During the Aurveda portion of the Axis YTT program, many students make significant changes to their daily routine in order to experiment with the power of this ancient system of health. The student account below details a vata-pacifying routine that lead to very optimistic results.
My second kidney stone, this year, came to say hello or rather came to scream hello as we were beginning our Ayurvedic portion of the program. I called one of our teachers, Susan, crying in tremendous pain; and she came to bring me ayurvedic herbs that instant. I felt so grateful for level of care I received.
I already felt taken care of on deep level, deeper than physical. I felt ready to trust this ancient medicine. So, as we came up with our experiment I was willing and utterly excited to do a cleanse. My eagerness was tamed my Susan. She suggested that in my recovery I should do something more gentle, a self care practice. I decided to follow a vata-pacifying routine created through the resources provided for us: notes in our manual for asana, Susan’s suggestion of ingesting warm foods and liquids, and the structure of my morning from Vasant Lad’s book, The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies (1998). If I could not do a cleanse, I would do many little things (Note: some of these practices I had already started before the experiment, but the experiment helped me make the ritual more concrete and specific, which held me more accountable). My morning was structured as follows:
Bedtime between 10-11.
Rise between 7-7:30. Before the experiment, my sleeping patterns varied widely. I loved to be social and carefree which involved being available for people late at night. I generally went to bed between 10:30 and 1:30 with no consistency and would rise anywhere between 8 – 10. The worst part was I felt tired all day. After speaking with Beth about prakruti and vikruti, she came to the conclusion I am vata imbalanced. I agreed. A regular sleep schedule was a must. This seemed like a reasonable change. What I found was getting up at seven condensed my tiredness to the first ten minutes of the day (that part is still very difficult) but for the rest of the day I had more energy!
Prayer. I slowly and intently said the prayer in the book as if it were my own words. Some words I changed to make it be more of my own voice. This helped me to set a kind loving intention for the day.
Splash. I would splash my face with cold water, swish with cold water, massage my eyes, blink and look up, down, left, right, diagonally, and rotate my eyes clockwise and counter clockwise. This helped wash away sleepiness.
Water. I drank warm water instead of cool.
Squat. I sat on the toilet, Indian style and wiped with water. This is a bit of a challenge due to my tight calves.
Brushed. Flossed. Followed by tongue scraping. I used a spoon to perform this. I noticed a white film concentrated on the back of my tongue every morning. Also, there was scalloping more on the left edge of my tongue.
Swish with oil. I found that gargling would make me gag. I just stuck to swishing. Lots of white goo would came out with the oil.
Oiled my body. This was my favorite part, a practice I had started before the experiment. I warmed the sesame oil and lathered it on. This felt nourishing.
Oiled the nostrils. I did not notice anything significant about this exercise, but I have grown rather fond of the smell of sesame.
Bath. I would just let the water warm me up and not use soap. A yoga therapist suggested this. My skin felt very lubricated and ready to be stretched in asana.
Asana. I made up a routine for myself each morning which included the following poses in various orders: Tadasana (mountain), Uttanasana (standing forward fold), Dandasana (Staff), Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold/western stretch), Janu Sirsasana (head to knee), Upavista Konasana (open angle), Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (three limb intense stretch), Vrikshasana (Tree), Navasana (boat), Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Halasana (plow), Apanasana (knees to chest), and Savasana (corpse). And a few vinyasas. This practice felt calming and grounding.
Pranayama. I completed Nadi Shodhana. This felt balancing.
Meditation. This was the other practice I had started before the experiment. For meditation, usually I would concentrate on my breath, specifically the sensation of movement it created in my body in the nostrils and belly. Sometimes when I did not feel up for meditating I would chat OM or a mantra to get me into a more meditative space.
Breakfast. I ate warm foods mostly. Steel cut oats with apples cooked in. Eggs. Quinoa.
My experiment was successful. When my day finally started 2 to 3 hours after rising, I felt a steady stream of energy. My lethargy lifted. This was the most significant result from my self care practice. Overall, I felt well cared for, nourished, and replenished. As I stepped into the world, I had more to offer to people because I had taken the time to offer to myself. I continue this self care practice every day. I omit asana, pranayama, and meditation on the weekends because we do them in training. I intend to continue this practice of self care and integrate more ayurvedic practices to have a healthy life. Maybe, one day do a cleanse! Also, I am predicting that the kidney stone dissolved.
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.
Derik Eselius ~ 720.934.6934
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