Tag Archive for: Vata

To start my day in a peaceful and grounding manner, I begin by reflecting on my intention for the day and consider what I would like to accomplish, what I have accomplished so far and what still needs to be accomplished. This helps to order my thoughts and to provide a plan of action for the day. I express gratitude for the people I care for, all of the wonderful things in my life and say a prayer for those individuals who are experiencing difficult situations and send wishes of good will and good energy their way.

Having a great deal of training in dance, belly breathing does not come naturally to me as dancers are taught to hold their core in and up. Allowing my belly stick out seemed very odd and rather difficult at the beginning. I practiced this breathing technique by lying on my back with a foam block placed on my abdomen over my navel. This allowed me to watch the rise and fall of the block as I breathe, to become accustom to the feeling of letting my abdomen pooch out when inhaling and to fall back when exhaling, and to allow this type of breathing to become natural and flow effortlessly.    Another exercise I use when sitting upright, is to place my palms over my abdomen with my index fingers barley touching. When I inhale, the fingers should pull apart and when exhaling, they should come back together.  This practice is helpful when at work or at other times when I cannot lie down.   When belly breathing, I focus on my breath, trying to extend my exhale to a count of six and then a count of eight, ten and so on. I have been able to comfortably extend my exhale to a count of twelve and am attempting to extend it further.

Before going to sleep, I practice another round of belly breathing and take some time to settle in and reflect back on my day, how it met with my original intention, what good things happened and what I would do differently. This practice has proved grounding and relaxing and I feel a sense of serenity when falling asleep.

Recently, a very stressful situation presented itself where I had the opportunity to test whether belly breathing would help to calm me in an extremely stressful situation. I work for an international company and our team is spread out throughout the United States and abroad, with many of us working remotely.  Most of our meetings are conducted via teleconference, but occasional we travel to other office locations to meet live with specific internal and external resources. On a recent occasion, I was asked with very little notice to travel to a regional office to give a presentation to the senior leadership team regarding a large project which I have been leading. This would be an understandably stressful situation carrying out the presentation via teleconference, but the need to travel to the meeting and conduct the presentation live in front of such a prestigious audience was rather unnerving.  Having just started my belly breathing practice, I decided to use the belly breathing to keep myself calm and focused during the time leading up to the meeting, the travel and the presentation. The day before leaving to attend the meeting, I followed my new morning routine of reflection and belly breathing and took some additional time to include alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhan Pranayama. I performed one set of ten rounds of alternate nostril breathing to start. Afterwards, I felt additionally calm and relaxed having taken the extra time to focus on breathing and to ground myself. I decided to include the alternate nostril breathing in my regular morning and nighttime routines going forward.

The gripping feeling of anxiety and the accompanying nervous stomach ache came over me several times in the time leading up to the trip, while traveling and especially right before my presentation, but I used belly breathing to calm my nerves and to keep myself balanced. The breathing exercises seemed to dissolve the feelings of stress and worry into softened thoughts of peace and calm.   When it was time for my presentation, I felt rather calm and collected and I believe the presentation went well and was much easier to conduct as I felt grounded and focused, without the distractions of excessive nervousness.  Anxiety sometimes makes me forget what I want to say or stumble a bit when presenting information.   Happily, I was able to make it through the presentation without any hesitations or issues.

Since beginning a regular practice of belly breathing, I feel less anxious and much calmer. In a stressful situation, when I start to feel the gripping feelings of anxiety, I find that stopping and taking a few minutes for belly breathing allows me to temporarily remove myself from a troubling situation and clear my mind as I focus on the inhale and exhale, the rise and fall of the abdomen. It alleviates many of the feelings of fear and relaxes my mind so that I can view the situation from a better perspective and allow myself to make more balanced decisions from a calmer and more even place.
Belly breathing has allowed me to feel more relaxed and less physically tense throughout the day. My muscles have generally not ached or felt heavy as often. I have experienced less nervous stomach aches and feel as though I have more energy, which could be due to the better blood flow and increased oxygen that diaphragmatic breathing exercises are known to produce. The energized feelings could also be attributed to feeling generally calmer as anxiety and stress seem to use much more energy than calm and tranquility. I have noticed that my breathing patterns during my Asana and Sadhana practices have improved and I am able to concentrate on my breath more easily than before. As an added benefit, I believe my abdominal muscles feel stronger.
This experiment has shown me that, belly breathing is always available when needed and it provides immediate and long-term positive outcomes with ongoing benefits to my health and wellbeing, as opposed to the negativity and unhealthiness that distress and anxiety can bring. At times when I feel worried and unsettled, I am learning that if I can stop and even take one or two deep breaths, I can readjust my thinking and be in a much better place. This experiment has made me reflect on a quote from the Dutch writer Corrie ten Boom, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”
Adding regular belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing practices to my morning routine has proved a wonderfully calming start to my day. As the day wears on, belly breathing helps me to feel much more relaxed and better able to cope with the odd stressful situations that seem to develop throughout the day. By adding belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing to my nighttime routine, I have less trouble falling asleep and my sleep has been much better with fewer interruptions. Overall, I feel calmer and experience longer periods of peacefulness and serenity than prior to the start of the Ayurveda experiment.

