Riding the Tide

Throughout the course of Axis Yoga’s 200 hr. teacher training program, students engage in a variety of experiments, incororating the material they learn in the training, into their daily lives. This student chose to incorporate various ayurvedic self-care and supportive asana practice into her routine. Below she recounts her experience and reflections.

Riding the Tide: Introduction to an Ayurvedic Experiment

In the beginning of this experiment my prakruti was vata, pitta, kapha, however after 4 days of experimenting I witnessed a significant change in my energy and focus due to a traumatic experience, shifting me to vata, kapha, pitta.  This shift allowed my experiment to truly test the soil of Ayurvedic practice.  This said, I decided to focus my experiment on my very vata/kapha-like nature. To add to my already long list of daily to do’s in keeping myself healthy and sane, I decided to experiment with a restorative vata yoga practice, abhyanga-external massage with oil prior to bathing, internal oleation through ingestion of ghee, and tongue scrapping every morning upon rising.

Riding the Tide: Asana Practice

Restorative yoga and vata asana practice is such a yummy delightful practice.  I felt such bliss after my first introduction to vata based yoga series by Santosh.  My vritti slowed,  and I could feel my nerves and muscular system release into long lean fibers of mush.  Following the first few days of the experiment, I was hooked!  I woke up early to do sadhana, then found a class online that was specific for vata dosha or classified as restorative which are sets of poses that help ground the energy and mind of the sometimes spacey vata. Poses that support vata include forward folds and seated stretching.  I enjoyed them, and found a very satisfying calm from the sequence of poses. 

 Four days into my Ayurvedic experiment, the health rituals that I had been so disciplined with went up in smoke. Literally went up in smoke!  Our garage burnt down, and the stress of it all devoured me.  I turned to a very tamas and kapha-like state.  Suddenly my energy plummeted and getting out of bed in the morning was a chore.  All I wanted to do was sleep and relax, truly forcing myself to find the motivation to cook, clean and play with my daughter. This event helped me realize how vata I tend to be mentally, emotionally and energetically most of the time.  However, in times of major stress my mind lingers in a vata state while my body retreats into a very kapha-like state where I find it very hard to get out of bed, or even do my daily chores. Thus, for a kapha being who is incredibly grounded with a tendency to be lethargic, yoga takes on an entirely different type of asana that focuses on ascending the energy through backbends, inversions and poses that require arms over head throughout a good part of the practice. Wow! What a radical change in energy you can experience from such a practice. Coming into class I was so tired and sleepy, after an hour of kapha balancing yoga poses, my energy was soaring.  I found it very difficult to go to sleep that night.

 One evening, I found the time to be alone, and although I wanted to practice asana and sadhana, I found the task to be daunting due to the stress of the fire.  My mind was racing and energy fleeting.  So, I held Viparita Karani Mudra (the only yoga pose that balances all five vayus at once) for a period of 10-15 minutes two consecutive times.  My experience was euphoric.  After coming down from this mudra, my mind was completely quiet and my body was so relaxed it felt as if my subtle body was flying in the ethereal realms. I had a wonderful meditation where my mind was completely free of thought.

Riding the Tide: Ayurvedic Self Care

Despite the mayhem, abhyanga was one Ayurvedic technique that I was consistent with through the two weeks of experimentation.  I experimented with two different techniques.  The Ayurvedic way is to apply oil on the body prior to showering, opposed to applying after one showers.  I found the Ayurvedic way to be much more soothing and moisturizing to the skin.  My skin, which is very dry at an altitude of 5280ft, is so much more radiant, glowing and supple.  I also tried two types of oil, sesame and coconut.  Sesame is the oil of choice for vata beings and coconut for kapha.  My favorite was coconut.  I found it softer and more soothing to my skin. Internal oleation with the ingestion of ghee was one part of the experiment I’m unsure of.  Although I used it daily, I can’t tell a true difference in my bowel movements, but I’ve also never had issues in this area of health.  Vata constitutions are said to have dry and firm bowel movements, however I fall more in the kapha dosha in this particular area.  But, I will continue to use it with the hope of coming to a conclusion.

