayurveda further groups the element into three main categories, also know as humours, constitutions or doshas: Vata (ether + air), Pitta (fire + water) and Kapha (water + earth).

We all know innately what the elements feel like and what they’re qualities are; for example air feels cool, light, or changeable, fire feels hot, fast or sharp and earth feels heavy, dense or stable.

We each contain all of these elements and their qualities, as does everything around us, but simply in different ratios and this changes throughout the day, our life, or depending on season and culture.

I started to notice more when my environment had lots of fire, or my food felt more heavy and earthy, or when my thoughts were airy and changeable or my body more watery. I began to see the  elements in all parts of my life.

Second, I worried less about stories and more about the elements and their qualities. 

Have you ever had a bad day and the list of all the things that were going wrong felt endless? On top of that you have this overwhelming sense of not knowing why it’s going so poorly and analysing it just isn’t helping?

I know I have, and getting lost in the stories of who, what, why and how just doesn’t help, in fact, it often makes it worse.

Instead of going over and over in my head what happened or why I felt bad, I started to pay attention to the qualities of what happened or how I felt. For example, I’ve had too much coffee and my thoughts are scattered, lots of air qualities are showing up in my mind now. Or, I just had an argument with my partner, I’m feeling really pissed off, lots of fire is showing up in my emotions and body right now.

I stepped away from the stories and habits and simplified each experience down to what element or dosha was dominating.

Third, I focused on balancing the elements in the present moment. 

The Ayurvedic system has a deceptively simple, yet massively powerful principle that show’s up in all of the literature:

Like increases like and opposites balance. 

Our desire is to find balance in life. When we feel balanced we feel good. We function our best, feel our healthiest and live our best lives.

So when ever I felt out of balance I started to ask myself, “what element is dominant, what element is there too much of?” And then I’d ask myself, “What is the opposite, and how can I bring in the opposite to find balance.”

The beauty of this is that we stop over complicating life with trying to figure out all the things that happened leading up to that moment or how we’re going to change it all in the future. We’re simply dealing with the present and how to find balance now.

For example, just had an argument, too much fire, what can we do to bring in the opposite, cooling. It can literally be some fresh cool air, a glass of water, a few big breaths. And you start to come back to a sense of balance, which will start to change everything.

Or perhaps you’ve just gone through a loss, and feel empty, lonely the qualities of ether. How could you bring in the opposite, some earth, grounding, and nourishment?

It’s all very practical, natural and obvious, and that’s what I love about it.

Looking at the world through the Ayurvedic lens empowers us to become our own best friend, care taker and doctor. 

The western world has locked medicine and health up in the ivory towers of institutions and created a cultural paradigm of taking health out of the individuals hands. People often feel confused about their health, that it’s too complicated to know what to do for themselves or they don’t trust their own body’s instincts.

If we allow ourselves each day, with each practice and life challenge to scale it back down to the basics of elements, qualities and the intention to maintain balance, we can bring the power of health back into our own hands. As my teacher Cate once said in a lecture, “Ayurveda is the medicine of the people.” I love that!!

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I’ve Neglected My Kitchen Lately, and Myself 

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I opened a cupboard recently and out toppled a box of tea and a jar of spices. I started to hastily shove them back into the cluttered mess and rummage around to find what I needed, but then I stopped, looked at the state of those shelves and thought, “Wow, I have seriously neglected my kitchen lately, this has got to change!”

Now the truth is, it took me a couple of days before I set aside the time to dive into the mess and reorganise. But once I did start ripping everything out of the cupboards, throwing old junk away, making the shelves sparkle and stacking those pots, pans, jars and even all the annoying mismatched tupperware ever so neatly, I wondered why I’d waited so long.

Clearing my kitchen felt like clearing mind, emotions, and priorities and, I had great insights into how the way I treated my kitchen reflected how I treated myself.  

Before I dove into the chaos I remembered a free talk my Ayurvedic teacher Cate Stillman gave called the Simple Kitchen. I found it saved in my files and listened to it again as I sat on the kitchen floor surrounded by the explosion of all it’s contents.

The Kitchen is the hub of consciousness 

Cate reminded us that the kitchen is the hub or centre of the family, the household, and our  consciousness. The energy of the kitchen takes hold of and influences the consciousness of everyone it’s feeding.

Even if you’re single like I am and it mostly feeds just you, the way we treat our kitchen reflects how we’re relating to our daily act of nourishment.

I must say, to begin with I felt a bit embarrassed and down trodden sitting amongst the mess and listening to Cate asked probing questions like, “What has the energy in your kitchen been lately? How does that relate to your eating patterns? What would you like the energy of the kitchen to be like?”

I realised that lately my kitchen was not nearly as intentional as I’d like it to be (and nor were my eating habits), and this being the hub of my consciousness I could also see how that was influencing my sense of clarity, self love and health.

The Kitchen holds the fire of transformation

Well this insight lit the fire under my procrastinating bum and I got organising. The kitchen is after all about fire, agni, the heat of transformation or as Cate put it alchemy.