In the most recent past I was experiencing vata imbalances. As a result, I wasn’t sleeping as well as I should have been; close to 3 hours a night at the most. According to the Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad, vata induced insomnia is caused by stressors and sometimes depression. Furthermore, my insomnia was becoming a problem. I was falling behind in my classes and not healing from strep a few weeks prior. Thus, I decided that my Ayurveda experiment was going to be designed to overcome my sleeping issues.

To begin, I basically followed a regiment recommended by Lad. This includes dietary remedies, oil massages, and meditation practices.

Many Axis YTT students choose to experiment with taking a physical action to balance their dosha during the Ayurveda portion of the training. These include changes to diet, completing a cleanse or changing their asana practice. This student took a different approach by changing her mind set in order to find balance.

When I first began learning about Ayurveda, I was astounded to see how much sense it made.  Reading about vata dosha was like reading a handbook on my life.  Physically, I am the vata poster child.  I have dry skin, hair, lips, a thin light frame and muscles.  I HATE being cold and LOVE being warm and have perpetually cold hands and feet.  My joints crack constantly and I always have lower back pain.  On top of the many similar anatomical attributes, I am internally also very vata.  I talk fast, think fast, understand fast, but forget even faster.  I am creative, intuitive, imaginative, love exercise but love traveling even more. What may have surprised me most are the imbalanced attributes of vata including anxiety, worry, insomnia, and fear, all of which I have struggled with since I was a child.  It was very clear from the beginning that my primary prakruti is vata.  However, not everything fit into the vata and my secondary dosha is pitta.

In a few major ways, I am more pitta than vata.  I am extremely driven, determined, ambitious, critical, goal oriented, confident, competitive, and a leader.  I also have (thankfully) regular digestion, which is not vata at all and much more pitta.  Due to the fact that I am so strongly vata, and vata dosha is the easiest to become imbalanced, I decided to focus my experiment on balancing vata.

When we began discussing the experiments, I was personally feeling very overwhelmed in my life and out of balance.  I felt pulled in every direction.  I had taken on too much (again) and did not feel like I was giving enough time or effort into any of my commitments because there were just too many.  I am a wife, a high school teacher, department chair, a coach, and a sponsor of an international traveling service club (which I plan completely on my own).  I had just barely finished my Master’s degree when I began the Axis Teacher Training Program.  I felt like I did not have room to breathe and my anxiety was suffocating me.  My insomnia was in full force and I could feel myself spiraling into a depression.

Many people in the class were taking on major cleanses, changing their diets, changing their routines.  A few weeks before the experiment began I had to get an emergency appendectomy.  This had uprooted and paused my life for the time being and changed so much of what I was working for.  Over the last few weeks I had been desperately trying to get stability and normalcy back.  The thought of making another change in my life was overwhelming and terrifying.  My body and mind did not need more change, it needed grounding, it needed normalcy, and I needed calm stability.  After class I wrote Beth about my struggles and fears.  I felt so lost and reading back on the email I can feel the emotional desperation.  When I read her reply email, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders.  Her soothing words and advice were exactly what my imbalanced prakruti needed to hear.  Beth told me that it was natural to feel this way, and that our society has set us up for it.  She then wrote, “It does sound like your body and perhaps even your heart are begging you to slow down, to allow life to be more simple.”  Beth advised that I needed to slow down at work, ask for help, and delegate responsibility.  She told me to try the sesame oil massage, practice slow restorative asana, stay warm, eat warm, and even get a massage.  Beth stated I needed to not add more but to do less.  She finished by adding, “Any combination of these really soft, gently nurturing, luxurious things is what you need right now Amanda.  Yes, some things may fall through the cracks but I really think you need to let some of that happen AND ask for some support from others (and then receive it!).”  What a concept!!!  Ask for help and then receive it?  While this may not be revolutionary for some people, it was for me.  I have always felt that if you want something done you have to do it yourself.  The thought of asking others and delegating work was a little anxiety provoking at first but I was so exhausted by that point I figured I would give it a shot.

I did everything Beth advised me to do and in some ways, let go of doing things.  I practiced the sesame oil massage, along with swishing with it in the morning, and scraping my tongue.  I practiced slower, restorative asana instead of my usual vigorous, challenging asana.  And at work, I delegated!  I started asking people to do things.  Instead of making the test myself, I had someone else do it.  I asked others to research the trip, I asked someone else to go to that meeting, I said I could not take on more work.  It was exactly what I needed.  My experiment was not about doing more and changing my diet, it was about letting go and changing my mindset.

While this experiment may not have “cured” me of my anxiety or tendency to take on too many things, it did show me a new way of approaching life and what it throws at me.  My experiment may have been a little different than most but it was exactly what I needed and I am thankful for it.  Beth’s last email to me contained these words, “You are doing great, achieving the “goal” with relaxed effort, not forcing, but letting things unfold and that my friend, is a skillful yoga practice.”  I am so thankful for you Beth and for the knowledge of Ayurveda for helping me understand what yoga is to me and how to shape what I hope to be a lifelong practice.