Tongue Scrapping… Wow! What yucky ama one can have if you are not following a healthy regimen or fall weak under times of stress.  Interesting enough, I’ve found a correlation in my sinusitis flair ups and the production of ama, and it all has to do with the consumption of water.  If I don’t drink enough fluids, my sinuses seem to bother me and my ama is thick, white and copious in the mornings. If I drink enough water, the ama upon my tongue in the morning is clear and thin.  I also found a correlation due to stress.  In the beginning of the experiment I was stress free, well rested, eating healthy/following my diet and following a daily morning ritual of sadhana and asana.  Then after the fire, all of my practices fell through the cracks.  I could feel the stress and anxiety in every cell of my body, even my bowel became distressed for three days following the fire.

Riding the Tide: Conculsion

In conclusion, I found my experiment to be very enlightening.  I plan to continue using the techniques I applied in my experiment to balance my doshas, all the while studying, testing and experimenting with Ayurvedic principles and practices in hopes that I can make improvements in my health and well-being while dancing with the fluctuations of life.  In the words of Babi Hari Dass…”The body is a boat which carries the soul in the ocean of the world.  If it is not strong, or it has a hole, then it can’t cross the ocean. So the first duty is to fix the boat.”  With my hammer and nails I forge, carrying a strong heart and mind.  I will forgive myself if I sink a little, rising once again to paddle the course and dance with the tides.

Experiment in Ayurveda

As part of Axis Yoga’s 200 hour teacher training program, students learn about the ancient science of Ayurveda and are invited to design an experiment incorporating ayurvedic wisdom and medicine into their lives. This student’s experiment consisted of  Abhyanga Massage-self massage with oils, Vamana Dhauti, Marma Massage and eating foods to support her dosha.  Below she provides an explanation of each experiment along with her results.

Experiment in Ayurveda: Abhyanga

Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often medicated and usually warm, the oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing. For thousands of years people have used abhyanga to maintain health, benefit sleep patterns, increase longevity. It has also been used as a medicine for certain disorders. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost anyone.

I really loved doing the Abhyanga self massage.  It simply just made me feel good.  It is something that I have chosen to continue.  I did change the oil I was using, after finding out that my Dosha was different than what I originally thought.  I didn’t notice a change in the affect of the oil. 

My favorite is coconut oil.  I usually use sesame but change it up with coconut oil.  It makes me feel like I am somewhere tropical.  The Abhyanga feels very self nurturing and loving to me.  My first experiment was with Ahimsa and this seems to be a continuation of practicing non harmful thoughts toward yourself. 

I notice a significant change in the days that I have done Abhyanga compared to the days I have not.  Through this experiment, I had some pretty rough days with my asthma and this really calmed me down and helped me relax.

Experiment in Ayurveda: Vamana Dhauti

Vamana dhauti is a cleansing technique from India. Many yogis and householders there practice it every morning as a part of their normal routine, just like brushing their teeth.

The mucus produced in the gastrointestinal tract is a gift of nature, and it functions in the overall balance and harmony of physiological processes. Sometimes though, people swallow mucus into the stomach that comes from the respiratory tract.  It happens when they’re over producing it there because of a cold (or other viral or bacterial infection) or because of nasal allergies.  An excess of swallowed respiratory mucus can cause nausea, but there are no serious consequences.

Since I have had a ton of respiratory issues; pneumonia, sinusitis and drainage, asthma, excess mucus…I felt this may be a good experiment for me.  Well, not so much.  It was a bonding experiment between me and some of the other students in class that participated, but…I don’t think I will do this again anytime soon. 