Even if we’re not actually cooking with a flame, every time we step into the kitchen we’re engaging the process of transforming substances into the fuel and make up of our body. I could feel that heat of transformation working it’s magic on me just by organising tea boxes, bags of grains and jars of herbs.

Cate lectured about this space being like a laboratory where we use our food as medicine, where we experiment and discover ourselves, our needs and our inner nature.

Our engagement with the kitchen is a yoga practice.

Yoga is not about doing everything perfectly, it’s about exploring who we are, and discovering what we need to find balance and harmony and connect to our most sacred self.

Cate dug deeper and asked questions like: What is your attitude when you walk into the kitchen? What attitude do you want to have in the kitchen? How can your kitchen be your yoga practice?

She also gave great tips on getting organised to support weekly kitchen sadhana. Sadhana refers to a practice that invokes spirit or calls to the highest.

Our food prep can be a sadhana of self care, a practice that connects us to our spirit and our intention for the whole week, for our health and deeper purpose. By simply picking on day to do extra prep we’re set up to nourish ourselves deeply for the week and feel more supported for our work in the world.

Honouring the Kitchen, honouring ourselves

The probing continued: Do you honour the kitchen as the hub/centre of the family organism, of consciousness? How do you want to honour the kitchen as the centre? How do you want to refine the kitchen so that it becomes an even more intentional hub or creation centre?

Cate recommend placing something in your kitchen to remind you of your deeper intentions and the power of the kitchen as the hub of consciousness. I placed two little Balinese statues in prayer above my cupboards to remind me, and recipe booklet I got from my meditation teacher called “The Yoga of the Kitchen.”

Just before sitting down to write this I made lunch, looked at those two things and felt a sense of calm and ease come over me. It changed my whole attitude from “hurry up and make lunch so you can do your other things” to “This is sacred, this is self love and self care and meant to be enjoyed.”

The kitchen is a place of joy and connection

There is a reason everyone crams themselves into the kitchen at parties, and yes part of it is because we all love the food. But I think the bigger reason is that it feels like an intimate space that is also familiar and safe where we can be real and enjoy each other’s company.

We need to be nourished by connection and joy, community and intimacy as much if not more than by any kind of food. It’s no wonder that sharing food throughout all cultures has been the meeting ground for family and community.

As my meditation teacher Tim Mitchell, who is also an Ayurvedic chef once told me, “the most important ingredient for any recipe is love.”

Spring is the best time to clean, so get going and clear the energy of your kitchen and your consciousness!

Tell us, what do you do to make your kitchen more sacred?

Know thy Constitution

by Morgan Webert

Recently, my Ayurvedic teacher Cate Stillman, made one of those so obvious it’s profound comments. She said, “The more we understand our constitution the more we can collaborate between what we want to do and what we’ve got to do it with.”

In the West we don’t often talk about our constitution, our intrinsic doshasnature or the basic material we’re made up of in relation to creating our life. And yet, we wouldn’t imagine building a house without knowing what kind of material was available or best to use.

Thinking like this is very practical and very logical, and that’s one reason I love Ayurveda; it encourages us to understand the simple material we’re made up of and learn how best to use it in the process of building our lives.

And make no mistake, we are building this life, one breath and choice at a time. With a greater understanding of ourselves, especially at the most simple and subtle levels, we make more informed choices and breaths that support us in creating a vibrant and happy life.

So what are we made of?! 

Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India, recognizes that every living thing is comprised of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. The system also observes that as these elements manifest into form they tend to group in three particular ways called the doshas.

The fist dosha is called Vata and is a combination of ether and air. The second dosha is Pitta and is a combination of fire and water. The third dosha is Kapha and is a combination of earth and water.

Because we contain all five elements within us, all three of the doshas also show up in everyone one of us, but each person will have their own unique ratio of these elements and doshas.

three-doshasThis unique combination is called our prakruti or constitution. Most people have one dominant dosha and this shows up in our personality, body type, digestion and lifestyle. Knowing what is most and least dominant in you is such an important step in knowing how to build a happy and healthy life.

To continue with the house metaphor, we wouldn’t build an open air Balinese thatched roof house in Alaska lest we freeze to death. Along the same lines, a person with mostly fire in their constitution will likely end up feeling irritable, over heated or get heart burn if they eat too much chili and spend too much time in the sun.

Building a life with balance

When we feel good, most likely we’re making choices that balance our constitution, and when we don’t feel good mostly likely some aspect of our life is causing an imbalance. The imbalances are called our vikruti and it’s just as important to identify how you’re out of whack or what’s easily tipped off balance in order to change or prevent it.

Over the next few weeks in class and in this blog we’ll dive deeper into the three doshas and how they show up in our body, mind and society.

In the mean time go take a test online to find out what your constitution is. Tell us what you found out and how it’s making you think about yourself differently or if it supports what you’ve known intuitively!

Here is a quick and accurate dosha test, should only take a few minutes, but there are a bunch out there so if you have the time try a few and you’ll get even more insight into what you’ve got to work with to make the life you want.