The experiment itself wasn’t so bad.  I had no trouble puking…I have done this enough times throughout my life.  After the Vamana Dhauti, I felt super tired but fine.  When I got home, my asthma was really bad and I had a huge migrane.   I couldn’t calm my breathing down, even with my nebulizer machine.  I couldn’t relax and my migrane wouldn’t go away…it really scared me. 

I kept my partner close by, thinking I may need to go to the emergency room.  I called Santosh for support and he told me to get in the shower to calm my headache.  This helped, we checked in with each other every half hour.  I think having Santosh support by phone and Clay nearby rubbing my back and keeping me calm, helped ease my breathing enough where my body could rest. 

One suggestion for anyone doing this experiment would be to definitely not do it while on your moon.  Also, drink a ton of water immediately after you puke, maybe even drink some electrolytes.  I was having some reactive hypoglycemia issues as well as thyroid issues I wasn’t aware of at the time. 

On a positive note, I am glad that I did it.  I cleared a large amount of some pretty disgusting mucus out of my gut and that is not such a bad thing…it needed to go and feel it was part of my healing process.

Experiment in Ayurveda: Marma Massage

Marma is a Sanskrit word meaning hidden , or secret. By definition, a marma point is a juncture on the body where two or more types of tissue meet, such as muscles, veins, ligaments, bones or joints. Yet marma points are much more than a casual connection of tissue and fluids; they are intersections of the vital life force and prana, or breath.

According to Ayurvedic philosphy, doshas make up a person’s constitution. The trinity includes vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth). Everone is born in a state of balance, or prakriti. During the aging process, factors such as anxiety, lackluster diet, or poor sleep habits cause disharmony among the doshas. Over the years, doshic imbalances begin to block the movement of free-flowing energy in the body. Eventually, the stagnation opens the door to physical and mental discomfort and disease. Enter marma massage.

The idea behind massaging the marma points is to cleanse blocked energy, also called chi, by either arousing or calming the doshas. Like a television with three channels, each marma point has three receptors that align with the three doshas. During a marma-point massage, the points are stroked in a deliberate sequence using specific essential oils.

Beth Sanchez did my Marma massage treatments.  I did 3 or 4 with her over a 2 week period.  It felt very nurturing, relaxing and helpful overall. I feel it opened up my body to receive healing.  Loved it!  Beth was very supportive throughout my Ayurvedic experiment.  She had so much helpful advice.  Her calm, nurturing demeanor and her perspective was greatly appreciated.

Experiment in Ayurveda: Eating for Vata Dosha

My diet is pretty healthy because I have been dealing with asthma and food sensitivities for a long time.  I stopped drinking alcohol about 3 months before I began the yoga teacher training.  I gave up red meat and sugar.   My body changed through diet and exercise but I still suffer with asthma and sinus issues. 

My visit with Ayurvedic doctor Alakananda Ma revealed that I was a Vata Dosha.  This changed my whole perspective mid stream on my diet.  This explained a lot to me.  I had been eating foods that were not right for my dosha all along.  The teas have supported my immune system and I feel really good when I take them.  In combination with my visit to Alakananda and Dr. Singer (D.O./alternative Dr. deals with chronic issues), I figured out a directional plan for my health.

The foods within the Vata diet were much different than I had been eating.   Although I was eating healthy foods, they were the wrong foods for my Dosha.  Plus, I ate way too many carbs., having Reactive Hypoglycemia.  My protein was low, I was advised to eat meat.  I bless it.  Since I have cut the carbs., increased my protein, I have felt much better.  I haven’t felt dizzy, as if I was going to pass out during yoga for a couple of weeks now.   I have increased my sadhana and asana practice to daily! 

This experiment has really guided me.  It would be such a beautiful thing if Eastern and Western Medicine would just get along.  They compliment each other.  At this time, I don’t feel that I could have the improvement that I have had, one without the other.  I need some medication, to transition me off my steroid inhalers, prescriptions of high dose probiotics to boost my immune system, shots in my butt of iron and B12 and wow, I feel normal again.  The Ayurvedic diet has been key and the teas are amazing.